Strava: Striding for Kudos and Connection

Strava – a virtual trainer and teammate.

Strava was started just over a decade ago in 2009 for cycling enthusiasts to track each other’s routes and encourage progress. The founders combined rapidly improving GPS technology along with the rise of social media to create a platform that today enables athletes of all types to not only track their workouts and monitor performance, but to share progress with a community of athletes. Community is at the heart of what co-founders Michael Horvath and XX were aiming to create. Horvath wanted to recreate the feeling of teamwork and support he experienced while rowing at Harvard even when training together in person was not feasible.

Strava operates through a Freemium model. For free, users have access to record or upload their activity and interact socially with followers. Interaction mainly consists of offering “kudos” or comments of encouragement to others on the platform. For a small monthly fee of $7.99, users can upgrade to a premium account. The premium account boasts additional perks such as route planning, advanced training metrics, goal setting and analysis of workout intensity.  Premium accounts can also integrate device data such as heart rate and recovery time from Apple or Garmin watches to show a user advance performance metrics.

The concept has proven hugely popular. The platform boasts more than 70 million members across over 190 countries. In 2020 alone, Strava added an additional 2 million users per month. This growth has been enabled by and attracted significant funding. In 2020 Strava raised an additional $110M in Series F funding to bring total funding to over $150M. Revenues have also grown annually from $60M in 2019 to $72M in 2020 and the CEO reported profitability in 2016, 2018 and 2020.

Strava’s premium users are not the only source of revenue. While your data as an individual Strava user is private, the collective data picture is packaged as “Strava Metro” and frequently purchased by local governments looking to optimize transportation planning. The data Strava Metro provides enables city planners to see emerging cycling and running patterns, improve safety in higher risk areas and can inform urban projects. In 2014 the annual subscription price started at $20,000 but likely scales with the size of the city and granularity needs.

During Covid-19, Strava has seen both growth in users and a new set of challenges. As Covid has disrupted many people’s normal gym routines, many have laced up their sneakers and begun walking, running and hiking. In December of 2020, Strava reported 33% growth in upload activity up to 1.1B activities in 2020. As events such as marathons and triathlons were cancelled, users joined Strava’s virtual competitions with over 1M members joining a 5K challenge in May.

It hasn’t been all rosy for Strava during Covid, however, and the social media element of the platform has led to shaming and even police follow up. Runners in countries such as the UK and France with particularly strict lockdowns and accompanying fines faced criticism, call outs and reports to the police when posting extensive outdoor activity or posting a workout done with someone not in their household.

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Student comments on Strava: Striding for Kudos and Connection

  1. Great post Julia! Strava is a super interesting company and it was wonderful to read about how they’ve created value for their users, and even for city planners! Very neat.

    I wanted to note here an additional risk facing Strava (and many platforms) — and that would be around the issue of privacy given the sensitive location data. In particular, I know the company faced controversy around a “flyby” feature that allowed users to see other users in the app while working out and see their profile/loop. I would imagine that additional precautions would need to be taken for premium users who track health data in the app as well.

    It’ll be interesting to see how Strava continues to manage these privacy challenges moving forward!

  2. Thanks for sharing Julia! Although I’m very interested in working out, I had never heard of Strava, perhaps because I don’t cycle. It is one of the top 10 highest revenue health and fitness apps though. I do find it interesting how the fitness app industry is becoming more segmented by type of activity. For example, there are apps mainly for tracking food, such as MyFitnessPal, apps mainly for runners, such as Nike Run, MapMyRun and RunKeeper, apps mainly for mental health such as Calm and Headspace and apps mainly for workouts such as Sweat. Do you think that this fragmentation will continue as apps carve out market share in niche segments? Or do your foresee consolidation so that every aspect of health is monitored using one app? I am starting to think that the fragmentation will lead a large player such as Apple to enter the market and to create and capture significant value by consolidating services. I haven’t tried Apple Fitness+ yet but I think it may steal market share from all of the other fitness apps, similar to how Apple Music overtook Spotify in the music app segment. Apple can also leverage complementary Apple offerings and health data which is already tracked on iPhones and Apple Watches. Having said that, Apple Fitness will be limited to Apple users which may discourage some trainers from joining the app and allow other apps to remain popular on android phones.

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