[there is a much more concise version of this on Medium’s OneZero publication]
Strava, the since-forever social fitness service, announced yesterday that a number of features previously available for free to any user were being transferred instead into the company’s paid offering. The Internet responded as you might expect, everyone seems to have a hot take, but for the most part, I don’t really have a problem with the revised payment model.
In fact I, Cosmo Catalano, long-time Strava user, former developer partner, for years a paying member, erstwhile foaming brand advocate, and even one-time guest speaker, would be stoked as hell to hand Strava my five-dollars-a-month-again. All they’d have to do is give me a good reason. Instead, they complained that they weren’t profitable.
It’s a bit rich to hear Strava say that in 2020, after spending years and god knows how many dev hours on a merry-go-round of half-baked features that no one wanted and that even fewer people used. To hear that, almost overnight, the company’s only desire is “to make a product so good that you’re happy to pay for it” is similarly confounding because—as you’ll read below—this was exactly what the Strava once had, and exactly what it spent the tail end of the last decade burning to the ground.
You are—I am, I should more accurately say—officially old if you can remember a world without Strava, the long-since ubiquitous social fitness app. Though I’ve been aware of the company since very nearly Day 1 through my connections in Hanover, the relative penury of my 20s made me a skeptic of the price until actually using the service won me over.
For the first few years, Strava piled up accolades, enticing pro riders to upload races despite the sport’s notorious secrecy, and the upstart firm eventually reached that great modern milestone: becoming important enough to sue. But more significant than any upload count or award, the firm had struck a nearly-unattainable Silicon Valley vein—a meaningful, deeply personal relationship with its users.
While think pieces on a service’s impact are a de rigeur these days, Strava’s influence on cycling subculture was different. Users were creating art. They were building out new features. They cared whether or not dopers used the platform. The aforementioned lawsuit even spawned a Change.org petition supporting the company—quite the thing to see in an era where citizens were growing ever more cynical toward the digital firms they patronize.
“Strava or it didn’t happen” became the popular rejoinder to any on-bike boast. The post-ride upload became as much a part of riding as the post-ride espresso, and KOM hunting became a kinder, gentler alternative to actual racing among cycling’s rapidly aging demographic. This paragraph could be longer, but if you’ve made it this far, you’ve almost certainly got a half-dozen examples of your own ready to insert.
Most importantly, in a social startup world perpetually beset by the challenge of monetization, Strava’s user base was expressing it’s love through cold hard cash. In a March 2013 interview, then-CEO and co-founder Michael Horvath cited Strava’s paying membership base at 20% of all users—an astronomical figure considering an average “freemium” conversion rate runs about 1%, and particularly impressive given Strava’s liberally-featured free offering and relatively thin paid feature set.
In that same interview, Horvath hoped that company would hit 10 million users in 2014 and that—with “roughly $16 million” already raised—Strava was done fundraising. But by October, the firm had announced an $18.5MM round from VC heavyweights Sequoia Partners, and Horvath had been out as CEO for nearly a year (but remained on the board). At the time, his departure was cast in a bittersweet, heart-warming sort of way (this was well before “performative wokeness” became a thing) but one person I’ve talked to about it offered more sanguine explanation: “revenue completely flatlined.”
The CEO at the time of Sequoia’s investment, Horvath’s friend and co-founder Mark Gainey, didn’t answer questions about the company’s user base at the funding announcement. But when you assign new user IDs by consecutive integers, it’s not particularly hard to track that data down. In March of 2015, Mark Slavonia, a friend and Cyclocosm reader spotted Strava’s user base at 8.2MM, around 2.3% of whom paid for the service. A decline, to be sure, but understandable in the light of the massive growth (“well north of one million” was how Horvath described the 2013 numbers) and still many times above the industry average. VeloNews‘ report on the funding round even cited an unnamed Strava representative who expected profitability in 18 months.
