Meet the female CEO steering SoulCycle to its IPO

October 2, 2015, 3:22 PM UTC

Outside of the tech industry, the list of public company CEOs younger than 40 is short.

But Melanie Whelan, the chief executive of SoulCycle, will soon add her name to this select group. (She has already made our list, coming in at No. 26 on this year’s 40 Under 40.) That’s not the only reason the 38-year-old is a bit of an anomaly: Unlike most of today’s pre-IPO companies, her sizzling-hot cult cycling chain is already profitable.

According to its IPO filing, SoulCycle brought in $112 million in sales and $26.5 million in net income last year. The chain, which started nearly ten years ago as a single indoor cycling studio in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, now has 38 locations across the country. Whelan, who was formerly its COO and became CEO in June, isn’t just tasked with taking the company public—she is also steering it through an ambitious expansion plan. The former VP of business development at high-end gym chain Equinox, which owns 97% of SoulCycle, is an avid cycler herself. But she took time out of her busy day to answer some of our burning questions.

Fortune: Did you always know you’d be running a company someday?

Whelan: My father was an entrepreneur. I wouldn’t say I knew I would end up here but it’s something I’ve had in my head since growing up.

What’s special about SoulCycle? Why does it have such a following?

It’s a one-of-a-kind experience. People come in for an amazing workout but they connect with the staff, who are warm and want to get to know you, and they connect with each other.

How many classes a week do you take?

As many as I can. It used to be five to six [times a week], but now it’s a little less.

What are some of your biggest milestones since taking over SoulCycle?

One of the most exciting things for us is launching our mobile app [which lets people sign up for classes]. We are also going into new markets and are very thoughtful about how we’re entering those new markets.

How has the competition changed in recent years?

Ten years ago, SoulCycle created this category. There was no “boutique fitness” in any meaningful way. Because we were the first, we’ve continued to innovate. But we’re really competing for our riders’ time: we’re only as good as our last ride. That said, we absolutely do not have our heads in the sand. We always challenge ourselves in opening a new studio. Our real estate teams are in the markets, we have a team of talent scouts who bring instructors on board.

What’s the hardest thing about managing?

Our employees are hyper-engaged in SoulCycle. They really treat their studios, or their departments, like entrepreneurs—they take ownership and accountability for their teams and businesses and have great ideas about new ways of doing things: new marketing programs, new operational programs, and new amenities—you name it. One of the hardest things about managing is prioritizing. I love fostering creativity and entrepreneurialism but prioritizing/saying “no” is hard for me. I want to do it all.

What are the biggest opportunities and challenges for SoulCycle in the years ahead?

People write us all the time begging us to open Soul in their area. There are so many more cities and neighborhoods that need a SoulCycle! We think we also have opportunities to expand our brand internationally, and extend our retail and digital platforms. As we grow, our greatest challenge will be continuing to act small, stay nimble and maintain our culture. We’ve done it for ten years, I know we can do it for another ten.

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