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Why my global tech startup picked Houston for its next location

Here's why ClassPass tapped Houston as a prime place to expand. Photo via Getty Images

Most people know that fitness and wellness leader ClassPass started in New York City. It's less well known that ClassPass has a large office in Missoula, Montana that houses several members of our leadership team, including CEO Fritz Lanman.

In 2017, the ClassPass team spent nine months conducting an intensive nationwide search for a city that matched our mission and values. As a brand focused on supporting an active lifestyle, we wanted a city that offered a connection to the outdoors. One of the most important driving factors in our search was finding a city where we could attract incredible talent to our team. Though we settled on Missoula, Houston was high on the list.

I'm thrilled that four years later, we are finally adding Houston as the fourth US ClassPass office. I have personally relocated to this city and now call myself a Houstonian. Here's five reasons why ClassPass chose Houston for our new US office:

Houston has a welcoming and collaborative culture

Since moving to Houston, every person I have met has been so welcoming. Locally founded tech companies are looking for ways to partner, and accelerators such as Houston Exponential have gone out of their way to make our transition smooth and facilitate introductions within the tech ecosystem. This is a friendly city, and one that encourages the growth of tech companies.

Great sports teams and miles of biking trails

Play is such an important part of the ClassPass culture (one of our values is "play to win"), and Houston is a dynamic place to do just that. With great sports teams, amazing museums, and tons of green space with miles of running and biking trails, there is something for everyone. And particularly in the winter when our colleagues are dealing with huge snow storms in NYC and Montana, it is such a treat to be able to spend time outside.

Self care is an important part of the culture

Locally, ClassPass partners with more than 900 Houston businesses including fitness centers, gyms, spas and beauty salons. In the Houston area, we have seen tremendous usage for both our fitness and wellness offerings, with members booking classes such as a full body strength class at Tropa Z Fitness or a Pilates session at 713 Pilates. Our beauty and wellness offerings are also popular, with people making the time for a sports recovery massage at Serenite Massage, a compression session at Restore Cryotherapy, or a bikini wax at Wink Lash Bar. It's important to us to know we are based in a city where the community embraces self-care, and where we can help local businesses to grow.

The legendary food

You need food to fuel your workouts! The food scene in Houston is incredible, and I am personally delighted to keep exploring and trying takeout from more places (I am currently on a quest for the best breakfast tacos!). Whether it's ordering lunch together once we are all able to be in-person, or going out for a meal after a new milestone is reached, I look forward to sampling the food scene with our new Houston team members.

The large talent pool

Houston is home to universities including Rice University and The University of Houston, and Texas A&M and UT Austin are nearby. With so much feeder talent coming out of local schools, and a reputation as one of the most diverse cities in the US, we are confident that Houston will be a place to recruit for teams across our organization.

Want to join our team? Check out open roles here.

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Rachel Moncton is the vice president of Global Marketing at ClassPass, the leading fitness and wellness membership and a global provider of corporate wellness benefits. She is based in Houston.

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Building Houston

 
 

Kelly Avant, investment associate at Houston-based Mercury Fund, shares how and why she made her way into the venture capital arena. Photo courtesy of Mercury

Kelly Avant didn't exactly pave a linear career path for herself. After majoring in gender studies, volunteering in the Peace Corps, and even attending law school — she identified a way to make a bigger impact: venture capital.

"VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems," Avant tells InnovationMap.

Avant joined the Mercury Fund team last year as an MBA associate before joining full time as investment associate. Now, after completing her MBA from Rice University this month, Avant tells InnovationMap why she's excited about this new career in investment in a Q&A.

InnovationMap: From law school and the peace corps, what drew you to start a career in the VC world?

Kelly Avant: I graduated from Rice University with an MBA, starting scouting for an investment firm in my first year, and by the summer after my first year I was essentially working full-time interning with Mercury. But, I like to tell people about my undergraduate degree in gender studies and rhetoric from a little ski college in Colorado. If you meet someone else in venture capital with a degree in gender studies, please connect us, but I think I might be the only one. I’ll spare you what I used to think — and say — about business students, but I have really come full circle.

I always thought I would work in a nonprofit space, but after serving in Cambodia with the Peace Corps, working for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and briefly attending Emory Law School with the intention of becoming a civil rights lawyer.I found that time and time again the root of the problem was a lack of resources. The world’s problems were not going to be solved with my idealism alone.

The problem with operating as a nonprofit in a capitalism is you basically always pandering to the interests of the donors. The NFL was a key sponsor of The National Domestic Violence Hotline. The United States has a complicated, to put it lightly, relationship with Cambodia and Vietnam. It became pretty clear that the donor/nonprofit relationship was oftentimes putting the wrong party in the driver’s seat. I was, and still am, very interested in alternative financing for nonprofits. I became convinced that the most exciting businesses were building solutions to the world’s problems while also turning a profit, which allows them to survive to have a sustainable positive impact.

VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems.

IM: What are some companies you’re excited about?

KA: There are a couple super interesting founders I’ve met directly engaging with . To name a few: CiviTech, DonateStock, and Polco.

I’m very proud to work on mercury investments like Houston’s own, Topl, which has built an extremely lightweight and energy efficient Blockchain that enables tracking of ethical supply chains from the initial interaction.
I’m also excited about mercury’s investment in Zirtue, which enables relationship based peer to peer lending to solve the massive problem of predatory payday loans.

We have so many awesome founders in our portfolio. The best part about working in VC is meeting passionate innovators every day. I get excited to go to work everyday and help them to build better solutions.

IM: Why are you so passionate about bringing diversity and inclusion into Mercury?

KA: I love working with exciting, highly capable, super smart people. That category includes so many people who have been historically excluded. As an investment team member at Mercury, I do have a voice, and I have an obligation to use that voice to speak highly of the best people in rooms of influence.

IM: With your new role, what are you most focused on?

KA: In my new role, I am identifying and researching high potential investments. We’re building out a Mercury educational series to lift the veil of VC. We want to facilitate a series that gives all founders the basic skills to pass VC due diligence and have the opportunity to build the next innovative companies. My goal is ultimately to produce the best returns possible for our investors, and we can’t accomplish that goal unless we’re building out resources to meet the best founders and help them grow.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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