Zwift CEO Interview: What worked, what didn’t, and what’s coming?

I recently sat down with Eric Min, one of the co-founders and current CEO at Zwift, to dive into a whole slate of topics. This is actually a bit of a two-part interview set. This interview is heavily focused on the business/industry side of Zwift, whereas a ‘companion’ interview we did for the FIT File Podcast will likely release tomorrow, which is focused a bit more on the backstory of Zwift, technology, and 45 minutes worth of questions there. There’s virtually no overlap at all between the two interviews (on purpose, obviously), with both containing plenty of new and unheard nuggets.

Below are a fair number of the topic markers as YouTube chapters. There’s probably twice as many questions in there than listed below, but otherwise YouTube Chapters gets a bit out of control with too many items. Most of the committed chapter markers below are follow-up/related questions to the topic listed. You can easily listen to the session here in the background, there’s no pieces that ‘require’ the video portion.

0:00 Quick Introduction
0:35 What did Eric do before Zwift?
3:01 First time Eric showed Ray Zwift
4:33 Zwift employee bases and HQ behind-the-scenes
5:32 Why take on investor backing for Zwift?
6:50 Which cycling app was Eric’s inspiration?
7:54 Eric’s Bike Collection/Fleet
8:46 Eric’s favorite route to ride in the world
9:30 Explain the leadership changes over last year
11:40 What Eric wants to change near-term
12:51 How can Zwift attract new users to Zwift?
14:25
Can Zwift ever get an ROI for investors?
16:12 Explain the price increase
17:30
 How many paid subscribers does Zwift have?
17:55 Is Zwift’s staff count right-sized now?
18:40 How do you balance new cycling tech vs waiting?
19:46 How does and will Zwift leverage AI?
20:48 What’s Eric’s proudest moment at Zwift?
21:42 Why hasn’t Zwift invested in structure training?
22:47 Zwift’s complicated industry relationships
22:33 Is Zwift’s Women’s Tour de France Sponsorship working?
26:35 Is Zwift still trying to get into the Olympic Games?
27:40 Explain all things Zwift Secret Tron Bike
29:30 When will other companies be compatible with Zwift Ride Frame?
30:00 Why can’t people use Zwift Ride/Cog with other platforms?
31:13
Why isn’t Zwift doing more around cheating?
32:51
What’s Eric’s favorite Zwift feature?
33:55 Will Zwift gamify the platform more?
34:51 What’s unannounced coming up?

Go forth and enjoy the above! Also note if you found this interesting, you’ll probably find the one I did with the founder of Wahoo Fitness, Chip Hawkins, back a little bit ago. Expect more of these here and there as I find sports tech executives that can talk both about the technology side as well as the industry side.

Thanks for watching/listening!

FOUND THIS POST USEFUL? SUPPORT THE SITE!

Hopefully, you found this post useful. The website is really a labor of love, so please consider becoming a DC RAINMAKER Supporter. This gets you an ad-free experience, and access to our (mostly) bi-monthly behind-the-scenes video series of “Shed Talkin’”.

Support DCRainMaker - Shop on Amazon

Otherwise, perhaps consider using the below link if shopping on Amazon. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but your purchases help support this website a lot. It could simply be buying toilet paper, or this pizza oven we use and love.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked.
If you would like a profile picture, simply register at Gravatar, which works here on DCR and across the web.

Click here to Subscribe without commenting

Add a picture

*

19 Comments

  1. chris benten

    Which section does Eric discuss getting off of OpenGL an onto a modern graphics platform?

  2. Charlie Simpson

    Wow, some really nice commuting bikes in the zwift office.

  3. Tom Kaufman

    Thanks, Ray, great interview. I tried a Zwift trial long ago and realized it wasn’t for me, but it’s nonetheless terrific to hear the perspective of such an important player in the industry. Far more generic platitudes that the Wahoo interview, but such is the talking style of most CEOs these days.

    One platitude that jumped out was his insistence that growth will come as long as they focus on the customer. Maybe, but I do have my doubts whether the total addressable market really is as large as he and many other in this space think. Given the wave of sport tech downsizing and bankruptcies, it also seems plausible that we’re at indoor training saturation, resulting in a bunch of these companies just fighting over the same customers, with the marginal cost of adding each additional subscriber going vertical.

    • Alex

      Re your doubts about the market size: If the size was much smaller, that’s something he could never answer truthfully in public outside of a congressional hearing. They’ve raised over $600 million, including from reputable “mainstream” investors, on their numbers.

  4. Alex

    Thanks for the interview! Couple interesting things between Eric’s usual marketing buzz word collection. Was this the first time he publicly said running and rowing are dead? At least people can stop asking about it now.

    Fancy way of him saying that the current valuation is obviously significantly lower than when they raised that $450mil series C round. Would have been funny if he just answered “hell no!” to the question about opening the Ride to other platforms though.

    One thing I’m curious about is a breakdown between departments of the 300 employees. It’s not a very high number if the subscriber numbers are accurate (revenue estimates would suggest a lower average number) but it would be cool to see how many people do what exactly. Definitely more reasonable than the 600-700 number from the past.

