Rewards and Monetization

I really like what Dennis Crowley, founder and CEO of Foursquare, said about "rewarding checkins" in this post on Business Insider:

Foursquare's [success] depends on providing "the most incentive for a user to check-in."

There are many ways to do that, including the game play dynamics that Foursquare does so well. But for me, the most interesting way to reward a checkin is to provide some real value at the moment of checkin. For example, when I show up a my local cafe in the morning and checkin, I'd love to occasionally get a message on my checkin screen that says "you've checked in for the tenth time and earned a free espresso drink."

I have no doubt that is coming and I am confident that Foursquare will be leading the charge in getting there.

The reason that is the most interesting reward to me is that it directly leads to the monetization of the service. These rewards are basically another form of coupons or offers and merchants have always responded well to the opportunity to pay a third party for the opportunity to coupon their customers and potential customers.

Which leads me to an announcement our portfolio company Adaptive Blue made about their Glue service yesterday. Glue is a social network in which users engage with and opine on things they uncover on the web every day. It exists both in your browser (via a browser extension) and at

Glue assigns the "guru" label to the person in the service who has engaged the most with a specific item. For example, I am the guru of 35 different items on Glue.

The announcement was that they are now rewarding "gurus" with rewards. As you engage with items in Glue, you'll occasionally be offered rewards like this one.

 This notion of rewarding users with free offers can be expanded to many services on the web. And it provides everyone in the system with value. The service gets more engaged users. The user gets free stuff. The merchant gets to engage with the right person at the right time with the right offer.

I think we'll see more of these rewards showing up in our favorite web services. It's a different, and in many cases, a better form of monetization.

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Comments (Archived):

  1. Andy

    It is (was) clear to me that people would quickly get tired of just becoming a ‘Mayor’ – I concur, couponing & real life rewards are where the space is going – expect every mobile (location) app to allow you to ‘check-in’

  2. lauraglu

    I’ve seen a location on Foursquare that precisely has the ten check-ins and get a free beverage reward, in addition to a Mayor discount. So, they’re already there. :)Laura

    1. fredwilson

      where is that if you don’t mind me asking?

      1. lauraglu

        I’m trying to find it. (… πŸ˜€ It’s either in San Francisco or Palo Alto (I *thought* it was PA). Nola’s here in Palo Alto offers a free appetizer on your 5th check in, but I don’t see an attached Mayor deal.

      2. romigli

        Today’s NYTimes Frugal Traveler writer Matt Gross named a few places in his article on Foursquare:”…becoming the virtual mayor of a place can sometimes have real-world benefits. Dozens of businesses offer freebies to Foursquare mayors and others who check-in frequently: At 92YTribeca in Manhattan, Foursquare check-ins get half-off a second glass of wine; at Leaf, in Austin, Tex., the mayor gets a free brownie; and at Mojo Old Bank, in Wellington, New Zealand, you get a free coffee drink with every fifth check-in.New Zealand! Well done.http://frugaltraveler.blogs

        1. fredwilson

          awesome. i’d like to see more of this

    2. Alex Iskold

      I think thats exactly right – reward should go to regular not just mayor in case of 4square.

    3. Mark Essel

      I’m going!

  3. Eric Leebow

    Yes, I love this idea, “You’ve checked in for the tenth time” and get a free drink. I have thought of similar ideas to this… How about a paradigm shift, “Your Buddy Checked in for the tenth time,” now a free drink is sent out to you, so that you can meet with your buddy at the place. We all know the guy who checks in the most is going to get the free drink, but that’s not so important for a drink company, as they know he will come back. How about someone who doesn’t check in, how does the place get them to buy a drink? My thought is this: You get that free drink, only when you bring someone else with you. This prevents the “lonely person” and invites a new customer in…

    1. Mark Essel

      That’s marketing gold right there, bring in the occassional or new customer. But you still want to reward your regulars

      1. daryn

        Another idea is offering incentives to mayors/regulars of other nearby venues to come give your place a try. This exists to some extent with “Deal Nearby”, but it could be a lot more competitive and reward-driven.

