VirtuGO Announces It’s Shutting Down: Where’d things go wrong?

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One of the most viable alternatives to Zwift from a graphics standpoint just announced it’s closing up shop. VirtuGO has sent out an e-mail to all registered/paying users that the service will shut-down effective November 25th, 2019. Users will be able to continue using the service until then, free of charge. Additionally, the company has outlined how existing users can download their rides to upload to other training log platforms.

For those not familiar, VirtuGO came onto the scene about two years ago, in fact it was in January 2018 that I profiled them as part of their big launch at the Tour Down Under. At the time the service had a lot of potential, specifically around the realistic graphics and scenery of the platform. Some of the courses were stunning.

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The company at the time had pretty extensive plans for their platform. Not only would it be an online training app roughly akin to Zwift, but it’d also be a training log platform too – effectively competing with the likes of TrainingPeaks. Not to mention an integrated coaching component and structured workouts as well. At the time I wondered if that was perhaps trying to boil the ocean, rather than focus on one thing, and do that one thing really well.

Still, the company made headway in building out their platform from an infrastructure standpoint. They had three different virtual worlds – the Coll de Soller in Mallorca, Willunga Hill (outside Adelaide as part of the Tour Down Under), and a virtual world called Pulseville. Within those worlds they had competitions and plenty of terrain for most people to ride.

Unfortunately, what they lacked was one of the most important things: Actual people riding daily.

In talking with the CEO and Founder Michael Rogers about the closure, he noted the company had some 16,000 people in their database that had tried the product, with about 6-7% of them actively using the product (so roughly 1,000 active users – not concurrently though). Remember, the company was out of beta – so these were paying users. And in fact however, the paid users count was actually higher than that. As with any subscription service, a number of people sign-up and continue paying, even without using it.

[Talking with CEO and Founder Michael Rogers at the Tour Down Under in January 2018]

Still, even with 1,000 active users using the platform perhaps once per week, once you look at having three worlds, people on numerous timezones around the clock, and so on – you’d have relatively few users on the platform at any one point in time.

People want a social experience on these platforms, they want to see other people riding.  It’s a problem that in some ways is compounded by the two climb routes/worlds in VirtuGO and Road Grand Tours, which in the case of VirtuGO was 2/3rds the courses they had. So if you didn’t want to do a climb that day, you really only had the single loop of Pulseville, which had some 7.7KM of roads to work from.

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Next, there was the platform challenge. It was only available on Mac or PC – not iOS, Apple TV, or Android. These days, people want quick and portable, that’s largely iOS/Android/Apple TV. Sure, plenty of people run things on a PC or Mac, but most don’t want to deal with the overhead of it. Mind you, Zwift started with the same PC/Mac options in the beginning – but that was at a time when it was still the norm to use your older desktop computer as your training computer. It was also at a time when there were still relatively few training apps out there. Back then, Tacx Training Suite and TrainerRoad were among the bigger ones, with Elite in the mix as well.

These days, as always – people expect a mobile first strategy. I personally almost never run my training apps on a desktop computer anymore, unless specifically testing something. I run it on iOS or Apple TV.

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Still – VirtuGO had one big thing going for them: Price.

At 6EUR/month, it was by far the cheapest training platform out there. Nearly 1/3rd the cost of TrainerRoad and half the cost of Zwift. That’s super appealing for folks just getting into indoor training that didn’t know exactly which platform they wanted. Plus, they offered 14-day free trials as well – one of the best out there.

But ultimately, everything circles back to three things that Zwift has:

1) Users – lots of them
2) Incredibly well-executed marketing and social
3) Money – piles of it

As I’ve said numerous times before – Zwift isn’t in first place (in terms of users) because they have the best technically architected application or the best physiological training experience. No, they’re in the position they’re in because they’ve got a tremendous amount of funding and burn it like a blowtorch on marketing in order to gain user traction. They run it just like any other Silicon Valley company is run: Burn money to get users, figure out profitability later.

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They can buy celebrities and pro athletes to be on social media using their platform. They can buy the biggest booths at trade shows and run smaller events at bike shops around the world – multiple times a week often. They’ve got a dedicated travelling team that even handles the setup at those shows. The volume of money they can spend on user acquisition is mind-boggling.

But. It. Works.

