Strava’s Struggles Aren’t Going Away
It’s been a long and bumpy ride for loyal users
You are — I am, I should more accurately say — officially old if you can remember a world without Strava, the ubiquitous social fitness app that lets you share activities and workouts and compare performances. In the 11 years since its founding, it’s become an irreplaceable part of the workout experience for millions.
Small wonder, then, at the ensuing meltdown when Strava abruptly announced that several of its core features — including training logs and historical performances — would now be limited to paid accounts, effectively cutting off athletes from their own data.
But for long-time users, the sudden upcharge wasn’t nearly as startling as the framing Strava used to present it. Strava said “we are not yet a profitable company,” as if they hadn’t already had 11 years to figure that out, and as if they hadn’t spent the most recent part of that interval steadfastly refusing to develop and improve the same subscriber-facing features it now claims will be central to its business.
Strava was founded in 2009 as a “virtual locker room” (the much-parroted sound bite of founders Michael Horvath and Mark Gainey) where athletes could find community and inspiration. The Wayback Machine remembers it a bit differently (“the web’s premier cycling club”), but the same sentiment of virtual athletic camaraderie was there and undeniably effective, inspiring art, user-created features, and debates over whether drug cheats should be banned from the platform.
Most remarkably of all, Strava inspired athletes to open their wallets. In March 2013, Horvath reported 20% of all users were ponying up the $60/year user fee — an astronomical figure considering the average “freemium” conversion rate is about 1%, and particularly impressive considering Strava had begun offering free accounts near-total access to the service almost two years earlier.
In doing so, Strava tried to buck another Silicon Valley trend, as Horvath hoped they’d be done fundraising in 2013, after a relatively thin $16 million. But in October 2014, the firm announced an $18.5 million round from VC heavyweights Sequoia Partners, reflecting a suspicion among people who’d worked closely with the founders that a…