But the growth was beginning to strain the company’s once-loyal user base. A 2015 swap to MapBox and OpenStreetMap could have been groundbreaking, surfacing a panoply of trails, logging roads and other less-traveled routes invisible on Strava’s previous (and increasingly unaffordable) Google Maps platform, just as gravel riding and bike-packing were emerging. But the company utterly bungled the roll-out, ambushing users and cutting off the vocal KOM-seekers that had long been its core demographic from the Street View landmarks they used to target their efforts. All feedback was directed to a festering cesspool of rage in the support forums, where consensus was—quoting CyclingTips‘ report on the kerfuffle—”that Strava ‘doesn’t care’ what its most loyal customers think”.
That misstep aside, the company did continue to roll out new user-focused features through 2015 and 2016: live segments pitted users against a segment leaderboard as they rode it, Beacon let trusted safety contacts follow your ride, and Flyby let you see who you passed during a given activity. While the latter did hint at a somewhat cavalier attitude toward data security, there’s no question the development added on to the core promise of the product—a place where users could do an activity, quantify it, compare it, talk about it, and interact with others who were doing the same thing. Even as riders began migrating indoors, Strava was already there to meet them with Peloton– and Zwift-specific support.
The entrepreneur/professor/delightfully feisty business commentator Scott Galloway recently coined the term “yogababble” to decry the non-specific language used by companies to generate emotional resonance for their brands in lieu of actually, y’know, having a thing that their company does. The ill-fated WeWork (“Elevate the world’s consciousness“) is the canonical example, but plenty of other offenders exist—the aforementioned Peloton, for example, aims “to better ourselves, inspire each other, and unite the world through fitness”.
When Internet Archive began indexing Strava’s “about” page in 2010, the closest thing it had to a mission statement was “the web’s premier cycling club“. This is exactly the sort of thing a handful of white-dude engineers and bizdev kids would have come up with back then: exclusionary (which was, at least initially, part of the sell), narrow, restrictive, dated (lmao at “the web”), but to the point. By the next year, someone had reworked it into “the means to put our workouts and races into context. We call that social fitness.” [emphasis theirs].
Strava held to variations on this “social fitness” theme for many years, further refining it to “connecting and competing with each other via mobile and online apps” in 2014, but still—the central aspect of that user value prop was connection, analysis, and competition based on the activity. Comments, kudos, map, the KOMs, the Suffer Score, etc. all rotated around a tiny bit of data representing what you did and where and when you did it. Even when Strava did occasionally (and somewhat ungracefully) try to gin up brand feels, it was your activities that led the way.
But in the last days of 2016, Strava’s About page changed again—the product was now described as “bringing athletes together from all walks of life and inspiring them to unlock their potential“. This yoga-babbly, Peloton-esq deviation from “do stuff around each others activities” was echoed by Instagram’s Kevin Weil, who joined Strava (along with another $13.5 MM in VC money led by Brazilian sports investment firm Go4it) in February 2017, saying he was “excited” to be joining the board of “the primary way that athletes connect”—which made the new objective sound a little bit like Olympic Village Tinder.
Still, there was reason for optimism around Weil’s arrival and the appointment of CEO James Quarles in May (also from Instagram, and the end result of an apparent 15-month search). Strava’s product was getting stale. Aspects of its core features (search, some partner device integrations) had been broken for ages, and a mid-2016 user survey felt out of touch both with the world beyond the Bay Area and larger trends in cycling and outdoor stuff generally.
The company’s most recent major feature add, in November of 2016, was a revamped club system called “Beta Clubs”. It launched with a bevy of high profile business partners in the hopes of stirring up non-activity engagement, but has long since become a ghost town of spam and event hocking, while the conversations it was built to foster invariably went silent.
With the obvious social media chops of the new arrivals (that is, if you overlook Weil’s tenure as SVP of product Twitter coinciding with its self-admitted failure to police bullying and spam, two things Strava has struggled with and continues to not effectively address), users were keyed up for new features. “Expertise around social networking could help the startup become popular enough to drive a big funnel into its premium features subscription business” speculated TechCrunch. “Strava Stories, perhaps?”
