23 Questions With Elizabeth Cutler, Co-Founder of SoulCycle

You may have read about the indoor cycling phenomenon on websites or magazine like US Weekly and Just Jared as Victoria and David Beckham emerge drenched in sweat leaving a session, or perhaps you read about their business growth from their first location in 2006 to multiple locations nationwide in the Wall Street Street Journal and Vanity Fair, or maybe it’s because  you travel a lot and took a class; regardless of the medium, you’ve heard of SoulCycle. The upscale fitness/lifestyle indoor cycling workout phenomenon that started “in a onetime funeral home on the Upper West Side” in New York City has finally landed in Chicago with their first location in Oldtown (1225 N. Wells).

source: SoulCycle
source: SoulCycle

 

Co-founder Elizabeth Cutler, who was in town recently sat down to play 23 Questions, SociaLifeChicago’s spin on the 21 questions game. As we began the interview, it turned out we had something in common, we were both from the north shore area; Elizabeth went to Lake Forest Academy, I went Lake Forest High. Our conversation ranged from philanthropy, best advice she can give a future entrepreneur and where she goes to recharge.
To say SoulCycle has had a cult following, may be understating its phenomenon. It’s a lifestyle and you kind of have to try to to understand it. If you would like to give SoulCycle a try, join me on Tuesday 4/28 at 12:15pm for a FREE ride. RSVP: Bolaji@SociaLifeChicago.com

2014_050_Soulcycle_Shot 4_065 (1) (2)

SociaLifeChicago: What is the first thing you do when you wake up?
Elizabeth Cutler: Let’s see, I’ve practiced Jin Shin Jyutsu for a long time and I practice on myself every morning when I wake up, it’s like meditation. I basically meditate in the morning.

SLC: How many kids do you have?
EC: I have  two girls;  they are 9 and 12. They are super busy and have a lot of interest but they grew up working the front desk, folding towels.

SLC : What was it like growing up in the area?
EC: Though I love New York,  I am personally raising my children to be able to repeat “Chicago is the greatest American city” so if anyone asks them about Chicago they will automatically say that {laughs}. I love Chicago, I love the people, they are grounded, smart and driven here.
Chicago has it all. Chicagoans are just awesome!

SLC: What do you think were key steps that helped SoulCycle go from one location in New York City to multiple locations and being a national brand?
EC: We’ve always been interested listening to our customers and our customers have really appreciated what the community offers. Our growth has really happened as a result of people asking us to put one in their neighborhood.  When you put those things together it means something to them and some people may become fanatical and some it becomes part of their life, its a lifestyle.

SLC: What’s your personal style?
EC: I like chic, clean lines but comfortable that feels good.

SLC: When you’re not in athletic gear, what are some designers you like to wear?
EC: I really like independent designers. I tend to Rick Owens, Céline, Chloé. I also love high/low so I like Gap, J.crew of course. I was into Peter Pilotto really early and Mary Katranzou, I was an early adopter of her dresses  before she really blew up. I like the up and comers.

soul-cycle-picture

SLC: Why is philanthropy important to soul cycle
EC: We started doing it from the first week we opened. We are parents, we believe in community and we wanted to do stuff for the schools. Once we started doing that and seeing how much people enjoyed it, we realized that the communities that used soulcycle, they have philanthropic causes that mean something to them and we want to support that because that matters to us.  We raise about $2 million/year; the reason is really natural, we have to take care of each other. For me personally, I’m excited about our philanthropic efforts and this year we launched Soul Scholarships and that will be SoulCycle’s main philanthropic arm as a company;  we’ve been wanting to do that for a long time an thinking about what that would be. What we realized was that we want to make SoulCycle available to kids in underserved communities and spend some time really seeing how that program would be impactful. What we came up with is to target a certain age group (high school age) and attach it to mentoring which will not only be school mentoring but personal and thought partner mentoring; healthy eating and helping them to understand we are here to support the healthy choices they choose to make.