It gets people hooked in the platform, who then hook in their friends, who then congregate in virtual rides online at predefined times with nebulous groups of people they don’t know. It becomes a mini-cult. And from a business standpoint, the best thing you can have is a cult-like following within users. Only Peloton has a higher level of cult-like following. They’re now worth $8.1 billion.

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Which brings us back to VirtuGO. I talked with Michael (Mick) Rogers this morning about the closure, he noted that the driving force behind the closure was less to do with user counts, and more to do with user acquisition costs. He noted it “was simply unsustainable”. Repeatedly during our conversation he discussed the challenges with marketing, and how much that costs. An area that both current and even prospective investors of the platform were keenly aware of. This mirrors what I’ve heard from other companies, which have found it’s tough to compete with Zwift’s ability to buy sponsors/partners.

A core part of the business model for Zwift, Road Grand Tours, and VirtuGO (as well as companies like Strava) is sponsorships. It’s selling ad space. Be it things like in-game billboards, or more practical stuff such as having a virtual Specialized bike or a specific competition. User subscription revenue alone isn’t enough, and that was even more true with VirtuGo. With 1,000 paying customers (or a bit more), that’s a mere 6,000EUR a month in revenue, which wouldn’t even cover the salary of a single lead engineer/developer. The company employed approximately 20 people, though most were contract/outsourced developer positions. These undoubtedly would have been much less expensive than a lead engineer in Western Europe or North America.

Of course, you might think that shutting down VirtuGO at the start of the indoor trainer season would be particularly harsh. After all, now is the point in the year people start to use these apps more frequently. But Mick said simply that “takeoff wasn’t happening”, going on to to say “we were turning up to race the Tour de France and doing so with a small team” financially, and that it was “very hard to win unless you had that [financial] backing behind you”. As an 11-time Tour de France competitor, he’d certainly be in position to make that comparison.

So where does the company go from here? Well, he says there certainly is acquisition interest (just like there was prior to the closure announcement). But most of that is interested more in the assets of the company than keeping it going beyond the end of November. Obviously, never count your chickens till they hatch – but most investors are keenly aware of Zwift’s market position, as well as Zwift’s budgets and user acquisition costs. They know that without substantial money – a direct competitor of the same style to Zwift will be near impossible at this juncture.

So what’s in his future going forward? Well, he says he’d like to stay involved in the indoor/virtual cycling space. But where that takes him and his family (he has three children) remains to be seen. For now, he’s got work to spin down the company as well as court investors that may want to acquire pieces of it.

Still, it’s an unfortunate loss for the indoor training space. As I’ve said countless times before – competition is good for consumers. It drives innovation from companies, and keeps prices in check. Without it, we’ll end up with strong-arming companies both to consumers and to the rest of the cycling industry.

With that – thanks for reading!

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54 Comments

  1. Andreas

    These were sad news. I’m riding indoors 5 years now and i have tried almost all platforms (Zwift, TR, Rouvy,, Sufferfest etc). I’ve been riding on VirtuGo since June and i must say i was pretty happy with it. I really liked the training oriented approach, instead of the fancy avatars and graphics. The training sessions were great, well structured and suited well a time-crunched cyclist like me. Any minor bugs on the app were instantly addressed by the team and fixed within a few days.
    I was also lucky enough to win one of the summer competition prices, which made VG one of the few apps that had prices for their users (Rouvy is the other one).
    Anyway, as Ray said, competition is good for the consumers and it’s always sad to have companies closing down, letting the big ones to monopolize the market.

    Many thanks to the VG team and i wish them luck to whatever the choose to do in the future.

  2. Richard Mercer

    Sad news indeed! No matter what you think of the product, competition is good for consumers, and this means less choice. 🙁

    Part of their problem though is I’ve never heard of them and no doubt countless others haven’t either. Having used TR, Zwift and Sufferfest over the last couple of years, somehow they passed me by and I had no idea who they were until today. Obviously that’s too late.

  3. John Tomac

    Ray, Are you planning to do a new “Winter Trainer App In–Depth Guide”? The last one was the 2017-2016. It could be interesting to see new alternatives to TrainerRoad and Zwift. Thanks.

  4. webvan

    Same here, had never heard of them or had any idea that Michael Rodgers was the CEO although I’m a massive cycling fan and know his career inside out, something wasn’t done right there…And I won’t even mention the lack of Android/iOS app !

