Julie Rice discovered spinning when she was working as a talent agent for Handprint Entertainment in Los Angeles. "It was my therapy," she remembers. So when Rice, now 41, left Hollywood to open a Handprint office in Manhattan, she looked for an East Coast exercise equivalent. "I couldn't find anything that had the emotional and spiritual energy," she says. Deflated by her fitness prospects and the comparatively marginal New York film scene, she decided to open her own spinning studio.
In 2006 a mutual friend introduced her to Elizabeth Cutler, a former real estate broker looking to get into the fitness business. With their savings—derived partly from Cutler's investment in beverage maker Izze, which was sold to PepsiCo (PEP) for $75 million in 2006—the duo opened a studio on Manhattan's Upper West Side. The building didn't allow signage, so they bought a rickshaw on eBay (EBAY) and painted an arrow on it pointing toward their front door. Initial costs included equipment, instructor salaries, guerrilla marketing, and the daily $65 rickshaw parking ticket.
Their big break came in 2007 when SoulCycle hosted a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton's Presidential campaign. Bill Clinton attended with his daughter, Chelsea, who remains a regular. The attention coincided with the opening of their second location, in Bridgehampton, N.Y. Three more studios have opened in New York, plus one in Miami, and outposts are scheduled for East Hampton, N.Y., and L.A. Although she now employs a staff of 120, Rice finds life in New York less taxing than in L.A. "After spending 15 years in Hollywood picking up the phone and having the director say 'no,'" Rice says, "I was amazed that SoulCycle was a 'yes' business."
RICE'S BEST ADVICE
1. Get Out of the Office. "I have learned more about SoulCycle handing out towels and water at the front desk than I could have ever learned sitting in an office. I always say, 'If one person has a suggestion and actually voices it, there are 100 people who were thinking the same thing.'"
2. Learn Your Whole Business. "Expect to do jobs you never dreamed you would know how to do. The first year we opened SoulCycle, I was learning how to change bike pedals while figuring out a marketing strategy. In order to understand your business and keep costs down, your best resource is you."