How Strava Is Using Data To Create A Community Of Athletes


A Strava Live run.

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We spoke to Mark Gainey, CEO and cofounder of Strava, a social network for athletes that makes use of GPS devices and other wearables to create what they call a “social fitness” experience. Strava uses  the vast amounts of data being collected by various connected devices to provide motivation, track stats, record maintenance, and status of gear and equipment, and encourage camaraderie among its members.

In this interview, Gainey explained why he thinks wearables will continue to make fitness a more enjoyable and seamless part of our everyday lives.

Courtney Dickson: How was Strava founded? What were your inspirations?

Mark Gainey: Michael Horvath and I started Strava in 2009. We both rowed crew at Harvard in the late ’80s and thrived on the camaraderie and motivation of training with teammates. The idea for Strava came simply from our desire to recreate the positive forces of our crew experience when we no longer had the structure and support of a team. 

In its simplest form, Strava was a “virtual locker room” where we could share workouts among friends. We started Strava with a focus on cycling, and added running in 2011. Since its founding in 2009, Strava has grown from a handful of users to millions of athletes around the world. Our mission is simple—to motivate and inspire our members in ways that unlock their potential.

CD: Strava is known for being more than just a way to log workouts. It’s a social fitness app that encourages users to connect with each other. As more and more people are buying and using wearable devices to track their fitness, what changes have you seen in how users are interacting in the Strava community?

MG: Millions of cyclists and runners around the world not only track and analyze their training with Strava but also use it as their social channel to connect with other athletes and stay motivated. Almost 90% of all Strava athletes follow another athlete on Strava, and the average Strava member engages with Strava 5-7 times a day. According to our members, “If it’s not on Strava, it did not happen.”

Strava is growing rapidly and is truly global. We add over 100,000 new members every week, and almost 80% of our athletes live outside the US. We have activities on all seven continents and in over 180 countries.

We see our members interact with Strava in a number of different ways. We are now compatible with over 150 different GPS devices. So our athletes can track their activities in whatever way they find most convenient. And then they can seamlessly upload to Strava via our mobile apps and website.

CD: What sets Strava above the competition?

MG: Talk to most of our competitors, and you’ll find they refer to their audience as users, not members. Talk to a Strava athlete on the other hand, and they will tell you they may have “downloaded” other fitness apps, but then they “joined” Strava. We are for more than an app. We are a community.

Strava designs products for passionate athletes. They love their sport, strive to improve, and want to connect with people who feel the same way. We feel that we’ve built the best home for this kind of athlete, and that’s what separates us from our competitors.

Our athletes are fully engaged, online and offline. They support each other on Strava. We have an inspirational, passionate community that I believe is unmatched.

CD: Beyond smartwatches and fitness trackers, what other connected devices are being used with the platform, or would you like to incorporate in the future?

MG: We support data input from nearly 150 third-party devices, including everything from Garmin bike computers to Fitbit wearables and shirts with integrated sensors. We have built our own training apps for iOS, Android, Android Wear, and Apple Watch. This allows us to analyze everything from GPS data to physiology and nutrition data. As our athletes add more connected devices to their daily fitness lives, we are dedicated to helping them bring context and color to the information collected.

CD: Where do you see the wearables market heading in the next 5 to 10 years, and how will Strava adapt to keep up?

MG: We see the integration of fitness sensors becoming even more seamless—in clothing, in bicycle frames, in running shoes, et cetera. And we expect these wearable devices to provide more in-depth data and feedback. With our focus on our passionate athletes, we will continue to design technology that provides motivation and inspiration for our members. Strava is always innovating to serve the athletes. We seek to inspire and unlock potential. We’re a company full of athletes, so designing products that leverage our wealth of data and athlete insights to help athletes improve is at our core.

Screenshot courtesy of Strava

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