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Season 4, Episode 2

How to Grow Your Business Through Partnerships

With VP of Corporate Partnerships at ClassPass, Nicole Wolfe

About the Episode

Creating a new revenue stream – such as strategic partnerships – is never as simple as it sounds. But organizations that build successful partnership programs are able to both diversify and expand their revenue streams. In this episode, I chat with Nicole Wolfe, VP of Corporate Partnerships at ClassPass, on how she built their corporate partnership program from scratch, and how you can do it too!

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Full Transcript

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25:06

Nicole:
For a lot of these benefits, your employees want different things and different programs. Some people may be more interested in mental health or stress management or resiliency programs. Others may be really into fitness. And so giving people, and employees options to do whatever they need to do and meeting them where they’re at is really important.

Chris:
What’s up everybody. I’m Chris Ron’s CEO, founder, and CEO of Trainual. You just heard from Nicole Wolfe. And this episode is all about employee wellness program. So whether you want to design a wellness program for your own company, or potentially sell a service, a product, something you offer into employee wellness programs, you’ll be able to learn a lot through this episode. So Nicole Wolfe is the head of corporate programs over at ClassPass, which is the leading global fitness membership. You’ve probably heard of ClassPass. She is the actual one that started this program, which now accounts for a good chunk of their revenue. And she’ll talk more about that. Her mission is to work with businesses of every size to design a program that’s cost-effective customizable and employee-centric because she cares so much about how to make the workplace a better experience for employees. She’s previously built wellness initiatives with Kaiser Permanente, global corporate challenge, and also TRX training. And she’s consulted with fortune 500 companies to design these types of programs. You’re going to hear us talk pretty candidly about how ClassPass has changed through the COVID pandemic, how they’ve designed this program from the very beginning, and how she thinks about selling in your services, your products if you’re creating a new channel. So from whatever angle you’re coming from, learn more about corporate wellness programs in this episode.

Chris:
Welcome back. I’m your host, Chris Ronzio. And today, as you heard in the intro, we’re talking with Nicole Wolfe. Hey Nicole, how are you? So everyone listening, you’ve almost definitely heard of ClassPass, but what you might not be aware of is that they actually have part of the business in which they’re distributing the service as a corporate benefit. And so Nicole is the one that started this, the one that’s responsible for this, and we’re really going to dig in with her on two sides of this first, if you’re considering a corporate wellness benefit, we’ll talk about that. And whether it’s a good idea for your company. And then second, if you’re looking to get creative and build a new channel, a new revenue stream for your business, you will definitely get a lot out of this episode. So Nicole let’s dig in. Awesome. All right. So for anyone that hasn’t heard of ClassPass, can you give us just a brief intro? Absolutely. So class classes, the top fitness, and wellness membership, um, we are in 27 markets right now. I think that’s growing daily. Um, and obviously we were traditionally a curator of in-person experiences. So connecting people to fitness, wellness, gyms, et

Nicole:
Cetera in their city or wherever they happen to be traveling. And in this era of COVID, um, we’ve now transitioned a lot of that to online experiences, um, with our partners that are either, you know, via zoom or through on-demand workouts, uh, directly in our app. Um, you know, we are known as a consumer brand, so I’m sure many of your listeners have heard of ClassPass as you know, you’re, maybe you’ve tried it, you’ve gone to a gym or something along those lines, but, um, you know, as you mentioned, we did introduce this corporate wellness program for companies about two years ago. Um, and now we have about 2000, uh, corporate partners on the platform working with their employees.

Chris:
Wow. That’s incredible. Okay. So this was introduced actually pre COVID, then it was something you were already working on. Exactly. So it sounds, I just imagine like a situation room or something crazy when everything went down earlier this year, um, w what was that conversation like? You know, a lot of gyms close, did you have to really pivot the messaging, the product? What were the big changes?

Nicole:
I mean, on the actual consumer side and, and, you know, our PR our gym and studio partners, right? First and foremost, we wanted to make sure that they came out the other side of this, you know, alive and well. And so our first focus was we, we typically take a commission for any reservations we send to a studio partner. And so we, um, froze all of our commission payouts. So we’ve given a hundred percent of the revenue directly to those studios. So they’re at least getting something in this time of COVID. Um, and then we also made it really easy for them to set up online workouts. So, um, instead of going to Barry’s in person, maybe you were able to book with your ClassPass credits to take an online various class instead. And so it gave us that opportunity to create a revenue stream for those individual studios. And really cool part is that you also got exposure to studios and gyms that were around the world. And so, um, maybe you’re like, Oh, I’ll take a yoga class in London. And I happen to be in New York. And so it gave you some, some new, uh, appreciation for other markets and what other companies or other studios and partners were doing.

