Updated: Aug 16
My mate Tony is an addict, he spends at least an hour a day on his own in his garage, sometimes he’s up and into it at 5am, and often does it more often, and longer than he means to. It caught him by surprise – just another side effect of the COVID lockdown. Tony is hooked on a powerful thing - called 'ZWIFT'.
ZWIFT is an online cycling platform that enables users to interact, train and compete in a virtual world.
It is an example of what’s been called ‘The Platform Revolution’, how the Uber’s, Airbnb, Amazon, Apple all disrupted their markets, and are winning in a big way.ZWIFT only started in 2015 but over 2 and a half million people have already signed up to enter a world that “as Outside magazine once described is “part social-media platform, part personal trainer, part computer game", or as ZWIFT CEO Eric Min says “Zwift is a physical Esport”.
That’s turned into a valuable combo, with ZWIFT reportedly now valued ‘at north of $1 billion'.
A swift success story and is an example of the platform revolution in sport and the active world.
So what’s ‘a Platform’?
You will be familiar with the brands, but perhaps not so much the model behind them, but in short, a ‘platform’ “enables value-creating interactions between providers and consumers". Just like Airbnb connects hosts and guests, or Uber drivers and riders, ZWIFT connects riders with rides and riders. The platform revolution has revolutionised taxis, transport, accommodation, entertainment, and according to some very smart people, more equally important transformations are on the way. The revolution is just beginning – and we will see more of this in sport, for fans, participants and consumers of our events and activities.
How might this affect you? Or could you lead the way in your sport, and with your events?
The Purpose of a Platform
Basically, when you strip it back to the basics, a platforms essential purpose is to create matches between users and facilitate the exchange of something. That may be products, services, or experiences, and often involves some form of social currency (e.g., Uber drivers provide a service from A to B, and get rated, which is an important currency for their success). ZWIFT provides a service to enable cyclists to get together online to experience a ride, and they get a valuable currency.
“We think of Zwift as having three very unique experiences. We have something for Compete, and Esports is part of that. Compete is not just about the pro level of the sport, it's all the way down to the grassroots level. We also have Training. A vast majority of our customers show up for Training. We’re trying to make that training something that's also very social. Then finally, it's about Exploring. An example of Exploring is going out there and collecting all the badges, tons of badges, dozens of badges that you can collect, route badges" - ZWIFT CEO Eric Min.
It’s all there on ZWIFT, the service, the experience and the social currency.
The 2 Sides
URL & IRL
While the platform revolution is driven by technology, it isn’t just about online platforms, there is often a physical component to the platform experience. Like Airbnb guests stay in physical properties, Uber users travel from A to B.
This integration of digital and physical elements is revolutionising whole sports, like cycling. In recent times, any cyclists going for a ride were aware ‘if it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen’. The mantra was driven by ‘Strava’ becoming the essential platform where riders log their rides as users, but also to create and provide ride ‘segments’, on which they get ‘kudos’ - a strava-fied form of currency. Strava being an example of platforms creating matches between users and facilitating the exchange of information, experiences, and a social currency. And it’s attractive, even if Strava is going through its own evolution as a platform, they have over 70 million members, in 195 countries#.
Global & Local
In another example of a platform coordinating physical and digital experiences, it was just a few years ago that Tammy and Andy van Bergen launched a global platform from their kitchen table in Melbourne. With ‘users’ in Sweden, Sri Lanka and the United States, and right across the world, thousands of people are now cycling on their ‘everesting’ platform.
Everesting is a revolution in cycling, it’s been called 'the new marathon' or the 'ironman of cycling' and invites people to ‘Pick any hill, anywhere in the world and complete repeats of it in a single activity until you climb 8,848m – the equivalent height of Mt Everest’. It’s a simple but inspiringly clever concept, with 17,623 successful finishers so far, facilitated across 108 countries.
Everesting also an example of a platform, in that while Tammy and Andy are the providers behind it, anyone can provide a everesting experience, for anyone who wants to do it. What a platform provider also does is it sets up the conditions for positive interactions to occur – Airbnb sets the rules for hosts and guests, the Van Bergens have set up the ‘conditions’ for positive interactions to occur, and it’s a pretty successful one. Everyday athletes through to the elite are doing it, it’s been recognised by media globally, and it’s a great example of a new way of providing, and consuming sport and activities.
‘Events’ have evolved, from one-off, provider-driven, physical occurrences, to 24/7, 365, ongoing, platform-based communities, embracing physical, AND online experiences.
The Value of a Platform
Ben Saunders from Playkit is an expert is this space, and he tells me the value of a marketplace (platform) is more than connecting two sides, the true benefit of a marketplace is its ability to empower the ‘creation of new opportunities from very little resources, or anything at all but ideas’. As he says, a housewife can create a new travel experience in 2 minutes and be taking bookings immediately. In his opinion "the power to create - is the power to grow" hence why it is in his eyes, the most compelling benefit of marketplace platforms.
And according to the authors of the book, ‘the Platform Revolution “platforms derive much of their value from the communities they serve” … and their communities also serve the platform. As the authors of the book call out – the best platforms create strong ‘Network Effects'.
Network Effects come to life when something is better when more people are using it, and so the network effect kicks in, people actively recruit other people to get on it with them. Like using WhatsApp, or Facebook, or any community platform, online or otherwise. Just like the events and forums which we provide, they are more fun when other people are into it.
When your events and campaigns engage the network effect, your customers start recruiting new customers for you!
I won’t go into Network Effects too much here, but it’s important, and highly relevant to our work, and it is valuable, as it can do your work for you if you design it right (and you can explore the Network Effect in these chapters of our 'Experience Design for Events' series).
How can you create a platform?
Remembering that just like Uber, or ZWIFT, a platforms main value is to generate matches between users and facilitate the exchange of something. That may be products like Apple, services like Uber or, experiences, like our events, and often involves some form of social currency, again, just like our shared experiences do.
A great example of a platform emerging, connecting participants and providers, is the new RIDE NATION platform set up by AusCycling.
If you haven’t come across it, Ride Nation is a digital and physical marketplace for riders and deliverers to connect. An online platform that connects buyers and sellers, alongside physical experiences that bring them together.
It's an innovative example of the evolution of platforms into our active world. And there are many more on the way.
New platforms such as 'PlaySport' and 'PlayTennis' are other examples of great steps being taken in the sport platform evolution.
2 steps to start with
Obviously, there is a bit to getting this right, and if it was easy, we’ve all be rich right!? And we haven’t unpacked all there is to know here, but… a good place to start, and keep coming back to is 2 key principles in platforms:
1. Your platform must begin with the core interaction* - that is at the heart of a platforms value-creation mission
*Interaction being at the core of what sport and event providers have with their participants and fans. Pre, during, and after the experiences, interactions online, and in real life.
2. Your platform must be an infrastructure** designed to facilitate 3 kinds of exchanges, information, experiences, and currency.
** infrastructure, in this case, isn’t about physical structures, it's more about creating a platform. A program, event, a physical and/or online experience - that enables interactions, that offer some value.
So even if your activity, event, or sport isn’t a platform to the letter of these definitions, it may be you can shift a bit, and uncover a whole lot of new value. For your consumers, and for you.
And if you want to be the Airbnb of sport or the Uber of events, please do let me know!
I’d love to play a role when you do :)