HBS Partner Emily Dohse speaks to Rich Downing, Co-Founder and President of Turnstyle, an up and coming spin class empire.
Turnstyle Cycle is a group cycle/TRX studio in Kendall Square, walking distance from the T. I took a class there and was so impressed that I asked the Co-founder and President, Rich Downing, if I could interview him for the Harbus. His remarkable story, along with some FIELD 3 advice, is below.
The Turnstyle experience
[stag_dropcap font_size=”50px” style=”normal”]L[/stag_dropcap]ike everyone, I’ve taken some spin classes here and there. I go to the class, yell obscenities in my head at the instructor who’s barking at me to “visualize the road,” try not to die, and then am sore in places the next day that aren’t even major muscle groups.
When a sectionmate asked if anyone was interested in a group cycle class at Turnstyle, enough time had passed since my last spinning experience to make me think, “Yes, me!”
The day of the class was cold and rainy, and I was running late, and had forgotten my shoes. I called Turnstyle to let them know I wasn’t going to make it, and the woman who answered the phone threw me for a loop: instead of saying “FINE,” like I expected her to, she said, “You should come anyways! I’ll stay on the phone and make sure you don’t get lost, and we will give you shoes.”
WOW, right?! That story is true. She was so nice and encouraging that I ran through the rain and made it to class.
Not only did I make it to class, but I had fun, I didn’t want to die, and I was sore in the RIGHT places the next day. Turnstyle Cycle is one of the most intense workouts possible, while not risking injury or sacrificing a tangible experience, plus the music is hopping. Energetic and intense, without being discouragingly hard.
As everyone rides their bikes together, each person controls their own bike’s resistance. The class is encouraged to pedal on the beat (to a playlist that has been well thought-out via Spotify for optimal HIIT training played via equipment hanging down from the ceiling next to the instructor – it looks like the future). The effect is like group dance on bikes.
But these aren’t your ordinary stationary bikes – these bikes lean to each side and mimic the actual feeling of taking turns down those “visual roads” while working your obliques and challenging your balance. The swaying bike was honestly one of the best parts of class, and it requires 20% more energy to do it than a regular bike. Once you get the hang of it you’ll feel like a rock star.
The methodology behind the experience
[stag_dropcap font_size=”50px” style=”normal”]W[/stag_dropcap]hen Downing created Turnstyle, he was a type-A MBA student struggling to keep his head above water (like you!) and found himself stressed out a majority of the time. These stressful situations framed the Turnstyle methodology: people need to get away from work and their daily stressors, clear their minds, and make their bodies stronger. Rich wanted to help make bodies stronger without the high impact risk of other sports and workouts, while helping calm minds through music, so people can take the time to think, or not think, and leave feeling refreshed and recharged.
For Turnstyle members, it’s more about focusing on the tangible benefits of class – afterwards you feel stronger, you feel healthier, your mind is clearer. It’s not about the metrics – how far your knob is turned, how many abs are in your six pack, how many miles you’ve biked.
The experience behind the methodology
[stag_dropcap font_size=”50px” style=”normal”]D[/stag_dropcap]owning hasn’t always been a cycle enthusiast or on the MBA track. He started out as a cross country runner turned marathon hopeful. Two weeks before his first marathon Downing was stricken with aggressive rheumatoid arthritis at only 25. He was hospitalized overnight and had to undergo emergency surgery the following day. One joint after another became severely and painfully inflamed to the point of immobilization. He became depressed, lost 30 lbs., had crutches for six months, a walker for the six months after that and a cane for the year after that.
Downing lost his ability to run, simultaneously losing the physical release and mood balancing effects exercise had for him previously while running. It was at this point he was forced to appreciate the other benefits of fitness that later shaped Turnstyle. He started by loosening up his body with swimming and spinning, both low-impact sports.
It was during his bedridden time that Downing studied for the GMAT, raised his score 120 points, and got accepted into Darden. Once there, swimming and spinning became his obsessive hobby, along with a love for music. An investor suggested to Downing that he find a way to swim for free since he was there so often, so Downing became a spinning instructor at his workout facility, essentially getting paid to do what he now loved.
Downing’s advice for FIELD 3
[stag_dropcap font_size=”50px” style=”normal”]1[/stag_dropcap]Identify the benefits of set-backs. If Downing hadn’t gotten crippling arthritis, then he wouldn’t have been bed ridden, he wouldn’t have had the mental space to get his GMAT score up, he wouldn’t have gotten into Darden, he wouldn’t have fallen in love with cycling, and he wouldn’t have the potential to realize the current success of Turnstyle. There are always positives in set-backs and challenges. Identify them and use them to your advantage.
[stag_dropcap font_size=”50px” style=”normal”]2[/stag_dropcap]Make your hobby strategic. Downing became a cycling instructor and got paid to do his hobby which turned into his business. Love cooking? Apprentice at a restaurant or bakery. Love writing? Submit articles to the Harbus! (Eds: No, seriously, do it!)
[stag_dropcap font_size=”50px” style=”normal”]3[/stag_dropcap]Have an inspiration. Downing is inspired by David Goldman (a Harvard alum) who wrote Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, which discusses how people focus and how people use and achieve mindfulness, which in turn has motivated Turnstyle Cycle’s approach to fitness.
[stag_dropcap font_size=”50px” style=”normal”]4[/stag_dropcap]Use a consultant’s approach. Downing became certified himself as spinning instructor in order to appreciate the thought that goes into the product he wanted to create. He immersed himself in the culture before starting the company and was better able to make decisions and create a thoughtful and needed product.
[stag_dropcap font_size=”50px” style=”normal”]5[/stag_dropcap]Always use the Rule of Three – never start something with just your best friend or just one other person. Always have a third (or more) so opinions and ideas can be equally fleshed out, and relationships left intact.