Candace Cordelia is a Pennsylvania-based journalist and on-camera broadcaster/host, with…
After a series of no’s from some of the top gyms and workout brands, Punch Pedal House co-owner Joey Foley spun his way to the upper echelons of New York’s fitness elite with his family-operated business. Co-founded with his wife, Nada Foley, the duo did everything on their own terms, and now Foley tells Athletech News how they made Punch Pedal House into a dynamic force in the fitness world.
Joey Foley is a fighter.
The Punch Pedal co-owner and co-founder battled his way through life long before being a respected athlete to become a widely-respected fitness entrepreneur. In five years, Foley and his wife, Nada, have pooled their money, resources and chutzpah to make Punch Pedal House a haven for exercise enthusiasts. But the road to making it into New York City’s fitness business elite, even with a former Corcoran Group Vice-President at the helm, was not easy.
In an exclusive interview for Athletech News‘s “CEO/Founder” Series, the ex-Division I football player and track star reveals the origin story behind Punch Pedal House, his source of motivation, failing upwards and much more.
Athletech News (ATN): Please tell us about your current company and how either your role (if you are a founder) or the company came to fruition?
Joey Foley: Punch Pedal is 100% owned and operated by my wife [and] myself. It’s two fitness studios in New York City. One’s called Pedal House. One’s called Punch House.
What’s really interesting [is] I’m sitting in a space right now [that] changed my life five years ago. And a lot of people don’t know this story. A couple of friends and family do, and some of my clients. But five years ago I was training for the USA championships, for triathlons, working in finance. And I was transitioning out, looking at other jobs and stuff in that interim. A buddy of mine was like, “Come take a SoulCycle class with me.” And I’m like, “No.” And he’s like, “Dude, just come. What’s the most you [could] lose? Just come with me. Let’s just do something different.” In the same location I’m sitting right now I took that class and it changed my life. Two weeks later I quit my job.
I applied to Flywheel, Peloton and Soulcycle. I was like, “I want to be a fitness instructor. I want to help people.” Soul[cycle] loved me! They brought me in. I had a really good relationship with them. But at the end of the day, when I got through their program, I could only go where they had an opening and where they had a location. I found out later on… I was just off brand, and I knew that. They told me that directly. I wasn’t very “soulful.” I come from a different cloth.
So, how this all happened is a lot of people said no. You’re telling an athlete basically you’re not good enough. I’m too much of a cyclist. Too advanced and I’m not soulful. I’m like, “I’m none of those. You’re completely right. You know what, maybe there’s something here.” I had a little bit of money [to] open up a space in Dumbo, took over a failed business and started there. That was in 2017 and six months later, my wife walked through the door. [At the time] a friend of a friend came in to learn about the studio, talk about SoulCycle’s program. Nada came in, we talked for four hours, just about life and everything. She’s never left my side ever since that day.
I had a full staff, the whole thing, and nothing was working. She was like my rock, she’s the person that kind of held me together.
We slowly [built] in Dumbo, grew, and [were] about to be acquired pre pandemic. And that pandemic hit and we were very fortunate enough to have assets, have no debt, have no investors and really think quickly on our feet. I [thought], “You know what? Everybody needs bikes, let’s rent them.” We had bikes, so we started renting the bikes out. The story came out that we were still looking for space, which we were. A friend of a friend under the building found out. The owner basically [said], “Listen, I love your story.” This was, from my understanding, their pride and joy of downtown Manhattan for SoulCycle.
So it’s extremely sweet that I’m in the space that I took my first spin class from the company that kind of screwed me over. If it wasn’t for that class, I would not be in this position today.
ATN: What was your journey like to get to this point?
Joey Foley: We’re still in a growth space. I was the most naive person and then we [my wife Nada] became the most naive people there was in the city, thinking that we could compete with SoulCycle, Rumble, and all these brands.
We had high end clientele, luxury fitness, and die-hards. We had people coming in that live and work in Manhattan [who] would come to our classes five days a week, at six and seven o’clock in the morning, and go back to Manhattan to Dumbo.
We built a brand that was this luxury, high-performance class for the people that said “I don’t want to be basic. I came in there to be amazing.” So we were naive enough thinking that we could actually compete because at the end of the day we’re in New York City. New York City, you need celebrities. New York City, you need money. You need to spend millions of dollars on social media ads. You need a fashion line. You need all these things. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how good your product is at all. It matters how much money you can get to get brand awareness out. No matter how we’ve looked at it, how we look at things, we’ve tried all different ways in that journey to get to that point.
You have SoulCycle, you have another brand that I believe [is] our only competitor, [that] just raised $8 million this past June. And then you’ve got Nada and Joey on Fifth Avenue that are kidding themselves… to actually compete with these brands.
