“Being User-Centric Rather Than You-Centric” — How Strava Works With Global Media to Tell Stories That Help Athletes and Drive Growth

Scaling globally is a goal for any growing company, which means that working with press across various markets is an inevitability. But it’s become more challenging than ever to gain the attention of the press, and it often comes with a hefty dose of added scrutiny. How then, can companies begin to tell their brand narrative, much less work with the press in a way that can help foster growth? That’s something that Strava has had to think about on a daily basis, as the world’s top platform for athletes has grown to over 90 countries and more than 76 million users. 

In this episode of Growth Hacks, Kunal and Katja are joined by Andrew Vontz, VP of Communications at TCV company Strava. As a former journalist with the Los Angeles Times, Andrew brings his unique insider perspective on what companies can do to tell a story that journalists today would respond to, and how those stories can be used strategically in order to drive brand perception and fuel growth. Andrew also walks us through his blueprints for educating stakeholders on what to expect from press coverage, and the checklist method he uses when it comes to preparing for potential crises before they occur. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Being user-centric rather than you-centric when working with journalists. While it can be tempting to use press attention as a way to tout your company’s successes, that may not be enough to get your story told. Instead, put yourself in the shoes of a journalist’s readers, says Andrew. “You really have to be user-centric versus you-centric. There are definitely things you would ideally like to get out of press coverage, but you also need to think about, ‘What does that journalist need? What does their readership need? What’s going to help them sell this story internally and get it placed?’ You really have to begin with the end in mind.”
  • Why it’s important to educate stakeholders on how press coverage operates. We’ve all experienced it: internal stakeholders with the best of intentions expecting journalists to always see things the way we would like them to be seen with nary a criticism. That’s why it’s imperative to set realistic expectations with teammates about how a specific story may roll out. It’s also a good opportunity to educate teammates about how press coverage operates in general. “All good stories are really high contrast. They’re high tension. They’re definitely going to contain opposing points of view, and you just need to prepare people for that, educate them, and bring them along so that they know what’s going to show up in a story, why it’s going to show up, and how it may show up,” says Andrew. 
  • Using earned media to drive growth. Given that Strava is the de facto record of the world’s athletic activities, the company produces an annual Year in Sport press report built around the intersection of sport, culture, societal trends and unique data insights about the ways athletes find joy through the activities they love. For Strava, Year in Sport  helps them in “finding ways to align stories that only we can tell with moments in time when there’s a high degree of cultural curiosity around specific topics that can enable really large scale brand awareness.” 

    An additional benefit of Year in Sports is that data is very compelling with readers. Says Andrew, “[It’s] providing reporters with ingredients and stories that enable reporters and editors to be of service to their consumers and provide high utility content that’s motivating and inspirational.” 
  • Preparing for a crisis before it happens. When Strava faced its own PR crisis in 2018, Andrew’s team saw an inbound of thousands of media inquiries in 48 hours. The tendency to want to react immediately is natural, but you must slow down and operate with a high degree of discernment to be most effective. “It’s important that you move at your own pace and that you work with stakeholders across the organization to understand what’s going on before you do anything,” says Andrew. Doing so allowed Strava to turn the opportunity into one where they were able to educate journalists around the world about their privacy controls, resulting in 90% neutral to positive coverage. 

    To prepare in advance, Andrew recommends bringing on outside experts or advisors in advance of a crisis, to start preparing before a situation occurs. “Try to think through anything that might potentially pop up and then try to spell out exactly how you’re going to meet that moment.” 
  • Effective ways to be known as a mission or purpose driven organization. While thought leadership is easy to engage in, at Strava it’s more than showing up to the right panels and conferences. “It starts with the intent to be the world’s best at something,” says Andrew. 

    Because Strava’s mission is to serve athletes, they’ve focused on ways to do that, whether that’s partnerships that make Strava better for its users, or the Strava Metro data they provide to cities to power safer pedestrian and cycling infrastructure. “What we aspire to is to be a positive force to help create change in the space, so that everyone has equal access to pedestrian and cycling infrastructure — and more broadly, to create greater equity in sport. And that’s an area where we want to be an even bigger thought leader and a bigger force over time.” 

To learn more, tune into Growth Hacks: Lessons from Strava — Working with Press and Teams to Move the Growth Needle, Foster Inclusion, and Establish a Purpose-Driven Narrative

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The views and opinions expressed are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). TCV has not verified the accuracy of any statements by the speakers and disclaims any responsibility therefor. This interview and blog post are not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any private fund managed or sponsored by TCV or any of the securities of any company discussed. The TCV portfolio companies identified, if any, are not necessarily representative of all TCV investments, and no assumption should be made that the investments identified were or will be profitable. For a complete list of TCV investments, please visit www.tcv.com/all-companies/. For additional important disclaimers regarding this interview and blog post, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.


Making Community Building More Than a Catchphrase to Unlock Growth – Jonathan Mildenhall Shares Lessons from Airbnb and More for Companies of All Sizes

Growth Hacks – Moving the Metric

Brands like Airbnb and Peloton that have been able to build a loyal community around their products, may seem to have cultivated that community size through an alchemical mix of marketing spend, timing, and luck. But it doesn’t have to be so opaque — especially not for businesses that make community building an essential part of their blueprint to growth, even from the early days. 

