This week’s conversation is with Julie Rice, an entrepreneur best known for co-founding the fitness phenomenon, SoulCycle.

She served as Co-CEO at SoulCycle from 2006 to 2015 before serving as a Partner at WeWork from 2017 to 2019.

Julie is currently the Co-Founder of LifeShop, a company developing original concepts in the health and happiness space.

In this conversation, we discuss what inspired Julie to create SoulCyle.

We touch on the key to being a great leader and the right questions to ask if you want to be successful in business.

For Julie, building community is the center of everything she does.

Her thoughts, words, and actions are all focused on helping people creating meaningful relationships… because ultimately we’re all a product of the people that we surround ourselves with.

Julie shares how her approach to creating meaningful relationships has evolved and how you can apply those same lessons to your own life.

We also discuss what the next two to three years will look like for physical, brick and mortar experiences vs. digital and how Julie is adjusting to the pandemic.

“At the end of a life, the thing that I consider most important is who you loved and who you spent your time with. And when I really think about it that way, most of the decisions that I make in my life are guided by the relationships that I’m in.”

In This Episode:

What is her current state of life like?

I think that when quarantine first started, my knee-jerk reaction as a doer and an entrepreneur was, what can I make out of this? How can I better myself? What can I learn during this period? And I think that what we’ve seen over the last three and a half months is as much as we thought things were different and changing on day 15 of this quarantine, it was nothing compared to what the world looks like now. And one of the really great lessons that I have spent a lot of time learning and working on is really trying to figure out how to listen. And I think right now it’s a really interesting time in the world for us to take a pause and really kind of listen. I’m really a people person and I find that most of my life and my work has centered around being able to read people, understand what people want, figuring out how to bring people together to draw those things out of them.

What guides her words, thoughts, and actions?

The principles that matter most to me are really around people and people’s relationships with each other. I think that most of the decisions that I make in my life are guided by what is… About making decisions for the greater good. I genuinely believe that people really lift each other off. That we’re all sort of a product of the people that surround us, that we spend our time with. I think that most people would agree that at the end of a life, the thing that you consider to be the most important is who you loved and whose loved you and who you spend your time with. And if you really think about it that way, to me, most of the decisions that I make in my life are guided by the relationships that I’m in.

Where did she get the idea for SoulCyle?

I started to have this idea that exercise didn’t need to be something that you checked off on your to-do list. It didn’t need to be a grind. It didn’t need to be something that you dreaded doing. It could be something that you did with other people that you enjoyed.

It could be social, it could be freeing, it can be a stress release. It could be really part of your identity.

What did she learn about leadership through founding SoulCycle?

We ended up with 2000 plus employees, it was not at all what we had planned to do. And so leading that many people, really took work on understanding how to build relationships and how to be a leader. And that is really one of the most profound things that I learned both in my marriage and in my time at SoulCycle. I would say that those are two really fundamental relationships, that one with my business partner and the one with my husband. That really I have put a lot of work and very intentional work, not just sort of like, “Oh, let’s be nice to each other. Let me buy you a gift.” But real work in terms of understanding how you create successful relationships.

How has her approach to creating meaningful relationships changed?

I think when you talk about having difficult conversations, what we’ve really learned over time is that it’s not what you say, but how you say it. It starts with everything from when you say it and making sure it’s a good time for the person that you’re talking to. That you’re not bombarding somebody to explaining something or being the way that you feel. Not judging their actions, but using the right sentence stems so that you’re not putting somebody on the defensive. And then also having a conversation in a way that somebody else feels heard. That they can just sort of have their time to air out the way that they feel and they can feel understood. I think so often we are not actually having dialogues with people. We’re each having our own monologue. You’re letting me know how you feel. And while you’re letting me know how you feel, I’m already thinking, I’m going to tell you how I feel about how you feel, which is really not a dialogue at all.

What was one of the best decisions she and her co-founder, Elizabeth Cutler, made at SoulCycle?

