Zwift and 2020: CEO Eric Min Outlines New Thinking

Zwift and 2020: CEO Eric Min Outlines New Thinking

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.

About The Author

Simon Schofield

Simon lives in Leeds, in the North of England, where grey, wet winters drive him indoors to ride. An early Zwift adopter, one day he idly wondered whether the fast-growing virtual cycling world would sustain a podcast. 100+ episodes later - he has his answer - there's always something to talk about! Simon's a journalist by trade and spent many years working in TV production. He's at his happiest either drafting a big pack in Watopia or plunging down an Alpine descent with the sun in his face and the wind at his back.

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Greg Smith
Greg Smith
8 months ago

Disappointing. No new user interface for who knows how long. No rowing. Not sure what they actually are going to deliver. “Ease of use”? Zwift seems pretty easy today and would be even easier if the UI didn’t suck so bad.

FunkyT
FunkyT
8 months ago

Yeah if their goal of easier “end-to-end” means that you’ll have to buy dedicated rowers and bikes to use their platform. I’ll be moving on.

Jaja
Jaja
8 months ago
Reply to  FunkyT

That idea was specifically mocked and for good reason.

FunkyT
FunkyT
8 months ago
Reply to  Jaja

Yeah, its funny what happens with the passage of time and the influx of investor money. Sorta like how the rowing addition was “weeks away” a couple months ago, and is now shelved…

Dirk Diggler
Dirk Diggler (@eggshapedfred)
8 months ago

They need a modern graphics engine and the ability to play on ps4/5 type consoles. Also a simple version that uses minimal graphics but you can still get an ERG workout done and upload to strava, or else it doesn’t count. UI is dogshit too, having to leave Zwift to start a new ride is an old joke.

Dave
Dave
8 months ago
Reply to  Dirk Diggler

Realistically better graphics are so far down the list of what Zwift needs I’d be happy if they stayed as is for the next few years.

I spent an hour racing tonight and gave literally no thought to the graphics and chucking money and time at improving them will reduce accessibility for the probably substantial number of people running zwift on older hardware.

Mattv
Mattv
8 months ago
Reply to  Dave

Yes,yes. The graphics are fine. Better graphics would only matter if you are tooting around at 50 watts. If you are racing/training, graphics are almost the least important thing

Wally
Wally
8 months ago
Reply to  Dirk Diggler

Graphics are fine indeed, but it would be awesome if they improved the way hardware handles the graphics. Modern gaming systems should be able to maintain 60fps without shuttering, which is now impossible because of several inexplicable bottlenecks. You can chuck an i9 rtx2080 system at zwift and it will still shutter and drop to 20fps from the moment you hit a large group of riders… that’s just silly, for a company backed by that amount of cash.

rdcyclist
rdcyclist (@rdcyclist)
8 months ago

I’m not a podcast guy so I’ll have to go with what I’ve read here. I understand improving the ease of use model. Seems to me the first step would be to re-write the Zwift app into a newer software “language” that works across more platforms and doesn’t take a month of learning to be sort of proficient. That’s what we’re doing now. I’ve been on Zwift since January and I’m still learning subtleties of the app. That’s just stupid. Or I’m stupid.

MHolden
MHolden (@holdenadventures)
8 months ago
Reply to  rdcyclist

Learning the game over time is part of the fun! 🙂

Bobby Mac
Bobby Mac (@rmacdowell1)
8 months ago

Simon, is there any mention or meaningful discussion about Zwift racing in the podcast? My guess is No. My other guess after having close to three decades experience with raising investment capital, is that the investors see how much money Peloton makes in hardware sales vs Zwift. And it’s a stark contrast. Zwift leaves money on the rd is everything someone signs up cause they do so without having to purchase hardware directly from Zwift. Focus on “ease of use” is code for we need to sell Zwift Bikes and Zwift Trainers. That’s the focus.

