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Peloton’s Kushi: What a Ride!

The BC Law alumnus says he never could have predicted his entrepreneurial future.

Photograph by Vicki Sanders

How do you go from BC Law to building a billion-dollar company? Brookline native Hisao Kushi ’92, a founder of the fitness company Peloton, outlined his personal blueprint to a packed room Oct. 23 in a lunchtime event cosponsored by the Career Services office, the Business Law Society, and PIE, the Program on Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Kushi opened his entertaining and well-received talk by admitting he wasn’t great with technology and that he spent much of his college career going to movies and partying at UMass Amherst, where he received his bachelor’s degree in English. Yet he is now one of the principals of a company that’s valued at $8 billion and has become a way of life for its disciples. “A lot of your career you don’t plan,” he said. “It only makes sense looking backward, and even then it doesn’t always make sense.”

His first corporate law job, paying $35,000 a year, was at Universal Studios in Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife and two children. It wasn’t until he moved to Citysearch, he said, that “it felt like I had found my people.” Everyone was young and high energy, he said, and the company, like so many startups in the dot-com boom, was disrupting an industry. His time there led to one of his life lessons: “Who you work with is more important than what you do.”

In 2010, after climbing the ladder at such big names as Ticketmaster, Match, and Evite, he got a call from his friend and former Citysearch colleague John Foley, who at the time was heading Barnes and Noble’s e-commerce division. Foley’s plan was to start manufacturing stationary bikes that would offer in-home video classes and real-time competition with other home exercisers. “I didn’t like it at first,” said Kushi. “My wife said, ‘It’s a terrible idea.’” But once the concept clicked for him—e-commerce + interactive digital content = distributed technology—and he realized how highly scalable it was, he was all in. The company has indeed grown steadily since its first product hit the market in 2014, and it continues to grow, recently announcing a $4,000 subscription-service treadmill and plans to further expand its European offerings.

Kushi emphasized that while his road may seem unusual, 80 percent of the students in the room will work in a field that doesn’t exist today. In 1992, when he graduated from BC Law, he said, entrepreneurship wasn’t “a thing” and in-house counsel “wasn’t a career path.”

“You are all going to be fantastic lawyers,” he said. “You’re here at BC Law, you’re obviously no dummies. That’s table stakes for getting into company law. What we’re looking for is people who are kind, ethical, responsible, and generally assume the best of other people.” These sort of “adaptable skills,” he maintained, are often more important than technical skills to hiring managers, who can and should, in Kushi’s estimation, “hire for attitude, train for skill.”

“You can only solve problems when everybody is onboard working together,” he said. “When people aren’t, it’s really hard to do even simple things, so … as you’re looking at your career, this is probably the most important piece. The legal stuff, you’ll just get, and you’ll be excellent at it.”

As for entrepreneurship, while he conceded it’s not a common trajectory for lawyers, who tend to be risk-averse, he recommends it. “It’s good,” he said simply, with a smile.