Seeing a business therapist. It taught us to be listeners. It taught us to understand how to have conversations with our employees. And the most amazing thing it did was, as we learned these skills, we were able to teach them to the rest of the organization. So we learned skills like how to empty your bucket, which is really how to have a difficult conversation. The next thing we knew, we would codify it and turn it into a lesson. And I think that learning and really working on this relationship was one of the things that I think created not only the internal culture of SoulCycle, but I also think that it helped us to create community with our customers, because we really understood how to have conversations with people.

What’s unique about being a female founder?

I think there’s a lot of pressure on female CEOs. I think there’s a standard to really be better, almost. And I will just say that for me and for Elizabeth, when we were running SoulCycle, we would often… People would ask us the question, “Can you believe that this business has become so successful despite the fact that you’re women?” And we would always say, “It’s actually because of the fact that we are women that this business is so successful.” So much of our culture was based on the fact that we were two women that were nurturing, that paid attention to details, that cared about how people felt. And I think that often female CEOs still feel like they have to act like men to feel like they are going to be heard or do a good job. But I think that we always looked at being women running a company and celebrated differences and said, it’s not in spite of, but it’s because of that we’re so good at this.

How does she think about “mission statements”

You know what’s so funny? Whenever people talk about their mission statement or their purpose, to me it always sounds so out of body. I feel like it’s become such a trend for people to put their mission statement up on the walls, put their purpose on their website. For me, it was like, I wanted to be a part of it. It was a movement that I wanted to create so that I can be in it, if not leading it. I wanted to physically be in the center of it. It was a part of me. I felt like I wanted to create this tribe for me to be in. I was looking for a community that I could be a part of. I think that’s actually, again, one of the reasons that SoulCycle was SoulCycle. There was never a real hierarchy between the people that worked there and the people that rode there.

What are some of the right questions that you found to be important for you as a successful business person, a woman, a mother, a wife?

When you think about it at the end of your life, you’ve made this decision, who is it that you wanted to be in the world? Did you want to be a person that left somebody else feeling great, even if somebody else in business told you, you were being a dummy and giving away too much or too little? When you close your eyes and picture the end of your life, who is it that you wanted to be?”

What most founders don’t talk about

What it’s like to leave a company that you’ve created, especially when it’s something that is really… SoulCycle for Elizabeth and I, it’s our love child. I mean, the words on the wall are poems that we wrote on the… There’s nothing in that room that is not a real reflection of the two of us. And I think that even with a pay day, which is fantastic, you still are a little bit lost when you walk out the door on that last day, especially in a business where you see so many people a day. It’s so public facing. Plus for me, sticking along with what I told you, I really created this community so that I could kind of be this part of it. So to exit something like that is a pretty big deal. So I would say that when I left, that probably was one of the times in my life where my fear of what other people thought or sort of my loss of identity or who was I now not being the CEO of SoulCycle?

What does the next two, three years look like for physical brick and mortar shared experiences or digital shared experiences?

I think we’re at least another two years, to be honest with you, away from gathering the way that we used to. I think we will have ebbs and flows and stops and starts where people have quarantine fatigue and decide to go to Starbucks. And then unfortunately there’ll be some scares or some spikes and we’ll be back indoors again. And so it’s hard to imagine that there will be consistency in physical gathering for a little while. I think that for a lot of people, digital connection is a great bandaid, but I’m not sure that it’s the answer.

What does authenticity mean to her?

I’m pretty comfortable with myself, I would say. I’m happy with who I am. It doesn’t mean I don’t obsess about everything all day long that I would like to be better and be different, all of those things. I’m just like everybody else in that way. But I think underneath it all, I feel lucky to be me. I feel happy even through my anxiety. I feel like even when I’m anxious, I’m sort of driven by my curiosity for the world, not by some manic type of depression or anxiety. I think that really most of my anxiety stems from the fact that I want to do and see and be everywhere and everything.

It all comes down to…

Everybody wants to just matter. People want to be heard, understood, and appreciated.

Mastery is marked by…

Fulfillment.

Blank is the root of all evil…

Ego

Success is…

Sharing it with the people that you love.

 

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Founder at LifeShop

Julie Rice in an entrepreneur, investor and co-founder of SoulCycle, a New York City-based fitness company that offers indoor cycling workout classes