Strava recently decided to raise its prices in the worst possible way—not telling anyone and letting the internet figure things out on its own. Wildly diverging price increase figures began rolling in from different places, leaving angry nerds to do what they do, and letting the meme pages feast on the scraps.
Nice Of You To Get Back To Us
Apparently tech publication The Verge is a big enough deal that Strava felt compelled to make an actual reply:
“There are a lot of learnings here, but we chose to do it this way for very specific reasons,” Strava spokesperson Brian Bell tells The Verge. “We thought it was best for our business.” Bell says the company decided to alert members on a rolling basis because they chose to subscribe at different points throughout the years.
The company’s choice to claim the objectively terrible rollout was done on purpose is certainly something. But buried deeper in the article is a very alarming tidbit (emphasis mine).
Some of the confusion, he says, is because customers are seeing different rates of increase based on when they joined. The most impacted group, Bell says, will be the 30,000 users who started subscriptions before 2016. However, everyone affected will end up paying the same new price based on their region.
As someone who’s been digging into Strava’s user numbers on-and-off for the past decade, this 30,000 pre-2016 subscriptions number is alarmingly small.
A History of Paying Pre-2016 Strava Users
In 2013, Strava told Outside that 20% of its users paid for the service, but declined to specify how many total users they had at that time. But because Strava assigns ids to new users with consecutive numbers, by looking when users in a given set of ids began uploading activities, we can infer total users in Jan 2013 were around 1.5 million, giving us a total of around 300,000 paying subscribers.
In 2015, Strava user and friend-of-Cyclocosm Mark Slavonia used a similar approach to arrive at a figure of 192,000 paying users from 8.2 million in total. That would seem to be a decline, but his sample size (384) was relatively small, and his “95% confidence” window returned between 65,000 and 311,600 paying users.
I ran my first automated sample of 5000 Strava users in 2017, and found that of the 2386 created pre-2016, 81 were premium members, or 3.3% The last pre-2016 user in that sample created his account on 31 Dec 2015, and had a user a user ID of 12657818. Multiplying that number by the premium rate gets us 429,707 paying pre-2016 subscribers.
After an Outside article repeated Mark’s 2015 analysis and found a paying subscriber rate 1.5-2 times what I had seen previously, I ran another automated 5000 user sample (it revealed at 3.16% subscriber rate, still well under Outside’s figures). While changes to Strava’s website removed the user creation date from what I could access, users ids below 12657818 (and thus created before December 31st, 2015) were paying at a rate of 4.91%, inferring 530,362 paying pre-2016 subscribers.
Shortly after summing up my festering Strava complaints for OneZero in 2020, I ran another random 5000 user sample, my most recent. Of the 927 users with IDs below 12657818, 57 were premium members—a startling 6.15%. Extrapolating against the 12,657,818 users created before 1 Jan 2016, that’s 778,455 paying pre-2016 subscribers.
Literal Order of Magnitude Decline
First a caveat that the above numbers are rough. While I’m fairly confident in the technical accuracy of my data gathering, I’m nobody’s StatsBoi and my assumption is I’m probably doing something wrong somewhere.
Plus the share of pre-2016 accounts declined each new time I took a sample (because I pulled randomly from the pool of overall users) making each batch less accurate for pre-2016 accounts than the one prior. And of course, all I can see from the website is what’s on the website. I have no idea whether a premium status is promotional, how long its been held for, how much it cost the user, etc.
But even accounting for all of that, a decline in paid, pre-2016 memberships to just 30,000 would be catastrophic. Compared to every estimate above, it’s an order of magnitude decline—like literally, to the point that I reached out to The Verge to see if it might be a typo for 300,000. (Update: The Verge has confirmed it is not.)
It’s also possible that Strava meant this “most impacted group” was just the 30,000 pre-2016 accounts that had been billed at the new rate(s) so far? Or could it have been only pre-2016 accounts that had never changed their subscriptions? The lack of a direct quotation containing the figure further muddies the water. Certainly some kind of follow-up is in order.
All About That (User) Base
Stepping back for a moment, it’s kind of amazing to look at that historical sampling data and see how statistically loyal Strava’s earlier adopters have been to the platform—at least prior to yesterday’s number.
Even through the company’s much-maligned pseudo-pivots, privacy issues that are still exposing sensitive infrastructure, and relatively limited response to consumer feature requests, these users have continued shelling out fees, keeping the lights on as Strava struggles to justify its colossal valuation.
