Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Julie Rice (@julierice_), an entrepreneur best known for co-founding the fitness phenomenon SoulCycle. Julie served as Co-CEO at SoulCycle from 2006 to 2015 before joining WeWork in November 2017, where she is focusing on WeWork’s brand and the experience WeWork provides its members and seeking new and innovative ways to grow and share the WeWork experience around the globe. Transcripts may contain a few typos—with some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it’s difficult to catch some minor errors. Enjoy!
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Tim Ferriss: Julie Rice. Who is Julie Rice? She’s an entrepreneur, best known for co-founding, the fitness phenomenon SoulCycle. Rice served as co-CEO of…Let me try that again. Rice served as co-CEO at SoulCycle from 2006 to 2015 before joining WeWork in November, 2017, as a partner.
Rice’s life’s work has been about building community. At WeWork, Rice is approaching everything through the lens of community. She’s focusing on WeWork’s brand and the experience WeWork provides its members, and seeking new and innovative ways to grow and share it the WeWork experience around the globe. And a common thread that we’re going to explore is connection, and we’re going to get into all sorts of details and tactics related to that.
Rice lives here in New York City, with her husband Spencer and their two daughters. She is a board member of the Public Theater and Weight Watchers, as well as an advisor to the women’s club The Wing. You can find her on social media, Instagram @Julierice_. Tricky. @Julierice_, and on Linkedin as Julie Rice. Welcome to the show, and thank you for being here.
Julie Rice: Thank you for coming to visit us.
Tim Ferriss: Although this is your home, so thanks for having me.
Julie Rice: So thank you for coming to visit us.
Tim Ferriss: We’re going to jump all over, chronologically, which is my habit. I try to turn that bug into a feature. We’ll see how I do. Flashback to childhood. So were you a well-behaved child, or do you have any memories of misbehaving? Getting in trouble.
Julie Rice: I was a super well-behaved child, like borderline nerd, actually. I was the kid that didn’t have a curfew, because I actually called my parents before it was time to come home, to let them know when I would be home. I did get in trouble once in a very big way, and I will tell you what happened.
I decided I wanted to get a second piercing in my ear, and my mother said absolutely not. I was 11 years old and that was completely inappropriate to have a second piercing in your ear. I had one friend, she was my most rebellious friend. Her name was Laura. We decided to take the bus to the White Plains Galleria Mall, and we were going to get our ear pierced anyway. And so we did. We took the bus and she convinced me that it was no big deal, and my mom wouldn’t even see it.
So I just came home and I put my thing over my hair, and you know, my mom actually did notice it. You know what, I actually don’t even think she noticed it. I was actually such a nerd, I told her. I couldn’t do it for more than five minutes without telling her that I got my ear pierced. So I admitted that I got my ear pierced, and my mom decided that a great punishment for me…
Well, first she called the woman who pierced my ear to explain that you actually couldn’t put holes in the bodies of minors without parental consent. And the woman didn’t seem to really care that my mom thought that, and she said, “Well, if you don’t like it, then you should sue me.” So my mom decided that she would.
Tim Ferriss: “I’m not only going to teach my daughter a lesson!”
Julie Rice: She decided that she was going to sue her for $8.99, the entire contents of my piggy bank that I took to get my ear pierced, and that I was going to have to take the stand. Yes. And that’s exactly what happened with my punishment. My mom went to the library, and she was her own lawyer. She figured out that yes, in fact, you could not pierce the body of a minor without parental consent.
Then I had to go to court, and get up on the stand as the most terrified 11-year-old that you have ever seen, to tell them that, yes, I had disobeyed my parents. I’d gone to the Galleria Mall and gotten a second piercing.
Tim Ferriss: Go, mom. So what did your parents do professionally?
Julie Rice: My dad was a phys ed teacher, and my mom had, actually, an antique business. When people move from homes or estates, she appraises the contents and sells them off. She’s kind of like an art historian.
Tim Ferriss: And you said White Plains, so where did you grow up?
Julie Rice: I grew up in Westchester, in New York.
Tim Ferriss: Westchester. All right, so we’re going to flash forward, as promised, to a year before SoulCycle. Could you paint a picture for us? Where are you, what’s going on in life?
Julie Rice: Yes, so I have had, this is just about my third career. My first career was I worked in the movie business. As a kid, I had always been obsessed with theater, with musical theater. That was always kind of my thing. I loved entertainment, and I always wanted to figure out a way to work in the movie business. I remember coming home my sophomore year of college, and saying to my dad, who was a gym teacher, and my mom, who worked in the antique business like, “Don’t you people know anybody? I need an internship somewhere. This is never going to happen for me unless we know somebody.”
My dad recalled that he had worked with some woman whose husband ran a kid’s talent agency, cut to I got some internship. Long story short, I did find my way into the movie business. I worked in New York for about eight years as a commercial agent. Then I figured out that, if I really wanted to go to the next place in my life, I would need to go to California.
So I went to L.A., and I became a manager in Los Angeles. I did that for about 10 years, and after 10 years, I flash forwarded ahead to what people’s lives looked like in the entertainment business, servicing clients all the time, really being a prisoner to a lifestyle of servicing people. Although I loved artists, which is what I was always in it for, I really thought to myself, “I’m kind of ready to go back to the East Coast. I’m ready to make a change.”
I came back to the East Coast. My husband and I both went into our offices on the same day. I met my husband in Los Angeles. He was an agent at William Morris, and I was working for a management company. We decided we were going to head off for nobler professions, head back to the East Coast to keep it real. We got up one morning, we lived in Malibu at the time. It was sort of like our swan song. We decided to move to Malibu on the beach, because we knew we were going to head out of the West Coast.
We got up one morning and we said, “Okay, today’s the day. We’re both going to go quit our jobs, and we’re going to tell everybody goodbye. We’re going back to the East Coast.”
My husband and I, we left that morning. He came home and I came home at the end of the day, and we said, “How’d it go?” He said, “Oh yeah, everybody said great job, thanks a lot, whatever. I’m all good.” And I said, “Oh, well, they told me that they were going to move my assistant a month ahead of me, and that I should take a month on the road, and then I could do this in New York if I wanted to.”
And then I started thinking, “How are we going to pay our rent?” So I kept my job. Basically the picture was that I came back to New York, and I was running a New York office for the agency that I’d worked for in Los Angeles. I was still working in the movie business. I was having a better time doing it here, but definitely beginning to think about what’s next.
I’d been thinking about what was next already, when I was thinking about leaving the West Coast. The one thing that was really going on for me here, in New York, was that in L.A., so much of my life had been tied up in lifestyle pursuit. I went hiking with my friends. I belonged to a running club, we lived at the beach. When I came back to New York, there was just nothing here that was lifestyle.
Fitness was really about going to a big box gym, burning calories, having somebody yell at you about were you beating the person next to you, could you push harder, how could you get it done quicker and more efficiently. It’s interesting. Cut to 2006, there was no green juice in this city. There was no boutique fitness. There were a couple of yoga studios. But certainly what’s going on today was not what was going on in 2006 in New York.
So for me, there was a real void, even though I was desperate to come back to the East Coast and be with my family, there certainly was a void in what I had experienced in Los Angeles, in terms of lifestyle.
Tim Ferriss: So I want to talk about, just for a moment, managing talent. So what does a manager do, and based on what you just said, which you said several things, but one of which was, they said, “Great, we’ll give you a bunch of time off, and you can then pick up with your job.” You, I would imagine, were good at that job. So what does a manager do, and what were some of your better bets or better decisions as a manager?
Julie Rice: Sure. An agent is responsible for getting actors jobs, and a publicist is responsible for making sure that people know about those jobs, and a lawyer is making that they don’t get screwed over in the contracts for those jobs. What a manager does is think about big picture. You really think about who that person is, who they want to be in the world.
What I learned, actually, from being a manager, is you’re really thinking about creating a brand for a person. What is that person’s brand? How do they walk through the world? What do they stand for? What do people think about when they think about an actor or an actress, everything from their fashions, the things that they endorse to the way that they talk in interviews, and really thinking in terms of how do I plan a career, not just a job to job for this person.
Tim Ferriss: And when you got to L.A., you transitioned to this job as a manager. Were there any particular wins or finds, from the perspective of talent, people you chose to work with or ended up working with that come to mind? If you can talk about them.
Julie Rice: I definitely can. Well, I will definitely say that I think that one of my better skills in life is picking people.
Tim Ferriss: I’ve seen that. I agree.
Julie Rice: I’m a very good people picker. I think I have just about the greatest husband. I chose a fantastic business partner, and I feel actually very lucky in my life with my friends, and the people that are around me, are all dynamic and really feed me in very specific ways. But I’ve always been a good people picker. I genuinely love people, and what I really love, is I love the nuances that make people the people that they are.