Chris:
Wow. I hadn’t even considered attending a class in a different market. So that’s really cool that your platform enables that. So did the corporate side of the business, then the wellness programs, did that insulate you a bit from the consumer changes that were happening?

Nicole:
It did in a really interesting way. I think a lot of companies were looking for anything to try to connect their employees to each other. And so the fact that we pivoted very quickly into this online zoom landscape, of doing these online workouts really helped, um, you know, create a pretty seamless process for those employers that allowed their employees to do, you know, classes together. Um, you know, we did private classes for, um, a couple of companies and similarly, they have people globally, right. They have people in Singapore, Los Angeles, New York, London, and it was a really fun experience to do, you know, a global boot camp for their entire team, um, around the globe. So it was a really fun, sort of different experience that probably wouldn’t have been exposed to if you hadn’t been in that, uh, sort of forced to be in coordinating, working from home type of thing.

Nicole:
And so, um, that’s really helped us. And then I think similarly, because of the way ClassPass works, as we have online and offline experiences and our currency is this class pass credit. So you can use those credits to do, you know, in-person workouts. If your market happens to be back online. And you’re in a, you know, maybe New Zealand where they’re opening up again, you can easily go to a class there. Um, but if you have employees that are based in, um, you know, San Francisco where we’re not back online yet, you’re still able to do your classes, um, you know, via zoom or whatever capabilities they have there. So we’ve really created this hybrid model for employers that makes it really easy for them to offer a range of solutions to their employees, no matter where they are.

Chris:
Yeah. So valuable. I know we’re looking for any way to connect people with each other. And so being able to do fitness and it’s just another creative way for people to get together.

Nicole:
Absolutely. And I think everyone’s tired of the Zoom happy hours. So

Chris:
Definitely. So I suppose, so for anyone listening, that’s trying to build a corporate wellness program, or maybe they’ve considered it. Is this something any size company can do or is it something you typically see with a certain size company?

Nicole:
Yeah, I mean, my background has been in this health wellness experience for the last 15 years or so. And I’ve worked with companies in, you know, all shapes, sizes, locations, demographics, and there’s absolutely no reason why a company should not be investing in this. I think first and foremost, it’s expected by employees. Now, 91% of workers expect that we are employers will have some type of a, of wellness, um, program. Um, and you know, ultimately they feel more supported and this is a report done by the American psychological association. But, you know, if your employer has some investment in you, you’re more committed to that company. And so I think first and foremost, in this crazy landscape, um, even though there are lots of people that are potentially being furloughed or laid off or anyone along those lines, there’s also a lot of momentum because people are a little concerned or maybe looking at other opportunities or whatever that may be.

Nicole:
And so retaining that talent is really important. And wellness is a really great indicator of a company showing that they’re committed to their employees. Um, there are lots of budget options. There are lots of programs out there, so it’s not like, Oh, I have no budget. You can’t do this. I think firstly like your insurance companies may have something that’s already included that you may not know about. Um, but there are also programs like ClassPass where we sort of have flipped the model on its head. So typically in a lot of wellness programs you pay per eligible employee. Um, so if you have a thousand employees, you pay a dollar per person, you pay a thousand dollars a month. Um, and you pay that amount even if only one person signs up and ClassPass was really the leader in changing that model to be a per active, um,

Nicole:
And really showed that you can do the right thing for your employees and still, you know, make money as an organization and not have to, you know, sort of taking the hit. And I think that’s a really important thing is that for a lot of these benefits, your employees want different things in different, um, programs. Some people may be more interested in mental health or stress management or resiliency programs. Others may be really into fitness. And so giving people an employee’s options to do whatever they need to beat to do and meeting them where they’re at is really important. So finding solutions that allow you to pay per active, um, and focused on what you’re really looking for and what your employees need is going to be really important too.