        1. joeagliozzo

          Could businesses “bid” on giving deals to mayors/regulars?

        2. andyswan

          I can’t wait til a few of the leading mayors on foursquare start selling themselves to the highest bidder.”I cannot in good conscience remain mayor of Paul’s Tavern, because they almost gave me polio. Instead, I urge all of my followers to Dave’s Saloon, so that we might all enjoy the fine ambiance and friendly staff together! First 5 @replies get a 35% off!”

      2. Pete McLaughlin

        An extension could be to award the regular with the ability to give a reward to anyone in his/her network. “You’ve showed up three days in a row, send a coupon to a friend for a free whatever.” That reaches the regular and the newcomer, and encourages a personal recommendation (of sorts) for the venue.

        1. Mark Essel


        2. Tereza

          Yes but I’d make it ‘warmer’ than a free coupon, which are kinda commoditized and clutter-y. Try a coupon that goes further, with this language in the alert:”Hi <<name>>. Because I go to <<venue>> a lot, I’ve scored this great reward. Why don’t we hang out there and enjoy the free <appetizer drink=”” dessert=””> together? Are you free on <<date>>?”.Provide link to iCal/google calendar.The reward has to be really good. The biggest gift we give each other is our time.So I’m suggesting is raising the stakes in what Social can do. I blow off free coupons all the time. But an invitation to catch up in person with someone I like, or am due for a catch up with — much harder!Perhaps the highest value part of all Social Media so far is how it helps me be a better friend. It’s transformationally easier to follow up, plan stuff, and keep my relationships warm and moving forward.A lot of people wouldn’t mind help being better friends…..and they need places to meet up to do it. Foursquare and its business partners should explore that impulse.

        3. ShanaC

          Full on Coupon trading- they have monetary value. I’m pro it- I don’t thinkpeople advertising would be because its a harder metric to track

    2. fredwilson

      that’s a nice idea

      1. Eric Leebow

        Thanks, this idea is the simplest form. There’s obviously much more complexities. For instance, if you check into place A 10 times, then place B, might want to advertise to you or something like that. Similar to how you go to the grocery store and buy a product, you get a coupon for another product that’s similar etc. An automated algorithm that suggest the specific kind of friend based on their check in behavior, etc. Very super cool things can be done!

        1. fredwilson

          I agree. We are just scratching the surface with what can be done with a digital checkin

          1. Eric Leebow

            Very true, geo location services is one of my passions. I have kept a list of geo location services on Twitter. @ericleebow/geo-location-services FourSquare is definitely an innovator, yet no technology is perfect, it’s the people who make any service great. I think about this every day, and realize we are still very early. I always wonder if there will someday be flying cars. Once the flying car or something tantamount to it (ie. flying cafes) is ubiquitous, we will have reached the penultimate chapter in geo location. Interesting to think about, will there ever be flying cars, or is that just something to think about. This is our future, we know the very end chapter, yet what’s figured out between now and the flying car is where technologists, and geolocation engineers have to focus their energy. There are a lot of mysteries, and to see a flying car is not the point of this message, it’s to early to see, and what comes before the flying car is what really will change the world. I for one, don’t desire to get behind the wheel of a real flying car just yet, although it’s interesting to think about.

  4. charlessmith

    I’d love to see this concept incorporated into the FT subscription model you’ve suggested that newspapers adapt- more interaction/participation rewards you with more free pages or experiences as it gives the publication more chances to monetize “you” without charging the subscription.

    1. JeremiahKane

      I like this idea, the most active readers are more likely to be the “all-you-can-eat” subscribers – you need a reward that’s above and beyond what is available under the “best” plan. I have seen “insider access” to developing stories as one idea for a carrot.

    2. Mark Essel

      Right on, there’s a wide range of content that benefit from these type of connections.