Those little things about people that are special are things that I feel like I can really see. Something that I love doing in the world is trying to help figure out how to connect to the world, the things that are special about those people. And so I’ve had good luck all along. Early on in my career, Ellen Pompeo was a bartender that wouldn’t give me a drink. When I finally gave her my card and her boyfriend found it in the laundry, a couple months later she called me, and we had quite a good run.
I worked with Selma Blair for a while. I worked with Justin Long. And then, when I was in Hollywood, I worked on the teams of people. I worked for a bigger company, but I worked on the teams for people like Jennifer Lopez and Sean Combs and Will Smith. Those were not necessarily people that I found, but I was actually really lucky to be a part of those teams, because I worked for somebody, a guy named Benny Medina, who is a very famous talent manager. He’s created a lot of incredible artists.
He was one of the first people that really thought about how you create artists into brands. He would take somebody like Jennifer Lopez and think, “How can we release an album on the same day as we release a movie, on the same day as we put a fragrance into the world?” And I think that was pretty early thinking back then, in terms of 360 thinking about how you could turn a person into a company.
Tim Ferriss: Let’s flash back to Ellen. You mentioned bartender.
Julie Rice: Bartender.
Tim Ferriss: What did you see…as context for me, as well as people who are listening, do the most successful, iconic managers have five clients, 50 clients, 100 clients? What does that tend to look like, in terms of the number of people you work with? And then, what did you see in Ellen?
Julie Rice: Sure. When you’re starting out, you’re betting, and you’re betting on more people. So usually in the beginning, you start with about 25 or 30 people. First of all, your ability to sign. You’re not me at 25 in the world saying to J. Lo, “Hey, come on with me.” That’s not happening.
So you’re trying to identify talent, you’re trying to find people that you think are going to have trajectory, and you’re usually signing between 20 and 25 of them, and then watching how their different careers are advancing. As your clients become more successful, what winds up happening is you personally handle less people, because now you’re really building companies. If things are going great, you’re actually producing things, you’re looking for properties for them, you’re really overseeing pretty much every decision for them. And so you’re probably, at that point, handling between, if they’re mega stars, you’re having between one and three. If they’re big stars, you’re having between three and five, and if you have a bunch of people on TV series and other things…
I’m going to say that, once your clients are successful, you don’t have more than 10 that you’re personally handling. You might have a team of people below you that are handling a bunch and you’re kind of saying yes to that, no to that, whatever. But you’re hands on with, I’m going to say, between three and five.
Tim Ferriss: And what did you see in Ellen? And the reason I’m asking this, just for people who are wondering, “Why is he drilling so deeply in this?” is that whether you think of yourselves as investors or not, you are all investors, in the sense that you are allocating your hours, you’re allocating your attention. And so, in a way, her choosing clients is putting together an investment portfolio. You’re placing bets and you have finite number of bets you can place. So why Ellen? What did you see?
Julie Rice: You know, I saw, in Ellen, interestingly enough, what I ultimately wound up looking for in SoulCycle instructors, what I ultimately look for in employees, and what I actually do ultimately look for in entrepreneurs, which is there was something about her that made me want to know her, that made me want to understand what she was thinking, what she was going to be doing.
When I used to audition SoulCycle instructors, I would say the main criteria that I had for a SoulCycle instructor was, “Do I want to have a whole meal with you?” I’m talking about an appetizer, an entree, and dessert, and I’m still not bored of you. How do you connect to people? Watching her, there was something that was just fascinating about her. There was something that was really deep that I wanted her to tell me.
I think that’s really interesting. I think that there are certain kinds of people that you really want to lean into, and whenever I had that instinct, when my body wants to lean into somebody, to know a little more, I genuinely know that’s a person that I need to surround myself with, because there’s something about that person that is interesting for me.
Tim Ferriss: So we’re back into SoulCycle land, which is perfect. When did SoulCycle become something real, in the sense that there was a concrete action of some type of taking it from in the head to into the world in some way?
Julie Rice: Right. That’s what actually separates the boys from the men, right? I always say “Everybody’s got an idea tucked away somewhere.” I was working in New York, I was still working in the talent business, and I was taking classes at many different gyms, just sort of trying to find something that fulfilled me, in terms of exercise. I’m an anxious person, exercise is a real must for me in my life, to sort of keep myself and everybody around me and in good spirits.
I just couldn’t find anything that was enjoyable. I kept thinking to myself like, “This could be different, this could be fun, this could make you feel good.” I was taking classes with an indoor cycling instructor at a gym, and I became friendly with her. I just kept saying all those things to her. And finally she said to me, “You know, there’s a woman that takes some classes with me at another gym, and she’s been saying the same thing to me. You guys should meet for lunch.”
And so she connected me with my business partner, who’s right there. My other soul mate, as I like to say. We had lunch one day, and it was really the craziest thing. I mean it’s a hard story to believe, because we met for lunch. We had a couple hour lunch. It was in the winter. It was at Soho House here in New York, and we had lunch. It was crazy. It was like we had the same exact idea, and we were just completing each other’s sentences.
When I left lunch that day, before I even got in my cab, my cell phone rang and it was Elizabeth. She said to me, “I’m going to look for real estate, and you look at towels. I’ll call you on Thursday.” And I thought, “Wow, that’s amazing.” I still had a job and whatever. And sure enough, she called me on Thursday, and she said, “I found something on Craigslist. It’s a 1,200-square-foot sublet of an old dance studio. We can take a five-year sublet, and you should meet me tomorrow on 72nd street.” I went, and four months later we opened.
Tim Ferriss: How were you doing on the towels? She’s like, “So how are you doing on the towels?”
Julie Rice: So it’s really interesting, actually, in case anybody wants to start a business. It turns out that, when you have a 1,200-square-foot studio, and you don’t actually have laundry facilities, what you do is you rent towels, and somebody picks them up and takes them away every day and launders them. I learned that on Google, and I dutifully brought my towel report that day, as she was signing the lease for our Craigslist dance studio.
Tim Ferriss: You, based on just the reading that I’ve done in preparation for this, made some, in retrospect, what would seem to be very important decisions. One of them was deferring or minimizing payment to yourselves, it seems. I read about, maybe you could talk about, I think it was what, the every Sunday $200 ATM, maybe talk about that. But could you explain the rationale behind that, and could you elaborate on the weekly ritual with the ATM?
Julie Rice: Definitely. So when we started SoulCycle, I actually had a good job. I was making real money. It was really the first time, actually, that I ever thought about my time as money, because I was sort of giving up a salary now and I was going to be using all my time, but I wasn’t good to necessarily be taking…I took a small salary because, at the time, that’s what we needed to do, but my husband was working, luckily, and he was supporting us. But we had a five-month-old baby, and we moved into a rent controlled apartment. We paid a little less than $1,000 a month. We lived on 71st Street over Harry’s Burritos, and I had a five-month-old baby, who’s in the front row. She’s not such a baby. What are you wearing?
Tim Ferriss: I’ll let you guys sort that out.
Julie Rice: And yeah, so what we decided was that we were going to make sacrifices so that we could start this business. Spencer, my husband, would go to the cash machine on Sunday nights, and he would take out $400. We decided that, when we started the business, we were going to give our credit cards up, and we were going to put ourselves on a real budget, which we hadn’t really done before. We were two people with no kids and two salaries. We weren’t making tons of money, but we certainly had enough that we could each go to Starbucks and take cabs, and go out for dinner, and not think about a vacation.
So Spencer would give us a white envelope. Each of us on Sunday nights, we each got $200, and that was our money for the week. And when the $200 was gone, that was —
Tim Ferriss: Each of us, meaning he got one.
Julie Rice: He got $200 and I got $200. And I will tell you, with a child in New York City, $200 does not go that far. So it was a lot of strollers on the cross town bus, not a lot of Starbucks, but that’s what we did. Actually, I think that one of the really interesting things about really believing in what you’re doing and being so passionate about an idea, and really believing that something should be born was, it was hard.
I remember clamping my finger in that stroller a million times, and cursing on that bus, but it didn’t really feel like that big of a sacrifice. I mean, we were happy. Elizabeth and I were loving what we were doing, and we did it. We lived in one room, and when we wanted to watch TV, we rolled the crib into our bedroom, and when we wanted to go to sleep, we rolled the crib back out into the living room, and that’s what we did.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you for painting a picture, and you already said sort of anxious by birth. So it doesn’t strike me as the perfect time to necessarily start a company, just with a five-month-year-old kid…five-month-year-old kid? Is that what they say? For the Brits in the audience, that’s American, that’s Yank speak. It, I think, just highlights the fact that if you really have something you want to do and feel it’s important, there’s very rarely going to be a perfect, convenient time to do it.
