Here & There is a weekly newsletter on a variety of outdoor and travel topics, and part of Mountain Gazette.
Luke was (at the time) running a visual-storytelling platform that I’ve used on and off for nearly a decade. He connected with Dan Kuntz and just a short time later, the first iteration of Any Distance was born. Think of this early version as an Unfold for runners – you could connect it to the activity tracker of your choice and get beautifully designed, shareable images of your workouts. It appealed to many folks in the same way that Unfold did – these were visually interesting ways to share my activity and significantly more fun than what Strava offered at the time. Although I’m a less frequent Instagram user than I used to be, I still post frequently on my stories, and the designer in me loves the unique options for layouts and style.
Over time, Any Distance evolved into more of a community, supporting in-app tracking, badges, a community feed, video, many many more activity types, and a plethora of painstakingly crafted design details. The app now supports 90+ activity types. However, you won’t find segment tracking, leaderboards, or highly detailed performance stats here…and that’s kind of the point.
The most recent updates included the launch of Active Clubs – members can now set up a close friends-style social network of up to 100 friends (anyone remember Path?) to share fitness activities. These mini communities aren’t designed for competition, but rather as a motivational tool to encourage incremental healthy lifestyle changes. Any Distance wants to celebrate any kind of movement in your life, whether it be short, long, a stroller run, walking meeting, cold plunge, or trail run (all available activity types).
What has been so impressive has been the cultivation of brand and community. The Atlanta-based company has been slowly and deliberately building a brand that people care about. Growth has been deliberate, branding choices have been on-point, and the dedicated, niche, following reflects that work.
In a time where so many companies have grown to the point of being faceless, personality-less behemoths, it’s refreshing to have a brand that feels like it sweats the details and feels…fun. There are dozens of design details and delightful moments painstakingly integrated into the app and branding. Transitions. Animations. Andi, the Any Distance mascot. Do I need a dozen options for my app icon? No, but dang it sure is fun to have the option.
When is the last time a company had swag that you *actually* wanted to own?
The badge and reward system, while it won’t be for everyone, feels fun and unique. You have your typical badges for time and distance, but the addition of unique unlockables for locations, special events, swag discounts and brand collaborations feels intentional and rewarding. After a Halloween run, I unlocked the "Thriller McCreeper", an adorable yet terrifying 3D version of any Any Distance avatar. Another time they served up a discount for Poolsuite sunscreen (more Poolsuite collabs plz). The list goes on and on, from state and city badges, to a "Monsters University 10-year anniversary" badge, "a reminder that it's ok to be different and that friendship is the most important thing of all". Definitely a bit more zany than another "Run 5k this month with [company]" achievement.
Activity tracking is a crowded market
Strava has over 100 million athletes, Nike Run Club is at 100 million, and AllTrails has 50 million. There are a dozen others, and Outside is inevitably trying to get into this market on the outdoors side via Gaia GPS and the "super app" they're currently building.
A recent post from Strava shares that they’ve been profitable for the last three years, but it’s perhaps fair to note a growing sense of unrest in the community. Like many other companies in the same position, Strava raised a mountain of VC money and reached a scale where it is harder to keep everyone happy. Some members feel that issues with UX and privacy are going overlooked in favor of a focus on revenue-driving features. The rolloout of a recent price hike in January was botched pretty badly and resulted in a significant amount of poor press and some users choosing the leave the platform.
Frankly I think the outrage was a bit overblown – yes, they handled the change terribly, but if you get value out of Strava, then paying a slightly increased monthly charge is not a huge deal. You’re probably your third pair of $150 running shoes this year, pipe down. However, there are plenty of folks who feel that paid features aren’t worth it and that Strava isn’t currently aligned with their needs and personal fitness goals.
Additionally, while they’ve made additional strides recently with various privacy features, such as concealing start and end points of activities, allowing users to create private profiles, and enabling the option to hide profile pictures from non-friends, many users have continued concerns about Strava and data privacy (something that Any Distance has a very strong stance about). These aren’t insurmountable problems – just very challenging ones. Their user base is massive, with a variety of different use cases across dozens of activities, and it’s not an enviable task to keep everyone happy (and keep making money). I personally still use both Strava and Any Distance.
There’s something for everyone
Although I positioned this post as “Any Distance vs Strava”, that’s more clickbait than the actual narrative. Any Distance has a long way to go before they’re playing with the behemoths of the activity tracking industry. While much of their positioning (and design) feel like an intentional foil to incumbents, that juxtaposition is not really the point. Any Distance doesn’t want to be Strava. Like other tech companies, they’ll want (and need) to grow in order to survive but the way in which they’re going about that feels different so far. There’s an opportunity in the space for something that feels different, more intentional, and more personal. If that’s your vibe, awesome. If you appreciate the nitty gritty of historical results, comparisons, data, and thrive on competition, that’s great too – Strava isn’t going anywhere.
Any Distance is still a small fish in a big pond, but people are starting to take notice. They recently won an Apple Design Award for visuals and graphics, and they’re climbing the App Store charts – an accomplishment that they celebrated with their local Atlanta community.
Any distance counts.