Lucky #7: Rhodie's Top 10 Lessons Learned in 7 Years
Seven years ago my business partners Amy Hochhauser and Debbie Katz and I set out to open a hometown cycling studio…
They brought business and marketing backgrounds and I offered fitness expertise. We quickly found ourselves in real estate offices, signing binding (gulp) legal documents, asking friends and acquaintances for money to support our ambitious ideas, all the while trusting that what our hometown JoyRide would work out. My father has often equated starting a business with jumping out of an airplane, at some point we must take the leap and trust that the parachute will open. We can’t be certain that it will, inevitably there is inherent risk in doing something that has never been done before - and yet, that is what makes it so exciting, and to me that is what makes life worth living. Along the journey I have taken endless missteps, I have failed at things I wanted to work out, but most importantly I have - along with my amazing team - figured it out. I have grown, I have been challenged and my life is far richer and more fulfilling than ever before because I opened JoyRide. In 2011 we opened our first JoyRide in Westport, CT and seven years later we have five studios in CT and two licensed studios in San Antonio, TX. While we are down to just two active partners, Amy and myself, we are thriving business holding our own against large national chains with a loyal community. We set out to spread some joy, and the created opportunities for ourselves to spread some real big joy, beyond our initial dreams. Now, I just have wildest dreams … and I hope I keep growing to see what beyond the wildest looks like. Here are the top 10 things I have learned since opening JoyRide.
1. JOY is necessary to the journey.
We set out to create a business that inspired people to lead with their hopes and dreams rather than their doubts and fears. In the process we emphasized the importance of having a good time while doing hard things and not taking ourselves, or life, too seriously. Our trainers walk the walk by hustling and bringing their best to every class they teach. They are also the most fun group of hard working individuals I know. So, we celebrate each other. For example, JoyRide makes time for holiday and summer parties to connect and celebrate what we co-create together. I am always up for a party, and our JoyRide parties have become an epic, highly anticipated, highlight of the year good time. We are a talented staff of high energy individuals, with built in DJ Mo, rhythmic dancers, and Armond to get the conga line started. So, when we get together it’s a recipe for good vibes only. Work is hard, growth is uncomfortable, and risk is scary. We need connection, JOY and fun to keep us going, and at JoyRide we do that together.
2. Getting out of your comfort zone is necessary.
It’s super scary, but that’s what we are all about. Anyone who walks through our door and is part of our community is asked to push themselves in ways that will deliberately make them uncomfortable. We are a fitness studio and our instructors work alongside our JoyRiders in their journey. It’s sometimes hard to push ourselves to the next level, so we have created an environment where we push each other, where we demand our best on that day with what we have to give. Essentially, we hammer home the message to staff and riders that getting out of one’s comfort zone is necessary beyond fitness and JoyRide, it is the ingredient for a bold, rich and meaningful life. When I train new instructors and they are preparing to teach their first Community Class, they inevitably tell me how nervous they are and that they are scared. Their fear is really just discomfort, and I know how well prepared they are. What they always experience after their first class is that the discomfort is part of the process for getting to a next level. You can’t teach 10 classes without teaching the first one first, but you can grow a lot from 1-10.
3. Culture creates a familial bond.
We don’t want our staff and instructors to just “go to work,” we want them to feel invested, impactful and part of a team to grow with. We don’t want our riders to just “go workout,” we want them to feel like an integral part of a team that ignites energy and inspires more greatly because they are doing physically demanding things without giving up. I am proud of the culture that is JoyRide. We strike a strong balance between emphasizing the JOY that we need and deserve in life alongside the hard work that it takes to achieve it. Developing friendships, being inclusive, valuing laughter and fun, checking-in with each other, and having each others’ backs throughout the hustle is very “JoyRide.” I know many trials and tribulations of our riders and staff, and I think there is an understanding that we are a little closer to getting through stuff when we show up daily to give it try together. I try outside the studio too to make sure that our culture of family is genuine. I have had instructors for Thanksgiving, and Christmas eve when they had nowhere else to go, I have hosted our Texas crew on many occasions, as well as welcoming one of our local instructors to move in when she was struggling with some personal and housing situations for a few months. Everyone needs support, and our culture is like a family at JoyRide.