  5. Fabio

    My 2 cents Ray. I agree with basically everything u wrote above…but i think zwift is the platform that offers more options to riders. I think the only thing u cannot do with zwift is to replicate real life courses (i know that there is alpe , innsbruck and so on…but i’m talkin about the possibility to replicate hundreds of real life routes).

    Maybe it’s not the best platform for workouts but it has workouts, it has social riding, race and so. With the marketin u can gain a lot of user but if the platform is not good they will not renew their subscriptions. more than one year ago they raises their price to 15$ (from 10) but the user base is continuin to grow.

    I try a lot of app during my rides but at the moment zwift is the best choice for me…even if they have to fix or improve a lot of thing in their platform…

    • Oh definitely – Zwift without question offers a more substantial platform. I’m simply saying they got where they are because of money. Lots and lots of money.

      Contrast that with TrainerRoad, which never took on investors, and they go where they are do to not just being first to market (which they were, well before Zwift), but had a solid product that people just enjoyed using – sans-social.

    • Shawn Hime

      Just to add, pulling away users from an existing platform is also challenging. Those users on Zwift would need a pretty big incentive to move away from an already established platform that works. While the subscription price of Virtugo likely went some distance to closing that gap, Zwift has a lot more to offer in addition to their marketing.

    • Fabio

      Agree. in my opinion TR (at 15$/month) is too limited at the moment. Great Workouts ok..but only that. sad to say it but these days without a social part i dont think an app can be succesfull (even for the ‘serious’ cyclist ).

    • Disagree. TR is for the serious cyclist, Zwift’s training plans are by comparison a total joke. TR also builds in most of the features of something like TrainingPeaks so you really have an all in one training platform. The proof is in the pudding and TR is getting a lot of athletes big results.

    • Frank-enstein

      I believe TR is now $20 per month USD. Quite the ask IMO. That increase pushed me over the edge to Trainingpeaks plan downloads.

    • Fabio

      What i think is that ‘seriuos’ cyclist have a coach or have the culture to train themself without using a web platform (such as TR or zwift). I’m a coach, i ve had a coach and i create my (or coach) workouts with zwift. The proof is that the best results are made with coach and not with a pc.

      There is not a plan that fit all and there is not an App that listen to your thought about a session or a sequenze of session…is where u need a coach, someone to talk with.

      This does not mean that with TR u cannot obatin great results…but not as great as the results obtained with a coach.

    • ATate

      TR has over a thousand workouts, plus a workout creator, and a ton of pretty well thought out training plans covering a broad spectrum from full on racers to hobbyists and triathletes. They have a career calendar that’s completely update-able along with fitness and year over year tracking. Not to mention outside workouts now on Garmin and Wahoo. They’re really becoming a pretty good catchall for many cyclists needs. Not limited so much anymore (and their new $20/month pricing reflects that too).

    • gt7

      Pulling workouts from the TrainingPeaks calendar into Zwift is also surprisingly easy.

    • Mitch W

      The biggest knock against Zwift is its lack of serious training plans a-la-trainerroad. Besides being grandfathered in on some great subscription prices for being a long-time user, their plans (especially being the only trainer platform to offer serious triathlon plans) are what keep me a member.

      While it is true that TR has innovated, especially over the last year when they reinvented their platform to become a workout log/analysis tool, and began pushing workouts to Garmin, their core is offering plans to make you a faster cyclist… it seems like Zwift could eat their lunch at any minute and for only a tiny cost (to them) of hiring one (or a few) coaches to write similar plans. Like, they don’t even need to hire people permanently; they could literally just outsource this for less than the cost of attending one trade show! It is truly shocking to me that this hasn’t happened yet, and I really can’t figure out why.

      I assume that the above will happen one day (probably soon; and they’ll probably even introduce a minimal mode where you only see the workout, not the avatar/virtual world too). Maybe this would even happen with an acquisition of someone like Xert, and would provide an even greater ability to integrate structured training plans with a fairly unique offering. It would be impossibly tough for TR to compete with that bohemoth…especially with TR charging $5 more per month than Zwift.

