Strava Founder: How I Motivated 100 Million People To Stay Active: Michael Horvath | E148 | Transcription
Transcription for the video titled "Strava Founder: How I Motivated 100 Million People To Stay Active: Michael Horvath | E148".
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We have reprogrammed our lives to be remote. And so we are stuck in patterns that are really difficult to get out of. - I actually, I don't know if I'm gonna get canceled please, but I think that - Michael Hobart, the CEO and co-founder of Strava with over 76 million athletes. - You track your activities, turn those activities into a post. That's when the Strava magic happens. - If you wanna be as good as you possibly can be, you have to strive to be the best. But can you be okay also with not actually achieving the goal of being at the top of everybody? Win or lose, that's the feeling you're looking for. - How are you doing in your personal life? - My wife was diagnosed with a terminal illness in September of 2013. I think I prepared a lot for how to live my life caring for her. I wasn't prepared for how to live my life when she was gone. I had to not rediscover who I am. I had to define who I am. That doesn't happen overnight. If what you do every day is put a little effort into being kind to the people who are important to you in your life and the complete strangers, then that's where you're gonna find the meaning. - So without further ado, I'm Stephen Bartlett and this is the Dyer over CEO USA edition. I hope nobody's listening, but if you are, then please keep this to yourself. - Michael, I tend to believe that people have, I know I eventually developed it, but I tend to believe that people have some kind of hypothesis as to what factors or experiences from their earliest years shaped the most significantly into the person they are today.
Interview With Strava'S Co-Founder
What made you different? (01:17)
Do you have a hypothesis like that? - I think I have several, starting with how my family felt to me being the youngest of the five kids in my family felt like it was pulled apart by geography between Sweden and the United States at an early age. My sisters stayed behind when my family moved back to the States when I was five years old. And I had this dream to reunite us in some way. How could we be one family again? Now, my sisters were older, they were choosing to, it was the normal, maybe a few years early, what you'd say normally would have happened anyway and deciding just where do they wanna live, who are they as people. But me, I was this five year old and I was sad to lose my sisters, I had my brother with me. When you think about one of the most important things in your life, it's the relationships you have with people. Now, I'm not necessarily an outgoing person myself, so that's not where this hypothesis led me, but it has led me to the idea of connection, deep connection with people you care about, is super important for how you live your life and the choices you make and what you prioritize. So that's one theory. And then there's one other one, which is, I think, growing up, going through high school, coming to the United States, first of all, coming to the United States, not speaking English at the age of five and learning it all from television and getting thrust into school and you have this feeling like you don't belong, you don't fit in, that kept, for many people, I think it keeps going and you don't have that great sense of belonging until later, maybe until your teenage years, your later, even in your 20s. But throughout all that time of searching and looking for something, like what I kept believing is that there's something inside me, a potential that needs to get realized. And I don't just think that about me now, I think that about every single human being on this planet and the aspect of what it means to realize someone's potential, your own potential, and then create the opportunity for the people around you to realize their potential. That drives me. That is something that I feel like has been a constant in everything I've done since I've been about 25 years old. - That moment when you're growing up and you've parted ways with your siblings seems to be one of the first seeds that led to the success of your later businesses, because it was, I mean, in hindsight, I guess we all do this, but you, I guess it highlighted the importance of connection and community, as you said. When was the next seed planted? 'Cause I kind of think about that with like great business ideas and I saw that in your story that there's these moments, these key moments which introduce you to like the idea of community and then to the idea of sport and competition. When was the next chronological seed? - Yeah, so coming out of that, like high school feeling like, I know I've got some amount of intellect. I don't really understand like, what, how I'm gonna use it? I don't feel like I was that, you know, call it like, high school wasn't where I peek. I don't think anyone should peek, by the way, in high school. Like that's a lousy time to be at your, like, the pinnacle of your life. You want to peek later than that. So getting into Harvard, going to a good school, that seemed like that would be it, but it wasn't, that wasn't it for me. It was actually walking into the boathouse, never having rode before and finding this group of people who also were trying to figure out where is their place at this institution that in some ways, like, well, you got into there, so it's, aren't you kind of done? And it's like, actually, no, now you're, you're scared 'cause you don't know if you measure up. You don't have any understanding of where you stand. Will you make it there? But finding that going into the boathouse, you're like, hard work and-- - What in this boothouse, this is the boothouse on the road? - Yeah, for the rowing team, it wasn't that I went and they're thinking, I'm gonna conquer this. I'm gonna be one of the best rowers that this school has seen when I went in there. But within a few weeks, I was like, that was my goal. I was gonna be the best. Like, that was, somehow it wasn't, there wasn't anything else except it just turned on inside me and I was hooked by that experience because I had found my place. I think that was the key is I'd found a group of people, I'd found this vibe, this energy was the part of the day I look forward to, was the part I felt so good about the rest of my life because I was there in that experience. I was motivated by the desire to be as good as I can possibly be at this thing. And I don't think I'd experienced that feeling before in my life. - I was really compelled by the use of the word best. It made me start thinking about the idea of competition. And I think I sat here a couple of days ago with Simon Sinek talking about this, like the role that competition and wanting to be number one plays, is it toxic? Is it a healthy motivator? 'Cause I'm filled with that. Anyway, we went bowling last night with the team. I was very quiet until I knew that I was gonna win. You know what I mean? I'm a deeply competitive person. It motivates me, it drives me. And I've wondered if that's a deficiency of my character or if it's a healthy thing. What have you learned about that? - Yeah, I think it can lead to challenges, both at the personal level and then in a group. What I found in the crew team was that we couldn't be the best team if each of us individually wasn't trying to be the best. But we always knew that you don't win a boat race by yourself. You win it with seven other rowers and a coxom. You have to think of like a team, but you have to think like an individual who wants to be the best at what you can be. Another way to think about it is like if you wanna be as good as you possibly can be, you have to strive to be the best. But can you be okay also with not actually achieving the goal of being at the top of everybody? But being as good as you know, you got to reach that point of you could not have given more. That's where I get the satisfaction. As I know at the end of that race, I'm thinking of the race in my freshman year where we won the championship and we came from a boat length back, we had lost to that team in a previous race and that feeling that went through my body. And I believe everyone's body and that boat halfway through the race, we said we're not giving up. And we just rode them down. And at the end of that, it wasn't like I'm the best. It was like we did something that we didn't think was possible. We created a new capacity. And so then all of a sudden, maybe some spaces opened up with what you thought you were capable of and what you could be. And you try it, you go back at it again. You train again for reaching that point where you said you did everything you possibly could. And win or lose, that's the feeling you're looking for. I think when it's positive in your life. And I've been in those places where it can be really destructive too. It changes your relationships with other people. You start to actually hate the thing you're doing because you're striving for the wrong, you're striving for some outcome that maybe is not the right outcome. - What experience are you talking about? - Training for races where you're, by the time you're on the starting line, you just don't even want to do it anymore. That was often the feeling I had by the time a big race came around where I was just like, I'm so done with this. I just wanna just not be here right now. These things should be additive to your life. It should be something that makes you better in other ways besides just stronger physically. Probably a sign that you just, you have lost the reason why you're doing it, the why behind the work. - When I was reading about strawberries, work values, I read about this A, B, C's. - Bang. - And the B and that was about balance. Just what you were talking about there. Is that in part why you put the B there in terms of the culture and the office and the professional culture you're trying to create with strawberries? That why the B is so important there, balance. - Balance is elusive. And the counterpoint we have another, one of the C's is commitment. So I talk about that a lot that these things seem like they're at odds with each other. If you have balance, how can you also be 100% committed to the goal of building the best company we can build, doing the most we can do for our athlete community? And I say, yes, that is the struggle in life is to both have balance and be committed to something. It's incredibly challenging. And to hold both concepts in your heart and in your head is the work that is actually why they're there. They're there to remind us. If we only have one balance, we won't do as much. We won't strive for as much as we can be. If we only have commitment, we will burn out. We will get to that place where we don't love the work we do anymore and we will question why we're here. So it's by putting them together that my co-founder and I felt we had the best chance at achieving that long term commitment with balance. And it's a struggle. It is, you're not, there's no recipe here.
