SoulCycle and the culture of “yes”

Former CEO Melanie Whelan on building a customer-centered company culture

In this episode of the Tony Robbins Podcast, we are bringing you front and center to Business Mastery, where Tony led a panel discussion with the business leaders behind some of today’s fastest-growing companies – companies that are on fire. Companies like SoulCycle. 

What makes SoulCycle such a powerhouse? How did they create so many raving fans? And how have they managed to consistently maintain their revolutionary customer experience while scaling at such a massive rate? 

These are just some of the questions that are answered in this episode, as Tony and SoulCycle’s then-CEO Melanie Whelan delve into the company’s innovative workout culture, their unique hiring process and the customer experience they’ve built so consciously, it has created fans in every location.

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What is SoulCycle? 

SoulCycle is a fitness company with spinning and cycling classes that also incorporate principles of HIIT and strength training. Classes are known for their ambiance: mood lighting, trendy music and a palpable enthusiasm. More than that, SoulCycle is known for its incredible sense of community and customer service. 

With nearly a hundred locations, chances are you’ve either been to SoulCycle or have heard someone gushing about their experience. The company took the fitness world by storm. And while the industry was hard-hit by the pandemic, SoulCycle remains a shining example of what can be accomplished when a business is laser-focused on exceptional customer service. 

Who is Melanie Whelan? 

One of the key players behind this fitness phenomenon is Melanie Whelan, who served as SoulCycle’s CEO from 2015 to 2020. In just this short time, she helped take the company from seven operating locations to 70+ jam-packed studios across the nation serving millions of people a year. Melanie is now a managing director at investment firm Summit Partners.

A culture of “yes” 

So how did Melanie build such an exceptional and consistent company culture during this period of skyrocketing growth? She says, “We’re a culture of yes. We believe that there is a yes in every interaction.” And she knows that hiring the right people and empowering them to take action is the key to making that yes happen. 

Her team-building advice? “Hire for attitude and aptitude, not for experience.” Skills can be learned, but that twinkle in the eye, that desire to make customers happy, is much harder to teach. Yet it’s the foundation of the customer loyalty that SoulCycle thrives on. Listen to the podcast to hear Melanie’s top two tips to ensure you hire the right people. 

Trusting your team 

Melanie knows that when you hire right, you build a team you can trust – and you must trust your team. For a national company like SoulCycle, instructors and locations needed space to be creative, and Melanie needed to trust that they knew their customers and empower them to find the “yes.” 

“I truly believe what separates us is our people,” she says. She’s right. Raving fan employees create a culture that brings in raving fan customers – and SoulCycle has both in spades.

Scaling a company like SoulCycle wasn’t without challenges. Yet the company proves that when you fall in love with your customer, empower your employees and build a culture of getting things done, anything is possible. As Melanie said, “We never dreamed the business was going to be this big.”


Part 1

[01:07] Ana introduces the episode
[02:30] Tony welcomes Melanie Whelan
[02:45] How SoulCycle was built
[03:45] SoulCycle gave people a way to connect to each other and to themselves
[04:45] Giving their customers a unique experience
[05:20] How the CEO of 6 Flags created a new culture
[06:20] How SoulCycle has sustained customer experience while scaling
[06:50] The state of SoulCycle when Melanie joined
[06:55] Getting very clear on their core values
[07:10] A culture of “Yes!”
[07:30] Hiring in a way that reflects their core values
[07:35] Hiring for attitude and aptitude, not for experience
[07:50] The key characteristics of a SoulCycle employee
[08:10] Their online central training repository –  “The Wheel”
[08:20] How they deal with new issues and problems
[08:35] Creating freedom within a framework
[09:20] How do you test for consistency and excellence?
[09:30] Southwest Airlines’ technique for hiring
[10:00] The power of behavioral interviews
[10:30] Running shadow shifts so potential employees can assess the reality of the job
[11:15] The transitions of the company
[13:00] Why SoulCycle is like a “tribe”
[13:30] The bike is the vessel to create the change
[13:45] People come for a workout, but they stay for the breakthrough
[14:15] Creating an addictive, connected experience
[15:10] What separates SoulCycle from the other spin studios
[16:00] The power of being a mission driven company and investing in their teams
[16:30] The biggest challenge the company has faced
[18:00] Be clear in your intention and transparent with your goals
[18:30] “We never dreamed this business could be this big”
[19:00] Audience questions
[20:15] Creating an environment of hospitality
[21:15] How SoulCycle utilizes the collective energy
[22:50] Using retail as constant marketing
[23:30] The physical and emotional reasons people go to SoulCycle
[24:30] Being in the experience business
[25:00] Expanding their demographic

Part 2 (Behind The Scenes)

[01:08] Ana introduces this special episode
[01:40] How Melanie became involved with Tony Robbins
[01:45] Looking for inspiration, and finding the Tony Robbins podcast
[02:10] Starting your day with 3 practices of gratitude
[02:35] Grounding yourself in what is good
[03:00] SoulCycle’s gratitude process
[03:45] Melanie’s experience on stage with Tony
[04:40] The energy at Business Mastery
[05:30] The unique experience and connections formed
[06:15] Harnessing the power of potential
[08:00] SoulCycle’s future plans for growth and expansion
[09:00] The challenge of scaling a live experience
[09:55] Artist, manager, entrepreneur
[10:30] Melanie’s personal challenges and how she overcame them
[11:30] Building a team where each member has complementary skill sets
[12:00] The importance of listening

Team Tony

Team Tony cultivates, curates and shares Tony Robbins’ stories and core principles, to help others achieve an extraordinary life.

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