Payal Kadakia: How She Turned Her Love of Dancing Into a Startup Venture

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Every successful entrepreneur should be inspired by art in some way; the aspect of creativity is essential for staying ahead of the market. For a bright female entrepreneur like Payal Kadakia, who has danced all her life, the art she loves is the market, and continues to serve as an inspiration and stress reliever within the hectic startup lifestyle. Here we learn how can we turn an art we love into a successful business.

Payal graduated from MIT with a degree in Operations Management and Economics. During her time climbing the corporate ladder full time, dance steadily grew from weekend a hobby and inspired an entrepreneur to turn her love of the art into two companies. In 2008, Payal launched the Sa Dance Company, a contemporary Indian dance company, which has steadily danced its way to critical acclaim and success. To further promote her love of dancing and make it more accessible to the general public, she created what is now ClassPass in 2012, a resource to find nearby studios and deals to try out all types of fitness classes.

We had the pleasure of catching up with Payal over email where she shared what her busy schedule was like working full time and growing her company, the benefits of keeping a flexible business strategy, and the kinds of advantages women have in the business world.

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What was your daily schedule like and how did you balance building a startup and working full time?

“Balance is the right word!” After MIT, Payal went to work as a consultant at Bain & Company, dancing and performing on the weekends with a local dance company, “but I wanted dance to be a bigger part of my life.”

“I would work from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and have rehearsal from 8:00-10:00 p.m. 2 or 3 times per week. I would also make time to train in ballet and other classical forms of dance during the week.”

With performances and shows every weekend, Payal explained, “I would spend many of my off hours and Friday and Saturday evenings working on the business and operational side of Sa, however, I never thought about it as work.”

Stress will never be a stranger to an entrepreneur, but we all handle it differently. We asked Payal what normally stresses her out- you may already guess how she handles it:

“My sources of stress are typical- a busy schedule, a long to do list, and time constraints. Dance is and will always be my outlet and I feel lucky I found that out at a very young age. I also believe tapping into my artistic side stimulates creativity in all aspects of my life. One of my missions for ClassPass is to give others their own type of outlet through a variety of different physical activities.”

In terms of business, can you tell us about an instance where you hit an obstacle or even failed and how you overcame it while building your company?

“ClassPass has pivoted its business twice, and we’re hoping the third time’s the charm. We started as a search engine, then offered the Passport, but ultimately were able to realize our vision through the ClassPass. Despite the evolution, our mission to help people live happier, active lifestyles has always been the same. To overcome the hurdles we faced, we’ve had to be flexible in our approach in order to keep moving forward. It is better to take a few steps back and change directions than to keep going down the wrong road.”

Before it was known as ClassPass, Payal’s startup was called Classtivity, a search engine for fitness studios in New York City. The Passport was then offered which offered ten fitness classes at multiple studios in a prepaid package. In its flexibility, ClassPass has now evolved beyond New York to both coasts, adding new studios to their list daily.

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We asked Payal what her definition of success was, to which her values are clear and simple. “Keeping Balance, Staying Passionate, Being Happy.” But sometimes success is harder to attain for female entrepreneurs; the statistics for bias against women in the startup industry is undeniable. So we asked her what she thought was the best way to overcome gender discrimination in the business world. Payal explained that:

“In my opinion, the best way to address discrimination of any kind is to make it a non-issue. A thriving business and strong leader will always have support – and that’s what should matter.”

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The field of entrepreneurship is dominated mostly by males. What do you think is key for women everywhere to really break out as female entrepreneurs?

“Women must remember to be themselves and realize that they have an edge because they are women – not a disadvantage. Women are nurturing and have good instincts by nature, and men and women will inherently face different problems and solve them uniquely.  Being an entrepreneur requires one to be a problem solver and as I mentioned earlier, thriving businesses (especially which are dominated by women consumers) will always have support, and that is what ultimately matters.”

What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned since founding two companies?

“The greatest lesson I’ve learned is to trust yourself and take risks. You cannot fear failure, because it provides the best opportunity to learn.”

What are your thoughts on balancing a successful and happy relationship while managing a company?

“Balancing a happy relationship and running a company (as well as dancing) forces me to maximize my time and most importantly, my thoughts. It’s very easy to waste time in your day, or spend time worrying about things that do not matter – it’s something we all can find ourselves doing – but you have to control it and focus on what matters in order to be more productive and get more out of life.”

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Lastly, what do you have planned for the future of ClassPass or the Sa Dance Company? Do you have plans to build another company?

“For ClassPass, my goal is to continue growing the company in order to provide more and more people with an engaging and accessible fitness routine. This year we are very excited to launch into new cities and continue working with more studios. We want to transform the future of fitness and eliminate barriers to staying active. For Sa, my goal is to continue to share Indian dance in the U.S., as well as nurture my Indian roots. I am always humbled when we are asked to perform at some of the most prestigious dance theaters/events in the city, such as Alvin Ailey, SummerStage, or the Downtown Dance Festival. And some day, I also hope to build a school that recognizes and celebrates Indian performing arts.”

Check out ClassPass and the Sa Dance Company.

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