“I really wanted people to find this safe place, this safe workout, because it’s low-impact. People can come and take a class if they’re 17 years old or if they’re 82 years old.”

Ruth Zukerman’s path to entrepreneurship was nothing if not unconventional. After studying dance in college and teaching fitness classes in New York City, she ended up co-founding two indoor cycling studios, SoulCycle and Flywheel. Now, as Creative Director at Flywheel, she teaches sold out weekly cycling classes. She shares takeaways from her career and walking away from a successful company to start a new venture.

Interview Highlights

On Lessons From Dance

“I think that all of our experiences as we grow up all play an important part in how we end up. When I think back now, taking dance classes from age eight through 22 taught me the importance of discipline and the art form of dance — you never quite succeed in that you can always improve upon yourself. That was a real learning lesson for me too, that we have to keep working on it. If we fail, if something trips us up, we keep going.” — Ruth Zukerman

On Designing an Inclusive Exercise Environment

“I really wanted people to find this safe place, this safe workout, because it’s low-impact. People can come and take a class if they’re 17 years old or if they’re 82 years old — and I have people in my class in their 80s. I also placed a lot of importance on customer service and making sure there were people in there ready for you when you came to your bike so they could set you up properly and set your expectations, and let you know which part of the class is going to feel challenging and which part [you] could really slack off on. So, making the most important thing the comfort of the person coming in.”

On Going in the Opposite Direction

“The cultures at SoulCycle and Flywheel were completely different. At SoulCycle, we very quickly became the club you can’t get into, and that has a lot of appeal to a lot of people. When they’re in and they’re doing it, they feel really great. That was a huge part of the success of SoulCycle. When we started Flywheel, I wanted to go in the complete opposite direction, purely because it was more of who I am and I wanted those other people to have a shot at it. So we tried to make it as open and welcoming to everybody as possible. And for Flywheel, my partner Jay and I, we were both very nice and kind people. I do believe in business there is a certain importance to the trickle-down theory and I feel that we were both people who needed to please others. If that’s your MO, you’re going to cultivate a group of people that are also really nice and want to please and be liked, and that’s really what happened.”

On Managing Partnerships

“There needs to be a certain respect among the partners, and more specifically, a respect for what each partner is bringing to the business. There has to be a discussion around how are the partners going to handle disagreements and different points of view on things. At Flywheel, [we] had two partners, we each had our own area of expertise, and we each stayed in our own lanes until we wanted to contribute to a situation that wasn’t in [our] lane. But we made sure that the other partner was okay with it. Once we had that comfort level, we could collaborate and we could suggest things and be okay if the other partner said: ‘That’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard.’”

On Trusting Your Gut

“I think for the most part, your gut will start the ball rolling because it kind of tells you where this is probably going to end up. But then I do think it’s important to go through the ritual of figuring out if this is the right decision, going right back to that old-fashioned technique of sitting down with a pen and paper and writing down the positives and negatives — it always works.”

Posted: May 7, 2019

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