Are you a Pilates person or a cycling person? Maybe you’re a HIIT person who’s convinced you’re only interested in dancing. Maybe you like to mix it up throughout the week. Maybe you just don’t know yet.
It’s hard to predict what type of exercise or wellness class will work best for you on any given day. Many conventional memberships or studios also require commitments that can be overwhelming if you don’t already know your ideal exercise regimen.
For the past decade, ClassPass has made workouts more accessible and flexible by offering an all-in-one subscription that allows users to participate in thousands of classes across a variety of fitness, wellness and, most recently, beauty offerings. .
“ClassPass has been able to create some synergies that really fueled the growth of the entire industry,” says ClassPass founder Payal Kadakia ’05.
The company partners with fitness studios, gyms, salons, and spas and provides users with a platform that makes it easy to find and book classes. Users can pay for a low level membership if they just want to try a few classes each week, or a higher level if they’re ready to go all out with a rotating variety of fitness classes.
Kadakia grew ClassPass from a scratch idea into a service thousands of people use to improve their health every day. In a 2020 funding round, the company was valued at more than $1 billion, giving it “unicorn” status. The journey culminated in the recent acquisition of ClassPass by MindBody, which provides backend software services to fitness studios.
Kadakia believes the acquisition will help further ClassPass’ mission of helping more people live healthy and happy lives.
“A lot of people I talk to say, ‘I never would have realized I loved spinning and that’s my way of working out,’ or ‘I never would have tried that yoga class without ClassPass,’ or ‘I would have never found that class I go to every day now,’” says Kadakia. “ClassPass has been an essential part of people’s routine. It makes fitness more accessible and fun.”
following a passion
Kadakia came to MIT as an undergraduate in 2001, majoring in operations research.
“I think MIT was one of the most difficult experiences of my life,” says Kadakia. “I had to solve complex problems that I never thought I would be able to solve, but that also taught me a lot. It was a wonderful experience.”
MIT is also where Kadakia says he learned how to become a leader. She started a South Asian fusion dance team on campus, MIT Chamak, which still operates today.
Although Kadakia never thought of starting a company while at MIT, she says her academic work prepared her for many of the challenges she would face with ClassPass.
“My concentration in operations research was definitely relevant to what I would be doing at ClassPass in the areas of inventory planning and supply chain management,” says Kadakia. “The way I plan my time is from everything I learned in those classes.”
Kadakia went into consulting after graduating, but continued to dance. She founded another dance group, SA Dance Company, in 2008. At the time, she was visiting a friend from MIT in San Francisco when she decided to find a ballet class.
“I was thinking, ‘Why isn’t this as easy as OpenTable, with a platform that aggregates all the information on the Internet and puts it on one easy-to-use website?’” Kadakia recalls.
She decided to build the solution herself.
“I don’t know how to program, but since I went to MIT I felt more comfortable dealing with developers and speaking the technology language,” she says. “MIT is all about problem solving. That’s really the main thing I learned besides all those theories and applications: to break something down to the core and solve a problem. That is at the heart of what entrepreneurship is.”
At the time, each gym offered classes on their own website through individual reservation systems.
“That meant that from a marketing perspective, they had to acquire each customer individually,” says Kadakia. “That’s expensive for a business that already has fixed costs and where classes are $30. How much ad spending are you going to do against that?
In the company’s early years, ClassPass evolved from an aggregator and search engine to a membership model.
“When we started getting that variety, we unlocked a different part of the fitness landscape that was really about trying new things for people who were intimidated or scared, which is basically 99 percent of the fitness market. We made fitness fun for them.”
Today, ClassPass memberships work on a tiered credit system. Users can put credits towards different types of fitness and wellness classes. Prenatal yoga at a local clinic can cost four credits, while a gym session can cost three. Since 2018, ClassPass has also helped users book beauty and other wellness classes at spas and salons.
“I’ve always been building a platform for experiences,” says Kadakia. “In the beginning we had creative classes there. We ended up focusing on fitness, but this was always about being a platform to help people connect with experiences that nurture the soul.”
making an impact
The fitness industry was especially affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Kadakia says that 95 percent of the studios on the platform have temporarily closed their doors. ClassPass had been developing a platform for virtual fitness at the time, and those efforts took on a new urgency.
“A lot of our focus was on helping businesses on our platform, because making sure they survived was the most important thing,” says Kadakia. “Within a few weeks, we had video on demand and live classes that people could book with their favorite instructors. It was a way to move to a product that would work for the circumstances we found ourselves in.”
MindBody specializes in the back-end systems that studios use to process bookings and communicate internally. The company had been working with ClassPass since 2012.
“It was a long journey to get here, and I’m excited. [the acquisition] it happened now, when the industry really needs our attention,” says Kadakia.
Today, after more than a decade of running ClassPass, Kadakia begins the next chapter of her life. She recently wrote a book, “LifePass,” that describes his approach to goal setting while aligning her career and his life with his passions.
Although Kadakia has decided not to stay with ClassPass, she says she will always be proud of what she was able to accomplish with the company.
“We’ve hit some big business milestones, but what I’m most proud of is that we’ve processed over 100,000,000 bookings,” says Kadakia. “That’s 100,000,000 hours of people’s lives that we’ve had an impact on, and as a founder and a human being, that’s the best impact I could have on the world.”