SLC: Will that be done here in Chicago as well?
EC: We’ve done two pilot programs in LA and in New York. One of the things I am most excited about now that we are here in Chicago is the impact we are going to make here once we open and get our feet established here in the city.
I have met some great people here already. I was introduced to Dr. Mahalia Hines, Common’s mom and (President of Common Ground Foundation) they are doing some targeted impactful work at Commonground Foundation. We’ve talked about doing some things and of course the Chicago Bulls have a great philanthropic arm.
Chicago will be a leader in that for our company.

SLC: When you need to recharge where do you go?
EC: I love to go to Telluride and Tulum. There’s a great place called Casa Violetta in Tulum, you are with the ocean, the sand and you start to decompress. There’s a great spa right by the Be Tulum and I loved it. They have amazing restaurants.

SLC: Best advice you can give someone looking to build their “Million dollar idea”
EC: Consistently put one foot in front of the other. Don’t react; take a deep breathe and look at things objectively and then make a plan, because stuff happens. The best information always comes from the lower set point rather than a crazier, manic place. The thing is people don’t get successful by not doing the work, it requires a lot. Its’ never one thing, it’s always ten things. You have to be a good multi-takser and stay organized and care. If you’re being honest with yourself, make sure you know you have something that is a winner. If you have doubt or kind of talking yourself into it? wait for the next idea. You have to be honest with yourself. People know, just like you know if you have a bad boyfriend {both laugh}.

SLC: How did you go about investing in IZZE to then starting your own? Were you entrepreneurial prior to that?
EC: This is such good story. The people that started IZZE are actually from Lake Forest. We had been friends for many years and we all ended up in Colorado, some for college and some after. After my husband and I moved to New York, we continued to go back to Colorado and we knew our best friends were doing IZZE. One day I remember seeing it in one of the cafes in Telluride and thinking we should get involved in this. I called my friend and they said no at first and I thought there was so much integrity about that but I assured them that I understood the risk and if something happens, I’m an adult I can handle it. I said “we want to do this, I really believe in you.”  He called us the next day and the timing was so crazy because they needed some funding, that’s how the universe is.

In a big picture sense it was not that much money but we were fortunate enough to be able to do that and it was fun. We got a chance to see what they were doing and it was so authentic and kids could connect with it. It was great to be a part of that. After we started SoulCycle, about three months in, they sold IZZE to Pepsi and I remember getting a FedEx package and opening the envelope to see a check and it was the exact amount of money that it cost us to start soul cycle. I was crying and screaming because I knew, though we were just starting, we knew it could be something bigger and we saw that money and we thought we can really give this thing the right birth that it needed. So we did that for four years and it was just us growing it. We scraped by, didn’t pay ourselves, maxed our credit cards but we never missed payroll though things were tight. In the begining we definitely did everything ourselves. We took out the garbage, painted, everything.

source: fastcompany
source: fastcompany

SLC: If you were to start something again, what are some things you might do different, if there is anything?
EC: It’s hard to look back that way. We have a lot of gratitude for where we are and it’s a privilege to get to do our jobs. I believe in the human potential and very appreciative to have the opportunity to hire people and have a company where the ethos is about people being excited to go to work in the morning and hopefully getting personal benefit from that. That’s really the most important thing. I can’t say there are very many things that I would change, I would probably want to get a few more locations in certain regions faster than we could.

SLC: For a cycling novice, such as myself up until today, what would you say to get them in the door to give SoulCycle a try?
EC:  For the first timer, human experience you have to take a leap so take a leap. It’s 45 minutes, it’s not that big of a risk. We are here to help you get setup make sure you have a comfortable time with it. Clip in, feel secure, listen to your body and try to get lost in the rhythm of the music. We made this whole experience for ourselves. I was the person that was intimated by fitness but I love SoulCycle. I’ve committee myself to spending time on the bike now I have become stronger and I can do things that I didn’t think I could do before. It’s a really healthy gateway drug for me.  It’s like you speed up to slow down.