What role do you play in keeping life balance within your team (11:02)
There's no playbook that tells you how to do it. And each person does have to work at it on their own. On their own, is it their responsibility to work at it? I sometimes struggle with this as an employer, which is what role do I play in? 'Cause I know the role I play in driving commitment, right? It's very obvious. You set ambitious goals, you set tight timelines, you create a good prize and a worthwhile, you know, carrot the end of accomplishing the goal. That drives commitment if you have the right people and you have camaraderie and all those things that you said. But then in terms of telling people to encouraging them to have balance in their life, what role can I play as an employer? What role do you think you should play? If you hire people who respond really well to those motivators that lead to their commitment, I think you also have to look at it from how long do you want them to be there, to do the work, to be working at that level. And I think you can structure teams in different ways. You can roll through people in the sense of that they may only contribute for a couple of years or a year. And if that's the structure, and many companies in Silicon Valley operate this way, which is two years on the team is a pretty standard length and then you move on and you recommit somewhere else. We are trying to build something different at Strava. We're trying to build the 100 year brand, the company that will last longer than I will be there. It will still be here after many of the people who have been investors in the company have exited the company. It is something that we hope will withstand the test of time. And in that setting, I think it's much more important to think about these, you need some people who are gonna be there for much longer than that one or two years. That's where balance comes in. Yes, it's easy to say you don't want people to burn out. But if it's only that you don't want them to get that tired, that's sick of their job, that they're quote unquote burned out, you've probably lost some level of productivity for quite a while before that. So we strive for a different kind of relationship with our team. It is a challenge also as a leader to make sure we're still performance oriented. We still want that sense that we have to bring our A game. We cannot be satisfied with past success or be complacent. There's plenty of competition out there, all sorts of new technologies that are coming into the fore today, new ways of building communities, new ways of motivating people. We have to stay competitive. And so that is my job as a leader. I have a leadership team that helps me with this. It's not just my job, but it is ensuring that we are taking care of our people, but also expecting that they're going to climb the mountain with us. The way that you're building that company and what you're aiming to do to create a long term, long withstanding business, goes against the narrative, especially in Silicon Valley, where the objective is to raise money before you're profitable, sell the thing or go public and move on to the next thing. Clearly there's experience behind your desire to pursue a longer term strategy where you're not just, you know, invest in all your money and user growth, getting a gazillion users and then exiting. I suspect it's because of your other business, the one that came before Strava. Am I right? And if so, why did that teach you that this longer term approach to company building is a better path forward for you as the founder and for other things? When we started Strava, we were looking back at the previous company we had started and we started talking about creating what is now Strava. Back in 2006, we got together, starting on the phone weekly, talking about ideas that we, if we were going to start a company, what would it be? Eventually we got Mark and I, my co-founder, Mark Gainey, and I decided we had to get together for a few days the summer of 2006. And we defined at its core that what we had experienced in that other company, Kana Software back in the late '90s, it was the Silicon Valley Olympics. That's the way I term that you have an idea, you raise some capital, you're off to the races and either you have taken it public or sold it in four years or it's, you know, and that's the gold medal or go home because that's it. We didn't want to do that again and a few reasons why. It wasn't terribly satisfying at the end of the day. We, Kana was a wild ride during a wild time in the first internet boom. A lot of people made a lot of money, a lot of people lost a lot of money. And so what in it would we look back on and say, besides the experience itself and what we learned, what would it be that we would say to our kids or grandkids like, "Here, this is something "we're really proud that we created." We can't even lay claim to having created if we're only there for four years and then other people take it forward, is it really ours? So we were out on the doorstep, you know, literally almost four years to the day after starting Kana, well, how and why? Well, personal choice in my case, I wanted to go back to teaching. I came from academia. I was teaching economics when we started Kana. I wanted to go back to academia. Mark, the company got to a point where he brought in another CEO to run it and he found that it wasn't his company anymore. He didn't have the role that he thought he would have on the other side of that decision. So I don't wanna speak for him, but it was like this sense of like, it was a personal choice for both of us, but at the same time, we look back on and say, where it goes next is not part of us. We have to forge a different path. There's gotta be an idea that's worth that much of our investment. And perhaps it's that sense of at that point in our lives where we were then, late 30s, early 40s, when we were starting Strava, we were thinking about this could be it. It's not like we're gonna have that many good ideas in our life. We're not gonna have another opportunity and to build this kind of a company at least. And so let's make it worth it. And let's find something that we're extremely passionate about. And we used to say things like, it doesn't have to be big. It has to be great. It has to have meaning to the people who are our customers. And we define that as like, we wanna help people live a more lifeless thing. We have more full of meaning, adventure, and fun. We didn't say activity. We weren't yet sure what it was gonna do. But it had to have some impact. It can't just be transactional. It has to have an effect on you at the core level of what you value, what decisions you make on a daily basis. And that's where I think we got to Strava. And I'd love to go to like the idea behind Strava was a 20th century idea. We had that idea coming out of the boathouse when we graduated from college. We had the idea that what we experienced there is something that is applicable in so many places in our lives. Being connected to other people through sport is what motivates you to lead a more active life and makes you a better human being. It helps you live a healthier life and makes all the rest of your life better. It did that for us when we were in our 20s. And that's the universal part that we wanted to tap into when we were starting to create what became Strava was that it's the context of the people around you that keeps you motivated. It's the way in which you're connected through sport to other people that unites you. And so we started to explore that space. And when you explore and are willing to talk to people about your ideas, they respond. They tell you ideas that they've had that sound pretty close to what you're doing even if they're not sure that it's really relevant. And so those conversations in the early days, 2008, led to us actually putting a team behind this to build a prototype. And that eventually became the earliest version of Strava in 2009. So it was really just a set of conversations that led to what we actually decided on. But it came from something we had experienced in college back in the late '80s and '90s, a 20th century idea. When I think about how you formulated Strava in the early process, it's like exactly what I tell an entrepreneur not to do.
