Strava wants to be your social network for fitness

Just keep moving.
Image: John Lamparski/Getty Images for Advertising Week New YorkYork

Apps, there are too many. 

James Quarles would know. The 41-year-old watched Snapchat rise to popularity as he ran Instagram’s business from 2014 to 2017. And yet, he decided to leave his job at Facebook earlier this year and move to Strava in the hopes of growing a new social network. 

Unlike Instagram, Strava (the Swedish word for “strive”) is not all about sharing photos of beaches and selfies—though that is encouraged as well. Strava is a fitness app that lets users record activities, compare individual performances, and connect with friends and the larger community. Strava has tens of millions of registered users who share 9.9 million activities every week. 

There are plenty of apps for that: MapMyRun, Nike Running Club, and Fitbit, to name a few. The hope for Strava is that athletes—which Quarles defines as “any person who sweats”—will have the most fun with and get the most out of using its app and perhaps inspire more feedback like this:

Quarles himself said he used Nike Running Club prior to joining the company. One of the reasons he prefers to use Strava now is that it’s not about “pushing apparel” and other merchandise, unlike Nike’s app and UnderArmour’s MapMyRun, he said.  

Strava was launched by two former collegiate rowers in 2009 and first popularized in the cycling community. Some users will make “Strava art,” as in draw something via their recorded cycling routes. 

Now, Quarles and the rest of the 125 employees based in San Francisco, Hanover, New Hampshire, and Bristol, UK, are tasked with reaching every athlete no matter the sport. 

One way Quarles said Strava hopes to expand is creating not only the best personal fitness app but also a strong community as a social network. The app encourages sharing photos with each activity post and posting links to stories and other comments, not unlike the Facebook News Feed. 

Since joining in May, Quarles helped launch a program called “Athlete Posts.” Any user can follow the recommendations of popular athletes such as UK runner Susie Chan and cyclist Phil Gaimon. The idea is similar to the power of influencers on Instagram. 

As a social network, Strava faces the same struggles of policing content. According to Strava’s terms, users are not to use the app for “commercial solicitation purposes,” and yet there are posts like this: 

To grow, Strava is also going beyond the smartphone. The company announced partnerships with Flywheel Sports, Life Time, LiveRowing, Expresso, and Fitbod that will allow users to record activities at those fitness studios. 

Quarles said Strava is adding about one million new members every 40 days. Of course, his job is making sure these people don’t just download the app but that they keep using it. 

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