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Lessons From A CEO Who Got Fired Twice Before She Turned 30

Sarah Robb O’Hagan got fired twice before she turned 30.

The first time was after one year in the lead marketing position at Virgin Megastores for being “too cocky.” The second time she found herself unexpectedly out of a job was after she’d been working in the marketing department at Atari.

“I didn’t even like video games,” she said.

In fact, O’Hagan has been incredibly frank about her missteps on her LinkedIn page. Her description of working at Atari starts with: “EPIC FAIL.”

The former Equinox president—now the CEO of Flywheel Sports—said she was in over her head and unwilling to ask for help, but that the experience at Atari led her to recognize her valuable transferable skills.

In an interview with Pattie Sellers at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Next Gen Summit in Laguna Niguel, Calif. on Tuesday she offered some simple career advice: Pick something you care about.

“Early in your career, you think you’re in this place that isn’t you,” she said, but the experiences you acquire often add up to something more interesting.

O’Hagan’s trajectory took her from the airline industry to retail at Virgin and Atari to Nike, PepsiCo, and Equinox. As for her current position as the head of Flywheel Sports, it’s “this intersection of everything my career has been building towards,” she said.

The company is announcing an at-home bike system this week called Fly Anywhere, putting it in more direct competition with rising startup success Peloton.

But O’Hagan said Tuesday that rather than going head-to-head with the indoor exercise bike company or with SoulCycle (which is owned by Equinox), Flywheel is focused on catering to a core consumer group of hyper-competitive athletes who are most interested in accountability.

After working at a number of companies that have appeared on the World’s Most Admired list — some more than once — she wanted to share three of the biggest lessons she’s learned about creating a brand people will fall in love with:

  • “Be spectacular for a few consumers, not average for many.” She pointed to the airline industry as an example of what not to do. No one is excited by, or particularly loyal to, any one airline and she said this comes from the way the brands treat customers.
  • “Do not get distracted by the competition.” Instead, O’Hagan said, continue to relentlessly innovate for your core consumer.
  • “It’s not about looking at how [consumers] behave, it’s about understanding why.” While many people think about cycling as a modality, differences emerge when you look at the what motivates people to exercise, she said. The SoulCycle experience is driven by the social aspect of the workout, while Flywheel targets participants who want to race against each other.