Strava Subscriptions

Recently, Strava made a big announcement that they were changing their subscription model and moving most of their features into the pay tier from the free tier. This would then allow them to “rededicate” Strava to their community.

I logged my first ride on Strava in May 2011 (the Red Route at Sherwood Pines). That was fairly early in Strava’s life and their focus at that time was clearly on the community. There was rapid change and improvement in the athlete focused data set. It took me a little while to chose Strava as my main platform, I was initially preferring the feature set of the more mature (at that time) Endomondo platform. But the rate of change, improvement and focus on cycling features for athletes swapped me away soon enough from the more running focussed Endomondo.

It didn’t take long for me to become a paying Strava member as I wanted to support the platform I got so much value from. Strava however, from where I’ve been sitting, seemed to be focused on a more Facebook business model. In the early days they were building a platform to attract a large and varied user base, giving the features to attract the attention and use of a demographic of athletes.

Cycling is a cheap hobby, once you’ve bought the bike and the kit. And the new bike. And more kit. And a winter bike and winter kit. And the turbo trainer and set up for VR training…. It tends to attract people from a demographic who can afford to spend money on £4,000+ bikes.

Strava was started as a business, the plan always looked to be to find a way to indirectly monetise that user base. To find a way of selling data (indirectly or directly) about athletes to other businesses. Sponsorship for challenges. Get the Pros on Strava. Selling commute heat map data to town planners to improve city infrastructure. Working with device manufacturers to extend their devices abilities. That kind of thing.

This lead to a stagnation in the athlete feature set on Strava and other platforms spun up using their APIs to provide the information and features athletes wanted but Strava wasn’t providing (VeloViewer, Elevate etc). Strava focused on odd tools like blogging functionality which was good for brands on Strava to provide detailed information about what they were up to in with rider data.

But wasn’t something athletes wanted or needed. I’m sure they were building/improving other items that as athletes we didn’t see/notice/use but were designed to help them with their B2B work. They even ditched trying to support Bluetooth HRM data from their app as it was too much work to fix, so their engineering team could focus on stuff other than that. Dropping support in their primary platform for a primary athlete focused data point seems insane!

This change is very interesting, it’s shown they have been unable to be profitable attempting the Facebook model. Maybe because they don’t put adverts in the feed as they know that would alienate users (there is enough complaining that the “challenge” promotion is advertising for example, and the changes to the default sort order of your feed to focus on promoted content went down really badly!). They now are instead focusing on directly monetising their primary user base.

Now, looking at this from a tech industry point of view, this should be a great opportunity for them. For a website based business, monetising website users, the marketing funnel is starts with people being aware of the brand, attracting people to the site, retaining them on the site and finally converting them to paying users.

Brand awareness for Strava is mind blowing. Most activity trackers promote the fact they are compatible with Strava, rather than the other way round. Training platforms boast that they are also integrated with Strava. Getting that brand awareness is done.

Getting people onto Strava as a platform is pretty friction free. You can sign in with Apple, Google, Facebook or directly. You can then tie your tracker/platform to your Strava account in a few clicks with an OAuth based sign in and your data will flow.

This leaves them that conversion step, making the athlete focused feature set on Strava so compelling against the price point of their subscription that they convert users into subscribers and drive the business into profit.

This is going to be incredibly freeing for their tech teams. The Product Owners will be able to have full control over the priorities, studying the social media, blog, review and feedback channels that are well established for Strava to find what really matters for athletes. They should be able to do important things like A/B testing of the usability and conversion funnel to maximise the use of features. Getting usage analytics into the tools used.

According to their announcement, tools like the Segment Leaderboards are “especially complex and expensive to maintain”, this sounds like there is significant technical debt in the implementations behind the scenes. With a focus on conversion and athlete focused delivery, the tech teams should be able to re-factor and improve their CI/CD processes to deliver rapid, incremental change.

Provided the money is there. The final concern here is what is their financial situation? They’re not yet profitable. They’ve just shifted their major focus to pursue money from their primary users. Do they have the time and money to engage in pushing this forward?

I stopped subscribing to Strava just before Summit was introduced. The pay features were no longer compelling for me. Originally, I was really interested in the performance. Over the last few years for me it’s been about enjoying riding. Seeing new places. Riding with friends. My segment position, my PRs. They don’t matter to me any more. What matters to me is did I enjoy the ride? Did I see something new and beautiful? Was the cafe good?

It’ll be interesting watching this develop and see what a focus back on the athletes bring to the platform to attract enough people to pay for the service to keep it running for the next decade. Proper performance analysis features have been in their subscriber tiers for some times. It seems there aren’t enough serious performance riders to make enough people convert to subscribers with that model. It’ll be interesting to see what they build to attract a wider range of athletes to subscribe.

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