What’s clear from this (latest) kerfuffle that is Strava (still) needs to treat these core users better. The lack of any heads-up, the delayed and ambiguous feedback, the inability to tell the people who are actually paying what they’re actually paying—all reveal a pretty stark disconnect between the core value proposition of the product and the people running the company (sound familiar?).
My fear is that years of dogged user loyalty may have created an impression at Strava that the company can do whatever it wants with little fall-off from the paying membership. If this 30,000 pre-2016 subscriptions number is accurate, that assumption may have proved to be cataclysmically incorrect.
thoughts on “Did Strava’s Price Hike Response Reveal its Business is Imploding?”
That math makes no sense though. You seem to be calculating users from pre 2016 that at any point until 2019 converted to paying users, while Strava is talking about users who have been continuously subscribed since 2016.
I would agree the math doesn’t make sense. And I am indeed talking about users from pre-2016 with premium status—I note in the article that my only data points are ID and premium status. But I cannot claim to have any idea what Strava is talking about when it says “30,000 users” because they’ve made no concerted effort to delineate who is affected and how.
My sense is there are so many legacy back-end engineering decisions underlying how their premium statuses have worked through the years that Strava themselves might not be able to deliver that info. That doesn’t mean they can’t apologize and at least attempt to clear the air with whatever knowledge they do have.
My own personal account lists me as a premium subscriber since 2010, but I lapsed for several years. I’m still looking at a $59.99 renewal price, but per DC Rainmaker, I probably won’t know until we closer to my renewal date.
I tend to agree as one needs to consider the date a user subscribed to premium, too.
Strava claims 30,000 users started their subscription pre-2016. If I am not mistaken, you count users who signed up to the Strava pre-2016 and who are subscribed now – this will lead to wrong conclusions. Take my account as an example: I signed up in 2014 and only subscribed to premium in 2018. I guess you would count me based on the date I joined Strava and my current premium status – however, Strava wouldn’t count me as I only upgraded my account post-2016.
Even if it is anecdotal evidence only, I suspect many long-term users upgraded when Strava made some of their most popular features subscribers-only (I think this was in 2018/19 when the three tier “Summit” subscription became “Premium” and e.g. segment ranks became premium-only).
The bigger issue I see is their lack of a rationale: inflation, price increase, etc. – I get this. But to me they don’t have a good content-story to tell. They cranked out some some isolated new features like routing but nothing I consider a step change since 2018.
Again, we really don’t know what Strava has said because we’re working off a non-verbatim piece of information they gave with limited context and no follow-up to a third-party. I would be delighted if Strava came out to clarify my wrongness on this.
I have been on since 2011, and have an active subscription. I will be cancelling if I get the hike to $79.
I, too, have been paying since Jan 2011 and am still at the $59 per year rate. Since I don’t renew for another 5 months, I have no idea what my rate will be, but my account page says it will renew at the same $59 per year, so we will see.
That is the part I find perhaps the most bothersome—my Strava account page explicitly says “your account will renew on this date for this price” (twice, in fact). And then there’s a link to a support article that says “the real price will be revealed 30 days before your payment date”.
That’s not OK. And I think it impacts *way more* than 30,000 of us.
My rate has been historically $5.99 per month. Recently Strava has announced my monthly fee will rise to $11.99, a doubling of the rate. Strava is hardly justifiable at that price. There’s no desire for ride videos or the ability to mark a workout as newly added sports. Zwift is $15.99 and offers a full platform. Strava is just a social media page.
Same here. Been a subscriber since 2011. I am still at the 59/year rate, but I have just cancelled my subscription today due to lack of transparency on the increase for some people in some countries. I find quite disrespectful the way this is being rolled out.
If I understand your method, I don’t see any process to identify people that have left the service. Twitter or Facebook will bring numbers for “monthly active users.”
For example, my son has two accounts and hasn’t posted any activity for more than two years. I know several others who have made accounts, then stopped reporting.
So I don’t think you understand my method.
No, there is not a process for people who have “left”—I’m not sure how you would define that, really.
But if you look at the data I collected in 2019 and 2020, you’ll see a column that contains how many activities a given user has in the past 4 weeks. The 2017 data has a column for Monthly Active that’s just 1 or 0; I don’t remember precisely how that data was gathered—I think it may have been inferred from an old version of the activity chart on each user’s homepage.
But the monthly active distinction isn’t really relevant here. It’s about premium and non-premium—whether or not their account was nominally paying for the service at the time the data was gathered. At no point since I started looking has that number been as low as 30,000 for accounts made prior to 2016.