4. Feelings and relationships matter.
With no MBA or formal training or secret manual to opening a fitness studio to ensure success, Amy and I made a lot of decisions because we cared about our people. I have never taken a management course and I don’t have a business degree, but I know that you need to have smarts and an array of highly developed skills to run a successful business. And yet my guess is most experts in business wouldn’t lead with caring about people as a front runner to success, but I think it is. We aren’t compartments of ourselves when we show up for work or workouts, we are bodies and minds and spirits with feelings. I have shared and witnessed many tears of joy and sadness in the walls of JoyRide and I have always been there for someone and they have always been there for me. If our culture is important to us, our people’s feelings have to be too. If being joyful is necessary at JoyRide, that’s not an intellectual pursuit, it’s how experiences and people make us feel, so it’s very important. I consider myself a “people person,” and yet this has been one of the hardest things for me to execute well because human beings are complicated, emotional, contradictory, often team players, but also individually driven. Harmony in small or large groups is neither a given nor an uninterrupted state. So, the events that keep JoyRide (and life interesting), require attention to and nurturing of feelings and relationships, and sometimes difficult and uncomfortable conversations and decisions (back to #2 lead in to #5).
5. You have to make difficult, sometimes contradictory choices.
Because we have established that people’s feelings and our relationship with them matters at JoyRide, we cannot (although we have tried hard!) make everyone joyful. Sometimes there is not enough money to do something we want or keep someone on, sometimes an instructor is hard working and passionate, but not the right fit. As the top management, my partner and I have to make difficult decisions that impact the business and affect people’s lives and livelihood. It is a tremendous responsibility and one we take seriously. This is one of the hardest and least favorite parts of my job, but a reminder that all positive things in life are balanced by some hardship and with joy there is also some pain.
6. When people knock, answer and when doors open, step through them.
In the past seven years we have had opportunities for growth and have met the most talented people in their industries beyond our wildest dreams. Here’s the deal people: When you create something of value that resonates, people want to connect and be a part of it. I thrive tremendously through the energy of fitness experts we have met, the financial world that has been introduced to our business and the technology sector that is cutting edge and developing the coolest opportunities for businesses like ours (to name a few). Amy and I share the fun, risk-taking quality of being gamers. When an invitation comes our way we always explore it. We’ve jumped on planes to Orlando, given presentations to 100s of finance people, headed to Boca with curiosity about franchise opportunities, and answered all phone calls and emails from people who say, “Hey, I have an idea …” More invitations than not have have not materialized into anything, but several have been game changers and allowed us to grow in unexpected and exciting ways. After seven years of hard work, momentum and reputation beget a certain kind of success.
7. Creating an environment where lives are transformed is powerful and reciprocated.
I am blessed to be in a profession and have a platform to touch people’s lives in a meaningful way that impacts them beyond our 50-minute classes. We are all born with unique gifts and exceptional strengths, yet we forget that and we need reminders. JoyRide reminds us. On an almost daily basis we hear grateful riders crediting JoyRide with helping them get through a difficult time or opening their eyes to their own power that they had forgotten they had. Likewise, I am privileged to teach and share the common theme among our instructors that we believe what we get back from our riders’ hard work and inspiration is beyond what we give. I have gained so much confidence and strength through witnessing riders persevere in the face of adversity and sometimes tragedy. What they have shown me about resilience has changed me. Being of service to others is powerful because it’s a two way street.
8. Being an entrepreneur is a team, not an individual sport.
Like being on a sports team, being an entrepreneur requires a whole lot of practice of sweat and hard work behind the scenes when no one is watching, and it requires us to be team players. Teams require strategies, communication and a common goal. Creating a tribe that shares the philosophy of your mission and contributes to it is an incredible opportunity for success. As founders and leaders of JoyRide, Amy and I ask for a lot of help. We know well what we don’t know, we recognize what we don’t have the time for, and we choose exceptional talent (with great personalities because feelings matter) to collaborate with and advise us. If we think of JoyRide as a classroom or a “reality degree” we have learned so much from the talent we surround ourselves with. Being successful individually is amazing, but winning as a team is everything.
9. It’s mucho hard work.
There are no shortcuts to success or fast tracks to building something that matters and lasts. Often people compliment our success or criticize our success, and either way they may be underestimating the sacrifices, the financial risk, the failures, the loneliness or uncertainty, and the emotional trials that are required to keep going. Christmas Day is the only day of the year that JoyRide is closed. There are no “off hours” for Amy and I. Our life is our work, and without the complete dedication we would not be where we are.
10. Have faith and trust yourself.
If we admitted how many times we didn’t know what we were doing, I might be looking for a dog walking job to stay fit or live my (other) dream as a back-up dancer. There have been many people along the way who have doubted us and many situations that have incited worry and fear in our ability to compete. So, I think the lesson is that you can’t know what you are doing in unchartered territory, but you can prepare yourself and educated yourself as best as you can and then you must you trust yourself. Amy and I have gotten comfortable with not mapping out exactly where we are going, but we have trusted our instincts to guide us, and most often our instincts are aligned. You have to have faith that your vision matters and you have to lead with passion. What lights you up is what you are meant to spend your time doing. The light in you is what attracts similar lights to you and enables you to build a culture and a business that will thrive. Strike the match!