Business

How Strava is building a community of athletes and helping cities

JT chats with Tom Knights, the head of Strava’s Metro Partnerships division

John Thomey
John Thomey
Mar 4, 2021
How Strava is building a community of athletes and helping cities
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My conversation today is with Tom Knights, the head of Strava’s Metro Partnerships division. Strava started as a cycling app but has quickly become the community for athletes around the world.

JT: For those less steeped in the world of health and wellness like me, a guy who lives in SoCal, can you explain what Strava is and how you’re working with cities?

Of course. I'm part of our Strava metric project. So I'm based here in London, in England. Even though Strava is a San Francisco-based HQ with offices in kind of Denver and Bristol here in London is where I'm located.

I have an unhealthy enthusiasm and passion for maps and mapping, but I'm not technical. But what I am interested in is how we can create better cities and create safer cities and more accessible cities. And I think some of the work that we're doing on Strava Metro, perfectly aligns with my love of running and exercise and being outdoors.

It ties in nicely with the data side and our product at Strava.

JT: I know some people might not be into health and wellness, so can you share why Strava is maybe more than just a fitness tracking app?

TK: To date, we've got around 75 million athletes and around 195 countries. In the Strava world, if you sweat, you're an athlete. And Strava is a mobile app and website for millions of people every day. When people join the Strava community, Strava gives athletes simple fun ways to stay motivated and compete against themselves or others in the community.

Every athlete belongs to Strava as well, no matter where they live or what sport they love, or what device they use. So it doesn't matter if you're training for the kind of one-mile fun run or a 20K or a hundred-mile Ironman, we want to have you in the community.

So Metro in its simplest form is the data side of Strava. So we provide—the kind of activity dataset for free to cities, governments, planners around the world.

Strava data sets are the largest collection of human-powered transportation information in the world. So there is a ton of value in providing access to cities for planning purposes. We aggregate, identify all of these kinds of insights from the Strava app and then make sure that they're placed in privacy secure, and GDPR compliant method for people to download and understand.

JT: What types of questions are local governments trying to use like Strava data for what types of problems do they want to answer with it?

The biggest kind of opportunity for active transportation is making cities healthier and happier places to live, right? So anywhere that's more productive, more sustainable is going to be thriving and be successful.

The trouble is in cities around the world because there's no real way of collecting a lot of this active travel dataset. We can help cities make sense of data to build roots for mobility that they didn’t know existed or were viable places to invest.

We are a global community of athletes and our community members everywhere from Oceania and Australia, New Zealand, all the way to the West coast of the United States, and all across Northern Europe and Africa. So we've got a really rich data set depending on where you live in terms of our community’s members.

JT: That makes a ton of sense. I get the sense that Strava is trying to world-build or expand the market a bit here? How are you helping people who wouldn’t think of themselves as “athletes” figure out they have a place with Strava?

The Strava mission is really to become the home of your active life. We want to connect athletes to what kind of makes their personal best every day. From the app point of view, if you sweat, you're an athlete on Strava now, again for someone who maybe commutes or walks to work every day, they might not consider themselves an athlete, but in this travel world, if you're doing the activity you’re an athlete to us.

JT: How are you helping urban planners or people who might be skeptical about innovation embrace the product you’re offering?

TK: I’m not 100% sure, but working with government folks has always been a part of Strava’s mission. An early customer was the Oregon Department of Transportation, looking at trail data in the early days of Strava. They were looking to use the data to make safer and more accessible trails.

But as the community grew, we started to see a lot more people cycling urban areas, which is where that Metro project was born. But one of the biggest challenges early on was finding cities and planners with access to geospatial software. If you think about the urban planners and city budgets, it's a really difficult space to commercialize and procurement for government agencies is difficult.

There’s also a lack of skills in government agencies to use data effectively, unfortunately. Our project also aims to train and make our data more accessible through data visualization. So the Metro platform is helping hopefully change that.

JT: That makes sense. How is Strava helping people who live in colder climates, unlike maybe the West Coast of the U.S., get out and be active? Seems like that could be difficult to convince people.

So I think the Metro data sets helped by the Strava community uploading their activities can help remove a lot of those kinds of barriers to wanting to get out and be active. You think about the first time maybe you got a bike as a kid, there's something that happens between the young age and then becoming a young adult where the risk factor comes in or suddenly you're drawn into another mode of transportation, like a car. If people can start to find the joy of getting back out on a bike or walking, it can be huge for cities.

JT: I totally agree with that! Tom, this was great. Thanks for teaching me about how to make a cool product that does some good.

