Case Study: Strava is better

If you’re an athlete, you’ve probably used Strava. It’s a profitable company with more than 250 employees, dealing with over fifteen million exercise uploads a week. If you’re looking for a route in the neighbourhood you’re in, the inspiration is there in one of their feeds.

Strava makes the sports athletes love even more fun, and it’s also home for an engaged community of 75+ million users with an athlete in every country on earth 

How did its founders Mark Gainey and Michael Horvath make better happen?

In the mid-2000s, there was a social exercise platform called Endomondo. Their model was simple and obvious: they offered a free version for basic activity tracking with paid adverts, and a premium version including ‘special’ features without the interruption of ads. A subscription cost $5.99 per month.

In order to build the business, they came from a place of exclusivity. Your activities were free to upload, log and view, but any post-activity analysis cost money to access.

To get users, they enabled anyone to log any kind of workout with any device (which got them good visibility), but when people showed up they dropped features that customers had paid for and then reinvented them behind a further monthly pay wall.

Endomondo generated profit via opaqueness.

Mark and Michael came up with a different story: make a “virtual locker room” where people who exercised alone could find a community, make astonishing levels of data analysis available, and pay for the whole thing with premium subscriptions. After all, what better place to find competition and camaraderie than a platform where the worlds most active people go to log their activities?

Along the way, Mark and Michael discovered that creating a better product meant serving different people differently, enabling stories for each persona that matched their worldview and needs.

For amateur athletes keen for information, they made it easy to log activities and explore new places. Showing them how fast they ran today, or last week, or five years ago, and how much improvement they’ve made.

They recognised that for every person who uploaded an activity, a thousand people wanted to see where and how hard their friends were pushing. Instead of restricting features, they gave them what they needed. Feeds to follow other athletes activities, give “kudos” and leave supportive comments. They even gave a ringside seat to see how elite athletes train and race.

But competitive athletes are different. For them, they gamified fitness by introducing the leaderboard, automatically matching the results of anyone else who has run the same route, or part of it. With the fastest man and woman on a given segment dubbed King and Queen of the Mountain.

And social runners were different as well. They wanted clubs for groups, a space for their race reports and photos, and a message board to get recommendations on the best trail-running shoes. Strava knows how many kilometres your shoes and will email you to let you know you when you need a replacement pair (without sending you ads for shoes).

Mark and Michael didn’t want to simply offer an alternative. They set out to be of service, to make things more satisfying, to tell people a story they wanted and needed to hear.

They built something better, and they let the user not only spread the word but do the things that someone else might consider work.