Chris:
Yeah. I love that because that’s your biggest concern that you’re going to buy something for the whole team and no one uses it. Like even right now, we’re going through our new benefits assessment and trying to figure out what did people use last year and what should we hear? But it doesn’t have to just be a perk for big companies. And I want to drive this home because, you know, people hear perks like this and they think, Oh, that’s just companies with huge budgets that they do all the regular benefits. And then on top of that, they layer these things. When I had my first company, it was a really small business and we didn’t even have benefits. You’d expect health insurance and things like that. But we did, we did this little thing called to pick your perk, where they had like a couple of hundred dollars budget and they could get like an XM radio subscription or my magazine subscriptions. And that went such a long way for a small business.

Nicole:
Yeah, absolutely. And I think it actually sets you apart, especially when you’re trying to compete against potentially like a Google or Facebook, which sort of to your point, it’s like, Oh, they have so many benefits and perks. How do I do this as a small business? And I think it also really helps set the tone for your culture, right? If this is something you’re building out in the very beginning, it can have a lot of impact on, uh, on the talent you attract and, and what the look and feel of your company will look like over time.

Chris:
So is there a recommendation you have on how to roll something like this out, like say someone’s planning toward the end of this year to create some program? How do they establish it? How do they get everyone involved?

Nicole:
Absolutely. I think there’s, you know, obviously anything measurable is helpful in terms of what you want to do. And so, um, I know that the dreaded survey is always so terrifying to do, but it’s really important to understand what your employees need. And, um, and starting with that level of, you know, what would you be interested in? And maybe you as the, you know, HR person or the head of the company want to do some research on, on benefits and kind of create a number of things that would be interesting for the organization to do, but, you know, ultimately it’s about assessing your company, assessing your employees, planning based on that assessment, um, you know, and then engaging your employees with that plan and then measuring. So, you know, I really, that’s sort of, my, my golden rule is to assess plan engage measure when it comes to these programs. And, um, the engagement part is frankly really challenging, right? You may have employees that say, Oh yeah, I really do want to do this. And then nobody actually signs up. So figuring out ways to, um, create little incentives or some competitions or some challenges and like that, that will make this a little more fun. Um, as opposed to it just feeling like, Oh, it’s another thing the company’s rolling out. Another email from HR that I have to look at. Yeah.

Chris:
I was just going to ask, is there a contest or like, so what have you seen work well in the past, like say somebody makes the leap and they set this up. How do you make sure that people stay?

Nicole:
Yeah. So I think there are some fun ways to do from an engagement perspective, even things like, okay, first a hundred people that sign up, get ex a free, you know, vacation day or whatever it might be, right. Something along those lines, it’s pretty easy and simple to do. Um, or there’s like a contest for, you know, Hey, whoever goes to the most classes in a week gets something. So I think there are little easy things you can do. One of the things that we’ve done at ClassPass is because we have these, this ClassPass currency called credits. We’ve actually worked with companies on incentive programs. So, um, you know, go to class with your coworker and both of you get 10 extra credits. And so the company will sort of like fund an incentive program using these credits to try to increase engagement and, and get more, um, excitement and drive from that.

Nicole:
And so I think just figuring out these little perks and what behaviors are you trying to change or focus on. And if it’s just purely participation, you know, free lunch, whatever, we’ll send everybody a $10, you know, door dash gift card or whatever it might be to try to increase that engagement. Um, it doesn’t have to be hard, I think as the other piece and like the cornerstone for me, when I think about the wellness programs out there is just keep it as simple as possible work with partners that are easy to do, as the paper active pieces, making it really easy. And, you know, especially as a startup, right, you have so much on your plate. You don’t want to have to add to that. So making it fun and interesting and engaging is really important. And then recruit your employees. You can guarantee you’re going to have some wellness champions there that are willing to do this and are passionate about them and let them run with the program, give them a budget, let them drive. Um, you know, and as long as you’re supporting it from the top and like actively participating, you’re going to have people that can champion it at the bottom and get the rest of the employees going.

Chris:
Our podcast manager, Becky actually is a certified personal trainer. So I’m sure she is subliminally trying to get this as one of our benefits. So

Nicole:
Becky’s up! Yeah, get it going, Becky.

Chris:
I love that. And I like what you said too about the extra credits if people do it together because if you’re trying to encourage, uh, you know, not just individual engagement, but kind of team bonding, that’s a great way to set that up. So switching gears here, you actually created this program to establish a whole new channel of business, this B2B segment of the business. And you said it was about two years ago.

