I first met Eric Min in the autumn of 2014. The company had a handful, literally, of employees and was about to launch in a limited, invite-only beta. Zwift was a little more than a gleam in Eric’s eye, but a long way from the game-changing product it was to become.
I’d arranged to meet Eric for lunch and a background chat for articles I was planning to write as part of my work as a freelance cycling journalist. My train was late and I fetched up, incredibly embarrassingly, almost 45 minutes late.
Eric was understanding and gracious. He was also accessible… a characteristic he has maintained throughout his tenure as CEO. So when Zwift announced its latest $450m fund-raise I put in a request via Zwift’s PR department, for an interview for the Zwiftcast with the specific brief of covering some of the more challenging topics raised by some of the more strident voices in the community.
At first, the answer was a polite “No.” Zwift wanted to move on from the Series C funding – a move that elevated the once hobby project of creator Jon Mayfield to a fully-fledged tech unicorn, a billion-dollar company – and get on with the things that really mattered to customers.
Then, a change of heart. My guess is that when my questions hit Eric’s inbox, he recognised that providing context and perspective to the community in a tumultuous year was important. I think there was also a recognition that this was a landmark moment and a good time to talk directly to the community about what 2020 has done for, and to, Zwift.
You can hear the full interview in Episode 90 of the Zwiftcast, which is available now. But here are some of the headlines.
Around the middle of March, as the world changed, a tidal wave hit Zwift. Eric says: ”We had hundreds of thousands of people coming to the platform and joining in numbers that we’d never seen before. The traffic was insane.” “The priority was about making sure the new customers were having the best experience. Support went through the roof.”
Not only did the flood of new subscribers provide practical challenges, principally in keeping the platform stable, it also, said Eric, caused a change of plans, and a change of focus. The new focus was to be on ease of use of the platform… a theme Eric returns to throughout the interview. “A big theme of this capital raise is about making Zwift easier and more accessible to people – the platform, the game experience, the content, and the hardware that goes with it.”
“The end to end experience has to be much easier for us to attract the broader audience who can’t be fussed with all the different pieces you need to get on Zwift.”Eric Min
The change of plans saw long-planned new features dropped, with the headline-grabbing announcement in the Zwift Forums that the new User Interface would now no longer launch and was to be comprehensively re-thought. There was further re-thinking after THAT survey… the one that caused so many ructions in the community.
“One of the things that came out was the idea that this was not a good time to roll out rowing.” Eric explained that the message from the survey was clear: Rowing was not important enough to the broad mass of Zwifters to justify the resources the company would need to launch it successfully. Rowing is coming to Zwift – and Eric is confident it will be a big success – but it’s not coming yet.
The raising of new funding has also caused some to wonder whether Zwift is now on course to become “fattened up” either for a sale on the public markets or to a wealthy private buyer, and that might mean price rises. Eric is very clear on this… you can hear his full, detailed position in the interview. But Zwifters are not going to be digging any deeper into their wallets, at least in the short term.
There are a number of other nuggets and nuances in the interview that Zwifters will find interesting. Has 2020 changed things at Zwift, like it’s changed so much else? Assuredly, it has.