      I started thinking about TR’s viability into the future… and something that was talked about on the most recent episode of the FitFile Podcast (available everywhere you get your podcasts 😉)…. Full featured bike computer app. I think this is the future for TrainerRoad. Think about it… You already do your structured workouts indoors with their app. Their app already records rides, takes in sensor data (and they work very hard on ensuring compatability with everything out there), pushes ride files to Strava, GC, and others, acts as a log/journal, and more. Strava recently all but pulled out of the recording game, Garmin and other hardware makers don’t want to forego their hardware revenue to release a competitive cycling app. All of the current apps have at least something lacking/limiting them. TR can become the tool of hardcore cyclists, recording rides inside and out, offering advanced structured workouts and pro-level analysis.

      I can already hear the crowd of hardcore cyclist saying they’ll never give up their head-unit, but as other bike cpu makers (hammerhead/Sigma) have shown, it is possible to either make a form factor android or repurpose an older, possibly smaller phone for the job. I don’t see TR getting out of their “lane” and going into hardware, but a quick google search shows some basic android devices can be had for very little money. This offers the flexibility of Android’s extensibility, and having a dedicated cycling computer.

      @NatePearson and co, I don’t want your lunch to be eaten. I know you can see how easily Zwift can add most of the functionality you have, but it would basically be impossible (and not within your scope/mission) for you to add theirs. Please keep on innovating, stretch the limits, and keep making cool shit. I don’t want to see you VirtuGo away (see what I did there?).

    • Fabio

      Zwift is going to introduce official teams. When they ‘ll add them a coach could own his team and share only with his members custom training planes, custom workouts, private team events and so on.

      This, imo, will be a game changer for zwift and for coaches that want to add some feature to thei portfolio.

      Where zwift really sucks for me is in the post session data analisys…it’ s true that averyone has a garmin or strava or TP account that could be linked to zwift…but zwift should really improve this feature.

    • Ian

      Bereda is already on the move with group coaching, with coaches socializing and managing students on Bereda, but handing out Zwift workout file with their weekly plans. The coach on my program is also giving TR as well, but there seem to be more Zwifters.
      Obviously, if Zwift offer this then the likes of Bereda will struggle.
      For post-session data I use intervals.icu… but again Zwift could easily buy/add this functionality.

    • fabio

      It is not only coachin, that is an option. It is also team for races, ride, events. Is always the same thing: everything looks better if u have a user base of 300.000 units.

    • AC

      IMO it’s ErgVideo that is for the serious cyclist. They are more engaging than TR, while offering far superior erg mode sessions than Zwift. And now available in annual subscription. I go for the annual EV sub, and turn Zwift on an off as needed as I do like the group events (not workouts) on Zwift.

  6. “Without it, we’ll end up with strong-arming companies both to consumers and to the rest of the cycling industry.”
    ..and strong-arming they do which is no fun if your are on the receiving end ..

  7. Kev

    I’d never heard of them until this post which is the problem I guess for marketing budgets.

    As Head Coach of my tri club I got a mail from Bkool this week offering 2 months free for all our members via a discount code as they stated they weren’t well known in Europe. Maybe this direct approach to clubs may work for them to get engagement.

  8. usr

    The biggest acquisition hindrance might be potential buyers speculating on a Zwift firesale. Because while the Zwift strategy might work very well in terms of ruining the day for competitors, I’m not getting the impression that is works any good at all in terms of making their own business sustainable. Their sudden 180 from decidedly keeping their distance from the Zwift racing scene to pushing racing like mad just reeks of a panic pivot for getting yet another chance from their investors.

  9. Will

    Also, and much less significantly, MaximumTrainer also recently closed down. It was free and a decent GUI for those just wanting to do structured workouts without the fancy graphics and social aspect that Zwift offers. Less choice is rarely good news.

  10. Ian

    Tis sad to see the platform close, but I’ve been on the beta from the start and only used it a few times. I prefered the graphics and training approach over Zwift, but couldn’t face riding the same course over and over, in a world with no other people, it was eerily quiet. I was hoping the users would grow and social events would start, but sadly it didn’t happen. Zwift has that critical mass of users that allows for regular events with lots of attendees, it’s going to be hard for another platform to catch up….. Let’s watch RGT and their new beta…. however, I’ve heard they’re struggling to get more than a handful of beta-testers which is a worry.
    It’s hard for anyone to fit between TR and Zwift. TR has the serious side of things down pat, whereas Zwift has the social side. Personally I use Zwift daily, it has lots of flaws for a serious cyclist, but the little graphical touches (birds in the sky, etc) and social side makes indoor cycling bearable. I choose a lot of group rides, group workouts and races to supplement my training in order to keep me engaged.
    I want someone to challenge Zwift, but it’s going to be difficult get that critical mass of users, regardless of the quality of the product…..lets see what Veloton can do when they properly enter the space, they’re trying hard to drive social media interest.