Strava's journey (19:34)
In the respect of a lot of time entrepreneurs, you see that they actually just want to be an entrepreneur. So they think, fuck it, oh, gosh, what shall I do? And they look around for a problem to solve. One that isn't in line with any of their intrinsic passions and innate motivations. So the minute they encounter some difficulty, the first hurdle in business, which is inevitable, they then fold. And they give up because why would you pursue current doing something that you weren't genuinely in love with? And I guess the process is the thing that I would, I've never would advise someone to kind of like, sit down with your mate and think of a business. But I guess the process also led you just closer towards what did an Ateley matter to you, which was adventure, activity, community, even though you did it the other way around. Does that make sense? - Yeah. So I guess I'm drawn to tell this, like how we've originally conceived of what is now Strava was in 1994, '95, when I'm a professor at Stanford teaching economics, Mark is working in venture capital in Palo Alto. And there's this thing called the internet that has just become like a household word. Before I got to Stanford, I think I had sent one email in my life. I had never, I didn't know what the internet was. I had no idea when I got to the department of economics, the person who managed all the IT equipment said, "I'm gonna install a browser on your computer." I had no idea what he was talking about, what's a browser. So had lived up to that point without the internet and the internet is introduced. It's a different thing than today with, you know, kids growing up with all of this around them. But when it was introduced, what Mark and I did was exactly that entrepreneur, that instinct is like, what is this new thing gonna do? What problem can it solve? What's the, you know, and Mark wanted to start a company? I was a professor. I was gonna be his sounding board. He came to my office 'cause I had an internet connection and he didn't, you know, so what we cooked up was like, well, what are the problems in our own life that we would wanna solve with this new technology? As a starting point, 'cause we didn't know where else to start, right? So we went through a bunch of, you know, different ideas of the thing that we hung onto was like, we missed the crew team. We missed the bunch of people who were, you know, from all different walks of life and they found the same thing that we were passionate about and we spent a ton of time with them. We were with them hours every day and we missed that feeling of being connected to them. We missed the boathouse, we missed the feeling of competition. Could we recreate that with this new technology called the internet? Could we create the virtual locker room? And so what we were describing to ourselves was, what you see in Strava today is like a place where you could see other people's workouts, you could talk about, you could track your performance over time, a training log, all that was, we sketched that out, we wrote a business plan. This is 1995, right? So we're not anywhere close to the founding of Strava by that, in any means. We actually went out and talked about this idea with companies that were building websites and that was the earliest internet companies were the ones that were building the websites that other companies would then use to become internet companies, right? So, and they told us this is a lousy idea. You know, like, come on guys, can't you do better than this? This is never gonna work. People are not gonna share personal information about themselves with strangers on the internet. That's never gonna happen. Let's see, there's no technology that's gonna make it easy to get the data in. People are gonna be having to fill out forms and submit them online. That's gonna be really, really full of friction. You should just put this away. Don't tell anyone about this idea. It's such a bad idea, right? And they turned us on to the idea that became Kana Software, which was something so mundane, boring, built a great company, but it was built systems to help these internet companies respond to consumer, inbound consumer email, customer support email. So we did that. We got turned onto that idea. Why did we pursue that? We weren't passionate about it. We became passionate about it, especially Mark. You know, we just wanted to be entrepreneurs. We wanted to seize the moment of this new technology, this new world of the internet. We wanted to create something. We were motivated by the idea that anyone can do this. That's the way it felt. And we tabled the thing we were really passionate about because some people told us it was a bad idea. And I thank them for it because it probably was a bad idea at the time, it would have failed, right? But where we were in 2007, 2008, that idea was still in our back of our minds. That idea came to the front. That's what we went and said, now what has changed? Well, a lot has changed, right? So you have Facebook showing us that people are actually willing to share with people that they trust on the internet. Before that, I'm sure Facebook wasn't the first to prove that out, but Facebook was the first to prove out that you can build community with the internet, at least in our world. Then you have GPS is in the thing that's in our pocket all of a sudden. This mobile phone has got a GPS chip in it around that time for minutes. OK, it's not great. And so we're like, all those reasons why we shouldn't have started that company are now reasons why we should start that company. And it matches the things we talked about in that time in the veil. Could we build something that people would use every day? Would they tell their friends about it? Would it help them get out and live a life of more adventure? Would they-- would it be trusted? Would it be a trusted brand? And we're like, hey, wait a minute. The universe is putting this right in front of us. This is all coming together. And why not? Why not this? And in some ways, we denied that it could be that easy, that this idea we had had so many-- more than a decade earlier could be the thing that we're now going to go and start a company. We had denied that for a while and tried these other things first. We explored other places in the very, very much the way that you would say the way entrepreneurs should do it. And we said, no, we've got to do this. This is the thing. And then it says, you know, you meet some people you talked about your idea with some people. And you see, this has got some legs. This is-- other people have had similar thoughts. And you can get them on board. The person we met, Davis Kitchle instrumental in how we got this company started. He happened to be living in the same small town I was living in. He was trying to work out technology to use GPS to compare the time it took him to climb on his bicycle up a road by his house. He was just exploring this because he was curious. And we thought, oh, that's interesting. I wonder if that could be somehow the basis of what you could do in this virtual locker room that we were building. And that became Strava segments. That was the earliest first conversation about something that became a fundamental part of what Strava is today. That would never have happened if we hadn't just opened up and said, we're trying to build something that will help people live a more active life. And then, Davy says, well, I'm working on something that might help motivate me to be more active. I wonder if it could be relevant to you.
How does Strava motivate people to stay healthy and fit? (27:03)
And he's still part of the team today. And Strava segments is a big part of what people know about Strava. What have you learned, then, from all these people who are changing their lives and exercising on Strava about what motivates us to go from a place of being sat on the sofa as I was in 2020 in March as that first lockdown rolled in to downloading Strava. And then going on a fitness journey, there's something weird that happens to me, which I've never really understood. If I look at the person I was before that date, I was a repeat failure at fitness. Like every year, this is going to be the year. Everyone knows the story. Know this year is going to be the year, then crashed out. Then know this year is going to be the year. And then, I think, what's changed. But is there data to prove or to suggest what it is that makes people finally get the bug, the fitness health bug? Yeah, great question. What we see is the people who do have to catch on and find something that keeps you in Strava. But the thing that happens to you when you use-- when you're part of the community, when you stay with it, is you become more frequent that you are active. You may not get faster. You might. But that's not actually what we see. You're just more regularly active. Consistent. You're more consistent. And so what is also true is that if you're more connected to other people, and does not have to be a lot of people, I think most-- the majority of it is you have to be connected to people you actually care about on Strava that motivate you to be more consistent. And so we say people keep people active, people motivate people to be active. And you may not realize it, but your journey motivated somebody else too. Your activities were the source of motivation for someone else. And they were more active. And they added their activities. And that was the motivation for someone else. So this has a way of exponentially increasing people's motivation. And I believe we can change over time, over the next many years, we can help people follow the same journey you took more and more regularly. So we may have started in a place which was more about the performance, aspects of being active, how can you get faster? But we quickly realized it's about consistency. It's about the experience. And that's, I think, where we keep people. You may come for the competition. You stay for the community. You may come for wanting to track your workout, but you stay because of the people you meet and how they motivate you and how it feels. Am I missing anything then? Because I'm just personally very interested in this. The competition, the community, I guess, striving towards a goal or a metric. Sometimes for people it's improving my running time or something. I guess there's a sense that might be linked to the sense of accomplishment of winning a badge or a reward or a little ding. You know, when I'm on my palaton or when I'm on strat, you little something. Is there anything else that you've seen as a significant motivator for people to be engaged with their fitness journey? Well, it's got to make them feel better. I mean, yeah, I definitely think there's-- and I would say we don't necessarily track that very well today. How do you actually feel about yourself now versus a month ago or two months ago? We track a lot about your physiological performance. We can show you you're better. Lower heart rate, lower resting heart rate. Your fitness score has gone up. All sorts of ways in which we can show progress physiologically. But I'm more interested in joy. I mean, we're not good yet at measuring the meaning and joy we bring to people's lives. We'll get there. And I think-- but that's a very important part of the equation, is that you feel better and you want to keep feeling that good. So if I also look back at where we thought we were starting was we were building something that had to be good enough for the best athletes in the world to use. Because we believe they could motivate people who were not as committed to an active life to come on board. I actually don't think that that is motivating, but I think the other stories are even more motivating. Stories like yours, like you've dramatically changed how you live your life, you put activity at the center. And that's incredibly motivating for people, that they can see that that's possible. So I believe it's increased storytelling is really the key. I think that's so big. The idea of the gamification, yeah, we did that. But where we're leaning much more heavily now is allowing the people in our community to tell their story. And not just of today, I went out for this run. Yeah, that's part of a story. But what does this amount to over time? How do I accomplish my goals? What are the things I'm striving for? How do I feel when I get there? And maybe that's where we can start measuring the joy a bit more precisely. Quick one. We bring in eight people a month to watch these conversations live here in the studio when we're here in the UK and when we're in LA. If you want to be one of those people, all you've got to do is hit subscribe.
