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Episode 51: Ruth Zukerman

Riding On The High Road: Leading With Resilience And Introspection with Ruth Zukerman Co-Founder of SoulCycle and Flywheel

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EPISODE SUMMARY

Ruth Zukerman is an energetic, candid and inspirational leader who created two of the most popular fitness companies – SoulCycle and Flywheel. Ruth is also a frequent Speaker at BrightSight Group and the Author of “Riding High”. She has faced her share of adversity in life and business but leads with resilience and introspection. As a young woman, her dream was to become a professional dancer in New York. Those years of training and facing challenges set her on a path to taking on new businesses with a ‘show must go on’ mindset.

Listen in as host David Kepron and Ruth Zukerman talk about finding an authentic path as a professional, leadership in the face of uncertainty and bringing creativity and innovation to new businesses.

EPISODE NOTES

About Ruth Zukerman:

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LinkedIn Profile: linkedin.com/in/ruth-zukerman

Book: Riding-High-Ruth-Zukerman-audiobook

Bio:

Ruth Zukerman is the co-founder of Soul Cycle and Flywheel, both wildly successful companies that innovated the studio cycling movement. Ruth pioneered the boutique fitness industry by creating the “studio” with a pay per class structure, modeling them after the dance studios she would frequent when she was pursuing her dance career.

Over the last decade with these companies, she has come to realize that her passion is greater than simply cycling or fitness. Her mission is to connect people to each other as well as to their own inner strength, and empower them to carry the positive, powerful attitude they have on the bike on into their lives and their careers.

She speaks around the country, inspiring people to get unstuck and find new paths and new passion for a successful second, third or even fourth act in their careers.

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Ruth is following her own advice and left Flywheel at the end of 2018 to pursue her next great adventure.

She lives in New York and is very close with her grown daughters.

Her memoir RIDING HIGH: How I Kissed SoulCycle Goodbye, Co-Founded Flywheel and Built the Life I Always Wanted, was published in October 2018.

SHOW INTRO:

I like riding a bike.

I think it’s a bit if a holdover from doing triathlons many years ago.

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I didn’t like swimming too much – I tended to sink, and so I relied on the wet suit to give me some buoyancy. Still though, it didn’t make the swim that much more enjoyable.

Ah… but the bike… you could go fast and go far. You had something you could tinker with, a piece of equipment, something technical.

That was, and still is, cool…

These days, I get out on the road at the end of a long workday and ride through the Maryland countryside. A few miles from my home, the rolling hills and corn fields are a landscape that helps me unwind, breathe deeply and think.

A few years ago I took to the Peloton bike with a passion. I road the bike religiously having my favorite instructors call me out, inspire me like I was at church, and I found that they were connecting with meaningful messages while they also kicked my butt. I also liked to competitiveness of the leaderboard. Always wanting to ride in the top 10% of riders in the class. The goal kept me on it, in pursuit of fitness for sure, but it was more than that, it was a community.

And the instructors, Alex, Ally, and Jess became, unbeknownst to them, my friends and motivational mentors.

I remember that back in about 2014, or something, I took a spin class at the local Y. I was riding with a cycling team called Team Evesham, a group of sometimes a 100 or more weekend road warriors, who peddled through the pinelands of South Jersey.

They somehow got a deal to get a few free classes for each of us, if we were interested. I wasn’t totally convinced back then, I preferred to be outside, you know on a real bike, with the wind on my face and all that jazz.

…boy did that change in later years with my love affair with Peloton.

What I didn’t know then was there had been a growing spin cycling thing happening in New York for a few years. A place called SoulCycle had been attracting customers to in-door spin classes and it had been really catching on.

And it had grown into a brand with locations all over the place. Still though, I was riding outside. The purist in me was still winning out.

Leap forward a few years and I buy my Peloton bike in the fall of 2018.

Spinning had finally captured my interest and I was hooked. I was fully on board with team Peloton but friends and colleagues who were into spinning swore by SoulCycle and this other brand called Flywheel who had figured out the leaderboard and ride metrics, so the story goes, before Peloton became a player.

Leap forward again to fall 2022.

My Peloton ball cap, that had become a standard fashion accessory, was well worn and I am more familiar with SoulCycle, I can imagine the logo in my mind’s eye and picture the color yellow but still … I have never been.

I am at the International Retail Design Conference and the stories of spinning, SoulCycle, Flywheel and Peloton are about to all converge. I arrive late to the closing keynote being giving by Ruth Zukerman.

Now I don’t now Ruth Zukerman from Adam, but then… I actually do.

As I listen to a candid, heartfelt and inspiring presentation about leadership, resilience in the face of adversity and creating nationally recognized brands, I look at the session summary in the brochure and it turns out the Ruth Zukerman founded SoulCycle, left her brainchild and created Flywheel and was principally responsible for starting the spinning craze in a studio on the Upper West Side in New York.