Julie Rice: You know, it was such a gift that had happened so quickly. I talk a lot about Elizabeth, my business partner, sort of being a great entrepreneur, and me being a really hard worker. I think that’s part of what makes us such great partners. Elizabeth’s an incredibly good risk-taker. I always say Elizabeth’s like a total baller, and I’m just sort of running behind trying to work really hard. But the truth is that I think because she was such a good risk-taker, because she’s so good at moving the ball forward, it all happened so quickly, I didn’t actually have time to be anxious or think, “Oh, I’m giving up my job. What’s going to happen?”
It was just like we met on Tuesday, we saw the place on Thursday. We went across the street to Starbucks. We wrote on a napkin, which we still have framed. It says, “If we could see 100 people a day, at $27 a bike, we’re going to have enough money to pay for some babysitters.” We both had young kids at the time. “We’re going to be able to pay our studio staff. We’re going to be able to take a little bit out of the business to justify the fact that we’re not raising our own kids for the next decade.” That was our business model on the back of that Starbucks napkin.
And the truth is, it happened quickly, and we just got into action mode so quick that we didn’t have a lot of time to obsess about what if, what if, what if. We just had to make it happen every day.
Tim Ferriss: What other names were candidates for the business besides SoulCycle, or was that just a lightning bolt from the sky and that was it?
Julie Rice: That was a lightning bolt to Elizabeth’s husband in the shower one day. There was not a lightning bolt to either of us, but we thought of a bunch of different names. At the time, again, there was no boutique fitness in New York City, and so we felt like we needed something sort of descriptive about the cycling part of it in the name. We thought about Cycle NYC. We definitely had a lot of “cycle” in the different other names, because we felt we needed to be somewhat specific for people.
Tim Ferriss: Then you landed on SoulCycle. How did you decide on the business model, not just, say, the technology and the ambiance, and all these other elements that made it different, but how did you both think about developing the business model?
Julie Rice: So it’s interesting. I think that, again, at the time, the landscape was, in New York City, there were big box gyms. The model that was profitable was you went in, you gave somebody your credit card, they took an imprint of it, and then they just hoped that you never came, because the best thing that could happen was that they could double or triple book your spot when they were figuring out their utilization. And rather than take 400 members, they could have 800 members, or even better. Both of those people didn’t show up, and they could have 1,200 members.
And so, for us, we really began to think about it in a different way. I think a lot of it had to do also with our idea that we were tasking ourselves to create a really special experience every time. To the point of being a theater lover and thinking about things in terms of a production, we used to always say that every time somebody crossed the threshold at SoulCycle, it was curtain up. And until they left, it was curtain down, because we were only as good as their last experience.
When we decided on a pay-per-class model, everybody thought that we were crazy. “Why wouldn’t you just take people’s credit cards? Why wouldn’t you just charge them?” For us, it was a challenge to everybody there, from the people at the front desk to know your name, to the instructor in that room to deliver a certain kind of experience, to us to make sure that the brand was delivering a message and continuing to innovate. And we just really felt like we wanted to challenge ourselves in that kind of way. We wanted to deliver that kind of experience every time.
Tim Ferriss: Were there any other early decisions that proved either particularly important/good or particularly bad?
Julie Rice: There were many decisions that proved both of those things. Let’s talk about the good ones first. I think that, when we started SoulCycle, there were quite a few things that, even though our business model on the Starbucks napkin might not seem sophisticated, I think that we were smarter than we thought that we were. We thought about a few different things.
We thought about technology, we thought about the fact that, at the time, you had to go to the gym an hour early to put your name on a paper list, and sign up for a class that was only going to be 45 minutes long. So your gym experience now turned into two hours plus for 45 minutes worth of exercise. So we created the first online reservation system. We thought about brand a lot. We thought about creating something.
We never thought about SoulCycle like we’re creating a gym. For us, our muses were things like the White Cube, the art gallery in London, or an Apple Store. We always thought about ourselves in a much different way and creating a brand. We never compared ourselves to fitness. We always thought if we could create a brand, if we could set a stage, if we could create a place where people felt safe and empowered, and like they could share with other people, if we could set that stage and create that for people, then they could have a different experience than they could have in an environment that wasn’t like that.
We also really thought about community, and we thought about “How do we create a place where people support each other?” So much of what was going on at gyms was competition between people, and for us it was all about, “Some days, I’m not going to feel like exercising, but if you can bring it for me on Monday, and I can bring it for you on Wednesday, and we can all raise each other up, what does that kind of a place feel like?”
Tim Ferriss: As co-participants.
Julie Rice: Correct.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Julie Rice: Correct. And you know there were a lot of little decisions that we made along the way, and things, also, that just happened to us in a lucky way. We started out with 35 bikes in the room. We got popular before we could find a second space. So we ended up with 45 bikes in the room. And what did that do? It put the bikes this close to each other.
When people were done complaining about, “Can you believe they’re going to charge $27 and I’m going to have to sit that close to somebody?” What actually happened was, the lights were dark, and people could all feel the music at the same time, and you could almost feel somebody breathing next to you. Your foot was on the same beat as their foot was on, and all of a sudden it became connected, and it became tribal, and it was dark, and there were candles. The music was amazing and an instructor is telling you that you could be more than you thought you could be. Somehow, the room is moving together in a way that you don’t often feel connected to people like that even when you’re having deep conversation.
There’s something about a moving meditation with other people that are rooting for you, that are holding space for you, that aren’t there to compete with you, that are there to elevate you so that they can be elevated as well. And when we created an experience like that, it was magic. I mean, it was really magic. It was a really transformational thing for people.
Tim Ferriss: It’s really remarkable, among other things, that you two are still close, in the sense that a lot of co-founders blow to smithereens at some point. They get speed wobbles, maybe. because the company’s growing really quickly. They might not have the important conversations up front that they should have. There are a-million-and-one reasons why a lot of these relationships don’t work out.
I don’t know if this factors in, but could you talk to coaching or advisors and if and how you’ve utilized people to help you guys develop and maintain close bonds and ability to work together?
Julie Rice: Definitely. So early on in our business life, Elizabeth and I started to see a coach. The way that that happened was, we had a third business partner in the beginning. We quickly found out that partnership was not necessarily going to work. And we realized, as that partnership was crumbling, that it takes work to make good partnerships, something that I’ve have worked on in my marriage, something that is no longer a secret to me, that people actually need skills and tools to be in relationships with other people.
There are plenty of people that are in relationships that are fine, but if you really want to have great relationships, that’s actually a particular skill set. And so Elizabeth and picture, I don’t really know Elizabeth very well at this point. I mean, we’re about a year into business. We met at this lunch, we decided, “Let’s just go for it.” We’re still pretty much strangers.
Elizabeth, while I was in L.A. growing a career, Elizabeth’s in Colorado. She goes to University of Boulder, she spends her time in Telluride.
She is a much more evolved, spiritual, at peace with the world person than I am. I’ve only lived in the coast. I’ve only done that grind. Elizabeth calls me in the middle of the night and she says, “I’ve googled Life Coach NYC.” I’ve realized she’s having a nervous breakdown because she realizes that her business is taking off. We got to get rid of our third partner, who’s completely toxic. Now, it’s like, “What’s going to happen here?” We both have little kids at home. The worst thing that’s happening is that our business is becoming such a success. We’re going to have to put our foot on the gas here. She said she’s googled Life Coach NYC and that I should meet her tomorrow at some location around Gramercy because we’re going to meet with the coach.
I hang up the phone. I say to my husband like, “This woman is bat-shit crazy. There is no way. I have to work tomorrow. There’s no way I’m getting myself in a cab, going the way downtown to go to some hotel and sit with some Life Coach NYC.” I’m thinking we’re sitting with Dionne Warwick and she is going to tell us. You know what I mean? Sure enough, I mean, we get there. We start to talk to our coach who, by the way, we still work with today. There are so many decisions in my life and our life that we wouldn’t make without her. I met with a woman. Her name is Meredith Haberfeld. She has an incredible company called ThinkHuman. We started to talk about what it’s like to be good partners, and what it takes to make decisions together, and any relationship. You’re two people that have a common vision, but are in very different moments in your life at all times.
A business relationship is no different. I mean, there are times that I need money and you don’t, or I need to slow down for a minute because something’s going on in the life of my family. You want to put your foot on the gas or whatever. There’s just things that you want to do with the business. I’m ready to sell the business and you’re not. What does that all look like? Everything along the way, from learning how to be the only two employees in a company to managing 2,500 employees, and what do you look like as leaders? How do you communicate with your employees? We’ve started down this journey with Meredith, our therapist, coach, Life Coach NYC. I really think she’s changed her website since then.
