Road to Challenger Brands: How Google Prepared Zach Apter for ClassPass

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Like a lot of businesses, ClassPass was born when its founder came up with a solution to a problem. Payal Kadakia couldn’t find a dance class that fit her hectic schedule, and after a frustrating web search turned up nothing, she came up with ClassPass: an app-turned-community of fitness enthusiasts.

Fast forward six years and ClassPass is connecting its community with activities around the world. Leading marketing—as well as pricing, packaging and inventory—is chief commercial officer Zach Apter, a Google and Microsoft alum who specializes in consumer experience. You can hear more from Apter at Adweek’s Challenger Brands summit, taking place March 4-5 in New York.

We caught up with Apter ahead of the conference to talk about strategy, data and what makes a good workout.

How important are reviews to your marketing strategy?
Our reviews are important because they give us the world’s biggest, most unique corpus of data on the millions of studio fitness and wellness experiences our customers attend every month. Reviews are a key ingredient in the recommendations that we surface, both to new users who are deciding whether or not ClassPass is for them and longtime users who are looking to discover something new. In addition, review content is also great for SEO, which is a key acquisition channel for us.

Do you use influencers in your marketing, and if so how?
The experiences on ClassPass are naturally shareable, so influencers are a very organic marketing channel for us. We do partner with several fans of ClassPass and offer complimentary classes in exchange for posts about their wellness journey.

One advantage of using your actual product as compensation is that you will only attract people who are truly interested in your service. The result is content that feels very authentic and genuine, and produces real follower engagement—which is the ultimate goal of influencer marketing. We are also lucky to have a number of celebrities who use ClassPass, and we are always appreciative of their organic mentions.

With a presence in almost 30 countries across five continents, how do you create a cohesive pricing and packaging structure? Or is it very much based on the local market?
ClassPass members purchase a monthly allotment of credits, which can be used as virtual currency within our app to book 5 million fitness classes and wellness activities, in almost 30 countries around the world, every single month. Plans are available from $9 (four credits) to $199 (130 credits). The individual price of each class is determined by a host of factors such as genre, time of day, location, instructor and amenities. Then it’s up to you to decide how you use your credits. For example, $79 will get you 45 credits, which could be used toward one massage in Los Angeles or 15 yoga classes at a small studio in Brooklyn.

What have you learned in your 15 years of working in consumer tech that you prioritize at ClassPass?
I’ve always been struck by the magnetic attraction consumer tech has for great talent. Tech attracts people who are among the hardest working, most ambitious and smartest in the world, which means that the innovation and competition are relentless. So I’ve learned that you have to be relentless yourself in seeking opportunities to improve and grow—both in terms of your own personal development and the company’s. I think a lot about where ClassPass can innovate, where we can do things faster, better or more efficiently … because if we don’t, someone else will.

You held a unique role at Google, working on its self-driving car initiative. How has that helped you in this role at ClassPass?
A lot of the work I did at Google was thinking through the potential market structures of the emergent Transportation as a Service (TaaS) business. Although fitness probably seems pretty far afield from self-driving cars, if you zoom out, there are actually a lot of parallels—from the online-to-offline nature of the category (“Push this button to get a ride from point A to point B” vs. “Push this button to book yourself into workout class C”) to the potential for digital disruption (“What does Uber look like in a world of self-driving cars?” vs. “What do studios look like in a world of Pelotons?”)

What’s your favorite ClassPass class?
I have always been a treadmill person and a runner, so I’m thrilled to see the proliferation of these kinds of classes around the world. Right now my favorite class is High 45 at Mile High Run Club in Manhattan.

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