What Peloton Can Teach Us About Strategy

“The goal isn’t to inspire,” they said. “The goal is to trap.”

And trap me they did. I was thrilled to attend Mark Pollard and Julian Cole’s Strategy Super Sizer Megaclass in New York last week, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

Unexpectedly, as I read back through my notes, the voice of Peloton Founder and CEO John Foley (who I heard on How I Built This two months ago), kept echoing in my head.

So, in lieu of our typical Insights + Strategy 5 in 5 post, this week I’m sharing five things I think marketers can learn from the Peloton story, which are also five things Mark and Julian helped me see in a new light.


Practice lateral thinking – Before Peloton, digital content and cycling never belonged together. Now they seem like a natural fit. This is the result of lateral thinking, which was the first topic we tackled in Mark and Julian’s workshop. The act of pairing two things that don’t usually belong together to create something novel and useful results in ideas, and is the essence of innovation. But, it’s not as easy as it sounds; it requires practice.  If you need some, check out this brain workout with Mark Pollard.


Listen for problems – John Foley’s light bulb moment came from a mundane, but real, frustration. He loved going to SoulCycle and Flywheel classes, but, like many, lacked the time it took to get across town to the studio and the ability to sign up weeks in advance to get the best instructors. Peloton would remove these barriers by creating flexibility around timing, location and scheduling while still providing all the expert instruction and energy of being in the studio. For Foley, the payoff of listening to a problem when it spoke to him is a company valued at $4 billion. You might not get there in your lifetime, but listening out for problems, and then exploring the problems behind those problems will always activate your brain in new ways and lead you to new and different solutions. Here’s a great way of visualizing this courtesy of Mark Pollard – give it a shot.


Cultivate allies – The first person Foley told about his digitized cycling class idea was his wife, a wise choice not only because she was an avid studio cyclist, but also because she had a lot to gain by making sure his idea found success. He then knit together a circle of partners he trusted to challenge and support him along the way. This is the best way to nurture an idea, no matter how big or small. But don’t expect people to flock to you like you’re the Pied Piper. Networks rely on two-way exchange, which means people will expect to see their thinking reflected in the evolution of your idea. You control the filter, but remember that incorporating input from others will only make your idea stronger.


Pitch with the punchline – This is one piece of advice I’ve seen given to entrepreneurs when they’re about to meet with investors, and have heard resonate in a room full of aspiring strategists.  Don’t bury the lead – get straight to the big problem you’re solving for, your solution and what makes it special. Condense the essentials of your idea to 30 seconds or less, then answer the specifics as needed. I don’t know what John Foley’s initial pitch to investors sounded like, but he now uses “the Netflix of Fitness” to describe what he’s creating. And that’s exactly the type of punchline we should strive for.


Don’t surrender to numbers – Peloton struggled to convince venture capitalists to make the leap to invest because there wasn’t enough data to prove the size of the market for an entirely new category. Foley has said it really surprised him that VCs were so beholden to the numbers and didn’t recognize his company as true vision and disruption. Hmmm. If you work in marketing/advertising/PR, chances are you’ve had a similar experience at some point. Your team has a worthy idea that someone squashes because there’s no “data-driven” proof it will work. But, as Peloton has proven, and as Mark and Julian reminded us, quantitative data doesn’t always tell the full story. In some cases, it’s the data we gather through conversation and observation, and filter through intuition, that proves most valuable.

Here’s a glimpse of our data-to-insights philosophy at Padilla:

I started writing this post for marketers, but the truth is – if you are someone who wants your ideas heard, this is relevant to you. You could apply lateral thinking to make anything from cocktail party banter to financial conversation more engaging, and when you make a habit of gathering a variety of data from a variety of sources, frame solutions in terms of problems, honor your ideas with input from others and lead your pitch with the punchline, you will gain perspective and support for your work.

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