There is perhaps no brand quite as beloved and parodied for its cult-like following as the stationary bike club SoulCycle. Now WeWork wants a bit of that mojo. The office-leasing company has coaxed SoulCycle cofounder Julie Rice, who was been enjoying a momentary pause since leaving the spin-class giant last year, to join on as chief brand officer.
The hire comes at a crucial time for WeWork, which is exploring myriad ways to expand beyond coworking spaces. The company has launched Powered by We, which offers businesses a chance to have WeWork remodel their offices and set them up with both software and a WeWork employee who will maintain the cultural vibe of the office. It has non-work offerings like WeLive “flexible” apartments catering to short-term lessees. There’s also WeWork-branded fitness facilities (Rise by We) and WeGrow, a unconventional elementary school aimed at fostering tiny “conscious global citizens.”
But WeWork is also trying to prove—or, perhaps, trying its best to ignore—its enormous sticker price. In August, Japanese conglomerate SoftBank invested $4.4 billion into the company at a reported valuation of $20 billion. It is an astonishing appraisal for a what is ostensibly a real estate company. But WeWork is trying to convince outsiders that it is generating money off of more than just rent arbitrage; it’s real worth, it claims, is its community and services.
Rice will no doubt spend a lot of her time carefully crafting that message. But this won’t be your typical branding exercise. Rice won’t be charged with reshaping the logo or changing the signature WeWork look. Instead, she says, she’ll do it through creating even more services for members.
I met with Rice inside one of WeWork’s glass-walled meeting spaces at its headquarters in New York. She says she wants to help members connect with each other more than they already do and she wants WeWork itself to be more in touch with members. “Really understanding what our members want and then finding new and exciting ways to deliver it,” she muses, perched on a tall barstool. Creating connection between members, she says, is what fueled her previous company’s rise to the top of boutique fitness and eventually drew Equinox to acquire it.
One of the key values at SoulCycle is non-competitiveness. Cyclers don’t compete with each other. Rather they share the burden of the exercise together, pressing down on their peddles and bopping on their handlebars in unison, together powering their collective self-esteem and dazzling abs. But Rice says, what really kept people coming back again and again was a sense of belonging that bordered on commitment, if not obligation. It was this sense, she explains, that “If I don’t show up, somebody will be disappointed. If I don’t show up, the energy of this community will be disrupted. What I am contributing to this community is actually propelling it.”
“There’s a certain way of creating a service, hospitality, and experience that perpetuates people feeling like they matter,” says Rice. “Being there matters to the group and I think that’s a really interesting thing to think about here.”