After its fifth major round of funding, ClassPass can finally call itself a unicorn.

On Wednesday, the New York City-based fitness subscription startup announced a $285 million Series E investment, at a valuation of more than $1 billion. The company, which previously had raised $225 million, touted both its expansion from four to 28 countries in less than two years and the fact that it employs more than 650 people across five cities.

But perhaps ClassPass should be boasting that it has been through as many pricing models as rounds of funding--and after taking risks that alienated swaths of customers at multiple junctures, remarkably, it has survived.

Over the past 18 months, in addition to expanding internationally, the company has added non-fitness offerings such as acupuncture, massage, meditation, and cryotherapy. It has also moved into corporate wellness, and now has more than 1,000 employers that offer its subscription to fitness classes and wellness treatments as a benefit, including Facebook, Google, Morgan Stanley, and Southwest Airlines. In each of the past two years, it has doubled its corporate headcount.

Launched in 2013, ClassPass made a name for itself by helping boutique fitness studios fill empty slots in classes--and giving exercise buffs affordable opportunities to try new studios. But the company has struggled with loyalty, and with how much to charge members.

In 2017, the company ditched an unlimited plan in favor of a tiered membership structure, which essentially doubled the price for the company's most loyal members and caused the company to lose some 5 percent of its membership base. Still, the new model had constraints of its own, founder Payal Kadakia told Inc. in 2019. 

ClassPass raised a funding round at a lesser valuation than it had had previously--known as a "down round." Since then,  it has introduced yet another pricing model: It's still a subscription in tiers, but the company now offers classes on a credit system, allowing pricier studios and classes to take up more of a user's monthly allotment.

The company's CEO, Fritz Lanman, calls the two-year-old credit model "elegant," and says it is here to stay. He attributes ClassPass's resilience to a history of tumult that has helped his team anticipate and weather difficult choices and changes to the business.

"We had a lot of trials and tribulations early on in the journey," he says. "You have to be someone who can withstand serious pressures--and come out the other side."

But would it all have been simpler if Kadakia had simply begun back in 2010 with a tiered subscription model and a two-sided marketplace pairing studios with customers when she had her original idea for helping people find fitness classes and try new ones?

"Each business model was derived from insights from the previous business mode," Lanman says. Without that experience, "it's not clear we would have gotten here." 

The company says it will use the new funding to continue its international expansion and boost the corporate-wellness program. The investors have deep industry experience that also could help growth domestically: The round was led in part by L Catterton, a private-equity firm with investments in the fitness industry, including in Equinox Holdings, Pure Barre, Xpoential Fitness, and Peloton.