How did the pandemic impact your work community? (32:17)
I was thinking, one of my hypotheses, which I've shared many times, but I feel compelled to ask you, is that my goals were bad. My goals were like-- they were goals. And it's funny because it kind of goes back to your first company. They were goals that could be completed. They were short term goals. This is when I crashed out and failed all the time. They were like surface level, superficial, get a six pack for summer goals. And it wasn't until I-- I mean, Simon Cinek said where you are a couple of days ago. And one of the things he talks a lot about is infinite games, right? And until I started setting goals that were more infinite, like you've done with Strava in trying to create a longstanding company. And those goals ended up just being about consistency. It was like go to the gym today, something I could never accomplish. That was one of the turning points. The other was the pandemic, which is-- I think it was, which was A, I mean, I know you saw a boost in customer position. I mean, that's when I joined, don't I? I know the numbers. But I think in part it was realizing that our health was fragile, seeing that for the first time in my young life, that health was the foundation of everything I was doing. I actually want to ask you a question about the pandemic. Because you were talking earlier on about how, at the boat house, you'd learn that community and connection. And these things are so unbelievably important. One of the things the pandemic has robbed us of is community and connection. It's put us behind screens. So I was compelled to ask you, like, what Strava's take on this remote working thing, right? You'll call your about community and connection. And you know that more than anyone. Yeah, it's been hard for us to find our way back to how it felt to work together. We were camaraderie as one of our other seas. Commitment, craftsmanship, and camaraderie. So camaraderie was important. And it showed up in a lot of ways. We had a Wednesday workout. Lunchtime we'd go out for runs. There was a group that walked. There was a group that met some mornings to go for a ride. So the camaraderie in sport, yes. There was camaraderie in. We spent a lot of time working together and building those relationships. It felt like a team inside the company. And that was really difficult to replicate virtually. But something else has happened as a result of pandemic that I think is a real beautiful outcome that will lead us back to camaraderie of a very different kind. We stopped putting location as a requirement on any job openings. So we hired-- we've more than doubled the team over the course of the last year and a half. And we've added people across the United States in many different countries as well. Because if you have the talent and we're looking for it, you don't have to be in San Francisco or Denver, which were the two main offices we had, or Bristol UK. We've now opened an office in Dublin. So we will have physical locations. But we have over 150 people today who don't have any one of our office locations as their home city. And the beautiful thing in that is these people all have incredible talent. Yes, they were the best people that we could have possibly attracted for the position. But they have such different lived experiences. They bring that to the work they do. So we're learning a ton about what camarader-- where it really comes from. Maybe the thing we were creating was in the old-- in the pre-pandemic times was a camaraderie that was built around a very limited set of rituals, like going for that Wednesday workout. It turns out that a lot of people felt excluded by that because they didn't feel fast enough to go with the crew that was going out for a run. We have to find our ways to replicate or create something that is like that today. But what we have is a much broader set of stories that people can bring and tell about what they did before they joined Strava, what they're experiencing here. They're coming from all sorts of different locations. So that's an aspect of what camaraderie can-- we feel when we got together in San Diego in person for a week at the beginning of March, what came out was how much we already appreciate each other, even if we've never been together. Most of us had never met in person. But we already felt like we knew each other. And we didn't start with the awkward, hello, I'm so-and-so. It was hugs right away. It was this sense of this is the team that now is in the same place. And I want to carry that forward. I want that to be like we put coins in the bank that will get us for the next six months or a year till the next time we get together. But we can create that sense of camaraderie, even if we're not sitting in the same office building or in the same room. So that was eye opening for me, that was possible because of the pandemic, that we could create this very distributed, interesting, diverse workforce team that felt-- everyone felt, for the most part, felt a sense of belonging. What role does that play, the in-person stuff? Because we all here think it's for it, that's where we're all here together. A lot of my personal team here in this studio, what role does that play though? And what value does that add? Because I don't know. I think I have a real bias towards being with people. And maybe it's-- I don't know what it is. I don't know. I don't know what it is. But I like being with people. And I really struggle on Zoom. I don't feel like it's real. Yeah, me too. So I think what is possible is you can be with people, but you don't have to be with them all the time. That you can find the combination of my colleague Brian, who's here with me today. He lives in Dallas, in the Dallas area. And we have-- we looked at the calendar. It turns out we've actually gotten together in person now. I think four out of the last five weeks, because business need brought us together. Yet we've also spent time working in a virtual setting. So I call that putting the coins in the bank. We have enough opportunity to see each other in person to get that feeling that we can be more effective when we have to work virtually together. And I think we replicate that. That's the model I think that we can get to. If we only worked with people who are geographically proximate, we're losing that opportunity to work with people with a completely different set of experiences that they can bring to what we're trying to build. We're trying to serve athletes everywhere. There are, I think, easily over a billion people who wake up every day wanting to be active. And we want to meet them all there in every part of the world. And so that incredible diversity of the customer that we want to serve, it just moves us that we build a team that tries to match that diversity in the people on the team. And so if we're not there anywhere, most of our team is still in the US, like in terms of the geographic bias we have today. But I think that it's not possible to build that kind of a company, that kind of a team if you require everyone to be in the same location all the time. So we give some little on the location, and we get a lot back in terms of what people can bring, the different experiences they can bring to us. So I guess the conclusive question here is, what role does the corporations or do you feel you play in adding-- you give community to your customers, but what role do you feel you play in giving that in person community outside of your home, out in the wild to your employees? Yeah. We pay a lot of attention to it. I think it's important for people to do their best work that they feel is sensible-longing. And I don't think this is just at Strava. I think it's true in a lot of places. And sometimes that is so much easier to do when you're in person, and you're providing the breakfast and the desk and that's a place that I can feel productive in this space. And yes, the colleagues around me are people with incredible talents. And I'm energized by the group, by the setting that I'm in. And I think for many of our team, they really missed that during the pandemic. They would love it to come back, but it's really difficult to bring it back right now. It's going to take us time to work our way back. Why? There are two reasons I see. And I've thought a lot about this in the sense of Justin, our Strava's example. One is we have programmed our lives to be remote, reprogrammed our lives to be remote. And so we are stuck in patterns that are really difficult to get out of. Just like in the beginning of the pandemic, it was really difficult to get into that pattern. We were forced to. We're not forced to get out of it now. Strava's not forcing people back into the office. So it's difficult with everything from how you organize your day, maybe you have children or other dependents at home you have to take care of. You have pets. You have worked out a routine that works really well for working from home. And so getting people back into the offices, getting over those hurdles and frictions. And so what do we do? We make it more enticing. Wednesdays, we offer lunch. We are trying to organize Wednesday as the day. If you're going to pick one day a week, maybe one day a month, make it a Wednesday. Get people, oh, this wasn't so bad. I