What I grew up on was that if you give 110% in anything you do, the truth would be out there eventually. There’s proof in the pudding. To get through the pandemic with what we did, I truly, truly believe that the reason why we’re here or out, is because our product is genuine and it actually works.
It’s not fluff. It’s not a bunch of celebrities. My wife and I truly love what we do. There hasn’t been any days off, period. All we do is work.
ATN: What is your greatest strength?
Joey Foley: I only ever speak from a point of passion and history. Nada and I went through these questions before and one [thing] that we would talk [about was] what I should name the business.
She was very straightforward and [in asking her opinion] she [said] I don’t quit and I love challenges. That can be perceived very differently. I was brought up by my grandfather and [a] single mother [in] a very militant family.I had amazing coaches growing up. I was a three sport athlete, all state and all American. I was taught that you don’t quit. There are days [I wanted to]. I have thrown a bike across the room from the agitation of [thinking,] “I don’t understand how XYZ company had 60,000 people through their door and they’re not open and we’re open and we got 5,000 the last three months.” I have this tough love mentality.
It’s very authentic [my thoughts and emotions] when you come to class. What I’m feeling that day, I’m going to produce in that room that day, and those strengths I can’t give up because I love it so much. I’m excited for where this brand is going because of my strength[s], because this is just the beginning for us. I went through the war.
ATN: What motivates you?
Joey Foley: [My] family. I grew up with a single mother and there’s stuff that has happened [in] my past. For my mom it was really difficult. She has a big family. I saw my grandfather, who raised me, have seven kids and just be a great dad and have a great wife. Around me [there] was not that life. I’m not saying I had a bad father. I’m just saying it wasn’t stable. The one thing I’m so grateful for is that I’m able to be a dad. This [business] gave me so much in that time. I say in class all the time you have to let go of s*** for something bigger to come in.
Money comes and goes, I realized. It’s the truth. The top 400 people I’ve met, multiple people I’m close with, are worth hundreds and hundreds of million dollars. They have good days. They have bad days. If money goes, they’re broke, they’re cash broke. It doesn’t matter what level of income you have. Money comes and goes. But what stays around and what’s truly an honor is having family. This business, this journey created that.
I have the greatest gift of all my family, and it’s growing and it’s strong. There’s good days and bad, but we love each other. It’s a family business. And then there’s the people that come in here that have become longtime friends. This is New York city, very transient. I have people across the country still reaching out to me during the pandemic, just telling me about their days.
ATN: What are some of your daily habits?
Joey Foley: I’m a workaholic, but my life has to have the same daily routine. We have a daughter, so we actually have to have a daily routine.
I love my family time. It’s unfortunate that I don’t get [to] have it every morning, because I teach a lot in the mornings, but I get two days a week [in which] I get to wake up with my daughter. And then at night I get to put her to sleep. My wife, my daughter, and our pup at night – I cherish that moment. That gets me through some of the harder days.
In this day, I do work out. I stay active as much as possible. I love what I do. I love the challenge of it and I’m trying to better my craft. What I’m focusing on is how to better my business, how to better my craft, and how to educate myself.
I always read, I do read a lot, but I like to meet with people that have had success with things to kind of just pick their brain. I’m always educating myself and I think for the next four, five years, I’m in an education slash growth model.
I’m going to go read, I’m going to hang out with my family. But I will still have a social life on the right terms. I like to be networking and learning daily. That’s the number one thing.
ATN: What is your greatest accomplishment?
Joey Foley: Having a family in Manhattan. It’s hard enough to live in Manhattan as a single person. All my friends, once they had their first child, were gone. They’re in Jersey, Connecticut or they left and went to Florida or Long Island. We’re here. We’re able to go to art shows and art openings and museums and have that culture. I mean, they do too, but we’re in the city. At a drop of a dime, we could do something if we want to be spontaneous. So, the greatest accomplishment is I’m able to support a family and a business here.
The second part of that is, listen, five years ago, I was told no by everybody. The big boys. Every single one of them said no. [Now], one’s bankrupt. One’s [at] a billion dollar market cap. It’s a behemoth owned by Equinox. I’m here as proof that what we’re doing is correct. It’s just that we didn’t have the financial backing to expand as fast as they could. We did it on our own.
I’m so proud of that.
It’s not easy, by any means, especially in this very oversaturated market pre-pandemic. Now it’s less saturated, but even harder because people are not here. So we’re set up for success. We’re ecstatic about what’s [to come] when the city actually fully comes back, office and everything, because we’re set up perfectly.
ATN: What decision would you take back and do differently?
Joey Foley: I did all this statistical analytics of Dumbo and it all made sense. The demographic was there, the earnings, the whole thing. But it was hard. Dumbo is not Brooklyn Heights. It’s very touristy. [There’s] so many people, but those people, [given] what we found out later, leave at five o’clock in the morning.