  5. Tom

    No opening up the Zwift virtual shift protocol…despite the suggested new openness…that is bad…but maybe understandable from a business perspective. Good to see that elite has found a better and open solution with the Square.

    One million paid subscribers really? That’s around 20.000.000$ per month divided by said 300 employees gives an imaginary ~66.000$ to spend per employee per month. That seems plenty if the numbers are correct. If they keep marketing cost (and building etc) in check they might just be profitable and not need all those investors and their ROI demands…

    • MichaelP

      My guess is that they are only leaving the door open a tiny crack with respect to opening the virtual shifting protocol to competitors in case the EU starts making noise about anti-competitive business practices. But my guess is that absent any regulatory pressure, opening the protocol won’t happen. Maybe they would be more amenable if it was just companies like Rouvy or Bkool which occupy different niches. But they probably would do almost anything to keep the protocol from being available to MyWhoosh.

      With respect to the price hikes, the hardcore base isn’t likely to abandon the platform in any sizeable numbers. it is the more casual users that will walk. So it is an interesting tactic to offer cheap, easy to set up hardware (i.e. the Jet Black Victory) “hardwired” out of the box to work only with Zwift. Will that cheap hardware be enough to attract and/or maintain the base of casual users?

    • Brett

      Could Eric have meant – 1mil paid unique subscribers since inception, not current subscribers?

    • Michaellpl

      I went to mywhoosh, 200 bucks per year is a bit too much for an app

    • Nate C

      My Zwift annual sub is up on November but I cancelled after announcement of the price hike so that it wouldn’t auto-renew and I could look and see if there are any coupons or deals come November.

      There’s a Zwift bug that is inactivating people’s annual subscription before the time is up if they have cancelled and the other night I signed on to see that my account was not active. I had to send a message to support who was eventually able to credit my remaining months but since the ride I was signed up for was more than 25km, and I was going to have to wait for support to respond to my email, I decided to install and check out MyWhoosh.

      The setup process (downloading something like 5gb of map data to my iPad) left something to be desired but once I finally got riding, it wasn’t bad. (not nearly the number of active riders as zwift but maybe that will change as people leave zwift from the 33% price increase). I think I could potentially use it if Zwift keeps raising prices with no discounts when my subscription ends.

      Also too bad to read that Zwift is moving towards closed and proprietary compatibility for features and hardware, when the initial support for compatibility and industry standards is what made them successful.

  6. Marco

    So he’s basically saying third party apps compatibility is never coming. That’s really sad.
    Especially because talking to companies at Eurobike they seemed to fully expect this to happen by the end of the year.

  7. Chao Xu

    Since Eric is from Wall Street and is not good at industrial operations, otherwise Zwift would have already integrated hardware and software, and it would not be Wahoo’s turn to threaten him.

  8. Xx

    Yes, please.

  9. Ben Kaufman

    I started using Zwift around 2017, mainly during the winter months. I greatly enjoyed it for a few years. I switched to Rouvy in 2023 for its augmented reality, something that i had been hoping Zwift would have done. Riding on real roads all around the world with real stuff happening is the next best thing to actually being out there.

  10. luk

    FIRST, that app needs some proper optimisations, works quite slow and looks like a game from early 2000. is it written in JavaScript by some junior developers ??

  11. jww

    Around 28:00 did he say the ORIGINAL Tron design was to use partner trainers?

    And THEN they decided to simultaneously develop Tron with their own trainer?

    His wording was very imprecise throughout so he didn’t come across as super frank, but assuming that’s an accurate story, how on earth is that a logical strategy?

    • Ultimately, that strategy isn’t actually much different than where they stand today. Even with Zwift Ride, at launch, it’s with a slightly re-branded version of a Wahoo KICKR CORE.

      Remember, the Zwift Ride was developed with the assumption the Zwift Hub was the backend. It wasn’t till they settled the lawsuit with Zwift that they dropped the JetBlack variant, and then went with a barely rebranded KICKR CORE.

      One also has to remember in the era that the Tron bike was developed, one of the big issues Zwift had was actually getting the trainer companies to move fast enough – specifically at the affordable end of the spectrum. It continued to be a legit issue until just after the height of COVID, and arguably, until Zwift themselves partnered with JetBlack for the Zwift Hub.

      Zwift wouldn’t ever have been able to scale to global distribution for the Tron Bike (just like they don’t today for Zwift Ride). But by leaning into partners to distribute the frame + partner trainer, it’s an easier pitch (which…as the final notable, is precisely what they’re doing today with Wahoo, in certain geographies).

    • Alex

      To add to that, the decision to try to build their own trainer was clearly one that the investors stood behind. If that had been a Zwift management decision, Eric wouldn’t be CEO anymore.

      In 20/20 hindsight the correct move would have been to buy one of the hardware manufacturers pre Covid instead of using a lot of money/resources into their own development. No idea how seriously they considered that option before trying to do it on their own.