Q&A Strava’s Mark Gainey
48, CO- FOUNDER OF STRAVA
‘A lot of our members say they “download” other apps but they “join” Strava’
FORMER Harvard rower Mark Gainey planned to create a ‘virtual locker room’ when he launched the athletes’ social network Strava in 2009, but the GPS app has achieved runaway success, attracting 180,000 new members each week. When he’s not out running on the trails of California, Gainey stays busy developing new tools to keep the Strava community motivated.
HOW DID STRAVA BEGIN?
I met my co-founder, Michael Horvath, at Harvard in the late 1980s when we rowed crew. Rowing at Harvard was a special experience, not just the competition, but the esprit de corps. My degree should say ‘crew’ [Gainey has a BA in General Studies] because I spent the majority of my time at the boathouse. The problem is that you graduate. Then, poof, the magic’s gone. We have a business plan from 1995 that says: if we could recreate that camaraderie but use software to expand it, how cool would that be? But it was less about the sport and more about the motivation that came from being engaged with other people.
ARE ALL STRAVA USERS COMPETITIVE?
A lot of our members say they ‘download’ other apps but they ‘join’ Strava. That’s the differentiation. It is about downloading a piece of tech versus joining a community. Some people love to compete; they love the leader boards, challenges and segments. Others are social so they might just share a photo and enjoy the kudos from their sunrise shot. We try to understand the different personalities and cater for them all.
WHAT HAVE YOU DONE DIFFERENTLY FROM YOUR RIVALS?
Probably 90 per cent of our growth comes from word of mouth. We are not in the business of building new communities – there are already lots of microcommunities all over the world, whether that is buddies running at the weekend, or clubs. We just give them a whole new platform.
WHAT’S THE IDEA BEHIND THE NEW ‘CLUBS’ BUTTON?
There is a new ‘explore’ function on the Strava app menu that lets people find clubs and events in their area, stay in touch with them, follow other runners participating in them and compare times. We’ve on boarded 800 Parkruns in the last month. It’s about how we can bring these organisations together in one place. We can help them thrive within their communities.
WHAT HAS STRAVA’S DATA TAUGHT YOU ABOUT RUNNERS?
We are fascinated by how event-centric runners are. They’re always training for something, whether it is their first 5K or a marathon. With cyclists, that is not necessarily the case. Runners are also creatures of habit. For most Strava athletes, around half of their runs are on routes they’ve done before. I also speak for myself: I have about six routes near my house, from 30 minutes to an hour, and I like to repeat them. It’s about efficiency.
WHERE DO YOU RUN?
I am incredibly fortunate because within three minutes of leaving my house I can be on the trails of northern California. There are miles of trails that I can connect to take me to the ocean. I have done triathlons and one Ironman but I will always be a runner at heart. When I go on a run, I feel good in zero minutes.
DO THE STRAVA STAFF WANT TO BEAT YOU?
We have fast employees at Strava and I have long since relinquished any records. I went for a run with our UK team in Bristol and when I was leading on a segment nobody nudged ahead. But I could tell from the talking going on behind me, while I was huffing and puffing, that they were just being nice.
NUMBERS GAME Mark Gainey is always on the lookout for new ways to improve Strava