They would come to the city, do their workout, shower, go to work. Or they would work, go workout, and then come home. We would see a lot of people on the weekends that didn’t leave the city and they would tell us. So that was one major thing.
The second [was] being so naive that we could compete. Even now I still say that I’m excited for the setup we [have], but at the end of the day this is New York. You need celebrities, in my opinion. You need money for advertising. Social media, tags, you need verification, you have to be so on top of it. I think that we saw a lot of smoke and mirrors happen through the pandemic of how they [other fitness brands] survived, if they survive or not.
And then you have us. We have none of that. I get these excitements ‘cause I’m in my own bubble. We’re paying our bills. We have a decent living. We’re not making billions yet, but we’re doing really well. The classes are on the big part of mainly [being] sold out. We expanded to our second studio, within three months of opening up this place and that’s growing.
It’s not a regret, but it’s a failure kind of thing. I kind of look back at DUMBO as an incubation. Imagine if you had an incubator that you could mess up as many times as you want and get away with it. That was like the perfect example.
ATN: Where did you get the idea for your current business?
Joey Foley: Five years ago, everyone said no to me. You’re telling someone that’s been an athlete his entire life, even triathlon rugby at Columbia… you’re telling someone, no, that’s an athlete. I knew I was good at what I was doing. I knew I was a good athlete. I knew I knew how to ride a bike. I knew I could motivate people. So for me, I just looked at these three companies [as though they] either don’t understand this or they’re sticking to their business model. That this is what works for us. And I’m [thinking], “You’re missing a whole piece of pie. There’s athletes that want this. They want a hard workout. They want to get their a** handed to them. They want that feeling of empowerment again.” All this self love and cheerleading, that’s not for everybody. There’s eight million people in New York City. So that’s kind of where that idea came from. But also I don’t like when people say no to me, ‘cause I definitely take it as a challenge.
ATN: How do you manage stress?
Joey Foley: Every day is a challenge. One of the things I’ve always wanted was even if someone didn’t invest [in] a corporate partnership with a corporation that was bigger that I could lean on them for operational stuff. But I don’t have that. So, that’s an issue, [along with] getting the cleaning staff to do right, or finding retail or making sure that limit of third parties pays us. I also have to make sure there’s people in the seats. I got to train the instructors. This is what it is. So stress is next level, especially in New York City. So [to deal] with it I take my own classes.
My class becomes harder because I do teach two to three classes a day, six days a week. So I had to kick my own a**. I have to make the class harder. That stress management is, one, how I got through the stresses of growing up.
I have that point in the middle of class where it’s like this moment where you have that active meditation, where you finally exhaust your mind, exhaust your body and you get that three to four minutes to kind of find that meditation.
ATN: When have you failed? Talk about your failures – what have you learned from them?
Joey Foley: If you’re not failing, you’re not risking enough. SoulCycle doesn’t have a lot of social media, but they could pay for a lot of celebrities. And they have that brand recognition from 2006 on. Rumble likes to spend [on] ads out the wazoo, and they’re going by Xponential fitness now. Then you have Peloton – they’re ad central. They’re literally just as digital as they come. So for us, I’m constantly failing this marketing. I can’t figure it out for the life of me. It is impossible. I don’t know what works. But I keep trying.
We failed in Dumbo. We failed here. If you’re not failing, I truly don’t [think] you’re taking enough risk on yourself because you’re leaving a lot on the table. I’m not saying risk it all. Don’t take two mortgages out on your house and open up a business. I’m saying there’s calculated risks.
My instructors that I taught [pre-pandemic] they’re super successful all over the country. They’re master instructors all over the country. It took me a lot to figure out what works and what doesn’t with them to be successful. It’s the same thing with this. We’re all learning in the process.
You have to fail and learn from your mistakes. Sometimes… it never works. The most prime example right now for me is what do we do about this online [strategy]. I have to be willing to fall on my face or it’s not going to work. You have to lean into it. To be extremely successful, you have to fail on your face, but you have to push yourself back up.
Candace Cordelia is a Pennsylvania-based journalist and on-camera broadcaster/host, with a reporting background in wrestling, entertainment, and lifestyle. Her reporting work has been featured on websites and in publications such as Bustle, Pro Wrestling Illustrated, New York Daily News, am New York, ABC News, Yahoo!, Good Morning America, Madame Noire, Sister 2 Sister, etonline.com, Diva Dirt and The Everyday Fan. Her favorite workout influencers include Chloe Ting, Cassey Ho, Pamela Reif and Mary Braun. She still can’t stand burpees and Rebbl Dark Chocolate Immunity Elixir is one of her favorite post-workout protein sips. You can follow Candace on Twitter @CandaceCordelia and on Instagram @thatgirlcandace16.