We’ve worked with her for a long time now, 10 years. I will say that she taught us lessons that helped inform the entire way, that the culture of our company would exist. We would learn how to have a conversation with each other. Then we would take those skills and we would codify them. We had an incredible chief culture officer. We’d work on them. We’d learn to have those skills, and then we’d bring her in to learn that skill. We’d codify it, and we would teach the entire organization how to communicate like that. We did that until we created a really extensive library of tools that we use to build a culture. What was amazing was, and I know that you speak to so many founders that have spoken businesses that have started businesses, but I really do believe that just like the way that I was saying to you, the nuances of people, what makes them special are just so intricate and so interesting.
I really think that the nuances of great businesses come from the DNA of their founders. It’s those very things that make those people special that ultimately make those companies so special. The problem is right after it goes from two employees to 2,000 employees, how do you take that DNA and keep it in a place that’s really what it was meant to be? I will say that finding that coach was so lucky, not only for me personally. I can honestly say that it has changed who I am as a human being and who I ever would have been able to be as a leader. It also allowed us to scale this stuff into our culture, which was incredible for our employees. I mean, we gave them tools like, how to get unstuck, which was really just teaching them how to have a conversation about what was bothering them and to create spaces where they could have those conversations and not feel like people were going to judge them or reward them or punish them for what they were saying.
We had an expression saying, “No lumpy carpets.” We created an ethos where it was you had to communicate with your coworker if something was bothering you. We created a space where you could have those conversations. We taught people not only how to express themselves, but also how to listen.
Tim Ferriss: Okay, there’s so much to unpack. Let’s get into it. The tools that you developed or were able to learn from your coach, are our one set of questions that I’ll get to. But let me start with going from, “Oh my god, we’re going to be talking to a psychic. Get me out here. I’m busy.” to working with someone for 10 years, were you sold in the first meeting? If so, why? What did she do, not do, ask, not ask, exude that sold you?
Julie Rice: Well, here was what was so interesting about our meeting. I mean, first of all, it was definitely one of those lean-in moments. I had never really met somebody who had such different life experience than me, and was so different than me and yet saw it all the same. Elizabeth and I have such completely different things that we bring to our partnership and relationship. Yet, at the end of the day, we have a really common vision. I think that’s really what drew me to her.
Tim Ferriss: In the case of Meredith, specifically, how did she overcome your skepticism about that use of time?
Julie Rice: Well, first of all, she’s just completely cool and normal. If she was here with us, she would just be us. She’s super, and she’s just real. There’s no bullshit. She will call you on it. She asks you really hard questions. You’ll sit there and defend something for 15 minutes. “Well, that’s not how I see it. That’s not how I want it. Yeah, but that’s it.” Then she’ll say to you, “That’s all great. Here’s what I want you to think about, and you don’t have to answer it now.” She’ll say to you something like this. “At the end of your life, when you look back on this, who do you want to have been? How do you want people to have thought of you?” I’ll just go, “Wow,” because that’s some different shit than what I was about defending right now, right?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, yeah.
Julie Rice: Wow, that’s way different than being right in this room right now. When I think back to the end of my life, and I think back about the way that I want people to have thought of me, or have listened to people, or have taken a moment to consider somebody else’s feelings or point of view or put myself in their shoes, I mean, that’s some different stuff than being right in the moment. When somebody asks you a question like that, you stop. It’s always questions like that or it’s questions, a lot of times, it’s just you and yourself. She’ll just ask you questions about why you’re doing things. “Is it about your ego? Is it about the way other people think about you? Is it because you need more money?” I don’t know. I have not done enough work on myself to really ask myself those questions. I’m really good still at a talking to myself into the things that I want to hear.
Tim Ferriss: When you were talking about the getting unstuck, if I’m getting that right, or/and no lumpy carpets or no lumps in the carpet — I might be getting the phrasing wrong — or managing these what could be very uncomfortable conversations with a partner about wanting to sell when someone else doesn’t want to sell, whatever the conversation might be, right? It seems like a lot of those tools. Whether it’s for employees, or for the two of you, is about having uncomfortable conversations successfully and managing conflict. Are there any specific recommendations, tools, anything at all or examples you could give how to approach say the employee who has something that is bothering them about a co-worker and walking them through how to do that in a way that doesn’t lead to World War III?
Julie Rice: Well, first of all, for better or for worse, I think that company culture also has a lot to do with it. I think that creating environments where it’s safe for people to do those things. There’s so much politicking and things that still go on in many places, where you have to actually reward that behavior. I do think that that is something that has to be considered. But what I will say is that I do think that having those conversations and beginning to have those conversations really start with teaching people how to listen first. I think that training people how to listen to what somebody else has to say allows people who then have issues to go out and be heard.
I will tell you about something actually great that my husband and I have done for a long time, which actually changed the dynamic of our relationship. I can honestly say that if I ever had to say the other best thing that I’ve ever done is we had our first daughter. All of a sudden, we were no longer two people that could just do what they wanted whenever they wanted. If we both wanted to go to take different exercise classes at different gyms at the same time, well, somebody had to stay home with our kid. That began to create conflict. We no longer had the time that we used to have to ourselves. We no longer had the autonomy. It’s different when you have a child. We’d started arguing and we had started having all this conflict. My husband, who happens to be a much more evolved person than I am and a much better communicator, said, “Well, maybe you should go talk to somebody.”
We started to go to some couples counseling and see different marital people on a hunt for some solution to this. When we were in the room with couples counselors and therapists, we basically were two really smart people. We would just play to win the therapist game. We’d spend a couple hundred bucks an hour trying to figure out who was going to actually win that day. Then, finally, we quit the couples therapy because I decided that our therapist liked him better. Then finally, Spencer was seeing a therapist on his own.
She had given him a suggestion. She said, “You should read this book, and it’s called Getting the Love You Want.” He brought it home one day, and he started to read it. He would say to me like, “You’ve got to read this. This book is really amazing.” Before he was through the book, he had gone out and bought a copy for me and said, “We should read this together.” We started to read this book. Before we were done with the book, we had actually signed up for the workshop. I bring this up because this is actually a technique that we have learned that you can use with your employees. You can use with your children. You can use with anybody. But we went to this workshop. It was probably the most important 40 hours of our marriage up until that point.
It is these two older therapists called Harville Hendrix and Helen Hunt. Here’s what’s so fascinating. Harville was the first person to win the Oprah Daytime Emmy. He’s this amazing older therapist who had studied relationships for a long time and was becoming very prominent. His wife was also a research professor that was studying relationships in the brain. She’s learning all these things about the brain and cortisol levels. He’s winning Daytime Emmys. They’re both on their second marriages. They’re actually about to get divorced while they’re all winning all these awards and stuff. You go and take the seminar and cut to this. 50% of first marriages end up in divorce, 70% of second marriages end up in divorce, and about 90% of third marriages do.
Teaching you that it has not much to do with the partner that you choose, but mostly the skill set that you bring to the relationship, right? Here’s the crazy thing. Nobody teaches us how to be married. Nobody teaches us how to communicate with a partner. Nobody teaches us how to communicate with anybody. I don’t remember being in a class in school where somebody said to me, “This is how you listen. This is how you talk to somebody. This is how you consider what they’re saying.” Really, all you do in this workshop is you learn active listening. We learned how to make appointments with each other, to have conversations so that you’re not bombarding somebody at a time where they can’t hear you. When you make an appointment and you say it’s your turn to talk, basically, I say what I need to say, and then all that person gets to do is repeat back to you and say, “Is there more?” That’s it. That’s all the person gets to do.
You know what? There always is more. It’s never really just about that, is it right? Then you say what more there is. Then they get to repeat it back. Then they get to say, “Is there more?” You know what happens at the end of three “is there mores?” Rather than trying to win the therapist and rather than trying to be right, what you realize is that somebody is suffering about something. That it’s coming from a source of pain, not coming from a source of, like, [aggressive noise] at you.
It’s not about you being right. It’s about taking care of somebody that you love, or taking care of somebody that you work with, or hearing a child that’s coming home from school that didn’t have a good day or got a bad grade, that’s feeling disappointed also. I think really teaching people how to listen and how to have conversations is something that’s so important.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you. Very specific. Are there other examples of ways you’ve brought things from that workshop or book or elsewhere into your relationships? Aside from the specific examples you just gave in terms of active listening, are there any other tools or habits that you’ve adopted or found useful?