  5. gardnersmitha

    I think whoever figures out the geolocation/checkin model with the right incentives will win bigtime. The issues here for me are twofold:1) Checkin integrity is dependent on ubiquity and reliability of GPS technology (not a longshot bet at all, but how long it’ll take to get there, really)2) Competition within the space – aka who will be able to get the ear and wallet of merchants first.It’ll certainly be fun to watch people duke it out here (mostly Foursquare and Gowalla) and see how long it takes before Twitter steps in…seems like a pretty clear acquisition looming on the horizon…

    1. Joe Siewert

      Great points. Also made me think of @cdixon’s post the other day about techies and normals. (….It will be interesting to see if mainstream user’s jump onto the idea of checking in regularly or if the user base will stay more around a technical audience. I know Foursquare’s user base has been growing a lot in recent months. Now that you can check-in from any city, I think this will be an interesting growth year to watch.

      1. fredwilson

        it’s a very good question. i’m optimistic. the gotham gal didn’t get into twitter for a long time. but she got into foursquare right away and loves checking in and seeing her friends checkins

        1. Joe Siewert

          I was in the same boat as well. Even though I fall into his “techie”category I was slow to use Twitter, but jumped into Foursquare quickly. Thehook for me with Foursquare is how nicely the service integrates digital andreal worlds with check-ins.

      2. alexismichelle

        My younger sister (not involved in tech at all) asked me if I heard of foursquare the other day. She heard about it on Dr. Phil πŸ˜‰

        1. Aviah Laor

          thats the shrink check-in. also opens great opportunities for parents.

        2. fredwilson

          maybe dr phil is foursquare’s oprah πŸ™‚

        3. Tereza

          NOW we’re cookin’ with gas.

        4. Joe Siewert

          Yeah! I heard he mentioned it, but didn’t see the clip myself.

  6. Vladimir Vukicevic

    This is a pretty obvious first step. Why not go beyond the punchcard model?

  7. Ovi_Jacob

    No doubt that opt-in mobile coupons are a great way to engage the audience.A few mobile apps are tying membership rewards cards to the mobile device, some provide coupons or other benefits (cardstar for one). Foursquare can take this to a totally new level as it incorporates the location based social element. Opens up a new market reserach frontier for the stores as well.Great post

    1. Libby

      When CardStar presented at Under the Radar they explained that they were tracking loyalty card usage with location, which really is, when it comes down to it, a “check-in” at POS.

    2. ShanaC

      Yes but that doesn’t help Glue…no physical location to be tied to. So why am I recommending?

  8. Mark Essel

    I appreciate the weaving of user interest and incentives with business marketing and service. Can I autocheckin to locations? I wouldn’t mind being trackable if it gave me free swag.

    1. Tereza

      me too. i want to do it but am juggling a lot and it’s one more thing to remember.

    2. Tereza

      also if in that moment if i don’t have cell service, does (or could) Foursquare complete my check-in once I’m back in cell range?

      1. Mark Essel

        That would be terrific. I keep forgetting 4square.

    3. fredwilson

      i’m not a fan of auto checkin. that gives most people the creeps. the explicit checkin is better. that said, i do like the idea of opting into get a push notification to remind you to checkin once the app knows for certain where you are

      1. Mark Essel

        That works

    4. kidmercury

      auto checkin is hwere it’s at IMHO, but to get there, the community creation service (i.e. 4square) needs to have mega trust. i.e. i’d use auto checkin in fredland, but for a governemnent that i don’t know? a nation that i only visit periodically and do not feel allegiance to? pfft, can’t be autottracked there, that’s big brother watching….

  9. George Howard

    Awesome. I’ve been saying (and, unfortunately, have to keep saying) that we must think in terms of transactional elements and value propositions. In the music business, the single most important currency is the email address.When people are finally compelled to visit an artist’s site (i.e. check in), the idea that they’re simply going to give you an email address is crazy.Fortunately, we’re seeing more and more of the email-for-content type widgets popping up.The next stage, imho, is similar to the Foursquare approach; checking in more often at an artist’s site grants you additional access, etc. (you become the “mayor” of the site). Not sure why artists/labels (or, frankly, any number of other businesses) aren’t doing this.I’m also not sure why there isn’t a Foursquare for venues. I suppose foursquare – now that they’ve added just about every location – has taken care of this, but an iPhone app that allows you to check in at a venue, and note what band you’re there to see/comment, etc., seems like a no-brainer with real up sell possibility.In any case, sorry for the tangential rant. Great post, got my wheels,George

    1. George Howard

      Incredibly lame to reply to my own comment, but this piece inspired me to finally flesh out some thoughts I’ve had for a while on this topic (that go beyond what I said above). Here’s the link:…If it’s bad form to link from this forum to another site (particularly my own), I apologize, and please delete.

