Soul Cycle – The Story of how 33 Bikes, 500 Sq Ft and a small Bathroom Led to Riches

Lessons for all businesses

Soul Cycle – The Story of how 33 Bikes, 500 Sq Ft and a small Bathroom Led to Riches

On the face Soul Cycle is “just” another successful business with a cool image. If you haven’t heard of it, just search for ‘Soul Cycle Oprah’ (or Kardashian) and you’ll see a bit of the hype.


As it expands across the US, and soon into London, the model is proving incredibly powerful and totally magnetic in its appeal. In city after city it pulls in a customer base that is largely female and generally well off.


However, beneath it is a master-class in how to start and flourish in a very competitive sector.


What launched as just 33 bikes, in a small space, with one toilet, has exceeded what even the founder could have dreamed of in those early days. In fact, it almost folded at the 6 months stage as credit cards reached limits and the market slowly awoke to what they were offering.


8 years later, they have xx branches in some of the best locations in the US, attract A-list celebrities (and all the publicity that goes with that), virtually own an intensely loyal customer base, and are probably the hottest fitness brand in the world.


When we were looking at which businesses to include on our “If It Works In New York” series of books, Soul Cycle kept coming to the top of that list. What has amazed us in the writing of this book is exactly how fascinating a business it is, and the incredible lessons for any business – whether someone looking for inspiration to start a business through to anyone owning or managing any business in any sector.


Every way we looked at Soul Cycle there were lessons for any business. While we tried not to dwell on any simplistic “girl power” angle, it was hard to ignore that this was a business founded by impressive ladies who created an earning machine that managed to attract the impressive female clientele that any business would dream of.


The book’s NYC-based author, Shahnaz Mahmud, has written widely covering Advertising, Marketing, Business, and Wealth. As the book was taking shape she kept coming back to what an incredible story Soul Cycle is. As a publisher, this was music to my ears, but it really seemed to reflect the magic that the founders of Soul Cycle have created.


“Soul Business – What Soul Cycle Can Teach Any Business” delves into the detailed strategy and actual steps that led to their success. We’ve pulled out five common themes from that story that can help anyone, at any stage of their business life.


    1. Born of Frustration – Trust Your Instincts



To start with, there was the idea behind the business. Like so many other great businesses, the impetus really came about from the founders feeling that their existing fitness classes were not giving them what they wanted, in terms of exercise or spirituality.


If you feel something is not right, then the chances are that other people are thinking the same thing. Whether you are motivated enough to do anything about it depends on many factors, but it is an incredibly common starting point for many great success stories. Most people don’t act on their intuition; those that do are already ahead.


Soul Cycle does many things incredibly well, and it does have a semi-original fitness program at the heart of everything. But it really is just a variation on existing themes.


One of the perceived barriers to staring a business is the quest for an original idea. The reality is that most businesses, and most successful businesses, are actually an improvement or variation on an idea that is anything but new.


In fact, having an existing market is an incredible positive, delivering you an audience that already knows about the product and who can be swayed over to your business.


One of the common traits of success is the ability to recognise and solve problems. We were amused by the Soul Cycle rickshaw story, but it really did emphasise the importance of how you address barriers.


The founders had bought an old rickshaw on eBay, painted it yellow, and left it on the pavement outside their first studio – getting parking fines every day. Many people would have just have taken the hint and moved the rickshaw. Instead Soul Cycle just kept it there, recognising the attention it was bringing and the relatively cheap advertising it was providing.


While the rickshaw story is hardly extreme adversity, it does show the importance of resolving issues that get in the way of your the objectives. Yes, there will always be distractions and the unexpected, but it is how the business owner deals with them that creates the opportunity for success.


Soul Cycle implements the widest possible form of marketing that we’ve seen. It is reminiscent of when Virgin Atlantic first launched, and we all know how great Branson is at marketing.


Whether it is the recruitment and quality of the instructors, the follow up on complaints, the cleanliness of the locker rooms, everything feeds into creating an engagement with Soul Cycle that pulls customers into the studios.


In essence, there is not a single part of Soul Cycle that is not working towards keeping the customer engaged and coming back. This end to end marketing applies at all points where Soul Cycle touches any of its customers or potential customers. That is something that most businesses do not grasp, let alone implement.


One of the striking traits in Soul Cycle is the end to end control of the end to end business processes. Nothing is left to chance, from the locations through to the retention of the instructors.


On the face is a cool brand, with a great customer base. Beneath that is the body of supreme athlete, that understands exactly how every part of its anatomy works, and how important each element is in contributing to the total product.


A lot of this can only be achieved by the founders of a business. The people who unlocked the door for the first time and had to fix the plumbing when they were blocked are going to have a unique perspective of the detailed operations in all areas. Keeping that grasp and continuing to apply it as the business expands is a tough challenge, but essential if you want to succeed on the growth journey.




Soul Business – The Genius That Is Soul Cycle is published at the end of May. It is written by NYC journalist Shahnaz Mahmud and can be pre-ordered at a 20% discount here Pre Order, With 20% Discount




It is part of a series of books called “If It Works In New York”, inspiring entrepreneurs from around the world about great businesses that have started in the last few years in New York.



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