In this episode of Growth Hacks, Kunal and Katja talk to Jonathan Mildenhall, former CMO of Airbnb and founder and Chairman of strategic branding firm, TwentyFirstCenturyBrand, about ways to articulate the narrative of a modern brand – with community building as a key element. Jonathan walks us through a four-pillar process for creating strategic blueprints to build brand narrative, and tips for B2B brands to elicit the sort of emotional resonance that B2C brands have found with customers. 

Key Takeaways:

  • The four pillars of a modern 21st century brand that’s built to scale. Community isn’t just something that comes once a brand has been built. In fact, having a vocal, loyal community is one of the four core pillars of building a modern-day company. In addition to community building, the other three pillars for twenty-first century brands are being purpose driven, making sure your technology is well-designed and human, and focusing on storytelling.
  • How to perform a deep analysis on your own company and create a strategic blueprint to activate on each pillar. One of the first things Jonathan and his team at TwentyFirstCenturyBrand do when building out a new brand is to sit down with the founders and leaders of the company to do what they call a deep extraction. The purpose is to get a better understanding of the brand’s potential size and aspirations. “I don’t just mean in total numbers and size of revenue, but in terms of its cultural impact. We like to say we’re revealing the soul and purpose of the company back to the founding team,” Jonathan says.
  • Specific strategies on building a community that can meaningfully drive growth and brand perception. When Jonathan was the CMO of Airbnb, they had to get creative about how to use their marketing spend, which was a fraction of their competitors’ budgets. Jonathan’s team decided to activate Airbnb’s community of hosts to tell stories, by providing them photographers to take photos of their rentals and turn that into marketing collateral. Those community stories helped drive Airbnb’s initial brand narrative and turned those same hosts into vocal advocates for Airbnb with cities and potential users. Per Jonathan, “if you get community right, you can reduce acquisition costs, content creation costs, and you can drive referrals, word of mouth, and the brand narrative in ways that are unprecedented for marketers.” 
  • Why strategic community building has to come from the C-suite. Community building is an ongoing process and a two-way conversation; not just when a brand needs the community to telegraph its approval. It’s why Jonathan believes that community engagement should come from company leadership, who can maintain that dialog with followers of the brand and the wider community: “The chief executive’s voice and presence needs to be heard.”
  • Lessons B2B marketers can take from B2C campaigns when it comes to eliciting an emotional connection. Whether you’re a B2B company or a B2C company, Jonathan urges marketing teams to think about more than selling a product, and instead focus on the human being receiving the message, and whether that message moves them emotionally. His advice for B2B marketers? “I would love it if B2B businesses made a greater effort to move audiences emotionally and treat them as human beings, as opposed to somebody on the other side of a business transaction,” says Jonathan.


To learn more, tune into Growth Hacks: Elevating Community Building to Drive Meaningful Growth

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The views and opinions expressed are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). TCV has not verified the accuracy of any statements by the speakers and disclaims any responsibility therefor. This interview and blog post are not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any private fund managed or sponsored by TCV or any of the securities of any company discussed. The TCV portfolio companies identified, if any, are not necessarily representative of all TCV investments, and no assumption should be made that the investments identified were or will be profitable. For a complete list of TCV investments, please visit www.tcv.com/all-companies/. For additional important disclaimers regarding this interview and blog post, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.


Elevating Community Building to Drive Meaningful Growth

Community building is the type of phrase that gets thrown around growth marketing so often it can seem like a box to check, rather than a strategic part of a comprehensive growth strategy. Still, there is a growing stable of modern brands that have created unique, vocal, loyal communities, and leveraged the power of those communities for incredible growth and success. Companies like Airbnb, Glossier, Peloton, and Twitter have all fostered community, and done so in different ways, without sacrificing on the primary goal of scaling a business. 

In the latest episode of Growth Hacks, Katja and Kunal speak with Jonathan Mildenhall, the founder and Chairman of the strategic branding firm, TwentyFirstCenturyBrand, and former CMO of Airbnb. Jonathan recounts his experience with building modern brands that resonate with the communities they serve and explains how to build a strategic blueprint that allows companies to unlock growth in the areas they want to activate. He also gives us his playbook for building communities that can meaningfully drive growth, and why he believes community building has to come from the very top to be truly effective. 

Here’s what you’ll learn: 

  • The four pillars of a modern 21st century brand that’s built to scale
  • How to perform a deep analysis on your own company and create a strategic blueprint to activate on each pillar
  • Specific strategies on building a community that can meaningfully drive growth and brand perception
  • Why strategic community building has to come from the C-suite
  • Lessons B2B marketers can take from B2C campaigns when it comes to eliciting an emotional connection

To hear more on this, settle in and press play.

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The views and opinions expressed are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). TCV has not verified the accuracy of any statements by the speakers and disclaims any responsibility therefor. This interview and blog post are not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any private fund managed or sponsored by TCV or any of the securities of any company discussed. The TCV portfolio companies identified, if any, are not necessarily representative of all TCV investments, and no assumption should be made that the investments identified were or will be profitable. For a complete list of TCV investments, please visit www.tcv.com/all-companies/. For additional important disclaimers regarding this interview and blog post, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.