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The Secrets To A Successful Business Partnership

The cofounder of SoulCycle shares why her business partnership of complete opposites is a perfect match.

The Secrets To A Successful Business Partnership
[Photo: Flickr user Robert Couse-Baker]

Exercise has always been part of my life. My father was a gym teacher who made sure I had an active childhood and after college, I spent eight years in Los Angeles, where how you worked out said something about you. It was social. It was tribal. And it was fun.

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In 2002, I moved to New York City with my husband. We were burned out and in search of more rewarding careers. I asked friends to recommend exercise classes and started dropping in to gyms around town. I tried everything, but nothing stuck. New Yorkers treated exercise as a chore, a box that needed to be checked–every ounce of joy was being squeezed out of the experience. I knew there was a better way.

Julie Rice (right) and Elizabeth CutlerPhoto: via SoulCycle

A few years later I met Elizabeth Cutler through a mutual friend. Elizabeth was self-diagnosed as “allergic to exercise,” and was struggling to shed some baby weight after the birth of her second daughter. Her friends suggested group fitness classes, but everything she sampled felt like torture. It was clear to us that there was a huge hole in the fitness marketplace, and over coffee, we started to articulate a vision for how we might fill it.

We talked about creating an entirely new exercise concept, a fitness “experience,” designed to be physically challenging, emotionally uplifting, and spiritually inspiring. And more than anything, we wanted to make it fun. We talked about chic design, cool branding, and a departure from all things people found frustrating about gyms. We sketched a rough business plan on a napkin and agreed to meet again the following week. When I walked outside, my head was spinning. I hailed a taxi, and before I could even close the door, my phone rang. It was Elizabeth. “I’m going to look for a rental space; you research towels.” Five months later, we were open.

I can say with 100% certainty that there wouldn’t be a SoulCycle without Elizabeth, and I’d like to think she would say the same about me. The funny thing is, we’re complete opposites. We just happen to have incredible business chemistry.

So what’s the secret to maintaining a successful business partnership? The simple answer is “hard work.” And I don’t mean rolling up your sleeves and working around the clock at your job. Entrepreneurs tend to focus exclusively on getting their startups off the ground and fail to invest the time and effort required to see a partnership through post launch.

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In that respect, great business partnerships are a lot like great marriages–they often start with a powerful spark. And just like marriage, business partnerships are incredibly exciting at the outset, end up splitting the burden of life’s daily tasks in two, and offer ongoing comfort, confidence and a built-in mutual support mechanism. But just like a lot of marriages, they have a tendency to lose their magic and disintegrate.

Here’s how Elizabeth and I have maintained our spark over the past nine years:

The Power In Opposites

Elizabeth and I have completely different skill sets. Her background is in real estate, she has a knack for business, and a very strong design aesthetic. I’ve been working with talent for years and have good instincts for PR, marketing, and creative. I’m conservative and risk averse. Elizabeth is a baller. From the outset, we clearly defined and delineated roles and responsibilities. When you’re honest about your strengths and weaknesses, and accept your role in the organization, there’s no toe-stepping, no ego issues and things run much more efficiently.

Get Aligned On Work Ethic

When Elizabeth and I met, we each had children under the age of one. We knew that starting a business would mean long hours, weekends, and sacrifice when it came to family. Before we embarked on this journey, we had a series of honest conversations about how hard we were each willing to work. We made a commitment to each other to always be available, to be accountable to one another, and that no task was beneath us.

When one partner works more than another or is willing to take on tasks the other won’t, a sense of resentment can develop very quickly. Be upfront with your partner about work/life balance, get aligned, and avoid the trap of an “I’m working harder than her” mentality.

No Lumpy Carpets

This is an expression we use frequently at SoulCycle. Elizabeth and I over-communicate, over-report, and find pathways to express ourselves productively. If we have questions, concerns, or differences of opinion, we make time to talk about what’s on our mind. Sometimes we agree to disagree, but we always present a unified vision to our team. Our commitment to communication has served as a guide for how we onboard SoulCycle staff. We’ve developed training modules about “Getting Unstuck” and “Emptying Your Bucket” that help defuse conflict and promote respect.

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Your Relationship is Your Greatest Asset, Invest Accordingly

Elizabeth and I have always felt that our partnership is what drives the success and growth of our business. Early on in our partnership, we enlisted a terrific coach, who helped us work through differences and decisions. We’ve also worked with terrific outside advisors, read books, and attended seminars and workshops. We will do whatever it takes to make sure our foundation is strong.

These days, Elizabeth and I do just about everything together. We talk to each other while we’re getting ready in the morning and just before we go to bed. Our families vacation together. When we travel for work, we almost always share a room. That’s unusual, I know. Our husbands find it mildly amusing. But it works for us. We have spent the last decade collaborating, bickering, finishing each others sentences, cheering each other on, asking for help, solving a problem the other was stuck on. We have passionately shared a vision, we have worked tirelessly toward a common goal. It’s not always been easy, but it is always worth it.

Julie Rice is the co-founder and co-CEO of SoulCycle, a lifestyle and indoor cycling brand with 43 studios nationwide.