This is referred to as the churn rate of any subscription based service. Those people who will sign up on a teaser deal, but then either not convert to a full price subscriber, or not renew at the end of the subscription period. Without that figure there are a lot of assumptions built into a model based on a small number of data points. This widens the 95% confidence interval considerably. The subscriber number assigned to a new Strava member can only ever go up but this is meaningless without the associated retention or churn data.
Never have and never will be a subscriber. Strava is the Facebook of the exercise world. Could you imagine if facebook started charging. Mass exodus. What do they have that’s worth paying for. Training effect? My watch does that and it does it much better then strava ever could. It tracks everything from sleep to steps and more. So really the only thing they have is segments. Seeing where I place on a segment isnt worth much. Maybe they should be blasting us with advertising.
I agree with you. And actually by limiting most segment features to subscribers, I personally feel it has ruined the segment feature for everyone including subscribers.
Well this pre-2016 subscriber has cancelled. All the new features add nothing to my experience, so time to cut.
Only thing i pay strava for is their route building based on heatmaps, but i have a friends user and password and if they get nasty, i ll use his premium account and drop my subscription. I couldn t care more for segments and other things i can rely more on my 2 garmins, a fenix 7 and a 530. Pity garmin doesn t invest more in route building i would drop strava in 2 seconds, never look back twice
It’s cost less than 2 cups of coffee or a couple of beers per month, not sure what they big deal is. When something comes out better, with a user base to really compare yourself to than Strava let me know.
Absolutely. I think most of the frustration from users is around the lack of communication more than the (fairly marginal) price increase.
I was in that core of pre 2016 paid users but decided last year to go to the free version. I didn’t see any benefit to the paid version. Its a fun social service and great to keep up with what friends are doing but I don’t see what benefits the paid service actually gives me that can’t be found for less else where.
Strava is irrelevant with the advent of e bikes.
All numbers aside, I’m surprised how many comments I’ve seen online about people cancelling their subscriptions. I only just recently subscribed, but it seems like a very worthwhile service. Segment times, especially comparing with people you follow, is really interesting to me. Then also live segments, route planning, saving rides as routes, Strava monthly and yearly stats, power analysis, heatmap, etc. Considering how much cyclists seem to spend on their bike, clothes, coffees, etc., it seems like a drop in the bucket. One pair of cheap bib shorts vs Strava premium. That being said, if I was a primarily a runner, I’d probably cancel.
This is mostly where I am. It’s still a very good product, and I use it almost every day. Strava’s also spent the past 2ish years actually fixing a bunch of broken stuff and that made me happy.
But when you’re a direct-to-consumer subscription model, a huge part of your offering is Good Customer Vibes, and Strava has just consistently seemed to miss on (at least since 2013 or so).
I don’t understand why they don’t offer a two tier system. A free version with targeted adverts for those that don’t want to subscribe and a paid for version with no adverts. Either way they make money and give the users get what they want.
I’m a statistician. My two biggest notes:
1. You should just limit your sample to active users who started before 2016. No reason to do a random sample.
2. It is likely that Strava’s biggest subscriber base includes people who have recently joined (<6 mos) and those who have chronically subscribed, with an appropriate attrition rate over time. The population of active users who held a subscription prior to 2016 will dwindle both from subscription attrition and from decreases in activity levels. Strava is likely basing its strategy on max accumulation of new users because that's always where the biggest impact area lays.
Yes—ideally I would sample that data more precisely specifically to investigate this. But that is a non-trivial time investment, and that resource is particularly short supply right now.
But you’re definitely correct on (2)—in the 2017, 2019 and 2020 data, you can see the percent of premium users fall from the lowest IDs to the highest, before spiking back up with the newest accounts. And they’ve made *huge* gains in new IDs since my last sample, currently over 110MM.
I thought this article would go a step further to discuss the overall financial picture for Strava. So a big miss there.
I’m predicting a fire sale, or worse for Strava in the next 12-18mo. Three reasons point to insolvency:
1.) Willingness to burn paid users. Not announcing a price hike and matching with some tiers in pricing, along with uneven rate hikes is going to burn Strava.
2.) Sizable layoffs December 2022. This is classsic measure to protect cash flows. Classic sign of financial strain.
3.) Last cash infusion from investors was just over 2yr ago at $110mm, which means the firm is burning cash way too fast at this late juncture in its existence.
So lights out unless someone comes in and buys it and figures out how to monetize this massive global user base. How disappointing!
Agree, I’m only interested in key segments of each ride, just to compare with previous efforts, but even that is frustrating sometimes. We have on off road segment here in Christchurch NZ that runs parallel to a sealed road but at least 5m (15 feet) away, and the KOM is obviously a road rider given the speed would be impossible on dirt