In order to build a successful startup, you first need to raise capital. And this can be especially hard for entrepreneurs who are women and women of color, who statistically have a harder time finding investors for their products than their male counterparts do. Payal Kadakia, who founded the wildly successful tech startup Classpass, says she attracted investors with a combination of luck, networking, and a really great product.
Kadakia says when her business first launched, her first investors were people who already knew and loved her, and more importantly knew her work ethic. “Early days it was a lot of friends and family, people who really were believing in me, and kinda knew that I was the person who could tackle this problem that I was going out to solve. Which was about getting people to go to class and getting back to their passions,” she said.
She and her team’s next big break came when they were tapped by Techstars, a New York City incubator supporting tech companies. Getting this recognition helped put Classpass on the map, and Kadakia says inspired another round of funding. Soon after that, her company saw a “hockey stick” of growth.
If capital gets a startup off the ground, it’s the people who work there who really keep the engine running.
“I think that the most important thing for me was having the right people involved in the company from day one,” Kadakia said. “I think with investors especially when you get that much attention as a company — it was so important to me to make sure that I built a leadership on the board that was going to always keep what I wanted in the company alive.” In fact, Kadakia says that finding a team of people who really care about the product and want to see it succeed is even more important than the funding (which comes second). “I really believe, especially when you’re building big ideas like this, it’s not about getting a loan. It’s about having a team that is energized to really go on this mission and sort of solve every problem with you,” she said. “Because it really takes a team to build anything like this.”
While she has built a great team now, Kadakia says that in the beginning, she was in some ways going it alone. “I was a woman of color in tech, I didn’t have that many people to look up to,” she said. “I will say I looked up to people that were disrupting industries. Anywhere from Beyonce to Steve Jobs to me was a disruptor that inspired me to think bigger and think differently in a way that other people hadn’t in my industry.”
But at the heart of it, Kadakia is most inspired by the people who use her product.
“I felt like every single time someone went to class I was giving them something that was such a gift,” she said. “To me my customers were always the center of my inspiration. Like figuring out what amazing life they can lead on my product.”