Editor’s Note: Entrepreneur’s “20 Questions” series features both established and up-and-coming entrepreneurs and asks them a number of questions about what makes them tick, their everyday success strategies and advice for aspiring founders.
Payal Kadakia accomplishments are proof positive that in the pursuit of your business dreams you must hang on to the hobbies that fuel your mind.
In 2011, Kadakia found herself struggling to find a good dance class to take after work. The process, from the fruitless online searches to the frustrating registration platforms and failed scheduling attempts was not super conducive to her busy life. So, she decided to make her own site that would helps having the same problem a wide swath of classes and studios that were simple to book.
The idea was also a way for Kadakia to combine her two passions for dance and entrepreneurship. She had been concerned that in order to be successful in business she would have to give up on dance.
But seven years later, Kadakia has been able to oversee the Sa Dance Company, the organization she founded to highlight Indian dance, as well as grow ClassPass.
While it began in New York, ClassPass now has a global presence in 48 cities around the world, a team of more than 200 employees and more than 35 million classes booked. With over
244,400 classes to try, 90 percent of ClassPass users have stretched themselves to check out something new.
We caught up with Kadakia to ask her 20 Questions and find out what makes her tick.
1. How do you start your day?
For years, I’ve started my mornings with a cup of green tea and an inspirational quote to begin my day filled with purpose, optimism and positivity.
As an entrepreneur you’re constantly solving what’s never been solved, running head first into thick brick walls along the way. It’s so easy to get stuck in the nos. Starting my day with a warm cup of tea and a positive outlook helps me approach each morning believing I can solve for yes.
2. How do you end your day?
Startup life is so intense. For me, there’s no better way to end the day than with the person who brings the greatest sense of calm and perspective to my life: my husband. It’s ideal to see him in real life, obviously, but given our work schedules, FaceTime works, too.
3. What’s a book that changed your mind and why?
Being in a startup is very different from being in a large company where decisions tend to be made slowly and cautiously. If you move too slowly in a startup, you could be out of business the next day. Do More Faster by David Cohen and Brad Feld provided insight and context as we balance speed and innovation with thought and deliberation.
4. What’s a book you always recommend and why?
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Jobs was a visionary leader who managed to create the future. I think that any entrepreneur can learn from Jobs’ magical ability to combine business brilliance with creative genius.
5. What’s a strategy to keep focused?
Every Sunday evening writing down goals for the week — and sticking to them
6. When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
In third grade I built a model stadium called Payal’s Palace of Arts, complete with an ice skating rink and dance performance space. While I didn’t have a clear sense for what I wanted to be when I grew up, I think in retrospect that the clues foreshadowed a future combining creativity with my passion for being active. We also knew, even then, how much I love to delight an audience.
7. What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had?
I learned that I like to work for myself. I also learned to motivate my team with positivity and to encourage them to realize their potential. I think that having a weak manager teaches you how to be a stronger one yourself — you know very clearly what not to do and why.
8. Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
My mom, who is so disciplined and never puts anything off. She’ll never walk away from a challenge, no matter how great. She approaches every obstacle as an opportunity for growth. I respect her greatly and aspire to replicate her example.
9. What’s a trip that changed you?
In the summer of 2010 I went to San Francisco. I didn’t like my job and was trying to figure out what to do next. While there I met a number of amazing entrepreneurs. Hearing their stories, I realized that I, too, could be an entrepreneur. I decided to give myself a challenge: I had 2 weeks to come up with an idea. Thirty-six hours later I was searching for a ballet class, and I had the inspiration for ClassPass.
10. What inspires you and why?
I enjoy making people feel something. Whether I’m creating products for them to use or art for them to watch, I want to encourage an experience that stirs emotion, triggers new perspectives and inspires people to discover themselves in a new way.
11. What was your first business idea and what did you do with it?
Classtivity, the search engine for classes, which eventually became ClassPass
12. What was an early job that taught you something important or useful?
In high school I had a summer job doing telemarketing research. It taught me to never be afraid to ask someone for something. It also helped me get comfortable calling strangers on the phone — something you have to do a lot as an entrepreneur.
13. What’s the best advice you ever took?
When I was thinking about starting ClassPass, I ran the idea by my mentor, Anjula Acharia. She said she’s invest in me — but only if I quit my job. She explained that I couldn’t expect her or anyone else to invest in me if I wouldn’t invest in myself. Anjula helped make ClassPass a reality through her mentorship and investment in the business. She even incubated us in the early days.
14. What’s the worst piece of advice you ever got?
Some people thought I should stop dancing, because they saw it as a distraction from ClassPass. They couldn’t have been more wrong. Dancing provided the inspiration for ClassPass and continues to this day to provide the nourishment to my creative soul — and to our business’ continuous innovation.
15. What’s a productivity tip you swear by?
I live by my calendar. I put everything in it — not just meetings, but thinking time and brainstorming time, even when the only person I’m brainstorming with is myself. It is unified across all elements of my life: personal, professional and everything in between.
16. Is there an app or tool you use in a surprising way to get things done or stay on track?
Slack keeps me connected to my team. It is an efficient method for soliciting feedback and for jointly collaborating and iterating on ideas together.
17. What does work-life balance mean to you?
I look at work-life balance as the ability to to carve out time for both your passions and your work. Your passions may include your family, but they also may include your love of theater or music or, in my case, dancing. As adults it’s easy to get so caught up in our many day-to-day obligations that we lose sight of those activities that fuel our soul.
Early in my career, I felt that way, too. There was this tension between my love of dance and my desire to have a successful career. I felt like I had to choose one or the other. Seeking that balance — for myself and others — motivated me to create ClassPass. In seeking to fuse my passions for dance and entrepreneurship, I created a company that helps others find the time in their busy lives to nurture their passions.
18. How do you prevent burnout?
I started ClassPass and also run the Sa dance company. I’m very busy and often work a full 10-hour day, only to run a three-hour rehearsal at night. I recommend preventing burnout in three ways. Be passionate about what you do. This makes the long hours worthwhile. It doesn’t feel as much like work when you love it. Be intentional in your actions. Prioritize ruthlessly, eliminate the obligations, and focus only on what truly matters. And surround yourself with an amazing team. We become burned out when we try to do everything ourselves. I surround myself with incredible, capable people who are empowered to do their best work. We support each other and accomplish more together than we ever could alone.
19. When you’re faced with a creativity block, what’s your strategy to get innovating?
I get moving! I go dancing, running or to an exercise class. I need to switch up my environment and get the creative juices flowing.
20. What are you learning now? Why is that important?
I’ve been studying the work by Stanford professor BJ Fogg on behavioral design. He has a three step method for designing products to encourage behavior change. His method is thoughtful, methodical and impactful. I love building products to help people live better lives. It’s what we do at ClassPass and it’s my personal mission as well.