Behind Her Empire: ClassPass Founder Payal Kadakia on How Her Heritage Inspired Her Entrepreneurship

Yasmin Nouri

Yasmin is the host of the "Behind Her Empire" podcast, focused on highlighting self-made women leaders and entrepreneurs and how they tackle their career, money, family and life.

Each episode covers their unique hero's journey and what it really takes to build an empire with key lessons learned along the way. The goal of the series is to empower you to see what's possible & inspire you to create financial freedom in your own life.

ClassPass Founder Payal Kadakia
Image courtesy of Payal Kadakia

On this episode of Behind Her Empire, entrepreneur Payal Kadakia talks about how her Indian heritage helped her become the entrepreneur she is today.

Kadakia is the founder of ClassPass, a fitness and wellness membership app that was acquired by MindBody in October. Prior to its acquisition, ClassPass was valued at over $1 billion, with members logging more than 100 million hours of workouts across 30,000 partner studios.


Kadakia's parents immigrated to the U.S. in the 70s, taking a huge risk to follow their dreams and opportunities.

"My parents never wanted me to have to go through any type of struggle, any type of hardship that they went through. So, they trained me in a way to be a bit more risk averse. And what that meant was making sure I had stability, good career, good education, good foundation," said Kadakia.

Kadakia had a passion for Indian dance that kept her connected to her culture. Where she grew up, there weren't many people that looked like her outside of her dance classes. For her it was a transformative experience.

"While I struggled to fit in, I think I also found beauty in who I was through being around this other group of people who did look like me. And where all of us could be together on Saturday and Sunday mornings," said Kadakia.

After graduating college and living in New York City, Kadakia decided to take her own calculated risk when she started ClassPass. Her idea was to create a show from a 100-person dance company she’d founded shortly after finishing college, but she had no idea if the idea would work.

Kadakia rented out the space, but had no idea if people would show up. On opening night, the show was sold out. Lines of people sat along the side of the walls since there weren't enough seats.

"When everyone gave us a standing ovation, at the end of that show, I felt very confident and I knew that I should really be going towards these feelings that my heart is telling me. That these things that I feel are really what my gift is," said Kadakia.

That success inspired her to take ClassPass beyond dance. It’s since become known as a fitness and wellness platform with classes and gyms around the world.

Kadakia said her experience has taught her to think of hobbies as something more than side projects.

"That's the crux of why I started ClassPass,” she said. “I just felt that we shouldn't ever give up on these things. And people call them hobbies, or whatever they might be, but they feed our soul, it's not about our age at all."

Hear more of the Behind Her Empire podcast. Subscribe on Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart Radio or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA Audience Engagement Fellow Joshua Letona contributed to this post.

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