    • Boris

      RE: new beta: RGT still doesn’t offer a standalone version for Apple TV? Last time I tried it, it only had this “remote display thing” (which sucks, TBH).

    • HanSolo

      Why doesn’t Zwift change their graphics engine? RGT/Virtu are much more realistic than Zwift’s cartoonish-type visuals. It’s probably a barrier to entry as it works on lower-end systems, but I’d like to see Zwift offer a world or upgrade path to better looking, gaming type visuals.

    • Dan G

      TBH I think the basic, glitchy graphics are part of Zwift’s charm

  11. Chris benten

    I went to VirtuGo’s website at least a half dozen times and I could never determine what their virtual routes are without signing up. I do not care about training plans or coaching. All I want are routes/virtual worlds. When I cannot determine what they are offering within a couple of minutes I move on. I found this in many industries. Fancy, polished websites with no content.

  12. Joe Blough

    Could they make it open source and let the people on the internet continue to develop it?

  13. Howie

    Very sad news. A virtual *training* platform rather than social groups riding far too hard was highly welcomed, and is greatly needed. The level of innovation in VirtuGo had strong potential. I wonder where partnerships could be built to re-start this project. It sounds like the pilot light is still on, it just needs tanks of natural gas in the form of energy, interest, more thought & planning, and, of course, investment.

  14. inSyt

    Why can’t these companies take a leaf out of the gaming industry and have AI riders until user numbers reach critical mass?

    Even add some stands with people along the routes. Animals crossing the road. Dynamic weather. Law enforcement officials. Emergency service providers. Etc.

    • Nathan Budd

      Zwift had that for a long time, and it did make it a bit better. Compared to the ghost town that was VirtuGo anyway.

      It’s also why Zwift didn’t allow course selection for a long time, as they didn’t want to quiet worlds, but one busy one.

  15. Thats the reason why i build my VCS TrainerSoftware as a hobby project.
    6000€ is a target for a OneManShow per month, it does not feed your family.

    • Ricahrd

      Hi Ray,

      Please check out the work done by Andreas. This is a brilliant piece of software as a hobby project. He has incorporated some interesting features into the routes.

      This is worth your time.

  16. Nathan Budd

    I’ve used nearly all of these platforms, Zwift, VirtuGo, Tacx Desktop, TrainerRoad, Rouvy, RGT, Bkool etc and I have to say that whilst VirtuGo was decent technically, it was just boring! I use an app called BigRingVR for climbs (replacing Tacx Desktop) as it has hundreds of routes.

    VirtuGo was just one single loop… round and around, not even the reverse was offered. I realise why, but I think they jumped to paid for too soon. The platform was so quiet, they were never going to generate buzz, and going to paid meant a lot of people stopped using it, so it was even more quiet.

    Shame, as I think it had legs as a viable Zwift competitor, especially given the weird app combination that RGT have gone down, meaning I have to use 2 devices, it’s just not as convenient.

    I think Ray knocked the nail on the head, convenience is key. The lower the barrier to entry, the more likely people will use it. An iPad or iPhone app makes life easier. That’s why I use Zwift on the Treadmill in the gym, I open my phone, and run. I’m not a runner, but it works and is easy.

    • Michael

      Pretty ironic that the Tacx Trainer Software 3 & 4 (TTS 3/4) both featured some pretty immersive virtual worlds that allowed private and LAN multi-player which I only really began to discover after Tacx introduced the Tacx Desktop App and shortly afterwards, announced end of support for TTS 4!

    • Charley Hay

      Tacx and their lunatic “desktop-first-and-only” strategy, like it’s the 1990s.

      Unbelievable.

  17. Casey Cook

    Second that with the legendary John Tomac.

  18. Roger Henderson

    Really sad to see VirtuGO closing. As a non-professional mid 60 yr cyclist, it was a program in which I could train, do free rides, decide to see others riding and enjoy the scenery without feeling like I was the slowest person on the course.

