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On today’s episode of Unconventional Genius, I talk with Mark Gainey, Chairman and Co-Founder of Strava about how he helped build a successful social network for athletes. What began in 2008 as a website for cycling enthusiasts has become a community of tens of millions of runners, cyclists, and triathletes around the world. Mark shares the mission of Strava and the challenges that come with leading a global social community in a niche athletic market.
Men’s Journal says that Strava is “the only fitness app that matters.” That kind of recognition didn’t come overnight. Now eight years old, Strava is adding one million new users from around the world each month. Mark shares how his athletic background and desire to motivate others through social connection led to the inception of Strava.
The secret to Strava’s success
During our conversation, Mark Gainey explains how he and Michael Horvath created Strava with the goal of trying to recapture the competition and camaraderie they experienced through college athletics. Mark says what makes Strava special is the ability to connect with other users.
The community aspect of being able to compare performance against your peers and even engage in good-natured trash-talking is what users really enjoy. Mark also says that they never set out to develop an app that helped people get fitter or faster or stronger, but rather their goal in creating this social network for athletes was to “keep it fun.”
The international appeal of a social network for athletes
One of the unexpected accomplishments of Strava is its international appeal. Mark Gainey attributes this broad reach to the fact that they focus on universal sports. I talk with Mark about how that reality affects the way he leads the company and how it impacts user experience.
Mark says that “the noise of opportunity” within a global social network for athletes presents a layer of complexity. He shares how they adjusted to fully capitalize on their global reach, not only getting the technology and language right, but also understanding how cultural differences change the dynamic of particular sports.
Keys to the growth of Strava
Strava started out small. Mark Gainey explains that they originally only targeted cyclists in their go-to-market strategy. This allowed them to understand the potential opportunity and then build a full-scale social network for athletes based on what they learned. Mark says, “We always said It is better to be great than to be big. Big will come with time, let’s focus on just being great.”
Starting small allowed the Strava team to focus on the quality of the experience. It also helped them stay true to the mission of motivating people to be active and athletic. Mark shares more about the keys to growth and his aversion to what he calls “vanity metrics” during this conversation.
Strava’s commitment to serving users
Because users log their workout experiences, Strava has access to an incredible amount of data. This data helps Mark Gainey and his team maximize the experience of those utilizing his social network for athletes. It also helps them develop new features on the platform for the diverse group of people that use Strava.
Mark says that because of the data, they know who they serve. Their commitment is to keep current users engaged and motivated to meet their goals, whether it’s training for the Olympics or running their first 5K. Listen to my entire conversation with Mark Gainey on this episode of Unconventional Genius.
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Topics Featured In This Episode
- [2:42] Introduction of Mark Gainey, Chairman and Co-Founder of Strava a social network for athletes
- [3:11] What is Strava?
- [4:05] The genesis of Strava and how the company started out right
- [7:42} How the Strava team stays committed to their mission
- [9:21] The impact of the international audience on the user experience
- [11:25] Mark Gainey shares keys to the growth Strava continues to see
- [14:33] Insights about runners and cyclists from the data collected through the app
- [17:40] The diversity of athletes who are using Strava
- [20:14} How future innovation might create new opportunities for Strava
- [23:58] Mark Gainey on what he’s learned from building a social network for athletes
Resources & People Mentioned
Connect with Mike Gainey
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