What we got instead were Posts. Initially rolled out to 36 select users in April 2017, the Posts launch was an effort to recreate the influencer ecosystem of Instagram and YouTube, but rather than being built around Strava’s native currency—activities; the obvious parallel to IG’s photos and YouTube’s video, and the thing that had organically made digital celebrities of Ted King and Laurens Ten Dam—Posts fell under the ambiguous umbrella of “content”. Photos and text. The sort of thing you might have once called a blog, and not exactly what the market was flocking to in the waning Twenty-Teens.
As Posts slowly rolled out to non-celebrity users, it became clear that that’s exactly what it was—a lightweight, functional, thinly featured blog engine. It was the sort of thing a designer learning code might have handed in at the end of a non-major CS course: looked nice, made with care, but already done a thousand times before, and better. Yet even focusing on the technical “meh”-ness of the product sidesteps the larger question of why? Is the correct answer supposed to be, as the Post title claims, because “Strava is the new home of my athletic life”?
Hardly. Along with athletes of actual influence, from Steph Curry to Ellen Noble, the photos of “my athletic life” are on Instagram, and like many Strava users (both influential and not), I’d been syncing them (and later manually uploading them) to my activities for years. But I should now go out of my way to write up a big emotionally resonant blog post to share them? Maybe your marketing team didn’t tell you, but that takes work. In a world where activity data and photo uploads are tap-and-done, no—no thank you. Posts are not going to be part of my Strava experience.
Looking back at the anointed influencers, you can almost see them making the same calculation. Most have barely a handful of Posts since the launch. Some haven’t even uploaded activities in months (as of April 2020). Crypto-non-retired pro cyclist Phil Gaimon still uses Posts as a syndication channel for his YouTube videos, while world-renowned cycling photographer Ashley Gruber posted precisely once, saw tremendous engagement, and was never heard from again.
Users might have been able to ignore the Posts debacle except for Strava’s other big 2017 change—an algorithmic feed, first announced in the support forums in February. Pioneered by tweaks to Facebook’s existing News Feed in 2008, algorithmic delivery of content has become the standard across social media sites because it increases user engagement. This is, of course, in spite of an obviously problematic incentive structure, continuing game-ability, and user dissatisfaction, both explicit and subconscious.
As the (relatively) massive comment/kudos numbers those early launch partner Posts might suggest, Strava was driving user eyeballs toward them ostensibly to “elevate those awesome posts that your friends have been commenting on”. That said, it’s hard to overlook that an ancillary benefit of the feed would be Strava’s ability to focus users on posts from brand partners, from influencers willing to pay for the privilege, or both. Even at its most most innocent, the feed was another component of Strava’s effort to build non-activity engagement. As Quarles stated at the official go-live: “posts and the new feed make Strava the best place to tell a story about someone you met on the trails”—whether other users wanted to hear that story or not hadn’t been a consideration.
Strava rolled the feature out slowly, but received almost immediate and overwhelmingly negative feedback, largely focused on hiding indoor activity and allowing users to pick a straight chronological option. The obligatory protest petition was launched. One enterprising developer even cobbled together a browser plugin to re-sort a users activities chronologically—this despite the fact that the final say in what activities even make it to page rests deep in the mystery of Strava’s servers.
But at heart of this unrest was a bigger issue—unlike most social platforms where (as the saying goes) “you are the product”, a meaningful portion of Strava’s users are paying customers—in fact, Gainey confirmed to the BBC in September 2017 that “the company’s main revenue stream remains premium subscribers”. Is it really good practice effectively “double-bill” take your most valuable customers by charging them once at their wallets and again at their eyeballs?
No matter how you slice it, 41.9 million dollars is a lot of money. That figure—per CrunchBase—is the amount of funding Strava has raised since its inception. Back in 2017, that number and the decidedly unpopular, decidedly consumer-unfriendly product changes got me wondering: even if the firm had unearthed the Holy Grail of getting a dedicated customer base willing to pay for a digital product, would that revenue stream alone be enough to pay the investors back?
