“I’d like to start a movement for people to take at least 20 minutes for themselves every day” With Ethan Agarwal, CEO of Aaptiv

“Take at least 20 minutes to yourself every day. When you take care of yourself — mentally and physically — that allows you to be in a…

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“Take at least 20 minutes to yourself every day. When you take care of yourself — mentally and physically — that allows you to be in a place where you can help others in a more substantial way. So go for a walk, meditate, take a nap…just do something for yourself.”

I had the pleasure of interviewing Ethan Agarwal. Ethan is the Founder and CEO of Aaptiv, a leading provider of premium digital fitness content. Since he launched the company in 2016, Aaptiv has transformed the way people exercise and train through its innovative audio fitness classes. Every Aaptiv class combines the guiding voice of an expert Aaptiv trainer with motivating music by top artists in every genre. Aaptiv members have unlimited, on-demand access to over 2,500 classes and structured programs across every type of exercise and a wide variety of activities, including running, strength-training, yoga, indoor cycling, meditation, and more. Aaptiv has over 100 employees in its New York office and has raised more than $50M from leading venture capital firms and top companies, including the Amazon Alexa Fund, Bose, and Disney.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

If you had told me five years ago I would be CEO at this point in my life I would have believed you, but if you told me that I would be the founder of the fastest growing digital fitness product I probably would have laughed.

That’s because five years ago I was working as a consultant — tired, traveling, and 30 pounds overweight. Like a lot of people, fitness wasn’t a priority for me because it was really hard to make it a priority.

Unlike other industries, where we’ve seen one-stop products emerge that remove barriers and make life easier, the fitness industry has always been disjointed. My overworked, overweight self realized this and wanted to create something that would not only help me live a healthier life, but that would help everyone, everywhere live a healthier life. From there I founded Aaptiv.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Musicians often talk about how they’ll never forget the first time they hear their song on the radio and a similar sensation happens when you create a product and meet your first user (who isn’t in your family or on your payroll).

While traveling two years ago I was about to start my workout in the hotel gym and a woman was getting off the treadmill. She was sweaty but smiling ear to ear, and super excited about something. I didn’t even have a chance to say anything to her before she exclaimed that she just ran two miles without stopping — the longest she had ever run. She then went on to tell me (and everyone else in the gym) that I “needed to sign up for this app” — it was called Skyfit at the time but sure enough, the woman I had just met was in fact using the present-day Aaptiv.

How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?

Three years ago, the team was just me, and we’ve grown to more than 100 employees in a short amount of time. As we grow, it’s crucial that we still move as quickly and efficiently within large teams as we did within much smaller teams.

To do that, we encourage collaboration and communication, but we also encourage autonomy. Team members have the opportunity to make decisions on their own because at this point, the last thing we want is to miss an opportunity or slow down. I stress to my team that speed is indefensible.

What is the top challenge when managing global teams in different geographical locations? Can you give an example or story?

Any time you’re trying to bring people together from different geographical locations there are challenges — but there are a lot of advantages too. And I’ve found that so much time is spent trying to bring people together and stress similarities, that the top challenge is actually finding ways to embrace people’s differences and use that to the company’s advantage.

One of the best things about Aaptiv is that it can really be used by anyone — regardless of location, age, or fitness level — and therefore we have a very diverse member base. It’s important that we have team members who reflect the same diversity of our members, and teams understand that while we want everyone to work together, we also want them to stay different.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

I would tell other CEO and founders to make sure their employees are taking care of themselves mentally and physically. And that they should lead by example.

My team knows I take at least 30 minutes every morning to run — without interruptions. When employees take care of themselves they not only thrive personally, but they are in a better position to thrive professionally.

Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on retaining talent today?

Retaining talent starts with the company’s mission. At Aaptiv, our mission is to empower everyone to live a healthier life and our product makes a positive difference in the daily lives of many. When you have a mission that people are passionate about, you’re able to find talent who are invested and want to come to work every day. That impacts the culture in so many ways and ultimately, when you’re a company that people want to work for, they don’t want to leave AND you get great candidates so you can be picky about who you hire — eliminating bad managers.

Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team”.

  1. Stay focused.
  2. Hire the right people.
  3. Fail fast.
  4. Find the purpose.
  5. Play to the advantages.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Take at least 20 minutes to yourself every day. When you take care of yourself — mentally and physically — that allows you to be in a place where you can help others in a more substantial way. So go for a walk, meditate, take a nap…just do something for yourself.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Don’t stop.” It’s something that one of our Aaptiv trainers, Ackeem, talks about a lot and it always resonates with me. In order to thrive you need to keep going and while there have been so many times I’ve wanted to stop over the years, I’ve been able to push through and continue to move forward.

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