Julie Rice: Co-Founding SoulCycle, Taming Anxiety, and Mastering Difficult Conversations – The Tim Ferriss Show

Check out The Tim Ferriss Show Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • Everyone is an investor – we all have to decide how to allocate our time and attention
  • If you have something you really want to do in life that feels important, there’s very rarely going to be a convenient time to do it
    • Sometimes you just have to take the leap and correct course if need be
  • Lessons in business:
    • You’re only as good as your customer’s last experience
    • Your happiest customer will only be as happy as your happiest employee
    • If you don’t spend much on marketing, or constrain the amount you spend deliberately, you HAVE to make sure your product is great
      • But if you do things right, your customers/users then become your marketing
  • When faced with a decision, ask yourself:
    • “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?”
  • A few lessons on branding:
    • A brand isn’t the way something looks or the color of a logo, it’s how people feel
    • Having people understand why you’re doing something, not just what you’re doing, makes or breaks a brand
  • “There is no elevator to success, you have to take the stairs”

Books Mentioned

  • Getting the Love That You Want by Harville Hendrix, PhD and Helen LaKelly Hunt, PhD
    • Julie and her husband found his book to be super helpful when it comes to mitigating conflict in their relationship
  • Julie got a lot of value from reading Start with Why by Simon Sinek in terms of company branding and creating an environment where your employees feel valued
  • Books That Julie Has Gifted the Most:

Intro

  • This episode was recorded at Made By WeWeWork‘s first on demand coworking space
  • Julie Rice (@julierice_) is best known for co-founding SoulCycle
    • Julie served as Co-CEO at SoulCycle from 2006 to 2015 before joining WeWork as a Partner in November 2017

Julie’s Childhood

  • Julie calls herself a “super well behaved child, like borderline nerd” – she grew up in Westchester, NY
    • (Besides the one time she got her ear pierced as an 8-year-old without her mom’s permission)
  • Julie’s dad was a physical education teacher and her mom had an antique business

A Little Background and Hints of SoulCycle

  • Julie’s first job out of school landed her in NY as a commercial agent in the movie business (which she did for 8 years)
    • She then moved to L.A. where she became a talent manager
      • While in L.A., she met her husband
  • 10 years later, Julie then moved back to NY to run her agency’s NYC office
    • While in L.A, Julie frequently went hiking, running, and enjoyed spending time at the beach, but in order to get her fitness fix in NYC – all she had available were a few local gym chains

A Quick Detour Into the Jobs in the Movie Business

  • An agent is responsible for getting actor/actress’s jobs
  • A publicist is responsible for making sure people know about those jobs
  • A lawyer makes sure the actor/actress doesn’t get screwed over in the contracts for those jobs
  • The manager thinks more about the big picture and tries to create a brand surrounding the actor/actress
    • They try to turn a person into a company

Everyone’s an Investor

  • “Whether you think of yourself as an investor or not, you’re all investors in the sense that you’re allocating your hours and attention” – Tim
  • Business owners invest in who to hire
    • When Julie began auditioning SoulCycle instructors, the one question she always made sure to ask herself:
      • “Do I want to have a whole meal with this person? Will I be able to have an appetizer, entree, and desert and still not be bored of him/her?”
  • Everyone is also an investor in terms of who they choose to spend their time with
    • “There are certain types of people you want to lean into. Whenever I have that sort of instinct, when my body wants to lean into somebody to know a little bit more,  I genuinely know that’s a person I need to surround myself with.”

Back to SoulCycle

  • Julie, living in NY, was taking fitness classes at quite a few different gyms trying to fulfill her exercise needs
    • “I’m an anxious person. Exercise is a real must for me in order to keep myself and everyone around me in good spirits.”
    • BUT – She couldn’t quite find anything that was enjoyable
  • An instructor at one of the gyms she frequented ended up connecting her with another woman (Julie’s future co-founder Elizabeth Cutler) who was feeling the same thing (the lack of a good fitness vibe/gym/atmosphere within the city)
    • They met for lunch and found many commonalities between them, and ultimately decided to get the ball rolling on starting what came to be known as SoulCycle
      • The first step? – Renting out an old dance studio
      • 4 months later, they were in business

The Details – It wasn’t easy!

  • Julie gave up her role as a talent manage when her an Elizabeth started SoulCycle
    • It was hard giving up the salary, as her and her husband had a 5-month-old baby, but they managed to survive on his salary for the time being
      • They soon moved into a rent-controlled 1-bedroom apartment on 71st street paying just under $1k/month
  • Julie and her husband decided to cut credit card spending when she started SoulCycle in order to help them budget
    • Every Sunday they’d withdraw $400 from the bank to last them the week
  • “One of the really interesting things about really believing in what you’re doing and being so passionate about an idea… it was definitely hard, but it didn’t really feel like that big of a sacrifice”
  • A Big Point:
    • It all happened pretty quick – “I didn’t actually have time to be anxious about giving up my job and wonder what would happen… we met on a Tuesday, we saw the place we were renting on a Thursday… we just knew we’d have to see 100 people a day at $27/bike to get going”
      • “We just got into action mode so quickly. We didn’t have time to obsess about, ‘What ifs?'”
  • Tim adds:
    • “If you have something you want to do in life that feel’s important, there’s very rarely going to be a convenient time to do it”
      • Sometimes you just have to take the leap and correct course along the way

The SoulCycle Business Model

  • Julie and Elizabeth decided on a pay per class model
    • This was contrary to what was common in the fitness industry – having your credit card number on file and being billed monthly/yearly

A Little More About SoulCycle

  • “We were tasking ourselves to create a really special experience each time someone showed up”
    • Julie and Elizabeth thought of the whole SoulCycle experience as a theater production
      • “We were only as good as our customer’s last experience”
  • “We thought about the idea creating a brand a lot… we never thought of SoulCycle like we were creating a gym”
    • It was all about creating a place where people felt safe/empowered and optimizing the community experience
    • “There’s something about a moving meditation with other people that are rooting for you, that aren’t competing with you, and are there to elevate you so that they can be elevated as well…. it was really magic”

How have Elizabeth and Julie remained so close as co-founders over the years?