    It was nice I could cycle with others and with that feature on, I did improve my performance. The cost was well within reason but as DC Rainmaker correctly stated, VirtuGO just did not have the big bucks to advertise and increase their paid ridership.

    I guess I’ll pony up the money and try Zwift for a bit to see how I fare. Farewell VirtuGO!

  19. Jonathan Colledge

    Interesting take on mobile vs PC. I would only run Zwift on mobile/tablet if I was absolutely desperate. The graphics and screen size, just doesn’t cut it. Shame it has closed down. I hadn’t used it quite from downloading and looking. I hope RGT stays, as it is my preferred platform at present.

  20. Very effective and useful article.
    I was finding a professional photoshop service provider but after seeing your post I can remove background easily.

  21. Jerome

    Great and informative post on this moving market. Thank you!
    Sad news for this Team indeed and for competition and alternative ideas.

  22. Adebo

    I tried a lot of virtual platforms before settling for one. Amongst them was VirtuGo. The platform was really good, nice graphics, well thought out environment, brilliant feel (gradient transitions were super smooth and natural on my Elite Drivo, they are very mechanical and harsh on Zwift) and the price was excellent.

    I didn’t subscribe to it for one reason only, not enough terrain. Whizzing around the same small loop for two weeks got old very, very quickly. The lack of users was a concern but one I could live with as given time; that would change. I subscribed to Zwift simply because of the variety of courses and terrain and the number of group rides available. However, that was only until VirtuGo built out some more terrain. As soon as they expanded their world, I was planning to subscribe. Very sad to hear that they haven’t raised the finance required to keep the platform going.

    These things take huge sums of money to grow but the cash is out there. if you know how and want to play that game. Two months camped in silicon valley doing the rounds of venture capitalists on a funding round might have raised what was required to build out the virtual world and fund the marketing to attract more users. A friend raised €10m (over various funding rounds) from VCs and his product sucked and he’s a drunken unknown idiot (with a degree from MIT). Hopefully they’ll find a buyer or investor to save us from the monopoly that Zwift with all of it’s flaws and shortcomings is rapidly becoming.

    We need competition and choices… if only to keep Zwift honest.

  23. Ian

    Interesting that the challenge for Virtugo, RGT etc is the lack of users…. however, recently I’ve found there to be too many people on Zwift, with up to 9,000+ users on Zwift at the same time, and NYC the primary scheduled worlds, it’s more like a colony of ants. The other day I actually restarted Zwift to change worlds to Watopia because it was painfully busy, I now make a point of always selecting Watopia just to avoid the crowds.

  24. AKOX

    It’s a shame, but I’m not surprised – in my opinion they needed to create more content, especially on youtube.

    I started using VG last year and the training allowed me to do a mountain climb in Feb, it was simple, just get on the bike and follow practical instructions. Recently I tried TR and found the programs were just too much for me, looking to go back to VG only to find out they are closing.

    Sad to seem them go, a shame they did not take to social media.

    • AKOX

      Edit: Sad to see them go, a shame they did not take to social media.

      Further notes, they have TDF and pro-cyclist insights which they put into their programs and could have easily made podcasts/short videos to post on YouTube and Facebook.

      Oh, and initial investment would have been a few hundred euros/dollars/pounds for the audio and video kit.

  25. The number of contributors here not knowing VirtuGO existed highlights a failing in VGO’s marketing – and that kind of marketing is not expensive.

    Social media can be powerful, but not overnight. Consistency is everything, VG should have been shouting from the roof-tops ‘we are here’ from day one. There is no expense to this strategy, just a single person with knowledge of social media, pushing out posts, video’s – anything – daily, on all platforms, consistently and not stopping when interest is starting to increase.

    The possible promotion from the DC interview and preview should have been exploited – to the max – consistently.

    If it’s not working – Change Direction – Do not quit.

    • Raul V.

      It also indicates not many contributors here are long time followers. Or reading back when joining. The prog was in Rays software article last year! So……..
      We all (I guess) don’t understand things get more expensive when they get more popular and partly that is because they have to win back initial investments but it also shows the companies have to spend on promoting. Look at sponsoring budgets for example Millions are ‘thrown away’….