      1. fredwilson

        that’s totally cool. if you wrote a post that is relevant then you are adding value to this conversation by sharing a link in the comments. carry on please!

        1. George Howard

          Will do. Thank you.

          1. Mark Essel

            Link sharing is most excellent. I get so many awesome posts, sites, and content from going through AVC shares.

    2. Fraser

      Hey George – we (at are working to solve this. With the browser add-on installed you can track your ‘check-ins’ to a band across any one of a few dozen popular music sites (see the list at have the concept of a regular. You can be identified as a regular at any recording artist, movie, etc. And so, by implicit behavior you have signaled your deep interest in the object, are identified/rewarded for this, and can (via our new reward structure) be rewarded appropriately.

      1. George Howard

        Fraser, Thank you for the response. I enjoy Glue. I have a few issues with it, and I’ve been delighted by the willingness of those who work there to discuss these issues with me.However, I’m not sure I articulated myself well. I sort of suggested two things at once (I apologize):1. a foursquare for live music app (to run on the iPhone, etc.)2. for Sites themselves to recognize their most passionate users and celebrate/reward them based on their frequency. In the blog post I wrote (and, perhaps in poor form, linked to from the above comment) I specifically said, that I was not suggesting that Foursquare (or anyone else) should take this task on (though that may be a very fine business model). My suggestion is an attempt to get those who operate sites/blogs to recognize their passionate users, and do so in a way that rewards this frequency.Thanks.George

        1. Fraser

          We couldn’t constantly iterate on it without input from people like you, so thanks for sharing it!We certainly don’t fit into #1, but I do think we are starting to solve #2.The browser add-on recognizes specific items across the web. It knows that Muse on is the same as Muse on Wikipedia, Myspace, etc. As an individual surfs and visits this artist across these pages we can identify who are the most passionate, active fans. Guru Giveaways was the first step in helping artists and others reach these groups :)In GetGlue there’s the concept of a Regular sticker, that shows everything you frequently regularly…. looking at Alex’s sticker you can get a good idea of the shows and artists he’s most passionate about:

  10. HowieG

    I agree 100% with if you that bribes work. While bribes up front cost might seem expensive, instant gratification trumps everything else. Coke can spend a gazillion on advertising but if I get the Pepsi at Point of Sale because of a promotion going on (the bribe) Coke loses. So it cost Pepsi $2 on that case of pop while each of Cokes gazillion Ad impressions to me cost $0.02. But 2 cents times a gazillion bringing in zero revenue is more than $2 spent at once. Bribes work for all sorts of consumer business types.

  11. JeremiahKane

    Part of a larger idea – you should reward all those who bring value to an endeavor (doesn’t have to be a company). Develop for the API (get rewarded/paid), as a key user who builds the value of a community (get rewarded), pay your employees etc.

    1. Guest

      Could you expand on this thought a little bit? Were you thinking of creating an API for those who add value in a community, like in an Open – Source community, non-profit, or some other group where they can be rewarded with a certain status level or some tangible reward?

      1. JeremiahKane

        I think a reward system itself can be a powerful service/application for online and offline communities. Badges, rewards and acknowledgement, as the service itself, not just as a feature of some other service.In a way similar to how Disqus separates the “comment” web service from a particular blog, the “reward” service can be applied to a number of different applications – especially communities where just paying people doesn’t fit.

        1. fredwilson

          hmm. very interesting idea jeremiah

        2. Mark Essel

          Kid Mercury has been evangelizing virtual currency for some time. A reward system that transcends any particular site, but connects them all with a common scoring metric would be quite valuable.

  12. Guest

    I wonder if there should be one company that does this, or if each Foursquare / Gowalla / Yelp / etc. type-of-company should do it separately.

