Life lessons
Ruth Zukerman

Queen of spin and one of the founding trio of SoulCycle, Ruth Zukerman felt nothing short of blindsided when her co-founders informed her she would no longer be a partner, following the meteoric rise of the business. She talks to Kath Hudson about what she learned from the experience and how it led to unexpected opportunities


One of my most significant learning lessons came from the dissolution of my partnership with my two founding partners at SoulCycle – something I never anticipated could happen. Suddenly I was no longer a part of a business that would never have existed without me.

What happened doesn’t define me, but to this day, it remains challenging to completely let it go.

I learned a lot about trust and what can happen when we repeat relationship patterns from childhood which don’t serve us well.

The birth of a new concept
SoulCycle emerged when one of the riders in a spin class I was teaching approached me about starting a boutique spin business. I’d spent six years as a spin instructor, honing my method and building a huge, loyal following. Naturally, I wanted to have my own place, but didn’t have the necessary capital, so I jumped at the chance.

It was an incredible opportunity to do something I’d been dreaming of for years and out of a huge sense of loyalty, I even invited one of my riders and closest friends into the partnership since she and I were also sharing dreams of a boutique spin concept.

We opened our doors in spring of 2006 and a year later SoulCycle exploded, thanks to the launch of our second location in the Hamptons on Long Island. Every summer, the Hamptons is a playground for the rich and famous from all over the world, so we experienced incredible exposure to a successful group of people who were willing to pay our price.

Word got out and by the end of the summer we didn’t have enough room for everyone at our New York site and scurried to find a second location to meet demand.

We were meant to sign a partnership agreement from the get-go, but despite my repeated requests it had never happened and the partnership and business decisions had all been based on verbal agreements. Then, once the business took off, my two co-founders decided they no longer needed me as a partner, yet suggested I stay on as merely an instructor. It was devastating to say the least.

After being a founding partner, the thought of being relegated back to being an instructor was unimaginable. But the reality was that I was a single mom of two girls in high school and I had no choice but to do so in order to make ends meet.

Every day I would walk into the studio – which wouldn’t have existed without my years of hard work creating a teaching method and building a following – and had to put aside the anger, so I could give my all to my riders who were not privy to what had happened.

A fork in the road
Two years later, I was approached by two private equity people who had observed how successful my classes were and wanted to launch a spin business with a new angle. They needed the creative person to put it all together and make their concept work.

Flywheel, with its proprietary technology on the bike, became the biggest rival to the first business I’d helped to create and took spinning to a different level, by adding metrics to the experience.

The SoulCycle experience taught me a lot about myself. I had a narcissistic mother who raised me to think she always knew better, which led me to second guessing myself and deferring to others and that was how I approached my partnership with my former partners.

When they told me we would sign an agreement, I believed them. When they told me they didn’t think I was working hard enough – when I was teaching 22 classes a week, training new instructors and updating our curriculum – I bought into it, despite my exhaustion.

Ultimately, I was able to understand the patterns which were being repeated, allowing myself to change and ensuring I would never put myself in that situation again. With Flywheel I hired a good lawyer and rather than trust everybody’s else’s opinions and decisions, I trusted my own.

I’ve had incredible success since, which is validating and the experience has ended up being an inspiring and helpful story to others. It led me to writing my book, Riding high: how I kissed SoulCycle goodbye, co-founded Flywheel and built the life I always wanted, as well as becoming a public speaker giving keynotes all over the US.

Never in a million years did I think I could be a keynote speaker, talking for 45 minutes without a script! My learnings over the years did wonders in terms of building my confidence.

When you’ve been raised by a narcissist, moments of failure have harsh consequences, but I’ve realised those moments bring about opportunities to learn and it’s important not to be hard on yourself about them. It’s also been important for me to understand that some of the qualities which tripped me up in the first business – being trusting, sensitive and my willingness to be vulnerable – had in fact been beneficial to my success as a spin instructor.

Failure is considered a negative word, but it can lead to so many positives. Through the course of our lives we’re given many opportunities to learn and embrace these valuable lessons. Through hard work, hard won lessons and a lot of personal growth, I’m proud to call myself a mother, author, keynote speaker, influential spin instructor and business leader. I still have to pinch myself.

