After year-long search, Strava appoints YouTube exec Michael Martin as new CEO

Strava has finally announced who its next CEO will be, almost a year after confirming that co-founder Michael Horvath was leaving the hotseat for a second time.

Michael Martin will start his new role at Strava on January 2, 2024, leaving his current role as general manager at YouTube's shopping unit. Martin previously served in technology roles at Nike, NBCUniversal Media and Disney.

Horvath co-founded Strava alongside Mark Gainey back in 2009, with Gainey initially serving as CEO before passing the reins to Horvath, who led the company until 2013 when he left for family reasons. Gainey then became CEO until 2017, when he was replaced by Instagram executive James Quarles -- then Horvath returned as CEO in 2019, with Gainey in tow as executive chairman.

When he revealed last year that he would leaving for a second time, Horvath simply said that he felt the company needed someone different to spearhead the next phase of its growth. "As co-founder and CEO, it’s only part of my job to ensure we are picking the right path to that destination," he said at the time. "The other part of it is to ensure we always recruit and support the right leaders for the right times."

Strava's new CEO Michael Martin
Strava's new CEO Michael Martin

Strava's new CEO Michael Martin. Image Credits: Strava

Growing pains

The 14-year-old company has emerged as the de facto activity-tracking platform for millions, allowing users to record and share all their rides and runs with friends around the world. Strava saw significant growth through the global pandemic, leading to its $110 million Series F round of funding in late 2020, since when it says it has grown from 70 million members to north of 120 million today.

However, like all VC-backed companies, the time is fast coming when Strava needs to realize some sort of return for its investors, be that a sale to a bigger company or an IPO. Either outcome requires Strava to be in as strong a position as possible, which is why it has been trying to bolster its platform over the past year -- it acquired 3D mapping platform Fatmap in January, which now provides 3D video flyovers of users' GPS routes directly inside the Strava app.

And last week, Strava went all-in on the social network concept when it launched in-app messaging, designed to encourage users to do all their organizing within Strava itself.

But in amongst all that, Strava introduced a confusing and inconsistent pricing upgrade, with a typical U.S. customer seeing their annual subscription jump from $60 to $80 a month, and the monthly fee rising from $8 to $12 — a substantial 50% hike, one that caused consternation in the Strava community.

So on the outside, it seems that Strava has been struggling to capitalize on its recent growth even though it has sought ways to make more money from its users. And this, perhaps, is where Martin enters the fray -- at YouTube he is focused on helping creators "build and diversify their businesses through commerce," so it's not all the inconceivable that Strava could be looking to diversify its revenue beyond selling subscriptions or data and insights. The free version of Strava is sufficient for most people, so figuring out ways to make money from that contingent, be it advertising, affiliate partnerships, or some other means, could be the way forward under the new leadership.

When Martin joins in early January, he will also take up a seat on the board alongside the likes of Gainey and Spotify exec Gustav Gyllenhammar. Horvath will also apparently stay on for the time being as an "executive advisor to the CEO."

“I am incredibly proud of what the Strava team has accomplished, especially during the past four years during which we built our subscription with the needs of our community in mind and strengthened our foundation for future growth,” said Horvath. “In Michael Martin, I am confident we found a leader I can pass the baton to and who can build Strava’s momentum even further. I look forward to supporting him as executive advisor to the CEO.”