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How SoulCycle built a booming business: CEO

Elizabeth Cutler ditched real estate to take a chance on starting up a business, and today that business is soaring.

SoulCycle, which bills itself as an alternative to traditional indoor cycling classes, began with one location in New York in 2006. It now boasts 41 locations and 12,000 riders a day.

Almost a decade ago, Cutler said she and co-founder Julie Rice saw a need in the market and decided to jump in with both feet.

"We felt like we could find something that we loved and when you love what you do, you want to keep doing it," the SoulCycle CEO said in an interview with "Power Lunch" from the CNBC iConic conference this week.

The 45-minute cycling classes combine high-energy music, hand weights and inspirational coaching, with the goal of empowering riders and leaving them both physically and mentally stronger, according to its website.

"SoulCycle isn't just in the business of changing bodies; it's in the business of changing lives," the description says.


Little bikes, big following

Elizabeth Cutler, SoulCycle
Gabriel Grams | CNBC
Elizabeth Cutler, SoulCycle

Among the fitness conscious, SoulCycle is part of a booming health club industry that rakes in more than $30 billion a year collectively, according to data from IBISWorld.

The company offers a la cart classes and an online reservation system, instead of a more traditional gym membership. Cutler said they did it that way to make customers' lives easier.

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In fact, she said SoulCycle developed one of the first online reservation systems in fitness.

"People are very busy. They have a lot of demands on their time, and we wanted to be efficient and frictionless," she said.

The workout has a devout following, with reports of wait lists for those who don't sign up for classes quickly enough. Riders shell out $34 a class and can also buy packages.

Culter said the reservation system helps riders feel a "different level" of commitment.

"You make the commitment to yourself. You make the commitment to the room," she said. "You make the commitment to plan your week so that you're actually accountable to yourself, and make sure that you're making these healthy choices that really end up changing your life."

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The business is still growing, with a total of 55 locations expected to be up and running by the end of the year. There is also a retail line, which launched in 2007, and a SoulCycle bike that was introduced in 2012.

The accolades aren't only coming from its devoted fans. SoulCycle was named one of the world's top 10 most innovative companies in fitness of 2013 by Fast Company, and was voted best hit-each-body-part fitness class by NY Magazine in 2010.

As to whether SoulCycle will eventually become another fitness fad, Cutler said she isn't concerned.

"There are very few ways to get cardio. As long as we are in this physical body … we all need cardio," she said.

Cardiovascular fitness "is essential for heart health. It's essential for a lot of different things that make a meaningful impression on how well we live our lives, especially as we are living longer," she added.