SLC: What are some key things that you look for in employees?
EC: What we look for are people who are YES people. We understand stuff happens but the most important part of that is the turnaround; how do you leave somebody feeling, you have to leave them feeling great. Everytime someone walks into that door its because they choose to do it. We look for great people that have the capacity for optimism and are hard working, smart, want to learn with ability to be great team players; this is a community. It’s the 80/20 rule. We always do 80% of our own job and help out each other.

SLC: What’s one cool thing SoulCycle has afforded you?
EC: It’s the privilege of the community. The best people in New York ride at SoulCycle. Like attracts like, and similar energy attracts. There is so much community that comes out of these sessions. It’s not a robotic state where you go into your class and come out not have any interaction with people. We’ve seen in every one of our cities how people have new friends. Maybe they’ve haven’t made the best health decisions in the past and now they are accountable to a new group of people that want them to succeed. That’s what we all need to be doing. It’s been a huge impact on my life

 

David Beckham Leaves Soul Cycle oprah-soulcycle-elizabeth khloe-kim-kardashian-inline

 

SLC: SoulCycle has a HUGE celebrity following, do you remember your first celeb moment?
EC:  In New York City, there’s a large concentration of notable people there are titans of industries, celebrities and the like. We made a conscious decision when we started to try to think about SoulCycle as a sanctuary for those people, a place they can feel safe with other people. I don’t remember who the first one was but we’ve had a lot of people over the years that have come and they’ve come back. It’s been incredible to see how our community of riders have respect for their privacy and they can just come in and be a regular person.

source xojohn
source xojohn
source: popsugar
source: popsugar

SLC: Who would you love to see on the Bikes
EC: In Chicago, I would definitely love Rahm Emanuel to come and ride, for sure. I would love to get Howard Schultz (Starbucks Founder, Chairman and CEO) on a bike. I have a lot of admiration for all that he’s done with Starbucks.

SLC: How often will you be coming back to Chicago?
EC: I will be coming each month.

SLC: There’s been a lot of talk lately about women entrepreneurs especially those with families, there’s this stigma where a woman is asked how she balances work-life rather than male counterpart, is that fair?
EC: It’s interesting.  For me I, sort of leaned towards being a feminist earlier on and then I woke and leaned more towards humanity. Let’s get everybody empowered. It is kind of weird how many of the old messages resonate and flow through our culture still today, its ridiculous that we are still talking about issues such as gender or race, its crazy. We are people, all having a human experience and we should all do that together,  men and women contribute to this whole thing.  There’s been some bizarre questions that we’ve been asked as a result of being women but the thing is we are just people trying to do our thing and raise our kids like everybody else. It’s hard when you have a family, I’ve been lucky  that my kids are healthy, are good students and they’ve made it easy for me to do what I do and I am grateful for that. Some people don’t have that grace.

SLC: Let’s play word association:
EC: Innovation :: Yes
Sweat:: Gross but necessary
The Future :: It looks bright

SLC: SoulCycle Oldtown just opened, what other locations od you have in the works?
EC: In addition to our Oldtown location, we are opening one in the Loop at 111 Wacker that’s under construction right now. We are almost done with a deal in Southport which we are excited about and then we are looking at a bunch of other options. To be honest, we want to open those three locations and then talk to our riders and see what they want.

SLC: What are your travel essentials?
EC: Big cozy yummy scarf, that can be everything(scarf, blanket)
Always an extra tote
iPhone charger
bottle of water
headphones

SLC: An advice someone gave you as you guys began growing SoulCycle that’s helped you through?
EC: It’s really high road, long view. Things get hard and you have to take a step back, see the big picture and make a plan. I definitely think that’s been the best advice.

Here are some of the recommendations from Elizabeth regarding Tulum: There’s a great place called Casa Violetta in Tulum, you are with the ocean, the sand and start to decompress. There’s a great spa right by Be Tulum and I loved it. They also have amazing restaurants.

Bolaji Sosan
Bolaji Sosan

pronounced: Boh-la-jee, like the Bellagio but w/o the O. SLC Founder and Editor, loves to write about topics at the intersection of career and lifestyle for today's young professional and future leaders.

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