The Authenticity Lesson That Helped ClassPass Founder Payal Kadakia Build a $1 Billion Business

Payal Kadakia began working on ClassPass, the fitness, health, and beauty-booking platform, in 2012. By the following year, she and her co-founder had been accepted into the New York City startup incubator Techstars, and were working on a public launch for the fitness-class search they’d built. While Kadakia was confident in her vision for the company, a sudden and frightening attack, and her reaction to it, shocked her.

“We got maced and mugged sitting at a coffee shop, working on our Demo Day deck,” she tells Inc.’s What I Know podcast. “I had never really had anything like that happen to me. And after that moment, I think I went numb a little … I kind of shut down.”

Instead of taking the time to mentally recover from that traumatic experience, Kadakia went to work the next day.

“I tried to hide it and just act professional and act like nothing was wrong,” she says. “And that was definitely the mistake that caused me to take the time to take care of myself.”

It wasn’t just making the time for self-care that Kadakia came to prioritize. She says she also realized it wasn’t a separate person, without her feelings or passions, leading her startup. It was just her. She began bringing her whole self to her role. And that informed much of the development of ClassPass.

“I think in general we tend to feel insecure if we’re bringing those things to our professional life,” she says. “At ClassPass, we tried to create an environment where our employees would feel proud about their personal lives too.” 

ClassPass went through many different business models, as well as pricing models, as it gained popularity over the years. By 2017, Kadakia would step back from her longtime CEO role, though she stayed active as the face of the company. In early 2020, ClassPass received a substantial round of funding that valued it at more than $1 billion, before taking a massive hit due to the pandemic. In 2021, it was acquired in an all-stock deal by MindBody, a San Luis Obispo, California-based business that makes software for wellness companies.

For my full interview with Payal Kadakia, including the thinking behind her difficult decision to step back as CEO of the company she built, listen to the full episode in the player above, or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or anywhere you get your audio.

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