Julie Rice: There are actually many others. I think that one is really the one that it’s really the focus of the workshop and what you do most often, but there are a lot of amazing practices. Telling people what’s great about them. I mean, how often do you think about something that’s wonderful about your partner, and make sure that you share that every day? How often do you make time to be proactive about doing something nice. Again, whether it’s for a spouse, whether it’s for a child, whether it’s for a colleague, I think there are a lot of incredible things that happen out of that workshop. I will say that the foundation of it is really learning to listen.
Tim Ferriss: You mentioned that, and I’m paraphrasing here, so correct me if I’m wrong here. You see founders with certain DNA, certain superpowers that infuse and inform the organization. I think it’s at least been my experience observing and being involved in a lot of companies that also if there is acute dysfunction in a founder, that can also infuse its way into a company. I’m mentioning that just to say that the culture, which we take to be like a shared set of beliefs and behaviors, at least that’s how I think of it, does not just take care of itself. Part of that is doing the work that you guys have done as founders both separately and together.
Are there any other — whether it’s books, seminars, advisors, anything that comes to mind — as having made a real difference? Whether it’s in your business life, or in your personal life that you’re like, “You know what I would recommend? I’ve tried a lot of things. Here a few things I would definitely recommend that people check out.”
Julie Rice: A big book at SoulCycle for us was always Start with Why from Simon Sinek. I know that’s made it to a lot of your lists. A lot of people are Simon Sinek fans. I will say this is what I think is so interesting as somebody who is fascinated with brand, and the articulation of brand, and all things brand. I think that people are often confused and think of brand is the way something looks or the color of a logo. Brands are really how people feel. I think it was maybe Jeff Bezos who said it. It’s what people say about you when you’re not in the room, or that kind of a thing. I do think that Start with Why is so important, because people understanding why you do something, not what you are doing, is really what makes or breaks a brand.
I think everything about that book is fantastic. I think that, for us, really, we spent so much time. I remember the day that we just really officially stop doing our day jobs. I looked at Elizabeth and said, “Are we ever going to get to go back to work? Or do we have to spend our whole life making these people happy?” Referring to our employees. That was the truth. There was a day where it all turned, and you began to realize that if the culture wasn’t going to be good, that the product wasn’t going to be good. I think that’s a real core value from Simon Sinek who really says that your happiest customer is only as happy as your happiest employee.
For us, really making sure that our employees were taken care of. Taken care of meaning not just financially, but really felt they mattered. The things that they were doing were moving the needle for the company that we personally understood. Things that they were going through, achievements that they were making happen. I think that really taking care of employees in a way that they feel heard is very important.
Tim Ferriss: What were little things or big things that you did to foster those things, to make those things happen?
Julie Rice: I mean, interestingly enough, one of the main things that we recognized in the beginning when we started SoulCycle was that the fitness industry in general was really broken. Instructors didn’t have full-time jobs anywhere. If you were a fitness professional, you would teach two classes at one gym, and three classes at another gym, and personal train somebody in their home. You’d spend your entire life commuting and being exhausted, just to try to cobble together a living. Then, on top of it, for doing one of the most physical jobs in the world, you had no health insurance. You had no paid vacation. You certainly had no place to call home or really feel you had somebody or to support you or that cared about you.
One thing that was very early on a goal for us was to create these careers for fitness instructors, which is something that we really did. We paid more. We gave people full health benefits. We paid for those vacations. Most importantly, we really gave them a home. We built a platform. SoulCycle was really a platform that we built — we really thought of our fitness instructors as artists — to allow artists to really find their voice on a platform and to give them the room to be creative and to grow into being their best selves. I think by giving people that platform and room and then really taking care of them and the tactical aspects of their lives, it allowed people to become a different kind of employee.
I mean, what we found was that we didn’t have employees. What we had was brand ambassadors. We had people walking around so proud that they worked at SoulCycle telling everybody how fantastic it was. It became way more like a family than it did a job.
Tim Ferriss: I’m going to ask some questions about good strategic decisions then we’re definitely going to get to.
Julie Rice: You see how I’ve avoided the failures, right?
Tim Ferriss: Yes, yes. No, we’re going to get to the waste of time and money because there are plenty of those stories in all businesses. Initiatives that didn’t go quite as hoped. One story that I read was related to opening the Bridgehampton location, and how you resisted the urge to pay yourselves or pay yourself much. As I understand, also had not taken outside investment. I would imagine, especially being in New York City, as soon as something seems to be going really well and spreading quite widely, that you start getting calls. You start getting emails about outside investment. Could you talk to why or how you decided when to take outside investment, which could just be why you didn’t take it up to this point?
Then, the thinking behind the Bridgehampton location, which for people who, everybody in this room and a lot of people, I’m sure know where Bridgehampton is, but for those people in the wider world. You have Manhattan. Then you have Long Island. You go way out. You have this place called The Hamptons. Depending on who you are, there’s very little in the middle, either you love or you hate The Hamptons. I happened to grow up as a townie out there, so I have this incredible inner conflict. I bounced back and forth between the two. Just too, for people who do not know, The Hamptons are where many of these successful people from Manhattan go to summer, beautiful beaches, where for some people they go to be seen. Why Bridgehampton? How do you guys think about it? Why no outside investment?
Julie Rice: Well, let me just say that, again, to the point of ignorance is bliss, we opened in four months. When I look back now, and when I think about all the investing that we’ve done, and when I think about how the world is spinning with people raising money, I really think that it was an incredible luxury to have no investors. I mean, we were really allowed to make decisions that were just the best for the business. We always just used our gut instincts. There was no choice except doing what was right for our customers, what was right for employees. Really, what was right for SoulCycle. I mean, we invented a brand that was like a human being. We would always make choices.
We have four daughters in between us, but SoulCycle was like our fifth daughter. We would always really make choices, thinking about what is the right choice for this business. Not having money in the beginning, I also think really informed the way that we marketed. We had no marketing dollars. I mean zero. Until 10 years into the business, we didn’t spend any money on advertising. I think what it really did was it really forced us to be incredibly disciplined and incredibly scrappy, and really be a part of the communities that we were trying to create. We would be out there at the mouth of Central Park handing out flyers in the bike loop. I’d be pushing my stroller up and down Broadway trying to get doormen to let me into mailroom buildings so that I could leave flyers.
If you could actually find our studio, which by the way, was in the rear lobby of a building with no sign on the outside of it — we forgot to talk about that; we’ll get to that and the epic failures — we were so happy to see you that we would do anything. I mean, I would watch your dog. I’d feed your parking meter. I’d let your kids sit there and play a video game. It didn’t matter. We needed you to like your experience, because we had zero money for marketing. At the time, I’m trying to convince somebody to come to the back lobby of an office building — actually, that was a mortuary — to do that, to convince you to pay $27, to click into a bike, to be in a dark room for 45 minutes. I mean, if we could get you there, you had to come back.
Tim Ferriss: We have to keep you.
Julie Rice: There was nothing we weren’t doing to get you to come back. All that being said, it really was interesting, because when I think about the way that we thought about that first studio, I think about that napkin that we wrote our hundred riders on, I think about starting a business. I think about this for a lot of young entrepreneurs, there is so much low-hanging fruit in the beginning. I mean, we really thought about building that first studio rider by rider. People will say to me, “Did you ever think SoulCycle was going to be such a big deal? Did you ever think this was going to happen?” What I always thought to myself was, I just knew that I needed to get 100 people there.
That was not going to be a problem for me because if I had to go and walk up and down the streets of Manhattan, and call my friends and get people on those bikes, 100 people are coming today. That was what I thought about it. I think that really forced us to have a different a discipline than if we had had crazy investment and marketing dollars. It just shaped who we were in the way that we understood our customer because we were in it in a different way. There was a lot of freedom to that. The great news for us was that our business model was great. I mean, we kept throwing more and more bikes in that room. It was a teeny little place. I mean, 1,200 square feet we ended up. We had 40 something bikes in there, $27 a bike going eight times a day.
We were able to create our first four or five, six studios taking from Peter, giving to Paul, selling to Mary. It was pretty great. We were really able to finance one with the other. Because we were not taking money out of the business, because we really were that disciplined, we were taking everything that we made, we were putting it back into the business. We were growing organically. Again, to the same point of not noticing the Starbucks was missing from my life and taking the taxis. We were having a great time. It really didn’t feel like we were suffering.
Tim Ferriss: I’m going to end there. I may be chasing the wrong trail in terms of Bridgehampton. We can scrap it maybe. I want to highlight something that’s really important, that’s come up numerous times with founders of companies that have done extremely well, on a large scale, is that in most cases — especially if the business models actually work — I mean, there are some companies that get very big with business models that don’t work. But in the case of something like SoulCycle, it’s very tempting to want to say that you’re aiming for this billion dollar, $2 billion, x billion dollar outcome. As Seth Godin said on the podcast before, it’s very easy to hide when you have this grandiose, somewhat abstract, gigantic goal. He’s like, “Start small, because then you have nowhere to hide.”
