SoulCycle, Flywheel Sports Co-Founder reveals secret to creating cult-like business model

A successfully run business is the result of many important fundamentals that work together in the right way.

Many big-name brands or companies that we’ve all become familiar with are able to exist on the scale in which they do because their senses of company culture (internally and amongst their customer bases) are completely unique.

Perhaps one of the greatest examples of this is the cult-like phenomenon of indoor cycling studios that have cropped up in just about every major city across the country.

At the forefront of this movement are both SoulCycle and Flywheel Sports, both companies whose riders have found a near obsession with their favorite classes, locations and instructors. 

But for Co-Founder of both SoulCycle and Flywheel Sports, Ruth Zukerman, this success has been completely contingent on starting from the inside out — it all starts with the way employees are chosen, hired and treated.

In conversation with Culture Hacker Shane Green the #CultureHigh series in New York City, Zukerman explained the importance of finding employees who genuinely believe in your brand’s mission:

“If you find employees who are really excited about the business, about what you sell and what your product is, they are so happy to be part of the business and they just want to share the wealth with the customers. With both SoulCycle and Flywheel, it’s such a customer-serving business and it’s about making customers feel important, too. If the employees are feeling important, then they’ll want the customers to feel the same way.

When people come to you and want to work for you you have to really get a sense of ‘why’ and it’s always a given that if a perspective employee’s first question is ‘What are you going to pay me?’ then that’s it — it’s not going to work. You want them to be passionate about your business and what you’re offering. And with instructors specifically, you have to be able to put your ego aside, because instructors are performers to a certain degree and so there’s always a good degree of ego usually involved. But for both SoulCycle and Flywheel, we kind of had to start instructors from the beginning no matter how much experience they had up there … we ended up with people that just really wanted to be there and loved and we did and kind of wanted to share this incredible 45-minute journey that each customer would go through. That was their motivation — it was to gratify the customers. And when you do a good job, the money comes.”

She continued:

“It means treating [your employees] with respect, as a leader it means relating to them and having them relate to you and listening to them. And allowing them to make mistakes and showing them what they can learn from their mistakes and just as important — if not, more important — commending them for the good work.”

It’s the notion of having freedom to make mistakes that has made Zukerman’s businesses so successful. When employees feel that every mistake and mess-up are stepping stones and fuel for further innovation and solutions, customers will also sense that and abide by that. 

For example, if the culture that has been created internally embraces imperfection, Flywheel riders won’t hold themselves to a standard of perfection and elitism, but rather one where having a few ‘off’ moments just becomes part of the overall experience. 

Shane Green agreed with this sensation as it applies to the concept of ‘empowerment’ within companies:

“For business leaders, for managers, we like these ideas of innovation, creativity and all these great words but for that to be real, you have to allow your employees to make mistakes."

Green continued:

"In American business, everyone is ‘empowered’ and it’s kind of complete bullsh**. And i use that word kind of seriously because having someone be ‘empowered’ means that you give them control of the work that they do, you’re allowing them to make those mistakes. But the reality is that ‘you’re empowered to a certain degree, but don’t make these decisions and don’t make these mistakes’ … I think that’s really hindered the development and growth of a lot of American employees that we see today.

There's this whole cultural revolution going on right now … in every situation, we go back to basics. When companies get too large, too big without having some of these basic steps in place, they find themselves in trouble." 

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