got over the friction that one day. Maybe I'll do it again. That's just the mundane reason why it's hard. The second reason, I think, is more fundamental is like, it is really difficult to be halfway, halfway back to work. Coordination of either being all remote or all in the office is a lot easier. And we're not ready to go all in the office. We'll lose people on our team. We don't want to lose. Maybe too much of a calculating way to think about it. It's more like that I don't think we'll get the best workout of the people who we force to come back in and they stay on the team. And that is what will take more time and a more of a sense of security. That this is going to be a good experience. I'm not going to-- number one, just my health is not going to suffer. The health of the people I love around me won't suffer. So we're not there yet, maybe in terms of from a medical or scientific basis yet. But I think it's more important. It doesn't really matter what the science says if what you feel is I don't feel secure and safe when I go to the office. That's what I think is going to be much harder to overcome. And that's the part where coordination just makes it really difficult to replicate. If you don't have everyone to say, yeah, I work from the office. Or during working from home, you lose all those things are true. And we had that great sense of disconnection, the days of endless video meetings and trying to do whatever you could to get that sense of energy you get by being around another human being. It was a struggle. Did you find in that period you lost employees? So from my perspective with my company, we had about so many people around the world. One of our big US pieces we thought was community. And that's one of our-- the reasons why you'd come and work in our company's social chain was community, the culture in the office, and all of those things. We offered flexibility. So people generally decided what days they worked, et cetera. But the minute the pandemic rolled in, and everyone had to stay at home in their boxer shorts, in their one bed studio apartment, it felt like people then started to make the decision about where they wanted to work based on, well, if I'm going to be in my boxer shorts looking at the screen anyway, I might as well get paid more to do it. And we saw a little-- it was the first time in our history where we saw people just leaving for-- and we asked them why they're leaving. They go, I'm all money. Before then, it did matter. And I was wondering-- and this is part of the reason why I think I have a real bias towards the office. Can kind of be open about what I do in my companies is, at the moment, we actually had a group session the other day where people said, we talked about the days. But the moment there's two days a week where we will want to come in. And in between that, whatever. And if you can't make the days, then-- because you've got something going on, fine. But that's when we all try and really be the present. Because we want that synchronous, collaborative, all that wonderful stuff. And taking a hard line on it, I'll be honest. I think has helped. I speak to so many founders and companies who are trapped in this limbo of can't force them back, trying to make the office a nicer place, but people aren't coming back. And I actually-- I don't know if I'm going to get canceled for this, but I think that there's risk in not setting a hard line and having clarity and saying, listen, if you don't work here, there's other places to work. But here's how we do it. And we're choosing to do it this way, not because the CO is an ego test and wants to control people. But when we reverse engineer our objective as a company back from whatever it is, we believe that the best way to achieve our goal as a team-- and that's what we are-- is by having moments where we're together as well. So that's my stance in it. Not popular all the time. But I agree with you that it provides clarity for people. They don't have to make a choice. They may be unhappy with the decision, but they say at least it removes my requirement that I have to think about it and decide each time on my own. Is this the day I go in? Are other people doing it too? You have coordinated people for-- you've done the work of coordinating them. And I think that's the way we used to operate. We used to have-- no, we don't work from home. We work at the office. That's our policy. Only under rare situations would we say that that's OK to work from home. So at least what the path we've taken right now is to try the carrot approach before we move to something else. And I don't want to say what you're doing as a stick. But it's that right now it's by degrees. And maybe this is the difference between the UK versus the US. There's different-- and maybe San Francisco is even particular to this way. We did not lose people during the start of the pandemic. A lot of different reasons-- instead, what we saw was people-- a lot of people moved away from San Francisco because we said you can. Oh, yeah, cool. And so I think we may have saved ourselves from a lot of departures by giving people that escape another way. It sounds like you already had a distributed workforce. You couldn't tell them they could go to other places. They already were other places, right? Yeah, they were. Yeah. So that wasn't really the thing. And we haven't said, now come on back to San Francisco yet. I also need to point out another difference, which I just realized from what you said about the culture of differences. In San Francisco, there's a precedence, is that the word? Across every-- all the tech companies are following a very similar line. Whereas in the UK, it's not like that. So when I think about the companies working in San Francisco, especially in tech, whether it's the big ones like Twitter or whatever, they've all kind of adopted the same approach. So if you're the only one not adopting that approach, I guess that's a bit of an existent, a bit of a risk to losing people. I think there's just going to be a sorting-- I agree with you that in the start, you followed the lead of the bigger-- we did at least. We saw what they were doing, and we followed the lead of the bigger players, thinking that's teaching us what we need to do as well. I think there'll be a sorting here. It's going to take another year or two. But there will be companies that say, we're all about hybrid work. And there will be companies that say, we're all about office work. And employees then will say, I get to sort based on which one is the way I want to. So actually, that will be a really healthy outcome. I think a lot of companies that would never have tried the hybrid approach or enabled remote work are now happy they did. Like, we are. We're happy we have this much more geographically distributed workforce that's bringing us incredible talent with a lot of different experience behind that. And then on the other side, I'm not sure where this is going to go for some of the companies that are-- like, right now, we're saying, you all have to come back into the office. They-- just the loose number of conversations I've had with other CEOs says, you lose about 20% of the people if you do that. And you're not really sure which of the 20% because it's really difficult to know until you make people decide. But they're going to be OK. I mean, they'll find other people who then say, yeah, I really want to work at a place where everyone comes to the office. And that's what I want to. And so that's the sorting that will happen here over the next few years. But these things take time. That's the thing. And time-- we don't have a lot of-- I mean, we're trying to build a long lasting company. But we want to have-- we don't want this to be the thing that gets in the way of us progressing as a company. So we are balancing that, too. Is there not a middle ground where you say, like, these two days a week? The team comes to the-- is that a middle ground? And you're just very clear on that. Yeah. I think that is a really good next step if we're not achieving that sense of coordination with giving people the choice but encouraging them to say, with incentives like lunch or events or the presence of the senior leadership we'll be there on these certain days. There needs to be a point, right? There needs to be a point where you say, OK, it's not working. We're going to try another way. I had a few words to say about one of my sponsors on this podcast. As the seasons have begun to change, so has my diet. And right now, I'm just going to be completely honest with you. I'm starting to think a lot about slimming down a little bit because over the last couple of-- probably the last four or five months, my diet has been pretty bad. And it started to show a little bit. Really, over the last two months, I go to the gym about 80% of the time. So I track it with 10 of my friends in a WhatsApp group and this tracker online that we all use together. And so one of the things I'm doing now to reduce my calorie intake and trying to get back to being nutritionally complete and all I eat is I'm having the heel protein shake. Thank you, heel, for making a product that I actually like. The salted caramel is my favorite. I've got the banana one here, which is the one my girlfriend likes.