Again, Strava’s incremental athlete IDs make taking a peek under the hood straightforward, so in October 2017, I decided to have a look. Using the service’s API, I pulled data from 5000 of their then-25MM users at random, and found 110 of them were paid members—getting a pretty reliable (99% confidence level with a less than 2% margin of error) figure of 2.2% paid membership rate—very much in line with Mark’s findings two years earlier.
Doing some quick napkin math, those figures yielded yearly revenue of $33 million (2.2% * 25MM = 550,000 users, paying $60/yr). A Harvard Business School case study on Strava’s initial venture round anticipated expenses of $24 million in expenses at a headcount of 83; taking the 100 employee figure at the high-end on Crunchbase’s 2017 report and extrapolating that per-employee cost returns just under $29 million in expenses. On paper, it would be pretty easy for the company to turn a profit, and pay back the initial investment in full in about 10 years.
Of course, that’s not really how venture capital works. Especially with a partner like Sequoia, who’ve had a hand in four decades of major startup successes from Apple to Instagram, the idea is to take a big-ish investment, expose it to massive risk of loss, and come out the other side with a 10x or better return. To quote the immortal Russ Hanneman “I don’t want to make a little bit of money every day—I want to make a fuck-ton of money all at once.”
VC funding is jet fuel, and the potential that it might turn a promising company into so much mangled aluminum smoldering on the tarmac is a known risk of the game. It was becoming increasingly apparent that, impressive though it was, subscriber revenue alone was not going to get this job done. New revenue sources or a truly massive uptick in scale were looking like Strava’s only non-catastrophic exits (from a VC perspective, anyway) and the incentives for paying users and investors were beginning to head decidedly different directions.
Thanks Cosmo! We are working to improve the algorithm – the hope is to show you what you’re most interested in.— Strava (@Strava) October 26, 2017
While I get what the Strava social media team might have been going for, and I appreciate the friendly tone of the reply, it was—in the words of one of the dozen or so people who ratioed it—”Orwellian”. I know what I’m most interested in—for Strava to suggest that its engagement metrics were a better representation of that than my own stated preferences was unacceptable, and I cancelled my subscription the next day. As I stated in my own review of Strava from six years earlier, I was paying not for any feature, but “continued development” of a great consumer product. And that—for the time being, at least—was no longer happening.
Strava’s unselfaware reply as also was representative of a wider shift at the service, away from consumer features and toward highlighting the power of its reach and dataset to potential commercial partners. The brand began appearing in discussions of how to reach the fitness audience, and cast its social media transition to business-focused publications with a very different tone than its consumer-facing press.
While Strava had begun selling anonymized data to municipalities with Metro in 2014, and had been pushing out heatmaps since even earlier, the company put a huge mainstream media effort behind the launch of its 2017 global heatmap in November of that year. It was a bold proclamation of Strava’s arrival as a player into the world of big-data—maybe a bit bolder than was wise.
A drumbeat of concern around Strava’s privacy practices had been growing for some time. Despite private activities and privacy zones baked into the platform almost from the beginning, Strava’s API didn’t respect those user choices for years, meaning anyone who could read the documentation and enter a URL could access any activity in full. Public clubs’ activity feeds initially displayed private rides to all members, even those blocked by a particular rider. FlyBy had launched without an opt-out provision, and even after one was added, its privacy minutiae remained wonky—an issue with particular resonance for women, who, per my 2017 sample, still made up just 20% of Strava’s users.
Strava would periodically pay lip-service to these concerns, but the scattered, obtuse settings—along with some bizarre usability bugs—made locking down privacy generally unmanageable. Writer Rosie Spinks scored perhaps the understatement of the decade noting in August 2017 that it was “troubling” she needed “three rounds of emails with a support rep, a call with [Strava communications lead Andrew] Vontz, and a follow-up email round…to prevent strangers from seeing my running routes”. And like the algorithmic feed before it, a rational observer had to wonder if making it challenging for users to exclude their activities from Strava’s ever-better-advertised dataset was seen internally as less bug and more feature.
