Caley is wrong, so very wrong

I do agree with Caley on one thing. It is important to support, and pay for, the things you love. Where we diverge, and it happens quickly, is on where Strava fits into that equation. Before getting to that, I should also note that I also completely understand where Caley is coming from as a content producer. While this site isn’t very old, I’ve been working in the media space for more than ten years. I know how hard it is to make money doing this.

The main problem with Caley’s argument is that Strava isn’t a content producer. They produce nothing. They only curate, and frankly they aren’t even that good at it (but that’s a topic for another post). What they do have is scale, which Caley notes, was built on the model where we create the content for them (our activities). This content attracts more users and encourages interactions with the platform, in a cyclic way. From that, they get to monetize. Until yesterday, the competition around segments was a part of the lure for everyone. Now, the lure is strictly the social aspect. Which might not be a bad thing, but it is such a departure from the product we were sold, and when combined with the way Strava did it, every ounce of vitriol is earned.

That’s not to say that Strava can’t make money, of course they can. They just need to do it in a way that doesn’t kill the value of the platform for everyone. They also made route planning a paid feature yesterday, and I think that’s completely reasonable. They’ve offered analysis, safety, and other features for paid users before today. The reason why that didn’t work, wasn’t because people won’t pay for the things they love (or value), it’s because all of that was rubbish. As a paid subscriber, they only thing of value I received from the money I paid, was live segments. Everything else, meh.

The problem here is that instead of focusing on adding value, they decided to subvert the model that everyone agreed to, in a predatory way. It’s not an isolated thing either. Strava has had oodles of time to build value around the basic proposition that everyone signed up for, and they frittered it away. I pay myWindSock £10/year to provide pre/post ride weather analysis and write a summary of that in each Strava ride description. I also pay VeloViewer £10/year to make analyzing the data that I give Strava, possible. VeloViewer, as a thin wrapper around Strava’s API shouldn’t even exist. Strava should have built that. If they had, I would have been happy to pay them £10/~$13 a year.

Instead of deciding to plop a single weather data point in the activity and calling that “value”, Strava could have built a robust weather analysis tool, but they didn’t. They twiddled for years, then removed sensor support from the mobile apps because it was too hard. That should count for something…

Let’s talk about the business itself. Strava has 180 employees. What are they doing? They run a built platform on AWS, so they should really just need a few developer teams (core API, database, web, Android, and iOS) to run the whole thing, and some management types to make sure that the tech-folk don’t go all “Lord of the Flies”. Generously, it could be done with 50.

While I agree with Caley that Strava as a concept is a great thing, and we should pay for the things we get value from. He’s completely wrong about what Strava is. It is nothing like CyclingTips.  Empathy can only carry us so far.

We know that working for your audience makes for a better product. We know because, even though our content is and will remain free, it’s what we do. Members make CyclingTips better. For the price of a cup or two of coffee, you make us more creative, more willing to take chances, more willing to ignore the crassly click-worthy in favor of something deeper.


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