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Crowley discusses why he created Foursquare and how merchants helped make it what it is today
Dennis Crowley, co-founder of Foursquare, demonstrated his location savvy Wednesday at LeWeb: his cab dropped him off on the wrong side of Paris, he attempted to catch the Metro back but got lost, and to make matters worse, Paris is a giant ice cube right now, but he managed to get to the conference. And it’s a good thing, too, because he had some interesting insight into how to create a solid product and manage explosive growth.
While many believe that Foursquare is a huge 200-strong company, Crowley revealed that it is only now reaching a headcount of 40. But this is considerable growth compared to last year, when Foursquare had four employees. It also broke five million users last week, 60% of which are from the U.S. and 40% of which are International. The company sees almost two million check-ins a day.
Crowley explained, however, that he didn’t create Foursquare with the aim of starting a big company. “I had a startup before this called Dodgeball…it was before smartphones and iPhones, but we thought, if you could figure out where your friends are in the city at any given time, would that make your experience of the city different? We did it specifically make New York City more navigable, and it was just a thesis project while I was at NYU. Later on we decided to resurrect some of those cool features for Foursquare.”
Dodgeball sold to Google in 2005. Fun fact: that’s where the Foursquare logo came from.
Later the conversation switched over to the topic of pivoting. Crowley revealed that merchants technically invented Foursquare, in a manner of speaking. While the app launched in 2009 at South by Southwest as a purely social app, traffic and usage gradually dropped off. Over time, Crowley and the other members of the early Facebook team noticed that merchants began offering discounts for customers who checked-in on Foursquare. “We hadn’t even thought of that,” admitted Crowley. “The merchants invented that.”
When the topic of money came up, Crowley explained that Foursquare wasn’t created with the aim of getting rich, and he has no desire to sell the company because, as he said, “then what?” He added: “If you ask everybody in here to raise their hands if they’re doing what they’re doing to get really rich, you probably won’t see a lot of hands go up,” said Crowley. Entrepreneurs who are truly passionate about their product aren’t exclusively aiming to get rich. Foursquare and Dodgeball were never meant to be companies, Crowley explained. They were created because there are things to make life easier and more interesting for the creators and their friends, and that’s drive to meet a need is where Foursquare’s success has come from.
A lot of questions came from the audience regarding Facebook Places and how Foursquare plans to remain on top. “We always knew check-ins would be commoditized. We knew there would be someone who would become a master check-in service…we never thought it would be us, but that’s what we’re doing. We’re just trying not to get distracted with what everyone else is doing,” said Crowley.
When asked about international expansion, Crowley said that he believes that more Foursquare traffic will come increasingly from outside of the U.S.
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