If it’s 100 people, it’s a very clear, measurable outcome. With no marketing dollars, this is also a common thread that I see with a lot of these companies that are at least those have been exposed to that are consumer facing, is if you don’t have much in terms of marketing dollars, or you can strain it deliberately, you have to make sure your product is great. You really have to ensure that your product or service is really, really good. Then your customers become your marketing.
Julie Rice: Well, that was always the philosophy, right? I mean, we always knew. Again, this was part of it: all work together, right? Because we created a pay-per-class model, it had to be great every time or else nobody had to come back. What we used to say was like, “It can’t just be good. This cannot be a utility. This needs to be so good that people are talking about it when they’re out with their friends on Saturday night for dinner, and they are wanting — you want the credit for finding the coolest, greatest thing that’s going to make your friend feel the best. You’re going to bring that person.”
The saying in the halls of SoulCycle would be like, “We do not create users. We create evangelists.” Our evangelists were spreading the gospel for us. That really was our marketing, but I will answer your question about Bridgehampton. We were doing very well. We had become this little Upper West Side destination. The studio was bustling, and we were selling our classes really well. We realized pretty soon everybody was going to leave for the summer because that’s what happens in New York, right? There’s a mass exodus to different beaches and whether people are going to The Hamptons, or the Jersey Shore, or wherever they’re going, there’s nobody here on the weekends in the summer.
I called Hamptons magazine to see what it would be to take an ad. I thought, “Oh, we’ll just take an ad in the fourth of July publication.” They gave me a staggering quote. I thought, “Well, we certainly don’t have that much money.” The truth is what we did was experiential. I could sit here and tell you how awesome it is to be on a bike and what it feels and the music and the sweat, and the instructors and the people. Then you’re like, “Hmm, you still can’t really feel it because there’s no music playing and we’re not in the dark.” What I found was the only real way to get people to come and really experience it was to come and get them to take a class.
We comp a lot of classes. We tell people if they didn’t like it, they shouldn’t pay. If they didn’t like it, we give them their money back. I realized that doing something experiential would be better than taking an ad. We got a phone call one day. Somebody said, “There’s a great old potato barn, and there used to be some pole dancing class in there.” The pole dancing class was apparently going out of business. Now the space would be vacant if we wanted to create a cycling studio. We figured we could either spend $75,000 running a quarter page ad in Hamptons magazine, or we could just run the studio and plan on making no money and just think of it as a marketing experiment. I mean, that’s all we thought it was going to be.
It was marketing dollars, and so we did. We went and we painted the barn. We rolled our bikes in there, and we put a big yellow wheel on the wall. We flung open our doors. The barn became a sensation. It really became…we live in a little bit of a SoulCycle bubble, but it really is. I mean, it’s really the epicenter of Hampton social life. People will tell you that if they can go and take a class at the barn at SoulCycle in the morning and then hobnob in between classes, they barely need to go out at night anymore — because that barn sees hundreds and hundreds of people between the hours of seven and 12 on a Saturday morning. Really, what it did for us was it took our little Upper West Side business from being a local, great neighborhood business, 100 people a day, to all of a sudden becoming this buzzworthy, New York City, on page six in The New York Times destination.
We came back from that summer. What happened on Mondays at noon, which is when our reservation system opens — if you want to reserve up I get SoulCycle, you go on Monday at noon if you have a specific thing that you’d like to reserve, you sign up for your classes for the full week — what happened for us when we came back that fall was that we started to crash servers. At noon on Monday, the demand load became crazy and all of a sudden we noticed like a line of town cars up and down the street would always be parked outside for SoulCycle classes. There was no Uber yet at the time. And what it was is that people were coming from all over now, waiting and their drivers or whoever, whatever rides they were taking up there would be waiting outside. That’s when we knew like we needed to grow.
Tim Ferriss: I’m no scientist, but —
Julie Rice: I think we should get another studio, except the market doesn’t want us to grow. It’s 2007 and everybody wants a Chase Bank or a Duane Reade in their space. Two women with a business that is throwing off a bunch of cash still does not look that attractive.
Tim Ferriss: Okay, how do you solve that problem?
Julie Rice: Well, then 2008 happens. Suddenly —
Tim Ferriss: Wake up.
Julie Rice: Suddenly, cash is king.
It still was not easy, but 2008 happened and it definitely became easier for us to think about getting space. Now let’s talk about when we actually did take money because there did come a point after about four years where we took money. We had eight studios and it’s interesting, our decision to take money was not so much about the money itself, but again, we really loved what we were doing. We could really see how SoulCycle was changing neighborhoods and it was changing communities and it was changing the way that people felt about themselves and about other people.
And we wanted a win. We had a first mover advantage and we were starting to see copycats come into the landscape and we were introduced to Equinox, to Harvey Spevak, who is the CEO of Equinox. And we started to get to know him, and the money and the cash infusion seemed nice, although we had a pretty good business.
I mean the businesses were making money and we could have expanded in a slower way, but we thought to ourselves that we would take a strategic partner rather than just taking money and they would be able to help us grow 10, 15, 20, 30 studios at a time rather than, let’s say, five or six or seven a year.
Tim Ferriss: What were some of the decisions or initiatives or anything where you look back and you’re like, “Wow, that was a bad use of time or money?” Is there anything that comes to mind?
Julie Rice: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tim Ferriss: Or just, “Yeah, we should’ve thought about that differently?”
Julie Rice: Well, there are definitely a few. I mean, we definitely made a lot of mistakes along the way. Neither of us had ever been entrepreneurs before and there were small mistakes and there were definitely bigger mistakes. Elizabeth always likes to say every time we would make a mistake, it would be $50,000 we didn’t have. And she would say, “Well, look at it this way. Neither of us went to business school. It’s like part of our tuition for our MBAs.”
That was always true. But we started out in our first studio and what did we know? We’d never built anything before and we built a studio and some guy told us that he was really good at soundproofing things and he’d done some porn studios in midtown. And so we thought, “Great. This guy’s done porn studios. Go to it,” and he stuffed some insulation into the ceilings and closed them off. And then cut to opening day, we turned on the stereo to find like a line of irate neighbors outside of our door.
And we certainly did not have money to re-soundproof the studio. And so that was really interesting.
Tim Ferriss: Hold on. I’m sure it was interesting. Fade to black. What’d you do?
Julie Rice: Well —
Tim Ferriss: Now we’re getting to that.
Julie Rice: I find that if you can befriend local neighborhood law enforcers, sometimes they will come and do the sound checks for your studio later in the evening when there may or may not be actual classes going on. And then you might actually be able to make the sound a little bit lower than you do during regular classes sometimes. That worked for us for a while until we had money to re-soundproof the studio.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, you have to sometimes have to build the bridges you’re crossing.
Julie Rice: Yes, we built some of those. Another fantastic memory was our first customer appreciation day. This is really like one of my favorites. I can talk about studying human behavior. We decided after about a year, we really wanted to thank the people that had helped us build business. And so what we were going to do was an entire day of free classes on Saturday starting 7 o’clock in the morning all day long. We were so excited about it.
I mean for us, giving up a Saturday of revenue is huge. I mean, Saturday was our biggest day. We had four of those a month. I mean we were still living by the skin of our teeth. We were still growing. We decided we were going to let everybody just call the studio rather than use the reservation system and sign up for free. We were going to do big bowls of fruit and free drinks and juice sponsorships and all this great stuff.
Cut to, we like open up the phone lines and of course a million people that don’t ever come to SoulCycle sign up for the free classes. And now all of our regulars are irate because they actually don’t give a shit if they have to pay for class. They just want to be on the bike. They want to be on with the instructor at the time that they want to be on. And now what we have is hundreds of pissed off customers who cannot get into a Saturday class at SoulCycle and hundreds of people that may or may not actually show up, but just signed up for a free class because I put it in Time Out. And that was our first customer appreciation day.
So that was a great learning exercise. I would say the worst amount of money we ever spent was scrappy entrepreneurs, no funding. Elizabeth worked on all of our technology with a web developer in Long Island. They built everything as it came up. First, we built it for one studio, and then we built it for 10 studios, and then we wanted to have ecom until we built this thing that was basically like building a million extensions onto a foundation of a house that couldn’t handle it. And so we needed to rebuild our website. And so we were psyched.
I mean, we had $1 million to spend and we were going to hire the pros and that’s what we did. We went out and we hired a big fancy agency and we worked on articulating our vision and our brand and we spent six months explaining to somebody else what we already knew, which was our brand and our experience and user experience and things that were kind of already working on that website. And then it was going to be the big reveal, our big, fancy, new website.