Nicole:
Um, I actually joined ClassPass specifically with the intent of coming on to build this program. So it was kind of an interesting, um, really cool opportunity for me, frankly, where it was sort of this I’d spent my career in health wellness. I had worked for Kaiser Permanente. I worked on the consulting side, I, for other wellness startups and, um, you know, ClassPass was a toy and in this area sort of like, you know, playing around and seeing what worked and what didn’t work. Um, but they didn’t really have dedicated resources. And so I very much came in with the intent of like, Hey, listen, we’ll pay your salary for a year, but this thing may or may not actually end up working out. And like, you know, it was kind of a risk in a way, but I really believed in what class product offering was.

Nicole:
And I knew that it would work really well in a corporate wellness setting. And so, um, it was very much a startup within a startup. You know, my funding was like, I was getting paid at least and had health insurance. Right. And it was, but there were no other resources available. I had no product support, no engineering support, no marketing support. So it was very much a build it from the ground up. It’s also a lot easier to do that when you have a good brand to be able to trade-off of. But a lot of it, um, you know, was figuring out the process and that’s through so much trial and error. Um, we piloted different pricing models. We piloted different, um, roll-out initiatives, you know, what does a contract look like? How do we invoice? Like all of these things that ClassPass had never really done before because everything was done through a consumer lens. Um, and so it was really about figuring out what was going to resonate with our employer population. Um, how do we make sure we didn’t cannibalize our consumer channel like channel, right? We wanted to open this up and get new users to try ClassPass that may not have been exposed to it previously. Um, and ultimately it was about, you know, figuring out, okay, so now we have this, what do we need to do to make it more compelling for our corporate entities in a, in a way that, you know, we hadn’t done before

Chris:
So much sense coming from you though, because I’ve talked to fitness studios before individual brands that try to initiate these partnerships, but they just don’t have the scale to serve the whole company. Whereas you can provide this platform where employees still have some level of choice. So it makes sense that you’d be the one to come in and, and fill that need. How did, your customers, as in, are your partners, is in the gyms, the studios, how did they perceive the launch of this person?

Nicole:
Yeah, I think a lot of them were also pleasantly surprised and excited about it because to your point, finding scale for corporate wellness is the top request, right? These HR teams are like, well, I have employees in 14 different cities in 12 different countries. So I really need, you know, something that’s global. And if you’re a, you know, a studio in three cities or a gym in a handful of locations, you can’t compete with that. And so I think, um, it was a new angle on a great way for us to add value to the partnerships that we already had. And so creating that value allowed us to, you know, as I mentioned, we did things like we doing private classes on zoom, but even before that, we were doing things like, Oh, you want to do a boot camp in your office. We’ll bring in a studio partner to come do that for you.

Nicole:
And so creating connections across the I’ll for our studio partners with these corporations was big. Um, and a lot of the companies actually really enjoyed getting to know their local studios and our local businesses, right? Like maybe they know the big top brands, like 24-hour fitness or, you know, various boot camps or whatever it is, but maybe there’s a yoga studio down the street. They had no idea it was there. And so there was great exposure on both ends that I think, um, you know, the companies like to be giving back to their, you know, general neighborhood and who’s there. And then we had the partners that were getting exposed to a new set of users that they wouldn’t have already been.

Chris:
So take yourself back to, you know, just getting hired early stages of the initiative. What was your initial way to attack this market? Like how did you find the first few partners? Did you offer things for free to pilot or just like, how did you get the ball rolling?

Nicole:
Yeah, I mean, it’s sort of interesting. Luckily because of the ClassPass brand, we actually had quite a nice inbound funnel built up that I walked into, which was great. So I had some people, but a lot of those people were our users. Right. So it was your, your users at, um, Edelman was actually, the PR agency was one of our very first, uh, you know, partners on the corporate plan. And that was based on one of the ClassPass users being really dedicated and really committing to ClassPass. And we piloted with one of their offices. Um, and they were just a great partner. And I think so much of this as you’re setting it up is just being as transparent as you can. Right. That you don’t have to pretend like you’ve been in business for 40 years. Right. Just have the conversation of like, Hey, listen, we’re testing this thing out.

Nicole:
Seems like your employees would be interested. Are you willing to work with us? And here’s what we’re thinking. Does this resonate with you? And, you know, we were actually able to get a paid plan without even having to give it away for free to start. Right. Because you ask them if they said, no, you can always pivot around that. But, um, I think that was a big part of it is just being transparent and like, Hey, we’re testing this out. It may not work, but we think it has legs. We think your demographic would like it. There’s quite a few of your employees already using ClassPass. Let’s figure out a way to make this work.