  13. MattCope

    Here’s a tough question: how will those coupons be validated?Do you just show the vendor your iphone?Do I have to print something out?Do I get a coupon code? How does the vendor log that coupon code?I love the idea – but this is where I’m stuck.Thoughts, anyone?

    1. Bill Davenport

      Seems like your phone could show the barcode of each coupon and it could get scanned using existing tech. That might get tiresome if you have lots of coupons so there some sort of bluetooth send might make more sense.

      1. MattCope

        Bill – thanks for chiming in.I like the barcode idea, but do many small coffee shops have scanners/readers? Come to think of it, Starbucks doesn’t even have these. I think it would be tough to sell scanners into coffee shops just so they can give away free coffee, know what I mean?

        1. Bill Davenport

          I know what you mean. I can’t see print being the way to go though, so some sort of electronic transfer would be key. I think it might not be too hard to sell scanners / readers in to coffee shops though. The iphone app redlaser for example costs 99 cents and scans bar codes. That’s not tied in to traditional cash registers but then again companies like Square are making it easy to move away from traditional registers.

    2. fredwilson

      that’s why these “coupons” are so cool. they pop up on your phone when you checkin and you can show them to your waiter or the person at the register

      1. MattCope

        Ok… How do you protect against fraud, such as someone showing the same coupon over and over again?How does the restaurant measure how many coupons it’s giving away? And from what sources?In short – how does this get measured?

        1. fredwilson

          the “coupon” is presented on the phone, on the checkin validation screen. ideally it should time out after a set period. not sure if foursquare apps support that yet

  14. Bill Davenport

    A bit of a tangent here as well but out here in the burbs of MA there are not that many places to check in to in a traditional Foursquare restaurant / cafe / bar model. Checkins for us are at the grocery store! Had an idea a few weeks ago that it would be great to get grocery store coupons pushed / accessible to my iphone as I walk into the store. Better still would be if those could also be matched up with a shopping list to suggest things I should consider buying. Better still would be telling me where to find stuff in the store. I get 90% of my stuff quickly but then wander the aisles looking for the stuff that’s not on the signs. The icing on the cake would be electronic / bluetooth presentment of the coupons at checkout. It’s annoying to either not have the little card they ask for or to have it with your spouse instead of with you.

    1. Tereza

      I love what Foursquare does and what it might do as it weaves into real lives at massive scale.The badge system is breakthrough. Creative, game-like use of rewards, etc. will become status quo. I’ve also been building this type of stuff into this new app I’m doing, in a rudimentary way. And now trying out Glue, very cool.But Bill’s small town comment resonates with me too. My heavily wooded town is <5000 residents, a third weekenders who are never here, and barely any cell service. There are only two places to go out to. So right now I’m eating cheerios at my desk…and puzzled whether I should check in for that.I joined Foursquare when they launched last year but it’s not been a native fit for my location. One other guy in my town is on it, and we all go to the same one place anyway, so it doesn’t really work. On my NYC days, I forget to check in bc it’s not a habit.Today I started trying again. Started adding places like my kids’ school, parks, karate studio, piano lessons. etc. To make it sing, i need more people like me on it. But it’s not happening yet. Seems it should work well for playdates, carpools. But until people I naturally interact with it are on it, I can’t really know.If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it….

      1. fredwilson

        keep at it, it is people like you who make a service like foursquare what it is and what it can be

        1. Tereza

          I loaded up about a dozen local places yesterday and have been getting into it. When there’s no cell signal it’s a buzzkill. I couldn’t check into Karate an hour ago (no cell signal and also I guess 4square doesn’t transmit over our downtown wi-fi, and it doesn’t cache my check-in to push it through when service comes back). And can’t retroactively check in here at home.I’m a sucker for the points I’m racking up with all these new places and am really motivated to run in this race. But I just got reminded that I only have one leg. The competitive Kraken inside me is yelling “NO FAIR!!”.We know that every second counts in mobile apps. Here’s a good example why. Yesterday while checking into Stew Leonard’s I kinda…er…lost my 3 year old. She likes to play hide-and-seek at the most opportune times. Five minutes of total panic. I was about to enact a total store lock-down, when thankfully, the nice butcher found her tucked in a corner, giggling.Sooo….we need to be ruthless about streamlining, minimizing fails, etc…..before child services takes my kid away. And possibly Mommy needs to pay a little more attention.Hard, though, when you’re obsessed about badges.Since I haven’t exactly told my husband about any of this, if we could all keep this escapade on the low, I’d much appreciate…. πŸ˜‰ I’ll come clean over a bottle of wine later tonight.

