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Deskside: Julie Rice and Elizabeth Cutler

Founders, SoulCycle. New York.

Welcome to Desksides, The Coveteur's brand-spanking-new series in which we sit down with leaders in various creative fields and figure out how they got there. We guess we could've also named this, "how the hell do I get your cool job," accompanied with a "help me I'm poor" GIF from Bridesmaids, but then realized going the mononymous route was a little more succinct.

Real talk: power-duos are, in fact, a phenomenon. And nobody cements that quite like Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice, whose cycling studio (you may have heard of it?), nay... culture, has literally outpaced its competitors on practically every level. It could be that SoulCycle, their addictive (and efficient) form of torture is as much about the volume of sweat exuded and calories scorched on the bike as it is about an internal therapy session. The classes are hot, sweaty; the music upbeat and deafening (to distract you from the burn); and every single bike is occupied by someone in an Alexander Wang sports bra and a Delfina Delettrez pinky ring. 20 minutes into the 45-minute class and riders are in a seemingly-euphoric state, so you can see why people come back time and time again. 
 
Here, cycling deities, Cutler and Rice talk about filling the gap in the marketplace, their cult-y following, learning throughout the process, and opening up 20 studios a year— all as we begged them to open shop north of the border (we're just up here in the 6ix with our woes, guys).

ON FILLING THE GAP IN THE FITNESS MARKETPLACE…
EC: “As users we felt there was a hole in the marketplace. Julie was a talent manager from Los Angeles, she was accustomed to really turning celebrities into brands, and also really loved the community of fitness and the lifestyle of a city like Los Angeles where you can go on hikes with friends. She had joined a running club — she had always had a passion for fitness. It was very similar for me; I had lived in Colorado and done a lot of hiking there. When you hike and ski, you do these together [with friends] and feel stronger because you are with your friends. I worked in real estate and I also was interested in acupuncture, so I practiced that for a long time. I think it’s the combination of the business and spiritual, that we have a good cocktail from all of our backgrounds. Everything we ever did has come in handy. 

When I came to New York, there was nothing like that in a big city like this. So I started looking for boutique fitness studios [to join], just as a user. I had attended an indoor cycling class and fell in love with it and just thought ‘what if it was this’. Turns out Julie was having the same conversation and we were introduced by [a friend] at a lunch and things started from there.”

 

ON HOW THEY FIRST MET…
JR: “We were both exercising at different gyms in New York. I had an idea to turn fitness into more of an experience and Elizabeth had thought the same thing, so a mutual friend said you guys need to meet. It really was amazing! We were absolute strangers when we met and we were open 5 months later.”

 

ON THE MOMENT THEY REALIZED THEIR SUCCESS…
EC: “I remember the day we had our first sold out class. A lot of big things have happened over the last nine years, but I do remember the day we had every single bike full with a paying rider. That was a really big accomplishment! In the beginning, there were no boutique fitness studios in New York, we really had to first create a marketplace and then create a product to put into the marketplace. So teaching people to pay per class for fitness was a really big deal. Our first location was in a weird lobby with no sign, so just all the work that we spent pounding the pavement, guerilla marketing and person-by-person building our small business, so that when we actually had 36 riders on the bikes, it felt like a big accomplishment.”

 

ON WHAT WHY THEY THINK THEY GARNERED A CULT FOLLOWING…
JR: “We remember standing in the lobby at the one-year anniversary and it was a profound experience; the riders were saying these things like ‘my sister had cancer and I was at the hospital everyday. I got strong here and lost weight here but I was also able to be there for her in a totally different way than if I hadn’t taken care of myself'. There was just a consistent theme of a what people find in that room that’s so particular to their own human experience; whether you had too much cheesecake and kick your own ass and burn calories, or if there’s something very real going on for you that is touching you deeper. It’s a dark room and we are there together, but it’s also your private time. It’s a place where you can go into that space, you can ride it out and break through it, let it go and change your mind about how it affecting you — it’s powerful for people."

 

ON THE EVOLUTION OF SOULCYCLE…
JR: “I think in the beginning, Elizabeth and I both really had the same vision that we have today. It’s always been about creating joy and fun and community through exercise and we've stayed true to that mission and vision. It’s also about burning 500 to 700 calories, getting stronger and looking good as well... But from the very beginning we had a clear vision that we wanted to create a brand — we had always been fanatical about the look, branding and language of SoulCycle. We’re always evolving as exercise trends do and as we learn new things in science, so we adapt what were doing in those rooms so that we can stay current and remain efficient."

 

ON THEIR DREAM STUDIO LOCATION…
EC: “We have our eyes on London! We’re working on a bunch of stuff there right now. What's really cool is that people who live in London tend to travel, so we have great experiences having people trying us out in New York and L.A. and we are super excited for us to open up in London."

 

ON HIRING THE PERFECT INSTRUCTORS…
JR: “This is sort of where my talent background comes into play. We really believe that the people that are going to be leading your class for 45 minutes have to have charisma, have to be able to connect to people — there has to be a specific energy. We audition well over 150 [people] for every 20 people we take. In the audition, we look for spark, for something that makes somebody unique, and both inspirational and relatable.”

 

ON THE MOST IMPORTANT THING THEY’VE LEARNED…
EC: “We learn everyday! Every day is different. We are talking about it whenever we make a mistake — that’s just tuition money, we're getting our MBA on the job. It seems like everybody who works here is also getting an MBA on the job.”

 

ON HOW TO KEEP GOING…
EC: “I think the number one thing is you cannot let fear paralyze you. You just have to put one foot in front of the other. You just gotta break it down and keep going.”

 

ON EXPANDING TO AN APPAREL LINE…
JR: “In the beginning Elizabeth and I looked at each other and decided to create these really cool camo-yellow t-shirts with our logo. We decided that if we could get a 100 influencers or a few of our friends and people who would talk about the brand,  it would be a good way to market the business. We always say people like to wear the wheel like a badge of honor. We design 14 collections every year. We’re inspired by the runway, by pop culture, a festival collection in honor of Coachella and all the music festival going on. Our retail is definitely part of the vibe of SoulCycle."

 

ON THEIR DREAM COLLABORATIONS…
EC: “We would love to do a collaboration with Ricardo Tisci. That’s no joke! We would love to collaborate with Alexander Wang and Jeremy Scott. Let Jeremy know we're trying to find him!"

 

ON BALANCING WORK AND LIFE…
EC: “People talk about work life balance and we think that it’s just a myth. We’ve done a lot of integration in our lives. Our kids and husbands participate in that, so it allows us to bring it all together. We take vacation and get to go and see the kids perform at school — it all works out."

 

ON WHAT’S NEXT FOR SOULCYCLE….
JR: “We are going to build 20 studios a year for the next few years, so that’s amazing and daunting. We're going to keep bringing soul to the people!”  

 

Photography: Erik Tanner
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