116: Mark Gainey: A champion runner in high school led Mark to being part of the Harvard rowing team and taught him about the principals of team work, discipline and building something great. This is what he has done with one of the world’s top fitness app’s as he goes through the journey he has been on…

August 8, 2019

Mark Gainey

Mark Gainey was born in Denver Colorado and was raised in “the divorce capital of the world,” Reno Las Vegas. Mark Gainey knew Reno, not far from Lake Tahoe, as home from the age of three when his dad moved there as a medical physician. The picturesque natural terrain shaped and molded Marky Gainey into an outdoorsman that loved to run, play soccer, and had a pure passion for skiing. Sports served Mark very well, especially while he was attending Reno High School. During his high school years there, he managed to join their great State Champion Cross Country and Track team for 3 years in the late 1980s, and even won the State Championship as an individual in his senior year. Mark Gainey’s sports enthusiasm would take him on other exciting academic and entrepreneurial adventures.

On this episode of Finding Your Summit Podcast, we talk with Mark Gainey, Co-Founder of Strava, about how the Ivy League institution Harvard University soon came calling, and Mark would surely answer. Harvard wanted to recruit him for his amazing cross country and track achievements. At first the young Mark started off nonchalant about this possibility. But his dad pushed him to respond. Unfortunately, a stress fracture kept him from running cross country and track his first year. Mark discusses how this led to an entirely different transition on the Harvard campus that would change his life. Find out how playing sports led to Mark creating tools for those that play sports.

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What You Will Learn:

The Academy Award-winning biographical movie The Social Network showed us how rowing crew for Harvard helped to make tech entrepreneurs out of Mark Zuckerberg’s unfriended Facebook friends Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss. But those two identical twins weren’t the only business-minded men that rowed crew for Harvard…enter Mark Gainey. Mark moved from Harvard’s cross country team to their lightweight crew rowing boating program for three years. In the lightweight division, no one could be over 160lbs and the boat had to be about 155lbs. Mark explained this labor of love: “You do it because that experience, that esprit de corps you have with your teammates, the work ethic you get, the pain and suffering that you go through…You get this feeling in the boat, it’s called ‘swing.’ It is a magical moment when you have all 9 in the boat, synchronized where you appreciate team work like you can’t appreciate it in any other facet.”

Mark takes about his post-harvard days of working for a private equity investment firm called T. A. Associates after pursuing Olympic competition but not making it. Ruptured disks in his back kept him on the sidelines for sports. But the  job at T. A. Associates in Palo Alto, California put him into business-mode, calling companies all day to learn about them. One such connection led to earn a mentor in the form of the founder of the Oakley the sunglasses company.

When Mark left T.A. Associates in 1995 to become an entrepreneur after working for them for four years, there were business lessons he took along with him. Mark looked for a business where he could being able to solve problems that allowed him to use his passions. He didn’t have student debt or a mortgage. Mark Gainey talks about partnering with a friend from Harvard to start a virtual locker room for athletes to reconnect. But they were a little bit too early.

What were the rules that the entrepreneur in Mark Gainey stuck by? He shared them: “Everybody that knows me knows that I always refer back to the 3 Ps. The 3 Ps in my life have been patience, persistence, and perspective.” Mark’d patience had to kick: “There are different prices you pay along the way that you just learn to accept with age.” He dealt with the divorce with his wife Lisa, who he had twin boys with. Persistence from the three 3s helped also Lisa and Mark to remain friends. Mark also had a bicycle accident in 2002 that cost him 11 surgeries. His kids and ex-wife Lisa also had health issues.

Mark and his partner reconnected in 2006 to build a consumer business that would become Strava. This project also took place with his friend and co-founder Michael Horvath. Michael is Swedish and so is the name Strava, which means to strive. They set out to address the problem of motivation with athleticism and the sense of having fun when you are working out. Mark believes that: “Good things don’t happen by yourself,” as well as, “It is all about surrounding yourself with amazing people that can get it done. That’s where the fun begins.”

What is Strava:

Strava is an app that has a free version and a paid version called Strava Summit. The app tracks your distance, time, altitude, and you can also follow folks from all over the world. It supports 32 different sports and its user base is constantly growing: “Now we’ve got a community that is approaching 50 million people world-wide. We’re in 186 countries, we add a million athletes every month. So, because of that, there is this whole view into Strava where you can actually see how you are doing against your friends.”

The Future of Strava:

Where does Mark see the company going? “We are 10 years in but it seems like we are just getting started.” They are looking to create a lot more Strava features with their massive influx of data. It took eight years to get their first billion events uploaded. It only took 18 months to secure their second billion event uploads, and it will only take less than a year for the third billion. Mark also hasn’t stopped keeping healthy. Twice a week he has a trainer named Michael Grandville to put him through a rigorous one hour workout session. “Michael still holds to this day the high school American record in the 800 meters, and he has held it since 1996. It is one of the longest records in high school sports out there. He ran a 146 back when he was a senior in high school.” Listen to how Mark Gainey lives up to the phrase: “There is a fine line between perfection and disaster.”

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