Joseph Foley of Punch Pedal House: “If you don’t truly love what you are about to start, you’re wasting your time because it should and will consume you”

If you don’t truly love what you are about to start, you’re wasting your time because it should and will consume you. It has to or it will never work. I have not met anyone that started something and was like “that was easy.” Every person, successful or not, has always said it was constantly […]

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If you don’t truly love what you are about to start, you’re wasting your time because it should and will consume you. It has to or it will never work. I have not met anyone that started something and was like “that was easy.” Every person, successful or not, has always said it was constantly positive and negative. Your emotions swung in every direction.

As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joseph Foley.

Co-Founder, co-owner and Head Instructor of Workout Design at Punch Pedal House, Joseph “Joey” Foley designed and operated the award-winning fitness studio, Rhythm Ryde. He is an ex-Division-1 football and track athlete at the University of Pittsburgh. After an injury, he transferred to NYU receiving a bachelor’s degree in Economics, Cum Laude, and later a Masters at Columbia in real estate and finance then pursuing a career in finance and real estate. Joey found his way back to fitness, where his passion and heart stayed. He is certified by CFSC — Certified Functional Strength Training, Certified by Gleason’s USA Boxing, and trained by Soulcycle.

Mr. Foley is also the president of JWF Capital, LLC, a real estate consulting and analytics firm, where he consults for real estate investors around the world, ranging from ground-up developments to value-add projects of Class A campuses. With nearly a decade of experience in investing in public and private market transactions from IPOs to distressed debt, Mr. Foley worked at Major Asset Mgmt, LLC (“MAJOR”), a multi-strategy family office, as an investment and asset manager. He worked at The Corcoran Group, a leading luxury real estate firm, as a Vice President, during and before his undergraduate degree in Finance and Economics, Cum Laude, at New York University.

He holds a Masters in Real Estate Development from Columbia University with a concentration on Finance. He took additional coursework in Debt and Capital Markets at Columbia Business School as well as taught Advanced Fundamental Real estate Analyst at Fordham University.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

My backstory can be this entire interview. As my wife says, I am one complex individual that has multiple lives. However, one common aspect is that I have been an athlete my entire life. There is not a memory that doesn’t involve a sport. From my childhood to my high school career, my life was filled with games and meets; I was very fortunate to receive many offers across the country in multiple sports and I chose the University of Pittsburgh in the end. Unfortunately, I ended up with a career-ending back injury that I again had to have surgery on 18 years later this past fall. After Pitt, I was lost, and truly was not mentally prepared for the world to be an adult, nor did I know what I wanted in life. It took me down a path of a lot of odd jobs and travel, blacktopping to cater-waitering around the US and Europe. I didn’t come from anything. I would simply pick a spot to travel, find a job and figure out how to survive. I did that for 3–4 years, always in NYC for 6 months at a time.

I ended up working as a paralegal at a law firm at one point and got my real estate license. Once that happened, my life accelerated by leaps and bounds. I went from living paycheck to paycheck to selling multi-million-dollar apartments, at the height of the market before the crash in 2008. I ended up leaving residential real estate brokering in 2011 with multiple awards and selling nearly half a billion dollars in residential real estate in Hong Kong, NYC, and Europe. I was burnt out from the emotional roller coaster with people buying homes; people hold a home close to their heart. At the end of my career, it also didn’t help that I was going to NYU full-time, ran on their track team, and managed a team at the Corcoran Group. There were a lot of unknowns in real estate and I wanted something a bit more stable and less chaotic, so that’s when I thought about working at an investment bank.

To this day, I wish I had a mentor to guide me. I just kept moving forward with the idea of progress versus perfection, learning from my mistakes. I went from an IB to a Hedge Fund, then to a Family Office, which allowed me to be exposed to the real world of finance and how the world works. Because of this path, I was able to attend Columbia, get my Master’s and focus on real estate and finance. I was always searching for that emotion from being on the field, so I started doing triathlons.

Training and the races were an escape from the office. I had the USA Championships coming up, and a friend of mine asked me to take an indoor cycling class at Soulcycle — The very location that Punch Pedal’s Pedal House is currently located. The class genuinely changed my life. I quit my job roughly 2–3 weeks later. I went through SoulCycle’s training program but didn’t drink the “Kool-aid” as people would say, so it did not work out. However, they gave a kid with a business background and an Ivy-league education with a burning desire to help people restart their lives a look under the hood of the machine. I knew I could do it better.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for Punch Pedal House? Can you share that story with us?

I wouldn’t call it an “Aha Moment”- it was more people in the leading companies in the industry saying no to me. For example, Flywheel said I was too much of a cyclist. Soulcycle said multiple things, but mainly that I was off-brand. Peloton said I was a liability or too advanced for the model they were building.

