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Gallery: Inside Strava’s San Francisco studio

Ben Delaney
Strava bills itself as social fitness technology. Inside Strava headquarters on the east side of San Francisco, those three elements are quite apparent in the company culture

Strava bills itself as social fitness technology. Inside Strava headquarters on the east side of San Francisco, those three elements are quite...

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This article originally appeared on Bikeradar.

Michael Horvath and Mark Gainey had been talking about the idea for years, but they had to wait until the technology was ready.

Back in the mid 1990s, former Harvard rowers Horvath and Gainey talked about a "virtual locker room" of online camaraderie and competition, but the Internet wasn't in widespread use, to say nothing of GPS-enabled smartphones, watches and cycling computers. Today, however, GPS devices are ubiquitous, and Strava, the social media fitness business that Horvath and Gainey launched in 2009, is growing like wildfire.

While they won't say how many people use Strava, the figure must have crossed over the million-user mark. In one seven-day period this year, Strava users logged 1.6 million activities on the fitness social media site. Strava files have been created now, the company claims, in every single country in the world.

For the uninitiated, Strava lets users upload GPS files of rides or runs, and ranks them by time over commonly ridden stretches or "segments". More than 4.5 million segments (3.5M ride, 1.1M run) have been created globally. The best time claims a KOM or QOM (King or Queen of the Mountain), and the site also tracks each user's PRs (personal records). Basic analytic tools come free, and more advanced features can be purchased for a yearly premium of $59. Then, much like Facebook, people who follow the user can either give a quick "kudos" thumbs up with a single click (a la Facebook's Like button) or leave a comment below an activity.

Now, the company is trying to figure out what to do with all the data - new features like Route Builder have been rolled out using it - and, perhaps more important, how to become profitable.

Unlike Instagram or Twitter, which built a huge base then added advertising, Strava insists ads are not a part of the plan to get to profitability.

"We are focused on adding the right features and functionality that are right for the sport," said Michael Oldenburg, Strava's senior communications manager. "We are not profitable yet. We are aiming to be profitable in the next 18 months."

What began with a handful of employees has grown to 85 people, who work in an open-space office in downtown San Francisco. With high, uncovered ceilings, rows upon rows of large Mac computers and heavy doses of white paint interrupted only by tall windows or Strava's signature orange, the office feels every bit the San Francisco start-up.

Horvath, who holds a PhD in economics from Northwestern University, has led the team in its booming growth since 2009. But in mid-December Horvath stepped down as CEO of the company to be with his wife, Anna, who was diagnosed with breast cancer for the third time. While Horvath will stay involved on a smaller scale, Gainey has stepped up to run day-to-day operations.

Three big parts of Strava's future plans are runners, mobile users and global users. Strava added a Run app in 2011, and has purposely hired runners to its development teams. Today the company is about two thirds cyclists, and one third runners. "And there is definitely a good population that does both," Oldenburg said.

In late 2013, Strava released French, German and Portuguese versions. Already some 65 percent of new Strava users in 2013 came from outside the United States.

"We're excited for 2014 and are currently in the planning phase for many of next year's initiatives," Gainey said. "Some of Strava's priorities for next year are international growth, a continued focus on our run and cycling products, and driving revenue initiatives."

In addition to growing its online shop, Strava is hoping that cyclists and runners will pay for sophisticated features that link elements of social media with real-time training.

"What if, when you're out for a ride, you get a notification that your buddy is on the same segment as you, just a minute up ahead?" Oldenburg said. "Right now you can see who of those you follow is out for a ride, and we will be increasing that functionality going forward."

Regardless of exactly how the real-time elements develop, the mobile platform is certainly the hot area of growth for Strava, drawing in more new users than those who upload GPS files from computers or watches through the website. And that alone represents a sea change from just a few years ago when Strava was still just a concept. "What was out there at the beginning for hardware, it was just Garmins," Oldenburg said. "GPS wasn't available on smartphones. And when it did come out, it still wasn't that great."

Now that the technology has finally caught up with the initial vision that Horvath and Gainey had two decades ago, Strava is primed to set more PRs in 2014.