Chris:
Yeah. So I guess as a process and training company, you know, from our standpoint, this has scaled a lot. You’ve now got thousands of, corporate customers, right. So is every conversation customized or do you start to develop packages? How do you make this easier for you to scale?

Nicole:
Yeah, so, I mean, it’s a great question. We’ve definitely figured out the scale. And, um, you know, last year was really about scaling the team. We grew from 15 to 50, uh, in, uh, basically six months from a sales perspective and an account management perspective. And just with that forces you into the process, right. When we were a team of 15, it was very easy to just like shout across the desk of like, what’s your conversation? How was that? And now we have people in London and Singapore and Missoula having conversations. And so it’s a forcing function to get that process down, but it also does a much better service for your, your partners right. And getting those companies off of the ground. So, um, again, going back to my initial, we did a lot of assessment planning, engaging in measuring ourselves, right. It’s not just for the employers that are thinking about wellness.

Nicole:
It was also in terms of what we were doing. So we piloted probably a dozen different pricing models, um, you know, credit packages, what does that look like? And then we just sort of measured the success of that. Right. Which ones had the most engagement on the employee side, which customers were the happiest, you know, how are they leveraging this? What were the launch plans? Like, how did they end up, um, you know, communicating it to their employees? And so we had really good partners to learn from, and that was willing to work with us. Um, and again, I think a lot of that was based on just this mutual transparency early on, and they were rooting for us just as much as we were rooting for them. Um, and so with that, we sort of made our, our judgment call that like, yes, this pay proactive thing is the right model.

Nicole:
And we know we want to do that. And I think it’s the right thing to do for the marketplace. And it’s the right thing to do for people. Right. It’s like, we don’t want to get you just paying for stuff people don’t use. Yeah. So that was a really big piece. And then what worked from a communications perspective were posters effective, not emailed effective, maybe. Right. So looking at what sort of rollout plans we did and where we got the highest engagement and then with that also pricing models and figuring out, Hey, if a company subsidizes $20, it’s actually a lot more effective than a $50 subsidy because both parties have skin in the game. So you’re paying a little bit and the employer is paying a little bit. And so there were sort of those aha moments that we had along the way to help get us to a point where when we did grow to this huge scale, we had the sort of systems in place and the processes in place. And we’re able to say, if you’re an SMB, maybe this is the right thing for you versus an enterprise company,

Chris:
Right. It just takes the experience, it takes doing it. And then over time, you figure out the systems or the ways to do it more efficiently. So it’s incredible as a startup within a startup, like you said, to grow from 15 to 50 to grow thousands of corporate customers in just a couple of years, amazing job. If people are interested in bringing this program into their company, who do they contact, where do they go?

Nicole:
You can reach out to me, um, and nwolfe@classpass.com, happy to reach out and connect. And then you can find more information on our website, classpass.com/corporate.

Chris:
Amazing. All right, well, so much value packed into this. So if you are listening to this and you want to create your own corporate wellness program, hopefully, you’ve got some tips on why there is ROI behind doing that and how it’s easier than you think. And if you’re looking to create a new revenue stream and you could learn from Nicole’s, journey here over the last couple of years. So, uh, is, is there anything coming down the pipe for, for ClassPass that you can share for people that are big fans?

Nicole:
Yeah. Um, I think one of our most exciting, uh, you know, announcements this week that’s coming out is that we’ve just signed an agreement with Exponential Fitness, to be one of our exclusive partners. And we’re really excited about the growth there because not only does that really help our consumer side and we really commit, um, it also really drives engagement across our corporate wellness initiatives. Um, and we get those exclusive content for our brands are for their brands. So CycleBar, Rowhouse, Club Pilates, Pure Barre. All of those great brands will be exclusively working with us on the corporate wellness side, um, which gives access to that great content for our, um, our users. So we’re really excited about that.

Chris:
So exciting. Okay. Well, check out ClassPass, if you haven’t as a consumer, as an individual, check them out. If you’re running a company, reach out to Nicole and her email address. We’ll link to that in the show notes. Nicole, thank you so much for being here.

Nicole:
Thanks so much, Chris. Appreciate it.

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