Fast forward to now, my “Aha Moment” is realizing a lot of the people that run these companies and their founders have no athletic background. As an athlete, you see they were shaping the idea that this was the right way when in reality most of it is taught incorrectly. I am not saying people can’t be a trainer without being an athlete, but at least, they should have a certification in nutrition or basic human anatomy. Let that sink in for a second. None of the original people at some of the top fitness studios were or are certified. There is no playbook on how this works.

No investors, no debt, and a simple idea of training like an athlete was all I needed to realize that we just needed to be patient in Dumbo.

Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?

I may have started this on my own in the beginning, but there is only one person who has been my cornerstone throughout this process, and Punch Pedal would not exist if it were not for them. October 2017, Nada walked into my life and has never left my side. Right at that moment, I put every dollar I had left into the studio. I was more than broke. I moved out of my apartment into the office of the studio. I was living off discounted meal packages that I promoted on social media. I let most of my staff go because they simply would not follow my directions and wanted to do their own thing.

I was teaching every class, working the front desk, and was even the janitor. I went from a 100 person waitlisted class in Union Square to a comical joke of less than a handful of people. Dumbo was just not Manhattan. Nada walked in simply to talk about the Soulcycle training program. I was brutally honest with her about the situation. It was the first time I opened up to someone in my life. I told her I had no clue what I was doing.

From that day on, she never left my side. She simply came to classes, sat in the back and stayed after to talk to me and help clean. And more and more, it was just the two of us. We had random staff here and there but they were never a good fit. It wasn’t until I was a full year open that things started finally clicking. We were at full classes and had a waitlist again. After the lease was up, we rebranded because of trademark issues, moved to the center of Dumbo, and created Punch Pedal together.

Now, 4 years later, we have a beautiful and brilliant 2-year girl, a boy on the way in 2022, two studios in Manhattan, and continue to build something that is truly raw and real, that is 100% family-owned and operated. I may be the face of the workout, but she is the company’s backbone. If it wasn’t for her, I would have failed miserably.

No one will know what it took because honestly, they should only know it was heart and soul.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

From a product perspective, we are Per Se vs Olive Garden. Basically, I am saying that so many companies want to be Starbucks. I absolutely do not want to be in every city across the country. It is entirely about the experience, the personality, and the engagement. The classes take group fitness to the next generation. Group fitness from the 2000s to 2010s has become extremely popular and has a wider audience.

But what makes us stand out above the rest, is that we cater to the high-performance individual. We cater to the type A personality that needs to decompress from running their firm, dealing with needy clients, or just the daily grind of life. They come to drop the ego and be reworked mentally and physically. Our classes are safe, extremely difficult, and most importantly time-efficient.

From a business perspective, we still have not sought out any money. We really wanted to perfect our crafts and ecosystem. Nada and I are at a point where we want to bring in a partner, but they have to be a good fit. We are still 100% owned and operated by my wife and myself.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Again, I still don’t think we are successful. We’re still figuring it all out. The primary goal is for people to first help themselves and make sure they share their practice to help the next generation. As our current campaign says and hypothetically, we want to look naked because, in the end, we all want to look and feel good in our skin. Being comfortable with yourself will enhance your energy and spirit to others.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Thank you for the compliment, but I wouldn’t say I am successful. I am still in survival mode. The only thing I am successful at is failing and that may be the reason why Punch Pedal is still around. My drive in life can’t be learned. It was ingrained in me as a child. It is the entire ethos/foundation of my life. My three pillars would be Dedication, Aggressiveness, and acceptance of failure.

  • Dedication is knowing your life will be consumed by your business. I don’t think my personal life would be intact if Nada was still in fashion. Not because I don’t love her, she is the love of my life, but because I eat, breathe, sleep about this business with her on how to improve and problem solve constantly. It isn’t about today or tomorrow. It’s about the next 6 months and the next 6 years. You will lose friends, you will lose family, but the ones that stay around are your people. They will understand your desire.
  • If you don’t have aggressiveness, if you don’t take the risk, it will put you out of business. You need to be a salesperson constantly. You need to know how to throttle it up and down. Learning how to read people and rooms is a great way to feed off the energy. There are tons of books about this. “The Structure of Magic, Vol. 1: A Book About Language and Therapy” is a good way to understand how people speak. Then simply keep reading other books about body language. The assertiveness you give will be liked or not. If you want to be liked by everyone, get out of business. The majority will not like you, but because you are constant and focused, you will find your people, your clients.
  • Last and definitely not least, accept failure as your common understanding that you will fail in the process and it is okay. You just need to learn from those lessons. If you aren’t failing, you’re not trying hard enough. You’re not pushing your limits. The best idea is to fail forward. I like to say, it’s about the progress not the perfection of the journey.

Having these pillars will allow you to survive. Success is how you measure it. How many locations you have, how much revenue you bring in, your stock price, your take-home pay, how many houses or other items you buy is really up to you. I measure success on how I help the next generation.