They gave us a new CTO that was checking all the hardware and software and all the things that we were launching. But somehow we flipped on the switch that day and flipped off the other website. And it was great because eight people could book the same bike in the same class at the same time, and that was a disaster. And then to make it even better, nobody could fix it. One week of sign-ups went by, four weeks of sign-ups went by, six weeks of sign-ups went by. Talk about using up your goodwill.
The first few weeks people gave us the benefit of the doubt. We have great customer service teams. People showed up, they gave people hugs, they gave people free classes and juice.
Tim Ferriss: I’m sure the fourth they were like, “Yeah, enough with the hugs.”
Julie Rice: By week number four people were just like, they just thought we were totally inept. And that’s actually how our app was born to divert people from our fancy new website that never actually got working. I mean it works now, but it took us quite a while. I mean, we were able to build an app better than we were able to fix that site.
Tim Ferriss: That sounds really stressful.
Julie Rice: It was stressful.
Tim Ferriss: I don’t know if this is still a thing and maybe it was never a thing and it’s just something somebody wrote on the Internet: 16 Seconds to Calm.
Julie Rice: That’s how long I can meditate.
Tim Ferriss: Can you talk about it? That and any other tools that might help when you were going through an experience like that.
Julie Rice: I’m not really good at sitting still. That’s not my specialty. I’ve definitely tried meditation in many different forms with many very talented people, and many trusted friends have referred me to many places that I’m sure are the right places to be meditating. And I have never found it yet in my being to meditate. I think that’s why SoulCycle continues to be such a huge part of my life just because there is something in that room for me that is really meditative and to the point of coping skills, it’s still something that’s in my daily practice almost, at least a couple times a week.
But for me, I have a friend who started a meditation studio in Los Angeles and sent me a million ways to get onto her app and her stuff. And there is one meditation that I have found that is called 16 Seconds to Calm, and it’s 16 seconds and you basically take one breath in and one breath out. But this guy tells you why you’re interrupting patterns while you do that because you’re focusing on your breath. And he claims that in those 16 seconds, you have interrupted your thought patterns enough that you have broken the cycle of anxiety. And I choose to believe it.
Tim Ferriss: Besides the 16 seconds and aside from SoulCycle, are there other tools, habits, routines, anything at all that you found to help you to operate at a high level when there’s the potential to be overwhelmed by stress?
I mean, like you said, you don’t strike me as the type that sits still for very long. You seem to do a lot and get a lot done, and therein lies the risk of, I think overwhelm. So what are other things you do to avoid buckling under overwhelm?
Julie Rice: I will honestly say that the number one thing that keeps me from buckling under is that I have a really awesome marriage. I know that that sounds funny or maybe not, but I have chosen a partner who actually is really amazing at communicating with me during times of anxiety and actually has sort of created an atmosphere in our home that is not super tolerant of my anxiety in the best way possible. In the best way possible.
Tim Ferriss: What does that look like?
Julie Rice: It looks like when I walk through the threshold of my house I have a partner that if I’m stressed out, sort of demands me to communicate about it and sort of get rid of it. We have a lot of respect for each other and he usually finds a way to figure out what it is that can bring me down from that. And I will say that being in a relationship like that with somebody who is not an anxious person, who is able to kind of de-escalate your own anxiety is kind of fantastic.
Tim Ferriss: Could you give an example? You don’t have to, but if you can of…language is so important here. Like the devil’s really in the detail. What might he say or ask when he’s like, “Uh-oh! Code red. I see what’s coming,” and wants to get you to talk about it or de-escalate? What might be —
Julie Rice: Like just this morning, we were preparing for this interview and I said to him like, “Are you going to help me with the questions for Tim Ferriss?” And he said to me, “I didn’t want to say this to you yesterday, but you said that to me the same way yesterday and you are asking it to me in a way that obviously you’re very anxious, and of course I want to help you, but would you like to ask that in a different way?”
And I thought to myself, “I know he wants to help me,” because he is like the biggest supporter of my whole entire life. And I know that he spent a lot of time thinking about this because he sent me emails that I asked him to think about this. And then I thought for a second about my own anxiety and where I was going with it because I thought, “Oh, I have something else to do at 11:00 and is he going help me at 10:30?” And it was my own crazy person in there thinking like, “You need to help me right now.” That was like my own person.
But he does not get worked up like that. And so he said to me like, “Do you want to ask me differently because you asked me the same way yesterday and I don’t think…” And the thing was that was just my own check. Most of the times that I’m communicating badly with him, with my children, it’s because I’m in a state of anxiety or distress. And I think having somebody like that by your side that can check you like that again, in a way that’s loving, not in a way that’s like that, I think that really helps to bring the situation down.
And I will tell you one other amazing thing that we do in our house that has really helped to kind of reframe the way that we live. We started to celebrate Shabbat about five years ago. I was out one day with a friend of mine who is like a super successful music executive. She’s like definitely one of my main girl crushes. She’s like a total boss and a real power broker. And we were having a business lunch one day, and at the end of the lunch, she said to me, “I have to duck out a few minutes early. I have to go pick up a challah for Shabbat.”
Challah, for people who don’t celebrate Shabbat, it’s the braided bread that we eat on Shabbat. One thing that my business partner Elizabeth loves, she always says to me, “It’s always fun to find out something new that you don’t know about somebody that you think you know really well.” I looked at my friend Julian, I said, “Really?” I said, “You celebrate Shabbat on Friday night?” And she said, “Yeah. I’m out a couple of nights of the week listening to music. And I find that because I’m so busy, it’s a lot of integrity for our family. We all have to be at the dinner table at 6:30 on Friday night and we put our phones away and we light candles and we don’t take out our phones till the next morning and it’s the one thing we do in our house that really reframes our time together.”
And I thought, “Wow, she is clearly more important than I am. And she makes this happen. So I could definitely fit Shabbat in,” and we started to have Shabbat. And here’s the interesting thing, we’re not religious people. I would say that we’re spiritual just in the way that we believe the way that you are in the world is the way that you feel in the world. And I think that we believe in something bigger and that we’re all connected in some way, but I wouldn’t say that we’re religious.
But we started to have Shabbat and we have very few requirements of our children, but one requirement is that everybody is home for that evening. Our daughter, who was five months old when we started SoulCycle, she’s now 13 and our rule for her, she can have as many friends as she wants, but she has to be there. And we light our candles at 6:30 and there’s something about the time that it takes those candles to burn that for me, who cannot meditate, being with people that I love and there’s always plenty of people at our table, it’s friends or family and it’s always fantastic and there is just something about the time that it takes those candles to burn and not having phones and having a different kind of conversation with each other and it’s almost like I’ve given myself permission for the evening to shut down.
And whatever that is inside of me that has…The minute we light the candle it says like, “It’s cool until tomorrow. The world’s going to wait for you.” There’s something about that ritual for me that’s really one of the times that I look forward to most in the week.
Tim Ferriss: What rules do you have during Shabbat? And what’s the duration? Is it primarily from that dinner to the following morning and you guys all put phones away? Is that the most important rule? Are there other rules that you guys follow?
Julie Rice: No. We light candles and we do say two prayers in Hebrew. It’s what we do. My husband has recently started playing the guitar and he’s mastering some guitar songs and so we try to have some music. He’s getting pretty good. Our kids are usually super embarrassed if their friends are over and their dad’s playing the guitar and their mom’s singing and clapping like it’s a really big hit.
I try to buy a lot of really good desserts, everything from Levain Bakery to Baked By Melissa on down to lure my kids to stick around the table for a certain amount of time. Spencer and I try to keep our phones in the drawer until the following morning. My daughter would obviously die without getting back on Snapchat by about 9 o’clock, so we allow her to do that. And there are no rules really.
The crazy thing is it’s just, again, it’s always intimate. It always feels like a safe space. It always feels like people can share like what really happened to them that week, how they’re really feeling about themselves, their triumphs, their tragedies. It just feels like there’s like no bullshit at the table. For all the times during the week that you had to go out and pretend it was great or that you were killing it at work or that I loved you at school today or whatever it is, it just feels like it’s a really kind of…we go in pajamas or sweatpants no matter who’s coming over and it’s just a super relaxed kind of just bring your best self or bring your real self.
Tim Ferriss: I love it. What a beautiful ritual. Where should I go from here? Well, you mentioned the prepping for the interview and the anxiety. Were there any questions that you hoped I would ask you? Like, “You know what, I have a really good answer to that. I have a really good answer to this type of question. I hope he asked me this.” Or conversely, was there anything where like, “I hope to God he really doesn’t ask me…?”
This is a bit of a trick — or is it?
