“If you sweat, you’re an athlete. It’s as simple as that.”
Mark Gainey & Michael Horvath
Riding up a local canyon climb back in what must have been late 2009, my Airstream-dwelling, frequent cycling compadre Stu Bone couldn’t stop talking about this brand new social network specifically aimed at the 2-wheel community.
Always eager to test new tech, I signed up immediately, quickly fell in love and have been evangelizing the platform every since.
Meet Strava — the fitness social network designed by athletes for athletes.
Evolving beyond it’s cycling roots as a platform for all who sweat, today Strava is widely embraced as the premier workout sharing fitness network — a rapidly expanding ecosystem of Olympic, professional, elite, amateur and beginner athletes that boasts over 1 million new registered new users every month and growing.
What distinguishes Strava from other fitness trackers and social media platforms is the positive emotional connection it engenders. Encouraging and community oriented, it’s devoid of the negativity and toxicity that plagues most sharing networks. There’s something uniquely special about being privy to the daily grind of my favorite multi-sport athletes. Their transparency holds me accountable. In turn I help hold my community accountable. And openly sharing our collective fitness experience – the highs and the lows — makes all of us better.
So just how did Strava become the only fitness app that matters?
To get the story behind the story, today I sit down with Mark Gainey and Michael Horvath — the dynamic duo co-founders who gave birth to Strava and continue to guide it’s ongoing growth and evolution.
Currently Strava’s interim CFO, Michael Horvath previously served as Chief Executive Officer from 2010-2013 and President from 2014-2017. Holding a Ph.D. in economics from Northwestern University and an A.B. in economics from Harvard (where he was men’s lightweight crew team captain), Michael is a former Stanford economics professor and entrepreneurship professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. Prior to Strava, Michael co-founded enterprise software firm Kana Communications and was the CFO and VP of Operations at GlycoFi, a biotech company.
Mark Gainey currently serves as the co-founder and chairman of Strava. Also a Harvard graduate, Mark is a former venture capital executive and seasoned entrepreneur who has been building successful companies for nearly 20 years, including Kana, which he co-founded alongside Michael as CEO, president, and chairman. In addition, Mark sits on the board of Alter-G, BoardVantage, Daum, Clari, and Coaching Corps.
Michael and Mark initially met on the crew team at Harvard. Friendship ensued, but after graduation they pursued disparate paths. Mark went into venture capital in Palo Alto. Michael became an academic. Reunited when Michael took a professorship at Stanford, they hatched their first startup. Kana Communications was a massive triumph. Little did they know that their follow up act — a passion project born out of a mutual love for fitness — would eclipse their first company’s success, reshaping the fitness landscape for millions of athletes across the world.
This exchange canvasses everything from technology, business and entrepreneurship to fitness, sports and social media.
But at it’s core, it’s a conversation about community. How to create it. How to nurture it. And why the integrity of community is paramount.
I love Strava. As an early adopter (I was the 14,443 person to sign up for the service), it’s my pleasure to share Mark and Michael’s story with you today.
Disclosure: In the interest of total transparency, I have run ad campaigns for Strava on this podcast in the past. Obviously this show was compensated for those ads. And I’d be happy to do reads for Strava in the future. However, this is not a sponsored podcast. I am not being compensated in any way for hosting Mark and Michael on the show. Nor am I paid to use Strava. I am simply a fan of the platform. Mark and Michael are two people I have always wanted to meet. Their story is as interesting as it is instructive. So when the opportunity to host them arose, I jumped on it. Nothing more, nothing less.
Qatar Quest: Two years ago I decided to share my training preparation for the Ötillö Swimrun World Championships. To hold myself accountable and transparent, I posted every single workout on Strava (follow me here) and Instagram Stories. It was super fun. So I’m doing it again. In November I will be participating in the Qatar Quest — a reverse order ultra-distance triathlon that will circumnavigate the Qatar peninsula. I began formal preparation two weeks ago and have been posting all my workouts on Strava, accompanied by regular Instagram Stories and the occasional vlog on YouTube.
Peace + Plants,
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Thanks to this week’s sponsors
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Note: One of the best ways to support the podcast is to support the sponsors. For a complete list of all RRP sponsors and their respective vanity url’s and discount codes, visit my Resources page and click “Sponsors”.
Background, Context & Reference
- Follow Mark Gainey: STRAVA | LinkedIN
- Follow Michael Horvath: STRAVA | LinkedIN
- STRAVA: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | Blog
- STRAVA Podcast: Athletes Unfiltered | Spotify | iTunes | Stitcher
- STRAVA Stories: Everest No Filter: The Second Ascent
- STRAVA Stories: Mount Everest without Oxygen: Exclusive Audio
- STRAVA Athletes: Follow Rich Roll on STRAVA
- The STRAVA Club: Rare Air, Rad Roads
- Rewind & Capture: Why is Strava Called Strava?
- The Wall Street Journal: Strava’s New Boss Hails From Instagram
- WIRED: How to Manage Your Privacy on Fitness Apps
- WIRED: Cycling and Coding Collide at Performance Tracker Strava
- Outside: I Admit It: Strava Is Great
- Outside: How Strava Is Changing the Way We Ride
- Outside: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Strava
- Outside: One Man’s Pointless Attempt to Rule a Strava Segment
- Outside: What Strava Tells Us About the State of Running in 2018
- Bike Biz: New CEO for Strava
- Cyclist: Q&A: Strava founder Mark Gainey
- DC Rainmaker: Strava rolls out new finger-dragging route creation feature
- Business Insider: Activity app Strava is about to become more like a social network
- Independent: Strava: The social network for athletes that pits you against Jenson Button
- Bicycling: Strava’s New Route Building App Is the Godsend We’ve All Been Waiting For
- AD Week: Q&A: Instagram Exec James Quarles Plans to Turn Strava Into a Social Publisher for Athletes
- CNN Business: Fitness app that revealed military bases highlights bigger privacy issues
- The New York Times: (VIDEO) Strava Fitness App Can Reveal Military Sites, Analysts Say
Book: The Art Of War* by Sun Tzu
- Book: Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies* by Jim Collins
Notable People Discussed
- Kílian Jornet: professional sky runner, trail runner, ski mountaineer, long-distance runner and podcast guest
- Lance Armstrong: former pro cyclist, author of It’s Not about the Bike: My Journey Back to Life* and podcast guest
- Phil Gaimon: former pro cyclist, author of Pro Cycling On $10 A Day*, Ask a Pro*, Draft Animals: Living The Pro Cycling Dream (Once In A While)* and podcast guest
- James Jannard: designer and businessman, and founder of Oakley, Inc., an eyewear and apparel company, and Red Digital Cinema Camera Company
Taylor Finney: professional road racing cyclist, who currently rides for UCI WorldTeam EF Education First Pro Cycling and won the world title in the discipline in 2009 and 2010
Rickey Gates: runner, writer, photographer and world traveller
Related Podcasts You Might Enjoy
- RRP #417: Kílian Jornet: Summiting The Mind Of The World’s Greatest Mountain Runner
- RRP #430: Jack Dorsey On Shouldering The Health of Global Conversation
- RRP #315: From Fat Kid To Pro Cyclist: Phil Gaimon On Clean Sport, Racing On $10 A Day & The Worst Retirement Ever
- RRP #313: ÖTILLÖ! Meeting Nature Writ Large
- RRP #394: Knox Robinson On Why Running Is An Act Of Rebellion
- RRP #327: Lance Armstrong Is Moving Forward
*Disclosure: Books and products denoted with an asterisk are hyperlinked to an affiliate program. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.
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