You will never fail as long as you learn from it.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

Many know, I am a very proud and stubborn individual. I wear my emotions on my sleeve. This is difficult to share, but I am comfortable now discussing it. My first year in business was like the first time I came to NYC. It was embarrassing how hard it was for me. I came to NYC on a Martz bus with 300 dollars. I was homeless living on people’s couches and benches when I first moved to NYC when I was 19. I managed to put myself through NYU & Columbia with no help or handouts except academic scholarships. I refused to be homeless again. I moved into the studio’s office teaching 28–32 classes a week for 6 months straight. I had no staff. I had nothing except pure passion and desire that I knew I wanted to help people. I taught with a broken wrist, broken nose, sprained ankle, and the flu. I never canceled class. Everything I did to underwrite my first location to our now two studios in the heart of Manhattan was because of that risk.

No one will ever understand or know how hard it was for me to swallow that I simply could not raise money for my venture. I could raise money for real estate deals, investments in China, and the Scandic’s, but I couldn’t raise anything for my first studio.

To this day, my wife and I still own and operate the studios 100% ourselves. I still see people raising millions and we still have better numbers than them with our reinvestment model. It’s not like I won’t take the money now. We just have not found the right partner. I did all this with 200,000 dollars. I see people raising 3–10 million dollars and it is all spent on salaries and photos, yet we still have more people in our classes and bigger margins.

Let’s imagine that a young founder comes to you and asks for your advice about whether venture capital or bootstrapping is best for them? What would you advise them? Can you kindly share a few things a founder should look at to determine if fundraising or bootstrapping is the right choice?

We have to look at this from two points. As an investor, you should want to see the dedication from the founders so I would want them to bootstrap it for the first two years. It shows your dedication as well as how you can build and problem solve a business with no money.

Money solves a lot of problems in business, but being creative will allow you to have longevity and success. You can see that with all the smoke and mirrors with fitness studios now. Who survived and who didn’t?

If I were investing in a team, I would want them to grind and show their willpower and problem-solving capability without money.

As a founder, it would depend on where you are in your life. I wouldn’t risk my children’s well-being, so bootstrapping is a tough decision. As I said before, I was willing to be homeless and was at a point when I started this, but all I had to do was take care of myself and my pup Baloo. Nada and I technically did it again when we reopened in the city when we went literally all in on Union Square with the city still not allowing group fitness to open, but I knew we had a cash flow from online workouts and renting out our bikes. It was a very calculated risk. I went through the 2008 crash and the 2014 oil crisis, so this was a strategic plan. I would say it is far easier to make money. As challenging as bootstrapping is, it was and still is to this day the best education I have ever received. Punch Pedal is around all because of bootstrapping.

Here is the main question of our interview: Many startups are not successful, and some are very successful. From your experience or perspective, what are the main factors that distinguish successful startups from unsuccessful ones? What are your “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.

People want to be founders or become entrepreneurs because you see the success and the freedom of the ones that make it. They see the glory and the achievements. They don’t see the daily grind or the journey, the lost friendships, the missed family events, or the loneliness day in and day out. They see fame and fortune.

If you don’t truly love what you are about to start, you’re wasting your time because it should and will consume you. It has to or it will never work. I have not met anyone that started something and was like “that was easy.” Every person, successful or not, has always said it was constantly positive and negative. Your emotions swung in every direction.

I love what I do. My wife loves what she does. It is a family business. We are lucky. Yes, there are good and bad days, but we try to keep them separated in our home. It is the only way it works for us. We understood that if we didn’t do this together one of us would get consumed entirely by Punch Pedal and the other would feel neglected.

So, the 5 things you need to create a highly successful startup are: determination, willingness to fail, willingness to learn, a strong foundation, and perfecting the basics.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Overpaying- I see this constantly. It is all the bells and whistles, smoke and mirrors. It is the “fake it until you make it” mentality when in reality you do not need tens of thousands of followers for a business to be successful. Your product is successful when you have recurring customers. Your job is to find more of those like-minded individuals to grow. Learn your clients’ wants and needs that are already paying for your product. This will allow you to build a strong foundation and grow.

Startup founders often work extremely long hours and it’s easy to burn the candle at both ends. What would you recommend to founders about how to best take care of their physical and mental wellness when starting a company?

Take our classes at Punch Pedal.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Again, thanks for the compliments, I am truly flattered. The movement is our philosophy at Punch Pedal. It is never about you. It’s about bettering yourself so you can help the next generation. I would like people to start helping the next generation. It will make everything better.

We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?

I would say it would be a group breakfast or lunch. I would probably be speechless the entire time, but Mark Cuban, Tom Brady, Lebron James, Jessie Itzler, Tracey Anderson, Ray Dalio, Stephen M. Ross, Julie Rice, and Novak Djokovic. Each one has challenged the norm in one way or another. I look up to each one of them in different ways.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can reach me via Instagram: @foleynyc & @punchpedal.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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