After a successful launch in Dubai in late 2018, New York-born fitness app ClassPass has just expanded out into Abu Dhabi. As the new approach to working out makes waves in the Middle East, a&e catches up with the Founder, Payal Kadakia.
ClassPass Founder Payal Kadakia
When Payal Kadakia spent hours browsing the net just to find one ballet class near her, she realised there must be a simpler way to find out what happening around you in the realm of fitness.
Hence why ClassPass was born – an app that allows you to search and book a wide range of fitness classes using credits accrued from a monthly membership fee – in 2011. And now in 2019, Payal Kadakia’s business venture has expanded to 2,500 cities worldwide.
Most recently, ClassPass has launched in Abu Dhabi. Catching up with Payal as her brand expands into the Middle East, the entrepreneur shares her career path to date, why she’s chosen this region to conquer next and her own fitness regime.
a&e Interviews ClassPass Founder, Payal Kadakia
Where did the idea of ClassPass come from?
I’ve been a dancer since the age of three. Dancing is my passion, an integral part of my identity. After college, when working in traditional jobs, I found it difficult to do my job well and also find time for dance. Then, in the summer of 2010, I visited San Francisco and met incredible entrepreneurs. I hadn’t previously considered the possibility of entrepreneurship, but meeting them made me realize that if I didn’t like my reality, I had the power within me to change it.
Thirty-six hours later, I went online to sign myself up for a ballet class to take after work. It took me hours to browse through different websites as I struggled to find the information I needed. Pursuing one’s passion shouldn’t be this hard. I realized that this was my mission: to make it easy for people to connect seamlessly with the experiences they love.
Talk us through your career to date
I graduated from MIT with a degree in Operations Research and Economics. Prior to starting at ClassPass in 2011, I worked as a consultant at Bain & Company and at the Warner Music Group. I left my job at Warner to start ClassPass.
How did your childhood love for dance influence your career path?
Dance is my passion. It fuels my creative energies and adds colour and meaning to my life. It was my passion for dance that led me to create ClassPass. We strive to help people keep their passions alive or discover new ones altogether – all with the simplicity of an app.
Why do you think ClassPass thrives in today’s times?
People are busy, but they still want to be active. ClassPass makes it easy for people to find exciting fitness opportunities anywhere they are, any time they can create them. Through our app, we make it easier for people to make time to care for themselves. It’s only when we’re able to carve out time for ourselves that we’re fully able to help others.
What is the philosophy of ClassPass?
Our mission is to motivate people to live inspired lives every day by introducing and seamlessly connecting them to soul-nurturing experiences. We strive to help every life be fully lived.
What does your exercise routine look like?
I travel all the time, and each day is different from the next. What’s consistent is that I find time to exercise every day, thanks to ClassPass. I always plan out my first choice class with second and third choice classes also lined up just in case I’m unable to make it to my first choice. I also dance nearly every evening.
Why has it been important to expand out to the Middle East?
We are now working with more than 15,000 plus fitness and studio partners in 2500 cities around the world. I’m convinced we are arriving in the Middle East at exactly the right time. The UAE is home to a diverse array of studios that are amplifying a universal fitness culture. We’re seeing increased adoption of fitness routines across the region, and we’re thrilled to be bringing our market-leading offering to this region.
Why are the audience in Dubai and Abu Dhabi different from elsewhere in the world?
We launched first in Dubai, a fast-paced, health-conscious city. Six months later we expanded to Abu Dhabi. In Dubai, the adoption of boutique fitness has been incredibly fast, particularly over the past 2 to 3 years. New studios seem to pop up every week! In Abu Dhabi, the adoption has been a little slower because the boutique fitness culture is just blooming. This is exciting for us, as it enables us to directly impact the growth of the fitness ecosystem!
It’s to see great new concepts like PUNCH, Sweat, Energy Plus and Flo in the city’s capital along with other favourites, such as Fitness First and The Room! The UAE is home to multiple nationalities, so users can also take advantage of the international membership concept and use the app all over the world.
What do you still want to achieve?
I’m so excited about our continuing international and domestic expansion. We want everyone — regardless of where they live — to connect with soul-nurturing experiences. You’ll also see us continue to bring exciting new gyms and studios to the platform to help members support their physical and mental wellbeing anytime, anywhere.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome?
When I started ClassPass, I was obsessed with our mission. I knew it was too powerful to fail. It took a lot of hard work and persistence to finally develop the right product to unleash our potential to enrich lives and get people moving.
And your biggest achievement?
Members have booked 65 million class reservations through our platform. That’s 65 million hours of people’s lives we’ve helped enrich. That number is humbling and inspiring. Each reservation is as exciting as the first, and each inspires me to work even harder to do more for our members.
How do you keep your team motivated through tough times?
I believe it’s important to lead through inspiration and positive motivation. Even when there are setbacks, when people believe in your mission, they’ll work with you to make it a reality.
What would you tell your younger self?
I would say the same thing that I say to anyone – to not be afraid, to follow and maintain your passions and to believe in yourself.