Julie Rice: Well, I have to say I did do some research while I was getting ready for the interview and I listen to a lot of very impressive people on your podcast and I was really thinking to myself like, “I haven’t written a book. I don’t really have a method for anything.” I was really hoping that you wouldn’t ask me for some sort of dissertation on something.
I was thinking a lot. A couple of things that I was thinking about were just I was thinking about SoulCycle a little bit and I was thinking kind of about what made the experience special. And I was thinking about if we would talk about that a little bit, just sort of about the construction of what that experience is like in the room. I think that’s kind of an interesting one. I think that we’ve really crafted the experience in that room to be a lot of the things that I think people really need today.
And what we’ve done is we’ve created an eight-week training program for our instructors, and what we teach in those three things is we teach them how to be spiritual and emotional leaders. We teach them how to be physical fitness instructors so they can give people what they need for their bodies. And we also teach them how to be DJs and how to create music like artists. And what I think is really interesting about taking those three different tracks of psychology, physical experience, and also creativity and putting them together is you really provide something for people in a room that allows them to access many different parts of themselves that I think people don’t often get to access.
And I do think that there is something about that and about creating sort of that moment. We’ve created the class sort of in five stages. I mean there’s almost five stages that we break it down into, which is we warm people up, we pop the party, we break them down, we give them a soulful moment, and then we send them home like heroes. And there’s something about that emotional arc and that physical arc with music matching and all that I think really provides people with a lot of what they need to get today in the world. And I think it’s also a really interesting journey for people to go through together, because although people aren’t speaking and aren’t communicating, they are all experiencing a journey together.
And so it’s a really interesting way, in a world where people have almost forgotten how to communicate with each other — because of phones and digital isolation — to allow people to participate in something where they really do feel closer and connected to each other at the end.
Tim Ferriss: I’d love to ask a bit more about the spiritual, emotional leaders part. What does the curriculum look like for that?
Julie Rice: There are quite a few. There’s several parts of it and I think the main part of it is allowing people to have a place to be vulnerable, to come and express their own vulnerabilities, as well as to talk about things that they’re thinking about, their own vulnerabilities. And then to empower people to really deliver messages to people that allow them to as they are wearing down physically, as the music is playing, as they are this close to somebody else who’s moving with them, we are teaching them to deliver messages that allow people to believe that they are enough, that they can be more than they thought that they can be, that they could achieve more than they thought that they could achieve.
That people are rooting for them, that are hoping for them. And I think that there is something about the empowerment that people get in that room when they are inhabiting their physical bodies in a way that feels strong, and teaching those instructors to deliver messages of positivity to really…they read a lot of different…so many of the books that are on your list or books that we’re giving them in those classes.
Tim Ferriss: What are some of them?
Julie Rice: Let me think about what people are reading in there. The curriculum’s actually wide. And that’s the other thing also because we’ve created it to look more like a framework and we also like to use the expression “freedom within a framework.” We are allowing people to…although they are creating within that framework to really find their own voice, to find their own music. And that’s also why I think that our riders gravitate to different instructors because somebody that’s moving me might not be the same person that moves you.
And yet we’ve kind of created this shell of an experience, it’s almost like a Mad Lib where they learn sort of this outline, this technique. And then they can take it and fill in their own content.
Tim Ferriss: And aside from the Simon Sinek book that you mentioned — which I do recommend people check out; it does pop up a lot on the podcast — are there any other books that either you’ve recommended to managers or employees or that you’ve just recommended or gifted to other people?
Julie Rice: Well, I definitely give people a lot of people that Helen and Harville book that I was talking about, Getting the Love You Want. Something else that we did a lot of reading at SoulCycle is Setting the Table by Danny Meyer just for…we also ran an incredibly interesting hospitality school for our people that worked in the front of house and not in those rooms. We’re all big fans of the Tony Hsieh book Delivering Happiness. And I think those were like some of our favorites.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Danny Meyer’s amazing. Very, very fascinating guy. For people who don’t recognize the name, you should look it up. How are we doing on time? I do not have a countdown. Yes, I do.
What was that?
Speaker 1: 7:35.
Tim Ferriss: Okay, great. Let’s see. I would love to hear what you are currently most excited about and why? Because much like my question at the very beginning about what you saw in that bartender and how you kind of pick where you’re going to allocate your time, you’ve made some very deliberate choices and when you make a choice, when you make a decision, you are cutting yourself off, just like incision. You’re cutting yourself off from other possibilities and opportunity costs. So what are you most excited about now, professionally, personally, or anything in-between?
Julie Rice: Definitely. It’s funny to talk about opportunity costs, because for the longest time I really thought you could just do everything. I’m starting to understand that there are only a certain amount of hours in the day. But I will say that sitting here in the middle of Made By We is really interesting because I think that it’s definitely a good example of something that I’m thinking a lot about these days, which is, “How are people connecting in a world where people spend most of their time on their phones or connecting digitally?”
I think that’s something that’s really interesting to think about is where are the places and what are the experiences that we’re delivering to people to allow them to connect? We’re reading about loneliness as an epidemic and I’m personally terrified watching my 13-year-old in the way she interacts with her friends and their phones; they’re all in the same room and yet they’re all on their phones communicating.
And so I am really obsessed with the fact that people are lonely and people are unhappy. And how are we giving people skills to be happier? And how are we giving them places to find those connections? And so a place like this, when I think about it, it’s really a new version of a community center. A place where we can go and especially in an economy where so many of us have the luxury of having our own company, working by ourself in our apartment, and that all sounds great until the day that you wake up and think, “I could really use somebody else around me to help me get inspired.”
And so really thinking about how people connect and what kind of tools we need to give them so that they can connect and connect in meaningful ways.
Tim Ferriss: This is a beautiful space. I don’t know how people in the audience feel, but it’s my first time here and I would love…I could have used a place like this many years ago and hopefully, there’ll be many, many more.
Julie Rice: Come any time.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely stunning. And let’s wrap up with just a few final questions. This one, sometimes a good question, sometimes it’s terrible question. We’ll find out. And that is if you could put a message, a question, a quote, anything at all, and metaphorically speaking on a billboard to get a message out to millions or billions of people, noncommercial for the time being, do you have any thoughts on what you might put on that?
Julie Rice: For me, this is very easy one. I’m a terrible claustrophobic.
Tim Ferriss: I did not know that.
Julie Rice: Yes, I am a terrible claustrophobic and ready for this? I live in New York City. I do not take elevators. Like, do not, never, don’t take elevators. Have gone to weddings, black-tie weddings at the Rainbow Room. 71 flights, I walk.
Tim Ferriss: Wow. Presumably, you’re not in like running shoes when you go to such a function?
Julie Rice: I have a whole situation. I have my heels in a bag and I wear my sneakers up in full hair and makeup outfit. I make it to the top. I blot, I put my heels on, and I walk out like nothing happened. But yes, so elevators are not my thing. And so if I was going to put a billboard up, I think that it would say: “There is no elevator to success; you have to take the stairs.”
Tim Ferriss: I love it. I dig it. Do you have any final comments, asks, recommendations, anything at all that you’d like to say before we wrap up?
Julie Rice: I don’t think so. I’m so happy I got a chance to talk to you and thank you so much for coming. I know that people were so excited to have you in the space, so it’s awesome to have you here.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, it’s great to be here and it’s nice to see you again. For people who don’t know, we’ve spent time together before and I’ve been looking forward to this and as soon as had a chance the very first time to spend 10 or 15 minutes ago, I was like, “I need to get her on the podcast,” at some point in my head. So here we are.
Julie Rice: Awesome.
Tim Ferriss: And it’s been really fun. I’ve taken so many notes. Everyone in the crowd is watch me taking all these notes for things that I’m going to follow up on and dig into.
Where are the best places for people to find you, learn more about what you’re up to, WeWork? Anything that you’d like to mention in terms of resources and of course I’ll put these in the show notes online as well.
Julie Rice: Definitely. You can always find out what’s going on in this space on our Instagram. Is that right, Joel? Where are you?
Julie Rice: I’m here.
Julie Rice: What’s the best way to find out about stuff in this space?
Julie Rice: If you go to Made by We website or look at made.by.we Instagram.
Julie Rice: Yes. Made.by.we. It’s very hard to get domain names these days.
Tim Ferriss: There we go.
Julie Rice: A good way to find out what’s going on with me is either at my Instagram, which is @JulieRice_ or Elizabeth and I have a great Instagram, which is @soulfounders.
Tim Ferriss: Awesome. Thank you so much for taking the time.
Julie Rice: Thank you so much.
Tim Ferriss: This has really been fun. Thank you, everybody, for coming and until next time, see you around.
The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.