On Monday, SoulCycle founder Julie Rice was named chief brand officer of WeWork, making her the new visionary of the billion-dollar co-working company. Rice told The Cut she wants to help the brand continue to thrive as a community, meaning: more amenities, programs, and events. Like Bozoma Saint John of Uber, Rice has her work cut out for her.
Over the past month, WeWork, which was recently valued at $20 billion and operates in 19 countries, bought Lord & Taylor’s iconic Manhattan storefront (for $850 million) and a coding academy. Next fall in New York, they’re opening a private elementary school for entrepreneurial kids. But WeWork has also recently had less-positive press: It fired building cleaners who tried to unionize for higher pay. Now they’re planning to hire veterans and refugees.
Rice seems up to the task. She worked as a Hollywood talent manager for 20 years before she and Elizabeth Cutler opened SoulCycle’s first studio in the rear lobby of an Upper West Side dance studio in 2006. They built the front desk out of plywood and Ikea furniture and modeled the studio’s dark tile and gleaming white walls after London’s White Cube art gallery, honing the look as “inviting but still sexy, cool but still tribal,” Rice remembers.
SoulCycle grew to 67 studios in the U.S. with more than 20,000 daily riders by the time Rice and Cutler resigned last year. She and Cutler have since co-founded the advising and investing company LifeShop, through which they helped Audrey Gelman and Lauren Kassan launch women’s social club the Wing, and now serve as their advisers. Rice is still on the SoulCycle board, and she rides at an Upper West Side studio four times a week.
Today she’ll start at the WeWork headquarters in Chelsea, which is also a shared workspace. “It’s about leading by example right? I was an entrepreneur, I built something. It’s great for other entrepreneurs to see another entrepreneur who took a risk and did it. And of course let’s not forget our favorite point, that I’m a woman,” she laughs. “Right now it’s very chic to be a woman.”