Over a year ago, I auditioned for SoulCycle on a whim. To be honest I had no idea what I would do if I got the job. It requires a 10 week training program in NYC with no guarantees for employment. If you do a get a job offer, you are most likely required to relocate and teach 10 classes a week. It is a full time job and a lifestyle.
Short story: I didn’t get the job, but that’s ok. The experience of the audition itself was fascinating. It really shows the power of the SoulCycle brand and the impact they have on their audience. From a product perspective this is the ultimate example of user engagement/love :).
So here’s the long story. I’ve been teaching Lagree style pilates at Core40 for almost two years at that point. It’s my favorite hobby and I’ve loved developing my own teaching style and seeing my regulars get stronger. In the last year, I’ve become a big fan of SoulCycle. Yes, it’s just a class where we ride a bike that goes nowhere but the experience is hard to match. If you haven’t experienced SoulCycle, in short, it’s the most expensive spin class you’ll ever take ($30-$45 a class) and the goal is simply to ride that happy yellow bike for 45 minutes with 60 people to the beat of the music. It’s a well documented and parodied phenomenon. Everyone agrees the magic is 90% the instructors. So when I had some free time, I thought why not? Let me see if I can teach Soul. I emailed a resume and photo to SoulCycle and didn’t think about it again.
Now when it comes to the fitness world, being a Soul instructor is bit like being on the Olympic team. For comparison: typically a fitness instructor gets paid somewhere between $30-$75 for each class they teach, not including prep time, team mtgs, and the scale can change based on the number of students in the class. Instructors do not get benefits and are often running between multiple studios in order to pull together a reasonable salary. By contrast, soul instructors are paid ~$150 a class with full benefits as a starting salary and the rumors are the most popular instructors are paid over $1000 per class.
A couple months later I got an email.
Hey Rose! Thank you for your interest in becoming a SoulCycle instructor! This email confirms that you have been invited to one of our upcoming auditions. Below are important audition and Instructor Training Program details:
YOUR AUDITION DATE: WED, June 3, 2015
My reaction: <GULP>. The audition requirements were to choose two songs and choreograph them SoulCycle style. One song had to represent my SOUL and second my unique energy.
What does that mean??? I enjoy working out to POP songs by Tswift and Beyonce. Is that unique enough? Should I try to be more cool? I’ve never riden a bike in front of an audience? Am I dedicated enough to Soul to do this?
A million nervous thoughts and questions ran through my mind. It felt like the first day of school. I didn’t have a ton of time to prep, it also felt like one of those tests where it was too late to cram, so you just go for it.
So here’s what happened on June 3, 2015.
I choose my two songs the morning of the audition. Bootylicious by Queen B and Let it Go by The Passenger. I loved both songs and wanted a contrast between fast and slow. Let’s be clear, I definitely walked into this audition knowing I was outclassed. I’m a once a week or maybe 2x a week SoulCycler. I didn’t own any of the branded apparel. I wasn’t close friends or on first name basis with the instructors and regulars. My form was decent but I was occasionally off beat.
So as I walked towards that familiar and cheery yellow wheel, I figured I had nothing to lose. Now my normal MO is to get into the studio 2 minutes before class and frantically try to squeeze my stuff into a locker before running to my assigned bike. Today I was 20 minutes early and so nervous I was bouncing a bit. There are a dozen people milling around the studio waiting area. Half are chatting and clearly old friends. The other half have earbuds in and are studiously cramming before the auditions starts. Every other person was wearing at least one piece of SoulCycle branded clothing. (oops?) I made some fast friends, the group was split around 70/30 on the female/male lines.
Then the audition starts, here are the rules.
- You’re assigned a bike and you get up to 2 songs to show what you got. .(but they can stop you at anytime) In addition, each song should demonstrate two distinct rhythms (i.e. a jog, a hill, seated)
- Your bike number is your audition order. When you’re not auditioning you’re just taking “class”. I think they’re judging you then too…
- When it’s your turn, you introduce yourself, why you Soul (yes it’s a verb), and what whether you’re willing to relocate for SoulCycle if you get to the next stage. Yes it was made very clear that most of the growth for SoulCycle is outside of SF and they wanted people who were willing to go wherever they were needed.
The auditions start. Everyone was good or at least enthusiastic and likable, there were some folks who were clearly already had teaching experience, and some who just loved Soul and were regulars. To be honest, I expected most people to say they weren’t willing to relocate. But to my surprise, 90% of the candidates, even those with kids, husbands, day jobs as lawyers/at startups said: “If I get this job, I will move to wherever. This is my dream job.” So right there and then I kind of knew I didn’t want it badly enough. But I’m here so let’s do it right?
When it was my turn to get to the podium. I honestly don’t remember those 3 minutes very well. I think I went on autopilot. But if I tried to guess what happened from the judges perspective, I would say.
“Strong personality and comfortable with the crowd. Clearly had some experience teaching. However, rhythm and form on the bike was off, particularly for the faster songs. Song choice is OK, not unique. Not willing to relocate.”
The whole process took 90 mins and I walked a bit bowlegged when I got off that bike at the end. As I mentioned earlier I didn’t get the job but I had a great time. It was a bit of surreal experience listening to people talk about what SoulCycle meant to them. For a lot of the people auditioning it was a form a therapy and it helped them find the power to walk away from bad relationships, quit jobs they hated, or just find sanity in their busy lives. What it made me think about was how making an experience human can change it completely. There are a lot of spin classes out there, but Soul is unique is the quality bar they set for instructors and the type of instructors they select. They all have unique personalities from fabulous and funny to quirky and nerdy to almost militant and bootcamp intensity, but all of the Soul instructor share this innate optimism for life and a willingness to share their thoughts and be vulnerable in front of 60 strangers 10x a week. In tech, we’re often trying to take the human part of the experience and it’s unpredictability out of the equation. Why talk to a person when you can just press a button? Do you really need a therapist to talk through your problems? Maybe we can refine therapy to a bot/algorithm. It makes the experience more consistent and repeatable, but what are we throwing away in the process?
P.S. Yes I still teach at Core40, come find me at the lower pac heights location on Sundays.
P.P.S. A reminder for myself: don’t just look for inspiration in product design and experience in technology products.