More: www.hcmmag.com/RuthZuckerman

Zukerman’s confidence grew to the level that she’s now a keynote speaker
Zukerman says she’s gone through a lot of personal growth
 


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SELECTED ISSUE
Health Club Management
2023 issue 8

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Leisure Management - Ruth Zukerman

Life lessons

Ruth Zukerman


Queen of spin and one of the founding trio of SoulCycle, Ruth Zukerman felt nothing short of blindsided when her co-founders informed her she would no longer be a partner, following the meteoric rise of the business. She talks to Kath Hudson about what she learned from the experience and how it led to unexpected opportunities

Zukerman left SoulCycle to help launch Flywheel
Zukerman’s confidence grew to the level that she’s now a keynote speaker
Zukerman says she’s gone through a lot of personal growth

One of my most significant learning lessons came from the dissolution of my partnership with my two founding partners at SoulCycle – something I never anticipated could happen. Suddenly I was no longer a part of a business that would never have existed without me.

What happened doesn’t define me, but to this day, it remains challenging to completely let it go.

I learned a lot about trust and what can happen when we repeat relationship patterns from childhood which don’t serve us well.

The birth of a new concept
SoulCycle emerged when one of the riders in a spin class I was teaching approached me about starting a boutique spin business. I’d spent six years as a spin instructor, honing my method and building a huge, loyal following. Naturally, I wanted to have my own place, but didn’t have the necessary capital, so I jumped at the chance.

It was an incredible opportunity to do something I’d been dreaming of for years and out of a huge sense of loyalty, I even invited one of my riders and closest friends into the partnership since she and I were also sharing dreams of a boutique spin concept.

We opened our doors in spring of 2006 and a year later SoulCycle exploded, thanks to the launch of our second location in the Hamptons on Long Island. Every summer, the Hamptons is a playground for the rich and famous from all over the world, so we experienced incredible exposure to a successful group of people who were willing to pay our price.

Word got out and by the end of the summer we didn’t have enough room for everyone at our New York site and scurried to find a second location to meet demand.

We were meant to sign a partnership agreement from the get-go, but despite my repeated requests it had never happened and the partnership and business decisions had all been based on verbal agreements. Then, once the business took off, my two co-founders decided they no longer needed me as a partner, yet suggested I stay on as merely an instructor. It was devastating to say the least.

After being a founding partner, the thought of being relegated back to being an instructor was unimaginable. But the reality was that I was a single mom of two girls in high school and I had no choice but to do so in order to make ends meet.

Every day I would walk into the studio – which wouldn’t have existed without my years of hard work creating a teaching method and building a following – and had to put aside the anger, so I could give my all to my riders who were not privy to what had happened.

A fork in the road
Two years later, I was approached by two private equity people who had observed how successful my classes were and wanted to launch a spin business with a new angle. They needed the creative person to put it all together and make their concept work.

Flywheel, with its proprietary technology on the bike, became the biggest rival to the first business I’d helped to create and took spinning to a different level, by adding metrics to the experience.

The SoulCycle experience taught me a lot about myself. I had a narcissistic mother who raised me to think she always knew better, which led me to second guessing myself and deferring to others and that was how I approached my partnership with my former partners.

When they told me we would sign an agreement, I believed them. When they told me they didn’t think I was working hard enough – when I was teaching 22 classes a week, training new instructors and updating our curriculum – I bought into it, despite my exhaustion.

Ultimately, I was able to understand the patterns which were being repeated, allowing myself to change and ensuring I would never put myself in that situation again. With Flywheel I hired a good lawyer and rather than trust everybody’s else’s opinions and decisions, I trusted my own.

I’ve had incredible success since, which is validating and the experience has ended up being an inspiring and helpful story to others. It led me to writing my book, Riding high: how I kissed SoulCycle goodbye, co-founded Flywheel and built the life I always wanted, as well as becoming a public speaker giving keynotes all over the US.

Never in a million years did I think I could be a keynote speaker, talking for 45 minutes without a script! My learnings over the years did wonders in terms of building my confidence.

When you’ve been raised by a narcissist, moments of failure have harsh consequences, but I’ve realised those moments bring about opportunities to learn and it’s important not to be hard on yourself about them. It’s also been important for me to understand that some of the qualities which tripped me up in the first business – being trusting, sensitive and my willingness to be vulnerable – had in fact been beneficial to my success as a spin instructor.

Failure is considered a negative word, but it can lead to so many positives. Through the course of our lives we’re given many opportunities to learn and embrace these valuable lessons. Through hard work, hard won lessons and a lot of personal growth, I’m proud to call myself a mother, author, keynote speaker, influential spin instructor and business leader. I still have to pinch myself.

More: www.hcmmag.com/RuthZuckerman


Originally published in Health Club Management 2023 issue 8

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