I Haven't Worked Out This Much Since I Was 18, And It's All Because Of This Startup

Soccer teamFacebookPlaying club soccer in college wasn’t enough. I was forced to try the gym, and I hated it.

I grew up playing a lot of sports. Summers were for swimming and soccer. Fall was for track and soccer. Winter was for basketball. Spring was for soccer again. I had practices at least six days a week, and I was in the best shape of my life.

Then I went to college. And like many high school athletes, I was forced to move away from team sports and join the gym. Club soccer was far less rigorous than the varsity sports I played in high school. And the gym was way less fun.

I’ve tried joining gyms before, and I always cancel my memberships. Last year I actually canceled my membership on Thanksgiving Day, a few months before my wedding — that’s how little I was going. I can’t play serious sports now, but I can’t get excited about a treadmill either. And I don’t want to get fat. So between walking a mile to work and back and hot yoga classes, I was staying fit enough.

In August, an investor told me about a startup that was gaining traction in New York called ClassPass. I remembered it from TechStars Demo Day a few years ago when it was called “Classtivity.” Then, the idea wasn’t very compelling, and I lost track of the startup. It was trying to be a back-end management system for local fitness studios that users could book classes on.

Payal Kadakia and Mary Biggins, ClassPassInstagramClassPass cofounders Payal Kadakia, left, and Mary Biggins.

Last year, the company pivoted to be more of a gym-like, consumer-facing product. For $US99 per month, users can sign up for local classes, like spin, barre, yoga, and pilates, at hundreds of partnering venues in New York. The service is now available in Boston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, too.

I was in between yoga packages, so I decided to try out ClassPass.

How ClassPass Works

The interface was initially tough to navigate, although it has already improved a lot since I joined.

You log in to your city and see a list of classes nearby that you can sign up for. The classes can be searched by neighbourhood, time, studio, or activity. I usually search by neighbourhood to find classes that are near either my home or work, whichever is more convenient. And even though I live in New Jersey, ClassPass has some studios there, too.

When you choose a class, you can see what the studio offers, like a full range of classes, whether it has showers, and its address. Then you can click to reserve it. Occasionally, the classes — particularly at some of the most popular studios like Exhale — book up quickly and you’ll see “no spots” available, which stinks.

Then you click to reserve a class. You can book out your schedule up to about 10 days in advance. I found myself booking a class every day of the week at the beginning of each week so I could pack my gym bag accordingly.

The worst part about ClassPass is that you have to cancel 24 hours ahead of time, or you’re charged $US20.

The 24-hour cancellation policy is BY FAR the worst thing about the service. I actually lost sleep over this penalty when I tried to book a morning class before work. As I was trying to fall asleep I started thinking: “Oh no, if I don’t fall asleep soon, I’ll be too tired in the morning for the class, and I’ll have to pay that stupid $US20 fee.”

Finally at 2 a.m., with my mind still racing, I threw off the covers, canceled the class, and sacrificed my money.

The cancelation fee is both a motivator and a deterrent. I went to a class one night after happy hour because I didn’t want to give up the $US20. In the past month, I skipped just four classes, but doing so cost almost as much as the entire one-month ClassPass subscription. It’s a horrible, binding policy, and it needs to go.

I digress! Getting back to how ClassPass works:

Between Sept. 10 and Oct. 21, I booked 21 classes and canceled just four of them. That’s three to four classes per week, more than I’ve worked out since I was in high school.

I tried nine different studios; each one was new to me. Most I loved. Others were decent. I never left feeling as if a class wasn’t worth it or a studio was terrible. At every class, I heard other women talking about ClassPass. It really seems to be a strong word-of-mouth product, and I’ve been vocal about it with friends, too.

Before ClassPass, I had never tried a barre, spin, or pilates class. By the end, I was alternating between barre and spin, hardly ever booking yoga classes, which had been my preferred workout regimen before ClassPass.

I spent two weeks in San Francisco, and ClassPass let me switch my account to that location while I was there. It worked just as well there as it did in New York, only there weren’t quite as many studios to choose from.

We’ve already talked about the dreaded cancellation policy, but there are a few more growing pains ClassPass needs to fix.

ClassPass is working on a mobile application, but it isn’t out yet. Being able to book classes on the go is a must.

ClassPass could also use a map feature that shows where studios are relative to your location or address. Booking by neighbourhood is sort of nice, but not all of the classes are accurately labelled (there are no listed neighborhoods in New Jersey, for example, even though ClassPass works with studios there).

Also, you can book just three classes at each studio per month. So if you fall in love with one particular studio, you can’t keep going and going and going. ClassPass has this rule in place so it doesn’t hurt its partnering studios. I found there were enough strong studios on the platform that being restricted to three visits per studio per month was fine.

Additionally, ClassPass is too popular for its own good. The best classes at the best time slots have a tendency to book up quickly, so unless you book your classes way in advance, you won’t be able to get in. There’s no room for the serendipitous, “Oh look, I got out of work early, think I’ll swing by the gym” mentality on ClassPass.

I don’t think I lost any weight during my two-month stint with ClassPass. But working out three to four days per week must mean I’m healthier. I certainly feel healthier. And I’ve definitely been making healthier choices, trading happy hours for workouts, or sliding a quick workout in before a happy hour begins.

Yesterday, I made the tough decision to cancel my subscription. It’s not ClassPass’ fault, it’s mine.

Before I knew about ClassPass, I booked a six-month yoga package that I can’t get out of, and I don’t want to double pay.

But I look forward to joining ClassPass again this spring, and hopefully some of its growth kinks will all be worked out. And I’ll go back to being my healthiest post-18 self.

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