BikePower
BikePower (@bikepower)
8 months ago

Super disappointing. I know Zwift have been heavily focused on racing, events, etc., but what I really want is new roads and rowing (I went out and bought a Concept2 rower after Eric months ago said rowing would be released in a couple of weeks). No mention of anything new, just a lot of talk about building “systems” (whatever they are) and that building the “systems” could take years. Doesn’t seem like my monthly fee is buying much other than the continued use of existing features.

S B
S B
8 months ago
Reply to  BikePower

Eric is a liar. That’s the only new thing!

Alex
Alex
8 months ago

Peloton’s market cap went from roughly $6bln pre-Covid to $32bln today.

I wonder where Zwift would be today if they had acquired (or merged with) Tacx in early 2019 when Tacx was for sale. I still see a lot of upside of merging Zwift with Wahoo instead of trying to re-invent the wheel.

Ease-of-use in Zwifts case is obviously hardware bundled with a premium subscription model that includes stuff like workouts with live trainers. Doesn’t mean they cant keep offering a $15-20 basic monthly plan though.

Andrei
Andrei (@aistratov)
8 months ago

I think the message was as clear as one could expect. You did not expect CEO of Zwift to discuss small details of how exactly they are going to spend the investor money and what they think needs to be done to beat the competition, did you? You need to be the investor to hear those details of the business plan. But you can try to read between the lines. Eric said that their customer service was hugely overloaded during the spike in demand. If a customer has a question to which they cannot find an answer (or do not… Read more »

Jaja
Jaja
8 months ago
Reply to  Andrei

I agree with everything you said except “until Zwift will be ready to roll out a brand new software platform”. This implies a new game engine, which Eric seemed to say was worth thinking about, but I seriously doubt will happen anytime soon, That would take a very big commitment in terms of resources and take a year or more to rewrite everything. Doing this, when lack of quality developers is an issue, seems extremely unlikely. Just my two cents

Dave
Dave
8 months ago

I think when you say “literally”, you literally mean “figuratively”.

MHolden
MHolden (@holdenadventures)
8 months ago

@Simon Schofield Really enjoy the ZwiftCast content! I was suffering with the break last month 🙂 Glad your back!
What’s your Zwift Account name…Hard to throw you Ride Ons when I can’t find you 🙂

Morning
Morning
8 months ago

There’s no way they can ignore what Peloton is doing and their massive increase in value. All of which, in my opinion is not good for the current users of the platform.

Alimar
Alimar
8 months ago

I bought a Concept2 on the back of the podcast saying it was only weeks away, having only been using Zwift since lockdown. After waiting months for the rowing machine and to be told it’s now not coming, I’m hugely disappointed. Looks like the C2 is now for sale and a rethink on the Zwift subscription soon.

Joel
Joel
8 months ago

I think ease of use for non-technical people will open up the market. Yes most of us understand how to use a computer, but I’ve had to hand walk some of my friends on how to set up bluetooth interfaces with their phones. They were so frustrated with the initial set up procedure that the equipment was back in the box to return to the store. One even now refuses to ride on Zwift because it can’t possibly have the right Watts! So…yes, it can be made easier “for the children!”

Víctor
Víctor
8 months ago

Please, ¿where are the pacers? 😭

Eric Schlange
Top Member
Eric Schlange (@eschlange)
8 months ago
Reply to  Víctor

Pacers should return in the next day or two.

S B
S B
8 months ago

Thinking, thinking, thinking. Meanwhile, we see zero improvements! Still sandbaggers, still bugs, still no average wattage shown in screen, just two new routes in the past 12 months. It’s pathetic.

Andrew
Andrew
8 months ago

Ugh, how do you raise $450m and then delay bringing in an already long-delayed addition of Rowing (of course the majority of the Zwift community doesn’t care about it, the majority of rowers aren’t also cyclists, I’d think it will be a big attraction to completely new Zwift users which means more money coming in!) and add another delay to an improved/reworked UI (Either the new UI was better or it wasn’t, if it wasn’t who’s getting sacked, if it was, give it to us!) Yes, sure they really should be integrating the majority of general Zwift, Zwift Companion, and… Read more »

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