Robin Arzon works a crowd like Ariana Grande making a surprise appearance at your local mega-church. Last May, she bounded onto the stage of New York City’s Hammerstein Ballroom to “All I Do Is Win,” by DJ Khaled, wearing a blindingly white minidress and flashing the red soles of her Louboutin stilettos, long brunette ponytail sailing behind her. “I have a feeling we have epic milestones in the audience tonight,” she predicted through her Madonna-style headset mic.
The audience of nearly 3,000 received her with faces upturned, arms waving, mouths open in screaming adoration. She gave a special shout-out to 10 attendees who’d provided selfie evidence of devotional tattoos. This was the first time I’d set eyes on Arzon, and as is the case with many things intended to be earnestly motivational in 2019, her shtick felt both deeply corny and like something I’d kill to believe in.
Arzon is the vice president of fitness programming and the most popular instructor at Peloton, a start-up that has put a $2,245 video-streaming exercise bike (and, more recently, a $4,295 treadmill) and its $39 monthly class subscription into the homes of hundreds of thousands of Americans. There is also a more affordable option: a $19-a-month app that allows users to take the same classes on any bike or treadmill, along with similar coaching for yoga, outdoor running, and strength training. Last December, analysts estimated that Peloton’s ridership had surpassed that of its major competitor, SoulCycle. The company has more than 1 million members, but, as with other start-ups such as Uber and WeWork, it isn’t yet profitable—it lost almost $200 million in the last fiscal year—and less expensive copycats nip at its heels.