My conversation today is with Tom Knights, the head of Strava’s Metro Partnerships division. Strava started as a cycling app but has quickly become the community for athletes around the world.

JT: For those less steeped in the world of health and wellness like me, a guy who lives in SoCal, can you explain what Strava is and how you’re working with cities?

Of course. I'm part of our Strava metric project. So I'm based here in London, in England. Even though Strava is a San Francisco-based HQ with offices in kind of Denver and Bristol here in London is where I'm located.

I have an unhealthy enthusiasm and passion for maps and mapping, but I'm not technical. But what I am interested in is how we can create better cities and create safer cities and more accessible cities. And I think some of the work that we're doing on Strava Metro, perfectly aligns with my love of running and exercise and being outdoors.

It ties in nicely with the data side and our product at Strava.

JT: I know some people might not be into health and wellness, so can you share why Strava is maybe more than just a fitness tracking app?

TK: To date, we've got around 75 million athletes and around 195 countries. In the Strava world, if you sweat, you're an athlete. And Strava is a mobile app and website for millions of people every day. When people join the Strava community, Strava gives athletes simple fun ways to stay motivated and compete against themselves or others in the community.

Every athlete belongs to Strava as well, no matter where they live or what sport they love, or what device they use. So it doesn't matter if you're training for the kind of one-mile fun run or a 20K or a hundred-mile Ironman, we want to have you in the community.

So Metro in its simplest form is the data side of Strava. So we provide—the kind of activity dataset for free to cities, governments, planners around the world.

Strava data sets are the largest collection of human-powered transportation information in the world. So there is a ton of value in providing access to cities for planning purposes. We aggregate, identify all of these kinds of insights from the Strava app and then make sure that they're placed in privacy secure, and GDPR compliant method for people to download and understand.

JT: What types of questions are local governments trying to use like Strava data for what types of problems do they want to answer with it?

The biggest kind of opportunity for active transportation is making cities healthier and happier places to live, right? So anywhere that's more productive, more sustainable is going to be thriving and be successful.

The trouble is in cities around the world because there's no real way of collecting a lot of this active travel dataset. We can help cities make sense of data to build roots for mobility that they didn’t know existed or were viable places to invest.

We are a global community of athletes and our community members everywhere from Oceania and Australia, New Zealand, all the way to the West coast of the United States, and all across Northern Europe and Africa. So we've got a really rich data set depending on where you live in terms of our community’s members.

JT: That makes a ton of sense. I get the sense that Strava is trying to world-build or expand the market a bit here? How are you helping people who wouldn’t think of themselves as “athletes” figure out they have a place with Strava?

The Strava mission is really to become the home of your active life. We want to connect athletes to what kind of makes their personal best every day. From the app point of view, if you sweat, you're an athlete on Strava now, again for someone who maybe commutes or walks to work every day, they might not consider themselves an athlete, but in this travel world, if you're doing the activity you’re an athlete to us.

JT: How are you helping urban planners or people who might be skeptical about innovation embrace the product you’re offering?

TK: I’m not 100% sure, but working with government folks has always been a part of Strava’s mission. An early customer was the Oregon Department of Transportation, looking at trail data in the early days of Strava. They were looking to use the data to make safer and more accessible trails.

But as the community grew, we started to see a lot more people cycling urban areas, which is where that Metro project was born. But one of the biggest challenges early on was finding cities and planners with access to geospatial software. If you think about the urban planners and city budgets, it's a really difficult space to commercialize and procurement for government agencies is difficult.

There’s also a lack of skills in government agencies to use data effectively, unfortunately. Our project also aims to train and make our data more accessible through data visualization. So the Metro platform is helping hopefully change that.

JT: That makes sense. How is Strava helping people who live in colder climates, unlike maybe the West Coast of the U.S., get out and be active? Seems like that could be difficult to convince people.

So I think the Metro data sets helped by the Strava community uploading their activities can help remove a lot of those kinds of barriers to wanting to get out and be active. You think about the first time maybe you got a bike as a kid, there's something that happens between the young age and then becoming a young adult where the risk factor comes in or suddenly you're drawn into another mode of transportation, like a car. If people can start to find the joy of getting back out on a bike or walking, it can be huge for cities.

JT: I totally agree with that! Tom, this was great. Thanks for teaching me about how to make a cool product that does some good.

How Strava is building a community of athletes and helping cities

John Thomey

John Thomey is a founder of Urban Tech, a newsletter and podcast. He’s a graduate student at the University of Southern California, studying Public Policy and Urban Planning.

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