B_Ugli 10 months ago
Its a great idea on paper but I know of a number of local group rides that are frequently being ruined by Strava users turning them into Pseudo pretend races. If you want to go on a group ride people observe the etiquette of group rides and ride as a group. If you want to race then go ride a race.
samaway 10 months ago
You must be losing the "races" :P
B_Ugli 10 months ago
How can you lose a race when there is no race? Just a guy with a GPS and a route who feels he is in a race when in the company of others. Guys do yourself a favour get an application form and ride a real race with real riders real numbers in real race conditions. Then you can gauge how "good" you are.
GreaseMonster 10 months ago
Someone went overboard with the use of the word "staffer" in the captions for the photographs.
GreaseMonster 10 months ago
oops wrong box ;(
SourKraut 10 months ago
Right. And video games, cigarettes, and sodas, and not the rational beng interacting with them, are responsible for death, obesity etc. why don't you just say what you wrote here to your group riders?
sime72 8 months ago
Strava doesn't ruin group rides. People ruin group rides.
GreaseMonster 10 months ago
Someone went overboard with the use of the word "staffer" in the captions for the photographs.
Christopher A. Lemon 9 months ago
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arlobike 10 months ago
I usually ride alone for various reasons, but Strava has changed riding for me by adding a different kind of competitive element. It's common now that I'll be feeling tired, but then come across a segment I've done well on in the past and somehow find the energy to give it my best. I'm sure I'm fitter because of it. Really neat product. I'm an iOS developer and if I lived in SF I'd be tempted to apply for a job there. :-)
runninboy 10 months ago
the opposite is also possible if you are the extremely competitive type. Everytime you hit a particular stretch that you know there would be the urge to pr. As a freshman in college cross country my coach saw that i was extremely competitive but also overtrained. He actually had the team captain drive me 25 miles away to train "I bet you know your best time on every segment of every trail in the San Fernando Valley" and he was right. For the first 2 months of the season i ran with the captain instead of the team on unfamiliar trails. By the end of the season i had improved my times by almost 1 minute a mile.
Raoul Duke 10 months ago
I don't use Strava, but also am a person who has a hard time to go easy on easy scheduled days. Problem is too many days at the same hard (for me) pace just don't prepare you for the changes in pace in racing and can leave you with tired legs. Had to resort to a heart rate monitor alarm to try to keep it in check.
runninboy 10 months ago
Lots of potential for abuse. In southern calif lots of riders have had wheels stolen out of pits at races. Even bikes at port a potties. Telling someone where you are riding and your current location opens you up to theft. The thief knows how much time they have until you get back Just stupid to give out that info.
arlobike 10 months ago
Location data isn't uploaded until the ride is over.
runninboy 10 months ago
did you read the article? It says they want to have an app where you can tell if someone you know is a minute ahead of you on the same route.
arlobike 10 months ago
I didn't see that part. But he's talking about options that don't exist yet, so it remains to be seen whether they are implemented wisely or not, e.g., you have to approve the people that can follow you, things like that. I don't expect they would just start publishing everyone's real-time location data without reasonable privacy options.
aeromono 10 months ago
is this a paid advertisement?
Mike Jacoubowsky 10 months ago
I'm probably in the minority; I really want Strava to be around, and it makes me nervous that they still haven't found a way to profitability. I *want* to see ads! I would like to see Strava become champion of what's local, because that's really what they're all about. Finding people and routes around you. I would like to see Strava have a greater presence in bicycle advocacy too, which needs to be funded by profit. And I would like Strava to return my emails when I ask about promotions that I could do when selling a bike and Garmin computer, something where the customer gets a free 6 month teaser of the paid version. (My brother and I own Chain Reaction Bicycles in northern California). --Mike--
aeromono 10 months ago
is this another advertisement for chain reactions bicycle? buy a banner and leave us alone, these stories are paid advertisements disguised as bad journalism.
Mike Jacoubowsky 10 months ago
Are you confusing us with the large mail-order concern in the UK? We're a bit far removed from that. Two mid-sized stores near San Francisco with no grandiose plans to take over the world. And we had the name literally decades before *they* did. :-)
Hugh Strickland 10 months ago
Strava records the mileage short and the time long for my rides. I stopped using it. I challenge only myself and competitive push from sites like strava is not what cycling needs.
Raoul Duke 10 months ago
Sometimes I get the RR results from my city and knowing the course and the finishing times you get a good idea of what it would take to do well at the local races. would work with any race you can get the course, distance and times.
dgodave 10 months ago
I like Strava a lot. Mainly for tracking, mapping, and getting elev profiles of my rides. I only have one single segment where I actually try for a personal best now and then. I do appreciate that for super competitive types, some self control is in order.
TMuller 10 months ago
looking forward to giving this a try new to cycling Also wishing the best for Horvath and his wife my wife is also currently going through 3rd time of breast cancer
George Muenz 9 months ago
Why I love Strava. I'm 58, and a rider for just over 5 years. I will not be winning any races any time soon, and I won't enter crits as my bike handling skills are not good enough, I would be dangerous to the other riders. So, I do GranFondos and hill Climb races, Strava gives me the ability to compete with myself, that is do better on routes I usually do, or with others, safely. I never attack a segment in a group ride. I also never do anything stupid that would be dangerous just to gain a better Strava time. I paid for the Premium version so that I could compare to people in my AG, where I do quite well. Misuse of Strava has nothing to do with the application and everything with the mentality of the user who abuses it.

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