In the Room with Julie Rice, Founder of SoulCycle and Peoplehood

The Room Podcast
5 min readApr 9, 2024


S10E3: Reshaping Wellness and Community with Julie Rice of SoulCycle and Peoplehood

We’re back with another installment of The Room Podcast! In this episode, we’re honored to host Julie Rice, the co-founder of SoulCycle and Peoplehood. Join us as Julie shares her journey from revolutionizing the fitness industry with SoulCycle to her latest venture, focused on strengthening human connections.

We discuss the genesis of SoulCycle, exploring how it became a cultural phenomenon by fostering community and motivation beyond traditional fitness. Julie also sheds light on Peoplehood, a practice aimed at enhancing relationships through guided group conversations.

Key topics include self discovery & the entrepreneurial path, the importance of transparency in business, and Julie’s advice for founders who are considering acquisition. Whether you’re into fitness, entrepreneurship, or building connections, this episode offers valuable insights from a true trailblazer.

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Theme 1: Finding your own entrepreneurial Path

Growing up in Westchester, NY as a self-described “theater kid,” Julie Rice never envisioned herself as a future entrepreneur. She did take away the central aspirations of theater, which would go on to inform her first career as a talent agent in NY and then LA: using collaboration and creativity to work towards a common goal.

In Rice’s twenty years as a Hollywood talent agent, she learned how to create celebrities’ personal brands. She learned from the likes of Jennifer Lopez’s talent agent to master the public’s sense of a celebrity’s on-and off-camera life, product offerings, and digital presence. In much of her free time, Rice enjoyed the social wellness culture on the West Coast, hiking and exercising with friends. In the years leading up to SoulCycle’s 2006 founding, Rice says the West Coast fitness culture was light years ahead of the individualized, less social New York conception of fitness.

After moving back to NYC and looking for that wellness in cycle classes at a local gym, she craved the social, upbeat exercise experience that LA had offered.

When Rice met SoulCycle co-founder Elizabeth Cutler for a blind lunch date arranged by their shared cycle instructor, their very different but equally ambitious personalities hit it off right away. The pair went from that first lunch to opening their first NYC studio in about five months.

Rice says that she came to see SoulCycle as a person to build a unique brand for, drawing on her experiences as a Hollywood agent. SoulCycle would be the kind of studio that Rice and Cutler would both want to attend — each aspect of the class had to be ritualized and leave customers with a replicable, magical feeling.

Without thinking it in business terms at the time, Rice’s ultimate measure of product-market fit was not just attendance rates: if she could get a thousand people to not just like but be crazy about SoulCycle, the cycling studio chain would be able to thrive off of its own momentum and continue to scale.

T2: A culture of transparency and investing in people

The curtain-up to curtain-down entertainment experience of SoulCycle relied entirely on Rice’s and Cutler’s investment in people. From the way the front desk team was trained to greet customers to the “Hero’s Journey” of the ride, Rice learned as both a founder and CEO the importance of hiring instructors and employees that could buy into the studio for the long-term.

Rice credits the life and relationship coach Meredith Haberfeld she started seeing with Cutler early on in SoulCycle’s development. Haberfeld revolutionized the way the pair communicated about the progress of their growing business. Walking into each appointment with three weeks of bottled-up opinions and a certain stubbornness, both women learned how to respond rather than react.

Rice brought many of her learnings to SoulCycle employee trainings and credits this company-wide culture, at least in their tenure as management through 2020, for its ability to scale and maintain its replicable magic. Warm you up, pop the party, break you down, share a soulful moment, and send you home like a hero. SoulCycle’s class model took off like fire as they expanded geographically. Equinox purchased a majority stake in the business in 2011, providing the strategic force to open dozens of locations in urban centers across the country.

Later in the episode, Rice discusses the repeat founding pair’s current project: Peoplehood, a genre-creating class experience to improve interpersonal relationships. Peoplehood launched in February 2023 in NYC, offering a blend of in-studio and virtual offerings focused on a combination of breath work, group sharing, and higher listening skills. Rice speaks to the need for the self-awareness that Peoplehood seeks to spark in its cohorts — building community, sharing some spirituality, and giving tactical tools for clients to “move the needle” in their relationships beyond the 60 minute classes.

Rice offers complete transparency about the inspiration for Peoplehood’s concept. She mentions that at this stage in her life, she is primarily focused on spending real time with the people that she loves. Rice believes Peoplehood’s model allows their clients to put their limited time towards the admirable goal of thoughtful connection.

T3: Thinking through acquisition and strategic partnerships

When Rice and Cutler started out in 2006 with their first SoulCycle location, Rice never even imagined what an exit strategy would look like. She emphasizes that her true motivation was to create the cycle studio that she wanted to attend regularly, which didn’t yet exist in the NYC fitness market.

The 2011 deal with Equinox offered a strategic partner for Rice and Cutler to open studios outside of NYC — places they couldn’t visit regularly to check up on and directly oversee.

For many of the years after that acquisition, Rice and Cutler still enjoyed a large degree of autonomy in the actual running of the business. Exit considerations should not start early in the lifecycle of a business, she suggests, mentioning that their eventual SoulCycle exit clouds her thinking about Peoplehood, which is still very early stage.

Her current best advice for early-stage entrepreneurs is to treat their businesses and ideas like children, giving them the room to find their fit and where they want to grow.

As both a founder and CEO once for SoulCycle and now for Peoplehood, Rice thinks switching strategically between the often opposing concerns of the two roles helps her stay balanced. Founders offer creativity and vision, favoring expansion and diversification. CEOs tend to think more pragmatically, prioritizing keeping a company alive and managing budget. Strategic opportunities like selling require those two roles to reach a compromise about a business’ future. As Rice knows well, it is no simple decision.

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