What were the hardest challenges you faced when starting up? (50:13)
But for me, salted caramel is the one. What was the hardest moment at the start of the Strava growth that you faced at the start in those opening years? Yeah, we created the company, got the founding team, beginning of 2009. We were only web-based. So you had to-- you couldn't track your workout with your mobile phone on Strava. You used a third-party GPS device. An example of one was a Garmin 305 cycle computer. It was largely cycling only to start with. You really-- we didn't encourage any other-- any other sport type. But you had to have-- you had to pay for that piece of equipment. You had to plug it into your laptop or desktop computer, transfer the file, and upload it to-- incredible friction. So we did not grow fast at all in the beginning. It was like so many-- you had to really want to try to experience this thing. And it's not because mobile wasn't a thing you could do. We just didn't do it. There were companies that started largely with-- they did maybe on a website, but they pretty quickly built a mobile app. Companies like RunKeeper, they were one of the first 100 apps in the App Store. And that's in that. Now there are, I don't know, millions of apps in the App Store. But-- How have RunKeeper doing? Well, they got bought. I mean, that's a lot of these companies that were-- we launched into a pretty crowded space back in 2009. There were at least 10, maybe more companies that were doing something you would call activity tracking with GPS. Most of them had a mobile apps. And we did not. RunKeeper was acquired in, I want to say, 2015, 2014 by one of the big sports brands. MapMyFitness was acquired by Under Armour. RunTastic was acquired by Adidas. By the way, none of these acquirers ever came to talk to Strava. Can't tell you why. You'd have to go talk to them. Maybe we were perceived as we were too niche, because we were perceived as only focusing on more hardcore athletes, and not the masses. Wasn't true. But in any case, what was true back in 2009, we built the wrong experience for what ultimately would drive community growth, which is it needs to be on your mobile phone. It needs to be all on your mobile phone. The mobile phone is not just the tracking device, but then you then go to the website to look at have the experience. You need to build the experience on mobile. And we were really late to that. We were so late. And so by 2012, we finally have a mobile team that's building an experience. The three years after founding, two and a half years after founding the company, we are finally in the game, if you will. How did you know you were wrong? We were wrong in the sense that we weren't seeing the community go through. We were building an experience that really people-- once they got through all those frictions to get started, they stuck around. They were committed. They were engaged. They converted to the subscription, which is the core of our business, is you can use Strava for free as long as you like. But the best that we have to offer, if you're going to put something, you say you're going to invest in yourself and try to live a more active life. The subscription really helps you. It gives you more ways to stay motivated, more fun, more ways to discover what's great around you. So the subscription has all these great things. And it was there from the early days. We didn't wait to launch it. We launched it in the end of 2009. So we had a lot of people who were-- we had a high conversion rate. If you want-- we had a low community size but a high conversion rate. So we knew we were onto something. And so what taught us we were wrong was we actually said, OK, we better build a mobile app. And we built one that basically just tracked your workout. You could record our workout to get it into Strava. We saw off the charts community growth in the first week. Really? We were adding-- prior to the mobile app, we were adding maybe 100 new users, 100 new athletes a week. We added 10,000 a day on the launch of our mobile app. We got featured in the app store. That was 100,000 in a day. Why? Because it's such an easy entry point. You don't have to pay for anything. You already have the phone in your pocket. You're just downloading our app from the app store. The app store is pushing us out to a community. We never have had the money to meet from a marketing perspective. There was only one problem. We built the wrong-- they were again. We built the wrong experience. We thought you tracked the workout on your mobile phone. And then you go to the website to see your results. And that's how people are like, people aren't going to do that. So we had to rebuild that app and rebuild the experience to be all completely on mobile. But the idea that what can unlock the community growth is the form factor of reducing the friction. It's getting meeting people where-- giving them a chance to onboard into something without having to go through a lot of hoops, jump through all of the things. Basic stuff. But those were the earliest things that we did. Did prove that we could build something that was highly engaging. We just couldn't get people into the experience in the early days until we built the mobile apps. As you're going through that iterative experience to figure out how to scale the business and where the product market fit is, how are you doing in your personal life at that stage on the B, the balance?
Work-life balance & stepping down (55:35)
Yeah. I mean, this is where going back to when Mark and I were thinking of starting another company, we were saying, it's going to be different this time, right? We're not going to let it consume us. We're going to find a way to keep the B. In my personal case, that did not last more than the first year. We thought we were going to build a company. I was living in Hanover, New Hampshire, which is this very small community in about two hours north of Boston in the state of New Hampshire. It's in the woods. Dartmouth College is there. And they hired me to teach entrepreneurship in 2000. And so that's what brought us there, my family, my wife, and four kids. So we arrived when my youngest daughter, she's now turning 24 this year. She was turning two that year. So we had four kids in five years. So we were very young kids. We were going to raise them in Hanover. And I got to live in Hanover. And Mark is in the Bay Area. He's living in California. Well, he's got to live in Portola Valley. So we were going to build this company on two coasts. And it was going to be a team in New Hampshire and a team in California. And by 2010, it was like, that's clearly not going to be the case. To hire the talent we need, it's probably going to be the team in San Francisco that's going to be the headquarters. And so I start flying to San Francisco more and more regularly all throughout 2010. Instead of going like once every two months, I'm going once a month staying for five days. Now it's once every two weeks staying for five days. And then it gets more and more frequent. So I'm definitely not on the beat. The balance has gone out the window. And this was 2010 through the end, almost to the end of 2013, where I'm CEO of the company. We're growing this community is now surpassing a million members in the community. And we get to the point where I think we're just shy of 10 million by the time that I'm stepping down. And you know what? It's a very sad story. But my wife was diagnosed with a terminal illness in September of 2013. She had been diagnosed. She had had breast cancer gone through treatment. In 2004, long before we started Strava, and it had come back. And it was those first months we weren't sure exactly how long she would have to live, that doctors were. We got to do a lot of tests. And I'm still living this dual life between New Hampshire and California, because she didn't move to California with me. We didn't move the family. That was a choice we made to remain in New Hampshire as the home base for the family. And so what ends up happening at the end of 2013 is I stepped down from running the company Mark steps in as the CEO. I'm in a supportive function, but I have a lot of flexibility. And I moved back to New Hampshire. And for the next three and a half years until on a passed away, that was my priority, became taking care of my family, doing what I could to take what time we had left to make it as meaningful as possible, and all sorts of things we could talk about, of finding meaning to the last day. There's a lot of lessons learned there. But that's a different kind of balance. I want to be honest. It's like not necessarily what I expect when we say balance for as a value. It feels like what we do is we pass through that balance point over and over again in our lives. We never quite seize it and hold on to it and feel like we live in it. But it's something we experience. We go through over and over again, and we try to return to it. And it's the act of trying to return to it that I hold out as like, that's what I'm motivated by. By putting balance into the core values of Strava, by having it be something I focus on in my life, I want to return to it as often as I can, even if I won't be able to stay in it all the time. So leaving Strava, that was definitely not balance. Moving into caring for my family, there were periods where it came in, definitely found a flow and a harmony and a balance, but then times where just it completely is out the window and everything is all hands on deck on what's the next treatment we're going to try to find for Ana, where are we going to, in one case we had to move, and we chose to move back to move to San Francisco so she could be in a clinical trial of a novel therapy that showed some promise. And these are the kinds of examples where balance just wasn't there either. You had to work at it and then in the balances where I think you find the most meaningful moments. - You said about the passing of your wife, Ana, in that period you were trying to find meaning till the last day and you've learned a lot about what that is, what is that?