  • Early on, they began seeing a life coach (Merideth Haberfield)
    • It was originally Elizabeth’s idea
    • “Sure enough… we still work with her today [10 years later]. There are so many decisions in my life, in our life, that we wouldn’t make without her.”
    • “She taught us lessons that helped inform the entire way the culture of our company would exist”
  • “It takes WORK to make good partnerships” – whether in business or marriage
  • Like any relationship, a business partnership is made up of two (or more) people with a common vision who are in very different spots in life at all times
    • (maybe one person is having family problems, maybe one person is in a position where they need more cash, etc.)
  • “The nuances of great businesses come from the DNA of their founders… It’s those very things that make people special that ultimately make those companies so special”
    • But once the business starts growing, it’s hard to keep that DNA where it’s meant to be
  • A question Merideth always pushes on Julie and Elizabeth:
    • “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?”
    • One more – “Why are you doing X? Is it about your ego? Is it because you need more money? Is it because of the way you want other people to see you?”

How to Handle Conflicts at Work and in Relationships

  • At work:
    • Company culture is important here – you have to create an environment where it’s easy to discuss conflict (and even reward doing so)
  • What about in a relationships?
    • Good listening skills are VERY important
    • Julie’s husband introduced her to the book – Getting the Love That You Want which helped them tremendously
    • Related stats:
      • 50% of first marriages, 70% of second marriages, and 90% of third marriages end in divorce 
    • “Nobody teaches us how to be married, nobody teaches us how to communicate with a partner, nobody teaches us how to communicate with anybody.”
  • But the big lesson:
    • Conflict comes from pain and suffering
    • It’s not about you being right – it’s about taking care of your partner or the person you work with

A Book Recommendation

  • Julie loved Start with Why – a few pieces of advice she picked up from the book:
    • “People are often confused and think of a brand as the way something looks or the color of a logo, but brands are really how people feel”
    • “Having people understand why you’re doing something, not just what you’re doing, makes or breaks a brand”
    • The author, Simon Sinek, has said – “Your happiest customer is only be as happy as your happiest employee”
      • If you do a good job – your employees will serve as brand ambassadors for the company

On Taking No Outside Investment and Spending $0 on Marketing

  • SoulCycle didn’t take on outside investment despite multiple offers in the early days
    • “It was an incredible luxury to have no investors. We were always allowed to make decisions that were the best for the business. We used our gut instincts and always did what was right for our customers, employees, and SoulCycle.”
  • SoulCycle never spent a dime on marketing until recently
    • “This forced us to be incredible disciplined, scrappy, and be apart of the communities we were trying to create”
      • How scrappy? – Handing out flyers in Central Park scrappy
    • Tim adds – If you don’t spend much on marketing, or constrain the amount you spend deliberately, you HAVE to make sure your product is great
      • If you do things right, your customers/users then become your marketing
      • Julie adds about SoulCycle’s mission – “We weren’t trying to create users, we were trying to create evangelists”

How Julie Keeps From Buckling Under Stress, Anxiety, and Overwhelm

  • 16 Seconds to Calm
    • This is a specific mediation technique that Julie has found to be helpful
      • All you do is take one breath in and one breath out, focusing the whole time on doing just that
      • The idea is that within the 16 seconds it should take, you’ve broken your thought patterns enough to mitigate anxiety
  • “The number one thing that keeps me from buckling is that I have a really awesome marriage”
    • Julie says her husband is very good at communicating with her during times of anxiety
    • “Being in a relationship like that, with someone who is not an anxious person, who is able to de-escalate your own anxiety, is really fantastic”

A Ritual That Reframes Julie’s Family Life – Shabbat Dinner

  • Julie and her family hold a Shabbat dinner every Friday 
  • The details:
    • Every Friday night, Julie, her husband, and their 13-year-old daughter all put their phones away (not taking them out again until the next morning) and enjoy a dinner together
    • They begin at 6:30 and invite whomever wants to join
  • “There’s something about the not having phones and just having a different kind of conversation with each other. It’s almost like I’ve given myself permission for the evening to shut down… the world just waits for me until tomorrow.”

Books That Julie Has Gifted Most Often

What is Julie currently thinking a lot about?

  • Opportunity cost
    • “For the longest time I really thought you could just do everything, I’m starting to understand there’s only a certain amount of hours in the day”
  • How people connect in a world where everyone spends most of their days online/on their phones
    • The loneliness epidemic is among us
    • “I’m really obsessed with the fact that people are lonely and unhappy, as well as how we’re giving people the skills to be happier and places [like Made By We] to find connection”

What would Julie’s billboard say?

  • “There is no elevator to success, you have to take the stairs”
    • Related – Julie never takes elevators, she’s claustrophobic
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