But the sheer scale of the 2017 heatmap—in terms of both data and media penetration—seemed to mark a tipping point. Concerns about data privacy began to emerge almost immediately after its launch, and as Strava continued to claim that “privacy is a huge consideration” and shifted the onus to users by saying the company has “world-class tools” to manage it, that tune changed dramatically when, in January 2018, researchers highlighted that there’s no such thing as anonymous data in a war zone.
The story of the national security compromises blew up in a way that dwarfed the heatmap’s launch: the New York Times highlighted the staggering depth of data available, and dozens of pieces drilled home that this lack of security should be a big deal to even the most casual users. Compounding the issue, Strava’s long-held “blame-the-user” response was finally reaching publications outside the cycling industry who had the stones to call bullshit, forcing a massive about-face hours later, attributed to Quarles himself.
While it was nice to see the company take the issue seriously for a change, the ultimate response was crippling some of the app’s most useful features and vomiting back the same obtuse boilerplate about timelines for fixes or future plans until this March 2018 statement—even then, it didn’t feel like a coherent resolution. What was the “several different athletes” threshold for showing “heat”? Would it vary by population density? Trail vs road? Run vs ride? Why wasn’t an individual’s Privacy Zone extended to all athletes in a group activity? Why was Strava’s free and easy registration to view “street-level” heatmap detail put forth as another layer of security?
And most importantly, why had the company ignored the privacy complaints for so long, especially from women, only to absolutely melt down at the hint of increasing risk for people who, in the interests of fairness, already knew they were heading into harm’s harm’s way? One has to wonder if the involvement of US Government employees, under the looming specter of tighter tech regulation and increasing federal scrutiny made far more impact at Strava than any professed concern for user safety.
As an inveterate terms-of-use reader (and an early user of their API) I’d made my peace with Strava’s privacy shortcomings long ago. For me, the the fun, feature-rich platform was worth it, to the point that for years I had been willing to pay. But the heatmap catastrophe dramatically accelerated a decline in the core product that had been going on since just before Quarles’ arrival. Activity search was removed entirely. Segment explore was very much altered, leaving users to fumble in the dark for why a segment might or might not being showing up. And none of these changes warranted so much as an acknowledgement in the March 2018 press release.
Even for services outside the privacy blast radius, the decay was becoming profound. Gear tracking, a long-standing Strava feature, began to fail bizarrely—default gear was being applied to the wrong activity types, and mileage totals for a given piece of gear were suddenly inaccurate. Spambots were proliferating, Strava’s whack-a-mole response didn’t seem to be effective, and user tools that might help with that hadn’t been implemented. Even the brand’s developer API documentation was a mess. All in all, there just didn’t seem to be anybody home.
TL;DR—Quality of Craft used to be a central association of mine w/@Strava brand. Now I find a new garbage fire every other time I use the site.— Cyclocosm.com (@Cyclocosm) February 17, 2018
Obviously, a lot of dev time that might have gone other places ended up on the post-heatmap bonfire, but 2018 was almost defined by a lack of new feature launches. In August, Strava added more gym/studio memberships, which you’d assume would be important to the company’s outreach to find more members. But Strava’s own release said “Strava members aren’t just runners, or just riders” and that the new features would “broaden the activities you can make count on Strava”, implying that idea was to better engage the existing audience. But the synced activity details—”name, location, length, and type of workout along with an image”—didn’t seem poised to foster the depth of “connection and competition” that once drove the service (thought admittedly, I’m not the target user here).
There was also the fact that the launch was largely just an update to an existing program, which was itself just a glorified version of the dropdown menu that had existed since the days when Strava could react in real-time to user feedback. Another launch of 2018, “Sponsored Integrations”, was a highly-visible monetization of feed activities uploaded through existing business partners like Wahoo and Suunto. And because the company apparently learned nothing from its PR disaster eight months earlier, Strava forced users to opt-in to flacking for their device manufactures by default, creating yet another data privacy setting to manage, all while under the Orwellian claim that the motivation behind the change was “to be even more transparent”.