What did you learn from the passing of your wife (01:00:40)
- You have to think of it and not as the goal is to get to something, some state of health or physical ability or mental ability to do something like a dream or a trip you want to take. It's the day that is the day you're living in. It's take it as it comes today. And having a living a life where we're all terminal, by the way, turns out we're all on our way to some point where we say we're on our last day, but what you experience when you're going through regular measurement of the progress of a disease like that, because that's the way you're the medical treatment is we're monitoring the disease to know when to change therapy, when to add other drugs that will help handle the side effects of all the therapy, when to say it's time to stop the therapy. The meaning can't be extend my life. At some point, if that's your goal, you will not find meaning in that goal. It will be out the window. So instead you have to find meaning in what can this day bring? It starts by how do I feel today? If you string together a bunch of days where you feel you've gotten something out of the day, that's a meaningful life. And you can find that to the very end. And just I learned so much from watching Lana progress through that and give to people around her, but also give to herself. She was an artist, worked in her studio to nearly the very last day, was working on projects that she knew she would never finish, but she was motivated by what she could experience of working on those pieces of art. She did leave behind like, if this were gonna continue, here's what I would do with it. My youngest is an artist. I know what's motivating her is like, she wants to get to some of those pieces and see if she can bring them to some version of what her mom had left behind, what she had indicated. This could be something like this. I think Mira will bring it to something else. She'll add her own thing to it, but that was what on a, you know, I think she got there. Struggling against the end is not the way to find the meaning. - How was that shifted your, 'cause experiences like that I imagine teach you other profound things about the point of all of this. I know I spent much of my early years thinking the point of all of this was to buy Lamborghini, right? And then even the pandemic was one of the catalysts that made me realize there was, as I said earlier, this tectonic plate that mattered a little bit more. And then it was really interesting to watch how I had a Rolex at the time. I don't have one anymore, but my Rolex was exchanged for my Apple watch. And there's something quite symbolic in that. It went from being about signaling status to others to caring about my health. And when I think about the loss of someone, especially someone young, someone close to you as well, what is the priority shift that happens in presuming there is one? But is there a priority shift that happens? A different perspective on what matters that maybe an entrepreneur like me needs to hear? - I don't know that I knew this when she was going through her, those last few years were even the few years after she passed away. I don't think I was, I think I prepared a lot for how to live my life, caring for her. I wasn't prepared for how to live my life when she was gone. But what I've come to, I think, is this is, again, maybe somewhat obvious, is that the relationship you can build with an individual, in this case, my wife, the person I, we met, where did we meet? And you're, we met in my backyard. When I started grad school at Northwestern University, I rented this coach house, which is like a little carriage house behind a bigger home. And I was walking to the front of the house one morning to get my mail and walking through the backyard. And there's this young woman in her pajamas talking to my landlord. And this is Anna, she turns out she's a friend of my landlord, had babysit sat for her children when she was going to college at the same school. I was getting my PhD. This is Northwestern University in Chicago in Evanston, Illinois. So I meet Anna in my backyard and she's not living in Evanston, she's living in Cincinnati, Ohio. But she comes back to visit a few months later and a few months after that were married. And so we start, we were babies, right? I got married the day after I turned 25. I mean, we were, she was 23. We were not yet fully formed human beings, right? But we're now building a life together. And we went through all sorts of highs and lows in our marriage and we had the, we have four children and we live. Otherwise, like this life we would say we built something together. I look back on that and say like the best thing I've built is two things, my friendship with Mark and my marriage with Anna. Those, I hope those are the things I look back on apart from everything else and say, at the end when my day comes, like those were the things that we're meaning comes from. That's where, if I go back to what's most important, it's the relationships with the people who are closest to you in your life. And then that extends to the people who are also important, but they may not, you may not have that same bond. So what did I learn? Well, losing that person is extremely difficult. You're left with, I don't wanna speak for everyone who goes through this, there is an aspect of you don't know which way is up anymore. You're off-scripted, whatever you thought your life was gonna be about, it is, you're questioning everything. And in my case, I had four children who are 17 to 22 and at age at that time. And we pulled together, this is, I wear this bracelet. This is, I gave one to each of my children. They wear it every day. This is on the day of Anna's funeral. And we pulled together and we helped each other through that darkest moment. And again, it's the relationships. And we're a normal family, we've got our highs and lows. We got dysfunction, we got function, you know, we've got it all, but there's something in there that's like we know what we can count on each other. We know that that is at the core. I wanna look at that as like the model for what is possible even inside something like a company, even in something like the Strava community that that's happening, that people are building relationships. So if Strava is like, what is it all about? It's about motivating people to be active through the relationships they've been able with other people. - And you returned to the company several years after Anna passed. That section between Anna passing and your return to the company, you almost referenced being somewhat disorientated in terms of not knowing, were you double guessing whether to go back to the company?
Returning to Strava (01:08:36)
- I wasn't thinking of going back. - Really? - No, I wasn't. We had recruited in someone to replace Marcus CEO. So Mark stepped down in May of 2017. So just a few months after Anna passed away, I wasn't thinking about returning at all. I was, I was, I knew I had to discover what was next, but I wasn't considering that it was gonna be returning to Strava. So what got me closer was that Strava started to need some help. By 2018, I step in as interim CFO and head of people. By the middle of 2019, we're looking at a pretty challenging environment for the company. We were about 100, 200 people in terms of team size. We were not profitable. And we had to figure out a way to get to sustainability very quickly. We were not able to raise capital at that time, given the state of the business. And so we made a decision to make a leadership change. And I, would I recall from the conversations with the board, I wanna characterize it as like, I feel like I was the least bad of all the bad options. 'Cause there weren't very many good options at that time. We weren't gonna be able to recruit someone in given the state of the company. I don't know if I was ready to dive back in, this is, I'm still really doubting what my place is right now. But there was one thing that Mark and I were convinced about, which was inside what we had, what was there. There was a great company. We had at that time, 50 million people in the community. So 50 million registered athletes. We were not yet profitable, but we, what we, November 2nd, 2019, my second day back, leading the company, we get up on stage and we say, here's the path back. This is how we're gonna do this. We're gonna focus nearly 100% of this company on our customer and that's the person who wants to lead an active life. That's the athlete. We're gonna build this for them and we're gonna build something so good that they're gonna pay for it. And that's the subscription. So we focused the company on that goal to build the best subscription service for the athlete. And the team responded. They dug in, we climbed that mountain. And we did have help with pandemic, bringing us a lot more people. We doubled during the pandemic from 50 million to I think we're an hour at 99 million registered athletes. So we have, the team knows I love analogies. We had the right sales up when the wind started to blow. We got that tailwind from the pandemic and it accelerated our business. And so now we can imagine a very different outcome as a result for this company. We were 2019, it was how do we get this back on track? Now it's, how do we make the most of this opportunity? And for me personally, I've had to really rethink everything from what's my purpose, what motivates me to be the person who can lead this company. And what I'm reconnecting with is this is what we intended all along is that Mark and I create something that we wanna stick with and stay with for decades. So finding that path back personally out of the abyss that I was in is tied in a really to what Strava means for that future for me. I don't at all ascribe to the idea that I saved Strava, but Strava saved me, brought me back from something. And where we have now what we have to look forward to, what we can imagine for the future of the company and the community we're building for is a much richer experience doing more for athletes all the time, investing in what they'll be able to experience years from now, how it will be a part of their act of life for as long as they live, because we've built sustainability into the core of the business. - One of the, yeah.
