The Ride of Their Lives: How SoulCycle Founders Killed the Startup Game

Julie Rice, left, and Elizabeth Cutler, right. Co-Founders, SoulCycle. 

Julie Rice, left, and Elizabeth Cutler, right. Co-Founders, SoulCycle. 

Julie Rice and Elizabeth Cutler are the co-founders of SoulCycle, that chain of luxury indoor cycling gyms that inspired just about everyone you know to get their butt on a stationary bike. The experience has been likened to a drug. The rooms are dark, hot, and sweaty. The music is loud and the instructors have more energy than you on a good day. But what SoulCycle has proven itself capable of is providing its clients with a riding high that translates into day-to-day wellness. It's not a business, it's a "movement." 

The co-founders started with one studio in 2006 on the Upper West Side in New York, and in July of 2015 the lifestyle startup filed for a 100 million dollar initial public offering with the goal to expand from 46 studios on the East and West coasts to 250 nationwide. 

Who knew that a couple of moms could reshape the way we work out? They did. 

We checked in with Elizabeth and Julie, who both now serve as SoulCycle's co-chief creative officers, in anticipation of Create & Cultivate Dallas where they'll be diving into the story of their success and the soul behind the cycle. 

You both changed careers, which can be scary at any point, for anyone. What advice would you give women looking to make a big switch?

EC: Act on your gut and commit. If you make a mistake, learn from that mistake and move on. Don’t let it paralyze you.

You saw a profit after six months, which is amazing and crazy! How did you manage such accelerated success? 

JR: We always had a very clear vision of the brand we wanted to create. We innovated indoor cycling and created the ultimate customer experience.

EC: SoulCycle was built on word of mouth! Our best marketers don’t work for the company; they’re the ones riding in our studios.

Can you recall moments of self-doubt? Confusion? 

EC: Of course—there were a lot along the way. Julie and I have complimentary skills and where she excels, I often lack and vice versa. When one of us had doubts the other always pushed us along!

JR: Elizabeth is fearless! 

A lot of SoulCycle die-hards love it because they get out of their heads and escape. But when that escape is your business, are you able to separate the two and immerse yourselves in the experience of a class? 

JR: Definitely—we created SoulCycle because we were looking for a workout experience that didn’t exist. We were users from day one! When the lights go out and the beat drops we lose ourselves in the workout. 

EC: A lot of my best ideas have come to me on the bike!

For those that say luxury exercise is a fad, how would you respond?

JR: Investing in your health isn’t a fad! It’s important that people find joy in exercise.  

"Investing in your health isn’t a fad!" 

Tweet this.

How do you balance business and all the day-to-day of life?

JR: It’s always been about about integrating the two, and I mean that literally! When we opened our first studio we worked the front desk and brought our daughters to work with us. They grew up in the business.

EC:  One of our company’s core values is to “recharge.” We have surrounded ourselves with the best team to scale and grow the business. It enables us to spend time with our families and take vacations.

SoulCycle was originally self-funded. For those without startup capital, what’s the best piece of advice you have?

EC: We had some startup capital from an investment I had made into the soft drink brand, Izze. After that we relied on our American Express cards! Every time we needed to up our credit limit, they were there, and truly we would not exist today if weren’t for American Express!

JR: In the beginning, we worked in the studio and didn’t pay ourselves. My advice to an entrepreneur is to get dirty and keep expenses down!

Business advice: "Get dirty and keep expenses down!"

Tweet this. 

Favorite song to Cycle to right now?

JR: I’m obsessed with Hamilton the musical and love cycling to the soundtrack. We keep adding Hamilton theme rides to the schedule and they sell out instantly!

Elizabeth you’ve admitted to be “anxious and scared,” about going to the gym postpartum. SoulCycle classes can be a little intimidating for women getting back to gym (whether because of baby or otherwise). What would you say to them?

EC: We ride in candlelight--I promise that no one is watching you! It is the one place you can go and be completely anonymous.

Are there any plans for global SoulCycle? How do you see the business growing from here? 

JR: SoulCycle is a lifestyle brand. We have brick and mortar studios, a retail line, and content. We are working hard to bring SOUL to as many people as we can, as quickly as possible. We want to connect with our riders in many areas of their lives, not just when they are in our studios.

What did SoulCycle mean to you when you started? What does it mean to you now? 

EC: SoulCycle has evolved but has stayed true to our original vision. It’s the meeting of physical strength, mental health and spiritual wellbeing.

JR: SoulCycle motivates riders to be the best version of themselves.

"SoulCycle motivates riders to be the best version of themselves."

Tweet this. 

What does Create & Cultivate mean to you? 

JR: Inspiration and community.