Simplicity, vision and hitting the sweet spot: SPOK’D on making cycling coaching more accessible and affordable

Richard Lang is an ex-professional rider who is passionate about finding ways tech can help people achieve their goals. As a result, he founded SPOK’D, an online app that uses smart algorithms to make cycling coaching more accessible and affordable to everyone…

Richard Lang

Can you give us a short introduction to SPOK’D?
The idea itself came about back in 2016 when I was out on a ride with a few mates. We were talking about the difficulties for a coach of delivering a highly personalised training plan for any more than 20 athletes. Whilst for a rider, the cost and time commitment of having a coach is significant. I thought, there has to be a simpler and more accessible way of delivering top-level training to riders.

From there, a founding team was established with my good mate Chris Newton (Team GB coach). We developed the initial concept, which was built by a local software development agency in Manchester. By mid-2017, we had a concept that we shared within our closed network and it fell flat. Riders loved our vision and what we were aiming to achieve, but the execution wasn’t there.

I definitely underestimated the vast amount of effort it would take to get a software business off the ground. Plus, the more we dug into the coaching side… it’s a complex beast. There are two elements to brilliant coaching: the data versus softer, more fluid side of coaching – like how people are feeling, how well did they sleep – and we had to make sure we hit the sweet spot.

In early 2018, I was fortunate enough to receive investment from the Startup Factory and this was when SPOK’D and my capabilities as a tech lead really started to grow. It took us another 12 months of testing, rider feedback, development and lots of late nights before we opened the beta up to the public in February 2019. We received our first paying rider a week later and it felt like we made it.

Today, we’re still a relatively small team but we have grown a fantastic network of coaches, nutritionists, bike fitters, mentors, data analysts and SPOK’D riders. It’s been a long time in the making, but there is so much more to come.

How does the app work?
There are two key values that SPOK’D stands for; smart and simple. These values create a framework for how we want a rider to feel when they use SPOK’D. It begins when a rider signs up to SPOK’D via the website and from there they move into building their personalised coaching plan.

You can build a plan within four steps: 1) set your goal; 2) input the time you have available to train; 3) link your accounts; 4) establish your fitness levels. One-click later and your personal plan has been built.

As you start to train, your plan adapts to you, using a few key principles. Planned versus actual workload completed, how the sessions felt – hard, medium or easy – and your lifestyle metrics from energy levels to sleep. These all have an impact on how your plan dynamically changes.

Plus, anytime during the week, you can change your training availability and a new session is created with the plan adjustments applied. This removes the stress of a rider thinking “what do I have to do next?” Or “how do I reduce my session as I feel tired?” Or “I’ve got to work late and I can’t ride tonight”. It gives the riders confidence they’re doing the right type of training that is aligned with their goal and stops them from beating themselves up, mentally, if they have a crappy few days, get ill, or miss a session.

Also, we want people to enjoy the social side of cycling, whether it be a club ride or weekend coffee loop. That’s why you can add a ‘free ride’ anytime, and this allows SPOK’D to collect your workload and that’s then factored into next week’s plan.

All this makes SPOK’D a cycling coach in your pocket that is on call 24/7.

What does SPOK’D offer that other apps perhaps do not?
Eddie, a SPOK’D rider, sums up nicely why we’re different to what’s out there in the market: “Using SPOK’D has taught me the difference between training and being coached. There are plenty of linear training plans online you can follow, but they don’t adapt, whereas SPOK’D is dynamic and it will change my plan depending on my form, feel and feedback. All for the price of a few coffees a month.”

This differentiates SPOK’D from other apps and provides people with an alternative to hiring an online coach. We do realise we’re never going to replace an online coach, but we’re providing riders an alternative that’s deliberately priced low – just £9.99 a month – to make coaching more accessible. At that price point we hope SPOK’D is a simple decision to make, and something that delivers real value.

One of our users, Simon, joined after Christmas and has reported an almost 10% increase in their FTP within eleven weeks, just by following a flexible structured plan and making every session count, so it can really make a difference.

What has the reaction to the app been like so far?
It’s been amazingly positive, but it wasn’t always that way. It’s taken a lot of persistence and patience, as we don’t have masses of development resources or loads of money. The product is still developing every week, with new features and functionality being added. However, we’ve seen a 412% growth in sign-ups within the last four months. Plus, on average riders complete 83% of their sessions they plan for the week. This metric alone highlights SPOK’D has become an integral part of their routines.

How do you plan to grow the app moving forwards, both in terms of increasing users, and advancing the technology itself?
This is something we’re super excited about. When it comes to building technology, it’s about taking a step back and applying a novice mindset. What this means is: we assume nothing and we’re truly guided by user feedback; we dig deeper into the core question “how can we help riders train smarter, in a simple way?”

Taking this approach has allowed us how to create a technology roadmap of what is required to improve the algorithms that set the user’s workouts and plans, plus gain valuable insight into a rider’s mindset. Therefore, purposely building what a rider actually needs from a data point of view and the educational/motivational side of things.

One method that has allowed us to increase rider numbers has been the way we go about building SPOK’D. We’re transparent. I go onto the SPOK’D Instagram page and talk about the features we’re trying to develop, share the designs within the our closed FB group and this allows riders to give direct feedback and shape the platform. By opening SPOK’D up to the broader community, we find it drives a lot of word of mouth.

Also, we’re exploring a number of integrations with other cycling platforms, which will enhance the experience and make it even easier to train smart.

How niche is your target audience?
SPOK’D is for anyone who loves riding their bike and has an appetite to improve. By tapping into shared passions and attitudes, rather than generic cycling demographics, SPOK’D is able to coach riders of all abilities. There are people who train simply by feel, those that have a particular goal like increasing power or endurance, and others are category 2 chasing their category 1 licence.

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