Challenges Faced By Strava
Difficult moments in Strava (01:13:21)
- So one of the really difficult things in 2019, when you're changing the fundamental model of the business, under the pressure of a cash crunch, as they call it, where cash is running out 'cause you're not comfortable and you can't raise, is you gotta let some people go. And it sometimes feels like a bit of a contradiction of values that when you're a family, you have that kind of family community connection, you really care about the people, but then there's gotta be a decision at some point to say goodbye to some of them, unvoluntarily, and for the greater interest of the company. You have to do that, right, in 2019? - Yeah, that was November 1st. So November 2nd was how we're gonna get this company back to winning again. And remember first was we have to let in that time, it was a little over 32 people go out of the 200 or so that were there. So really tough way for your first day back on the job, but what was even harder was that the deep wound it created in that family, that sense of we didn't think this would happen here. How come we didn't know that feeling of, can I trust leadership? And they didn't know me. I wasn't like I was a host, I was not around nearly, for most of the people in the company at that time, they weren't hired during the time when I was the CEO of the first time. They knew that I was a founder, they knew I'd been helping out as an interim CFO, but I wasn't really a presence in leadership for them. So there was just the basic level of needing to rebuild trust, needing to say, not only do we have a plan, but you're a really important part of the plan. And here's how I show that you can trust me or here's how I wanna build a relationship so that over time you will trust me. That period of time in November and December and January, I remember I think just the level of how much we thought about every word we said was aimed at the objective of getting people to believe again. Compared to today, where I think people believe and maybe what we're changing, what we focus on now is getting them to understand what our potential is. They believe that we are going to be successful, but I think today, I focus so much my effort is making sure people connect with what our potential really is and how we're gonna get there. Whereas in 2019, it was all about believing we even had one, a future. - Today, the company looks very different from in some respects to the company that you and Mark sent out to build. There's now hundreds of people. When you started out, you wanted 20 or 30 in this company, you weren't gonna do what you did last time. - Yeah, and we do talk about that. This is very different than what we had imagined. Something that was additive, it's additive in a very different way, but something that where we could, by and large, not give up so much of our personal life for the sake of the company that what we're creating and it is consuming. And so what part of that is, well, this is what we should have expected if we were gonna be successful. It's just a given, you have to do it this way. And what part is it, you need to create the structure so you can maintain that measure of, I'm still Michael Horvath apart from Strava. Strava's not my 100% of my identity. That's something I struggle with. And it's really important because I don't think I'll be as good a leader if my identity is completely wrapped up in this company. I need to have that level of commitment that says, "I'm here, this is super important to me, "but I have to be myself." I cannot be defined myself as, this is the thing that makes me who I am. What's the risk? Well, for someone who's a rather emotional person, you'll bring your emotion to the decision in an unhealthy way if your identity is wrapped up in the company. So what I strive for is thinking, what is in the best interest of Strava? And like when I wake up in the morning, I ask myself a question, "What am I doing today to help connect people "to the full potential of what we can create?" And that sometimes is, it's the obvious things, making sure that we have the right set of priorities, executing against a longer-term strategy, not churning people around with different ideas, limiting how many things I throw into the room. Some days it's about, do we have the right team? Do we have to add someone or take someone away from the team? Those are hard choices for someone who's pretty, I call it a, I say emotional, I have a lot of feeling. And so, that's the part that I feel like I suppress a lot, is like I can't feel as much. I can't let myself feel everything I want to feel because I feel it will come out in ways that are not healthy, not in the best interest of the company. So, what gets me through that is like, well, this is me as the CEO of this company. It's not me, Michael Horvath. That's another person who will live on, I'm not gonna be the CEO forever. So, I will have a life that's my life, and what is that life? What is in that life that is mine, that isn't the companies? One thing is, for example, everyone on the company knows this, I love to cook. I feel like it's an incredibly valuable creative outlet. I love to cook for other people. There's nothing better than to imagine a meal, design it, think of it, think it through, get all the ingredients, make the dinner, and have your friends or your family sitting around a table and enjoying what you've created. For me, that is part of my identity. And so, finding, like that's a core belief in, you gotta give some time for that, you gotta invest in that. You create the space for it as a way to say it's still, they're still a part of me that's not the company. Has that specific issue of identity evolved or changed in you since an past? Yeah, it's a really, really interesting, and like the way I think about it is, I had to not rediscover who I am. I had to define who I am after my life with her. I was dramatically changed by my life with her. I don't go back to being the person I was without her. I am somebody who is now discovering who am I as the survivor of that life with her. That doesn't happen overnight. I think my first inclination was to try to make it happen as quickly as possible, get on with it, find out who you are. And I think, well, at least what I learned was you can make some pretty, what you think are good choices or good moves, and you realize that's not you. That's not what you're still thinking of the life you had and wanting to recreate, find, fill the hole that's missing. The deep wound, you're trying to sort of fill that with something when there's something yet to be discovered about what you really, who you really are on the other side of this. So as I said, I wasn't thinking at all of going back to Strava, joining, coming back to the company. I wasn't thinking of starting another company. I didn't know what it was going to be. I imagine it was going to be something like deep sense of rescuing people somewhere, like this idea that what I couldn't save my wife, but I'm going to go find other people to save. But that isn't it. That again was like this idea that I'm trying to solve the hole in my heart by finding people I can help. And though it wasn't that what I chose or how I thought I would get that sense of purpose, again, that sense of who I am, it is through Strava. It is through running this company and connecting back to what we tried to create. The idea we had in 1995, the thing we came back to in 2006, the way in which we've built this team around our ABCs with the future we can have, the company that we will be in 20 and 30 years, I can contribute something to that now. And that's what is where I have found that sense of completeness again. So we have a closing tradition on this podcast, which is the previous guest writes a question for the next guest. So clever. Okay. What should the average person optimize their life for? If their goal is fulfillment, said another way, how is fulfillment achieved? I believe we are what we do every day. And what I mean by that is that it's not the big moments. It's not the thing we strive for for several years and achieve at one moment in time or the big trip we take or call it the peaks that actually give us the most meaning. They are important. But what really defines who we are is what we do every day. And so if what you do every day is put a little effort into being active, being kind to the people who are important to you in your life and the complete strangers, if that's how you walk through life, then that's where you're going to find the meaning. So fulfillment, I believe, comes from being intentional about what we do every day. Amen. And you said it correctly. You said that you don't realize that you then have that impact on others. Well, I have a podcast in tens of millions of people download it. And I bang on about the fact that I changed. And what that does for people who are struggling like I used to struggle with all these false starts in their fitness journey is it lets them know that it is also possible for today to be the day where you begin that journey in your life. And again, if you think about the catalyst there, that's that struggle at the moment at the start of my journey and how many tens of millions of people have now heard me talk about this. It's incredible that the ripple effect across the ocean by one small catalyst. So thank you. Thank you. As you might know, crafted one of the sponsors of this podcast and crafted are a jewelry brand and they make really meaningful pieces of jewelry. And this piece by crafted, when I put it on, for me, it represents courage. It represents ambition. It represents being calm and loving and respectful and nurturing, while also being the antithesis of that, seemingly the antithesis of that, which is sometimes a little bit aggressive with my goals and determined and courageous and brave. The really wonderful thing about crafted jewelry is it's super affordable. It looks amazing. The pieces hold tremendous meaning and they are really well made.