2018’s biggest shift, though, was around billing. The $60-a-year “Premium” package—Strava’s primary revenue stream since its inception—was broken into three separate “Summit” offerings for $20-a-year, without any new features added as a whole. I can mostly understand the logic in the boardroom—if customers only want a limited set of premium features, the smaller price point lowers entry—but to long-term, engaged users like me the message felt more like “you paid us for years, you’ve provided loads of feedback, and we’ve changed nothing—will you give us money if we ask for it in smaller amounts?”
This point was driven home by an interview with Quarles in Inc. shortly after the Summit launch:
…Quarles took a hard look at how to get more Strava users to pay to play. “People who are active, you’d take a look at their usage and say ‘you should be a premium member. So why aren’t you?’” he says.
The answer that emerged from customer surveys: confusion about what premium is and whom it’s for.
As a recipient of those customer surveys, I can assure you, there was nothing confused about my response. Nor (continuing to use the feed as an example) has there been any confusion in the support forum, or in at-replies on Twitter, or seemingly anywhere else. Similar feedback has coalesced and continues to roll around posts, around spam, around privacy, and a lack of new features generally.
In June 2019, just over two years into Quarles’ tenure as CEO, co-founder Gainey spoke to Outside‘s Joe Lindsey about his selection: “Having someone who understands consumer businesses was really important…it was less about [Quarles’] social media experience and more what stage of the business we are in.” That stage, Lindsey immediately clarified, was “a sustained effort to get bigger”.
And Strava’s top-line numbers suggest Quarles should get more than a little credit on that front. Looking at my user sample from October 2017, the highest user ID captured with a date created of May 2, 2017 (the date Quarles’ hire was announced) was 21,658,136—meaning Strava had a little over 21.6 million users. By July 2019, that number had nearly doubled to 42 million, and was continuing at a rate of a million more added each month.
The service even celebrated its two billionth activity upload in December of 2018, under the headline “Strava Upload Rate Surges 5X“. The math was straightforward (96 months the first billion uploads, 18 months to the next; 96 / 18 = 5.3) but it also completely discounted how many people were making those uploads—a decidedly disingenuous omission as Horvath, now back as interim CFO, waxed poetic about the “evolution of this community” and his deep gratitude that “so many people from all over the world choose to share their athletic journeys”.
Fortunately, a comparison with Strava’s billionth activity announcement provides firmer data ground. Per my 2017 sample, Strava’s 22,104,136th user joined the day of its one billionth activity, at a time when the service claimed to have 16 activities uploaded per second. Extending that out to a week (16/s * 60s * 60m * 24h * 7d = 9,676,800 activities per week) and dividing by the number of users (22,104,136) yields 0.438 activities per user per week. Applying the same conversion to the 20 activities per second (12,096,000 activities/week) and 36MM users listed in the 2 billionth activity press release, we get just 0.336—a decrease in upload rate per user of more than 23% over the intervening 18 months.
Going even further back to Strava’s first million-upload week in May 2013, 2,076,270ish users managed to add 1.2 million activities, at rate of 0.578 activities per user per week. That’s more than 72% higher than what Strava would see five and a half years later at the time of the company’s two billionth activity, and really nails down the longer-term trend: the more people Strava onboarded, the less they were using the service.
In late 2019, Strava’s Horvath finally returned to the CEO role with Gainey close at hand, finally putting an end to Quarles reign of terror scaling-up and dumbing-down the platform. And with these new-old arrivals came hope: this was, after all, the team that first fostered a genuine sense of connection with users, people who built their unique service for all the others who “got it”. When Strava announced a new set of maps tiles, I had my usual pointed critiques at the roll-out but the feature was eventually integrated into the live product on both web and the mobile app, and currently performs beautifully.
