Payal Kadakia

Payal Kadakia

Founder and Executive Chairman, ClassPass
Kadakia Payal

Payal Kadakia came to the startup world in an unorthodox way—through her passion for dance. In 2013, the young businesswoman founded ClassPass, a fitness startup that bills itself as an alternative to the confines of gym membership. For a fluctuating fee, members buy credits that allow them to visit a variety of workout studios and gyms rather than pay for a membership at each. ClassPass also sells corporate plans through which employees receive ClassPass as a health benefit. Today ClassPass, which is headquartered in New York, has locations in 23 countries around the world. The company is reportedly seeking to raise $285 million in new financing, which could push its valuation to the billion-dollar level.

Kadakia, a first-generation Indian American, had been dancing since the age of 3, when she started learning Indian classical and folk dance styles. After receiving a degree from MIT in operations research and economics, she became an executive, working at Bain & Co., and then Warner Music Group’s digital strategy and business development group. Throughout her business career, Kadakia, now 36, continued to take dance classes. But her frustration in finding a ballet class in New York City that she could take after work gave her the inspiration for ClassPass.

In 2017, Kadakia stepped away from the CEO role, swapping titles with executive chairman Fritz Lanman. She is now also the artistic director of the Sa Dance Company, a modern Indian dance troupe she founded.

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