Payal Kadakia Shakes Up the Fitness World with Class Pass

payal kadakia
Image credits: Marinke Davelaar Photography

One of the biggest challenges with working out is staying committed, and Payal Kadakia understood this.

You may sign up for a yoga class for a month but then lose interest after too many difficult poses. Or maybe you give spin classes a try but feel left behind when everyone gets ready to tackle an imaginary hill.

Staying fit and flexible is important when it comes to your personal health. However, a huge motivator is having options that are flexible, too.

Payal Kadakia, the founder of Class Pass, understands that inspiring people with new choices and opportunities helps them stay healthy. This core insight along with a desire to offer variety and affordable options to consumers everywhere gave birth to her business: Class Pass. Here’s how she got started:

Kadakia Came Up with Class Pass in Just Two Weeks

Like all great ideas, Kadakia’s was born out of necessity.

Because Kadakia is an avid dancer, she spent a lot of time surfing the Internet for dance classes that fit around her busy schedule. In a recent interview with The New York Times, she explained: “I went online to go look for a ballet class—I end up on the traditional four or five dance studios that I know. I have seven tabs open. I can’t figure out which one to go to. An hour goes by, and I remember that day, starting to think, ‘Wow, so many people are always looking for classes. What if I could build a search engine for classes?'”

Right before that lightning strike, Kadakia took a trip to San Francisco for a friend’s birthday party and noticed that all of her friends were designing mobile apps. So she gave herself just two weeks to come up with her own app idea, and then she ran with it. This was in 2010, and by 2013, her dream was a reality.

Now in 2020, Class Pass has grown into a billion dollars business spanning more than 20 countries, making it the first unicorn of the decade. Users pay a monthly fee for access to whatever classes interest them. One week it could be a trampoline class, then next week it might be Tae Kwon Do.

There’s no commitments and no pressure—just variety and lots of freedom to move. Kadakia has always been a mover and shaker.

Along with Class Pass, Kadakia Loves to Dance

Growing up with first-generation Indian parents in New Jersey comes with its fair share of expectations.

Both of Kadakia’s parents were chemists who had fled India at a young age to elope. They got sponsored to come to the U.S. and settled down on the East Coast where Kadakia spent her childhood.

“I grew up in a small town in New Jersey, it’s called Randolph.” For her, life was “all about getting good grades and doing well in school,” but there were plenty of times when she would tell her mom that school was a difficult place to be.

“I looked different, and people didn’t understand. I felt like I didn’t fit in,” Kadakia shared with The New York Times.

Soon enough, she endured the teasing and eventually found solace in dance. She even had an Indian dance teacher at her school. Yet when Kadakia performed an Indian folk dance in the third grade, she got laughed off the stage by her classmates. Looking back now, she chalks it up to life experiences that have transformed her into the powerhouse she is today.

After graduating from M.I.T. and working for prestigious companies like Bain & Company, JP Morgan Chase and Warner Music Group, Kadakia could never shake her dedication and passion for dancing. While working for WMG in 2008, she also started her first dance studio with a group of friends, ultimately deciding to forgo business school and pursue her dreams.

“My dad thought I was dancing too much and needed to focus on work more. Then he came to this huge show we did, and everyone gave us a standing ovation. He called me the next day and was like, ‘I looked at arts programs at Columbia.’ It was so sweet because he just couldn’t get over this idea of education, but he understood that maybe I wanted to study something new. I will go and get a degree in astrophysics at some point, just to make my dad happy. But not right now.”

Class Pass Gives Kadakia Plenty to Move Forward

While Class Pass grew from Kadakia’s initial love for dance, the full potential of its reach has yet to be explored.

Right now, users can enjoy membership to over 30,000 fitness studios and gyms around the globe. Everything from fitness bootcamps to yoga classes are included, and if you’re looking for something more off-the-wall, you could try riding a bike underwater!

When asked if Class Pass is merely a flash-in-the-pan success, Kadakia gives a confident “no.”

“We’ve built this place where anything works. Our job isn’t to prescribe. It’s to give you all the options so you can choose and have access to what you want to do.”