It’s one of many things that shows Strava has indeed revived a bit of that old-time user-facing religion. A new and improving route builder was released earlier this year, and a recent blog post rattled off 50 other improvements made in 2020. But all this just makes the comically ham-fisted ask from yesterday all the more painful, even as it killed off Summit’s convoluted three-plan monte.
My frustration isn’t that Strava asked for money—for years, I’d been happy to pay for a good service. What bothers me is how awful their approach was. A bevy of genuinely cool-sounding improvements—further route builder refinements, full training logs on our phones, a teased new segment competition system—are all allegedly on the horizon—why weren’t the rolled out to everyone, automatically for free, for 90 days, so that we could all experience the return of giving a fuck what your paying users think? As we creative writing majors like to say: show, don’t tell; for you UX kids, surprise and delight.
Had Strava done this, yesterday’s internet banter would have been positive—actual new features that actual users actually want for the first time since 2016 would have put the stoke front and center and forestalled the inescapable internet backlash for months. Heck, Strava could have even apologized for the missteps of the past few years—it would have cost them nothing, and brought validation and good feels the thousands of formerly paying users jilted by the company’s foray into being…whatever James Quarles and Kevin Weil imagined it should be.
Instead, Strava struck an almost parochial tone, saying they were “rededicating Strava to our community” but would only “invest the most in the athletes who have invested in us”, as if they hadn’t just spent the past four years doing absolutely everything they could think of to disempower these athletes and dismantle the community-driven model. At the same time, the company’s long-awaited removal of the algorithmic feed was cast in folksy, almost joking terms (“We heard how much that change drove you nuts, and admit it took a really long time to respond”) rather than as an earnest acknowledgment of a past mistake.
And finally, and as I mentioned at the opening, the Plea of the Empty Wallet (“We are not yet a profitable company and need to become one in order to serve you better”) is repulsive. Strava isn’t NPR. It’s not a non-profit, or a Green Bay Packers-style collective where individual funders are part owners with a hand in the company’s management or a share in its profits. To suggest that, gosh, profitability is actually about serving users and not shareholders, is asinine—especially years of Strava ignoring pleas from paying users to who wanted better service.
And frankly, their customer service still sucks. Strava’s “50 improvements” blog post really pitched consumers on the firm’s “business agility, in terms of ability to roll out app features”, as one Twitter user put it. But today’s announcement and ensuing social media stressed that the 180-person company is “small”, and can only focus on a few things. Even from a technical POV, the new subscriber features have been wobbly, displaying both the already-available feature and the upsell subscription that allegedly enables it. And for all the recent improvements, core features of the platform (search, for example) still remain broken.
On the whole, it’s just clumsy, and doesn’t really speak to the sort of leadership that makes me feel like my user fees will be put to good use—but perhaps maybe Strava’s Clay Davis impersonation was calculated. Not that there’s anything new with the cycling media’s fawning, uncritical reporting on the service, but painting everyone who feels unwilling to immediately pony up user fees as the stereotypical “I think everything should be free” Internet user resonates extremely well with the press. But while I agree with CyclingTips‘ Caley Fretz that you should pay for the things you love, you should also make sure those things love you back. And through the better part of the Twenty-Teens, that hasn’t been my experience with Strava. If you’ve made it this far, I doubt it’s been yours, either.
None of this is to say you shouldn’t pay for Strava—that’s your decision, and I don’t have a particularly strong opinion whichever way you end up going. I think it’s generally good that the service is focused again on user revenue, and from a practical standpoint, I’m at a place in my life where a five-dollar monthly fee is essentially meaningless—I think (hope?) a lot of you are, too.
No—the thing that holds me back is trust. As I said in my review all the way back in 2011, I paid for Strava because I believed the company would want to do right by the people chose to give it money. Strava then did everything in its power to disabuse me of that notion. Borrowing language from yesterday’s blog post, I’m going to need to see a whole heck of a lot more “honesty, transparency, and respect” from the company if that’s a lesson they want me to unlearn.