by Joanne Wilson
More business plans cross my desk these days. I wish I had the time to meet every person but there is only so many hours in the day so I have to pick and choose mostly based on the concept. Classtivity came into my box and it spurred my interest immediately. Why isn't there a fantastic site that lists every class available from yoga, photography, cooking or even book readings. If I go on vacation and want to find a spin class with a great instructor who plays good music how come I can't find that information at one site? If that site had crowd sourcing and was capturing data to give back to the places who put on the classes wouldn't that even be better. So that is how Payal Kadakia ended up in my office.
Payal has great energy. She is smart as a whip and beautiful to boot. She basically has the whole package. Payal grew up in Randolph, NJ. Her parents both ran away together from India to the US so they could get married. They are both chemists so it isn't surprising that Payal went to MIT for her undergraduate degree. She has always been a math/science junky being the first girl to win the math/psychics award in her high school.
At MIT she was one of the only two people of her year to major in operations research. For the management end of this degree she learned about marketing finance, operations and supply chain management. The engineering part was about theory and optimization. She built an application on how radiation beams should be positioned to fight cancer. Looking at curves and how they work is heavily math oriented and certainly you need to be a rigorous thinker.
After graduating Payal went to work for Baine capital as a general consultant. Her first summer she worked at JPMorgan. Her sophomore summer she worked in investment banking doing financial models and although she appreciates it knew that was not something she had any interest in doing. Her junior summer she spent at the Monitor Group. I liked how she took each summer to learn different parts of the finance world so it makes sense that Payal ended up at Baine.
Through our her entire life she has been a dancer. Her love is Indian dance which she has been doing she was three. Even at MIT she created MIT Chamak, a dance group at the school She believes that dance and her dance teacher taught her discipline which is one of the main key components to her drive. While working at Baine she was also dancing with a Bollywood dance group when she had time. It was truly her passion.
She had been at Baine for three years and thought about going to business school but instead took a different path and got a job at Warner Music Group. It was an interesting time as companies like Spotify were getting into the market and negotiating with musics companies on how artists were going to benefit from these new channels.
At the same time, Payal decided to start the Sa Dance company after office hours. She put together the top ten dancers she knew and she would work from 9-6 and then dance every night while growing that business. She knew how to build a business and eventually the Sa Dance company performed at Alvin Ailey to a sold out crowd. She was bringing Indian dance to the stage. To her, the dance company was like geometry, it was a problem to be fixed.
Payal knew that although she was burning the candles at both ends she did not want to let Sa Dance be her career. She was entrepreneurial and began to think about what she wanted to do next. She took a trip to San Francisco in the summer of 2010 trying to get a feel for what the entrepreneurial world was all about meeting founders and alike. While she was out there she tried to find a dance class on line and couldn't. It was then that the idea for Classtivity was formed.
Payal went back to NY and continued to work for Warner Music until she was ready to be an entrepreneur full time. Classtivity is about leisure classes. She knows that the first thing that they have to do is solve the problem of getting the classes filled with the best teachers for the vendor. There are over 15000 classes in NYC alone every month so to begin building a comprehensive directory in NYC is the first challenge. Just like math, this is a problem that needs a solution. It is similar to the data mining work she did at MIT.
I love the idea. What I am really excited about is that Payal was one of the handful of companies accepted into the spring program at NYC Techstars. I hope to mentor them through the process. Taking a variety of small businesses and helping them connect with more clients, understand their data and grow intelligently is not only providing a service to the vendors it is a providing a service to class takers. A match made in the cloud.
Joanne Wilson has been blogging since 1994 as Gotham gal and recently started The Women's Entrepreneurial Festival affiliated with NYU. Wilson is an advisor and investor in startups, including Curbed (Eater/Racked), Food52, Red Stamp, Catchafire, DailyWorth, Editd, Hot Bread Kitchen, Nest.io, Gotham Gym, The Moon Group and MOUSE. Her most successful venture is being married to her best friend Fred and raising her three kids, Jessica, Emily and Josh. Follow her on Twitter at @thegothamgal
Part of Gotham Gal's Entrepreneur Monday series, this interview has been reposted with permission