SoulCycle’s CEO Shares Her Tips for Building a Fitness Empire
To call SoulCycle a fitness craze is a huge understatement. The 45-minute spin class meets night club is more than just a workout. For some, it’s a way of life. SoulCycle fanatics can all relate to 10 central thoughts that cycle through your head during class. And some SoulCyclers are so amazed by their super fit instructors that they need to know their beauty regimen. For SoulCycle CEO Melanie Whelan, she’s been a fan since her very first ride. During Re:Make 2016, Whelan shared her best entrepreneurial tips, and we paid attention. After all, you don’t make Fortune magazine’s 40 Under 40 list by accident. As CEO, Whelan has helped grow and scale the brand from seven SoulCycle locations to 74, with a brand new international location in Toronto. Here are her seven tips for turning a passion into a career.
1. Reconnect with your original vision. Whelan is a true believer in her company, so much so, that she rides four to five times a week at different studios across New York City. When she’s on the road and there’s a local SoulCycle studio, she always stops by for a class. “Sometimes all I need is to hop on the bike and get inspired to reconnect to the larger vision,” says Whelan. For her, this means thinking about SoulCycle as more than just a fitness brand. She and her team view the company as a hospitality business and always put riders first.
2. Feel passionate about where you work. Whelan’s best advice for breaking into the fitness industry or any industry for that matter? Don’t aim for a specific title. “Get a job, put your head down, raise your hand, and work hard,” says Whelan. Some of her best team members have taken steps sideways, backward, and diagonally to get in the door, and they are the most successful team members. Believe in the mission and organization.
3. Listen to customer feedback. Before becoming COO and now CEO of SoulCycle, Whelan was the vice president of business development at Equinox, and worked at Starwood and Virgin before that. Throughout her storied career, she learned the importance of valuing consumer feedback and developing great relationships with clients. “At a young age, I learned from my entrepreneur father the importance of the customer, and always making sure the customer felt heard, valued, and appreciated,” says Whelan. She strives to create a SoulCycle experience that always makes each rider feel special.
4. Get up early. Whelan has two young children and says that her best tip for working moms is to get up earlier than everyone in your house, skim through emails, and set a plan for the day. That way, when her kids wake up, she can be fully present for their morning routines and school drop-offs. “For me, being present in the moment is so important and it is something I always aspire to do.”
5. Prioritize carefully. Whelan doesn’t believe in a work/life balance. Instead, she thinks of her life as pie with a lot of slices for work, self, partnership, friendship, fitness, and family. Sometimes one part of the pie takes up more time. “By managing your own expectation of what balance looks like for you personally, it’s all possible,” says Whelan. On weekend mornings, for example, Whelan will take a SoulCycle class and then her husband hands off their kids to her so he can take a class.
6. Give back. Inspired by two teens who began riding in SoulCycle’s West Hollywood studio through a program called Urban Fitness 911, SoulCycle launched SoulScholarship in 2015 as a 10-week program to bring fitness and education to underserved communities. Participants attend classes twice a week and go to health, nutrition, and job readiness workshops as well. “Last year alone, we had more than 250 students participate in the program. We’re really excited to be operating in Chicago, NYC, DC, and Los Angeles, and our goal is to eventually roll the program out to all of our markets,” she says.
7. Ask a lot of questions. Throughout her career, Whelan has learned a lot by asking dozens of questions and taking the initiative at her different jobs. She wholeheartedly believes in the power of potential and putting people into roles before they’re ready. “I’ve been thrown in way over my head at pivotal moments in my career, and I fundamentally believe that’s the best way to learn,” says Whelan.
Have you ever rocked a SoulCycle class? Tell us where @Britandco!
(Photos via SoulCycle, photo credit for Melanie Whelan headshot via Caitlin Ochs for the Wall Street Journal)