It also turns out that, though this interview, I learn that Ruth turned down an opportunity to join John Foley the creator of Peloton to take what they had created at Flywheel and evolve it into the home cycling juggernaut that is Peloton.

They, Flywheel and their investors figured they could do their own at-home bike, but that never happened and Ruth Left Flywheel in 2018. Flywheel, like many other companies under the extraordinary pressure of the global COVID pandemic, filed for bankruptcy and closed in September of 2020.

So there I am listening, slightly dumbfounded, to Ruth Zukerman and thinking this is one remarkable woman.

What a life story.

What an approach to leading in the face of adversity.

So, as serendipity would have it, I connect with Ruth after her inspiring talk and invite her to share her professional path and story on the podcast.

Soul Cycle and Flywheel, were both wildly successful companies that innovated the studio cycling movement. Ruth pioneered the boutique fitness industry by creating the “studio” with a pay per class structure, modeling them after the dance studios she would frequent when she was pursuing her dance career.

Over the last decade with these companies, she came to realize that her passion is greater than simply cycling or fitness. Her mission is to connect people to each other as well as to their own inner strength, and empower them to carry the positive, powerful attitude they have on the bike into their lives and their careers.

She speaks around the country, inspiring people to get unstuck and find new paths and new passion for a successful second, third or even fourth act in their careers.

As I explained earlier, Ruth followed her own advice and left Flywheel at the end of 2018 to pursue her next great adventure.

In 2018 Ruth also published a memoir called “RIDING HIGH: How I Kissed SoulCycle Goodbye, Co-Founded Flywheel and Built the Life I Always Wanted.”

Ruth Zukerman still lives in New York, and she has taken what she learned from years as an aspiring professional dancer to build a life of resilience, business innovation and inspiration both on and off the bike.

INFO ON DAVID KEPRON

BIO:

David Kepron is a multifaceted creative professional with a deep curiosity to understand ‘why’, ‘what’s now’ and ‘what’s next’. He brings together his background as an architect, artist, educator, author, podcast host and builder to the making of meaningful and empathically-focused, community-centric customer connections at brand experience places around the globe.

David is a former VP – Global Design Strategies at Marriott International. While at Marriott, his focus was on the creation of compelling customer experiences within Marriott’s “Premium Distinctive” segment which included: Westin, Renaissance, Le Meridien, Autograph Collection, Tribute Portfolio, Design Hotels and Gaylord hotels.

In 2020 Kepron founded NXTLVL Experience Design, a strategy and design consultancy, where he combines his multidisciplinary approach to the creation of relevant brand engagements with his passion for social and cultural anthropology, neuroscience and emerging digital technologies.

As a frequently requested international speaker at corporate events and international conferences focusing on CX, digital transformation, retail, hospitality, emerging technology, David shares his expertise on subjects ranging from consumer behaviors and trends, brain science and buying behavior, store design and visual merchandising, hotel design and strategy as well as creativity and innovation. In his talks, David shares visionary ideas on how brand strategy, brain science and emerging technologies are changing guest expectations about relationships they want to have with brands and how companies can remain relevant in a digitally enabled marketplace.

David currently brings his creativity and insight on brand experiences to an international audience as a member of VMSD magazine’s Editorial Advisory Board, as a Board Member of the Interactive Customer Experience Association (ICXA) and Sign Research Foundation’s (SRF) Program Committee.

He has held teaching positions at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology (F.I.T.), the Department of Architecture & Interior Design of Drexel University in Philadelphia, the Laboratory Institute of Merchandising (L.I.M.) in New York, the International Academy of Merchandising and Design in Montreal and he served as the Director of the Visual Merchandising Department at LaSalle International Fashion School (L.I.F.S.) in Singapore.

In 2014 Kepron published his first book titled: “Retail (r)Evolution: Why Creating Right-Brain Stores Will Shape the Future of Shopping in a Digitally Driven World” and he is currently working on his second book to be published soon. David also writes a popular blog called “Brain Food” which is published monthly on vmsd.com.

In September of 2020, he launched the “NXTLVL Experience Design” podcast which brings listeners dialogues about “DATA: Design, Architecture, Technology and the Arts.” His guests include thought leaders who are driven by a passion to create the ‘New Possible’ and promote new paradigms of experiences into the mainstream.

The next level experience design podcast is presented by VMSD magazine and Smartwork Media. It is hosted and executive produced by David Kepron. Our original music and audio production by Kano Sound.

The content of this podcast is copywrite to David Kepron and NXTLVL Experience Design. Any publication or rebroadcast of the content is prohibited without the expressed written consent of David Kepron and NXTLVL Experience Design.

Make sure to tune in for more NXTLVL “Dialogues on DATA: Design Architecture Technology and the Arts” wherever you find your favorite podcasts and make sure to visit vmsd.com and look for the tab for the NXTLVL Experience Design podcast there too.

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