      2. Mark Essel

        The community makes the service. It’s your passion which propels a business/service to greatness πŸ™‚

    2. fredwilson

      i checkin at the grocery store all the time. i’m not yet the mayor of my grocery store but i plan to fix that!

      1. Bill Davenport

        Saw this today on the Apple blog that reminded me of this comment thread….

        1. fredwilson


  15. Clarkebar

    Foursquare (etc all) as a virtual punch card for your favorite local establishments sounds like a great way to pitch toward ‘normals’

  16. toddhoff

    I’m curious that if by rewarding going to a place that you may also destroy the bond between you and the place? This is well documented in motivational research. Rewards turn the original intrinsic appreciation into an extrinsic work type relationship. Once that happens I wonder if you’ll lose those people as they move on to find something more intrinsically rewarding, something less like work. Rather than a coupon, maybe a reward could be something that deepens the relationship with a venue, something more life affirming?

    1. fredwilson

      like the mayorship?

      1. toddhoff

        Indeed, but there can be only one mayor, which leads to lots of nasty sword play πŸ™‚

  17. Adam Erlebacher

    Agreed. The issue is that check-ins don’t necessarily translate into cash for businesses, but sales do. One way that Foursquare might close the loop is by partnering with Blippy (not sure an API is available yet) or developing a similar capability. Consider how a Foursquare check-in could be tied to customers’ purchases. Businesses could begin to tie their mobile advertising spend (or coupons) to specific customer check-ins and related purchases. Once item-level receipt data becomes more readily available, you could start doing some really interesting things with this. I wrote a bit more about this last week

  18. kidmercury

    killer post boss. this is definitely a part of the playbook. the internet is here to re-wire niche economies (i.e. knowledge economies…this runs parallel to the re-wiring of the political paradigm, away from the nation-state, and towards connected economic regions), and so i view a key basis of competition is how well foursquare can do that relative to other niche community building services. presumably, foursquare will be better at rewiring certain types of communities (i.e. the coffee shop industry) while other community creation services will be better at re-wiring other types of communities. either way, coupons are a form of subsidy, and thus how the network operator (i.e. foursquare) can compete in terms of selling economic opportunity (i.e. attract the right businesses to their community)

    1. Aviah Laor

      great analysis. i wonder if niche economies will break the information-economy barrier, and encourage niche production/manufacturing (e.g. buying fresh pasta in small shop etc) that will take at least part of the corporate mass-production, mass-marketing trade. I think that if it will, it’s a good thing.

      1. kidmercury

        i agree it will as well, and i agree that it is a great thing. the “too big to fail” mega corporations actually can’t fail fast enough. when they do the landscape will be cleared for networks of companies that have come up digital style and thus have a niche game. long tail, i guess.

    2. Mark Essel

      I admit to this comments quality KM, but I only liked it after I saw Carl’s charming smile. His vote of confidence pushed me over the edge of self doubt.Now as to social glue, community creation and it’s relation to businesses.Communities can make or break a business. People that vote in a block are an example of this strength. This type of power is respected and highly sought after by wise businesses.Any communities that adopt and cheer on a business can make it a monster of network efficacy. Google isn’t a business juggernaut because it had a great search algorithm, or because it has rdiculous data centers. Googles an incredible corporation because a community of web browsing geeks absolutley loved it. They showed it to me, and I tried it out. Googles a smashing success now because all the uber techies wanted to join this darling company. Somewhere early on Google was adopted by the community of brilliant tech folks, and evolved into this steamroller that sucked in all our adoration.Communities make corporations. If all of is at AVC just focused our efforts on one business. Using it all the time, telling our friends about it, basically loving it and sharing that feeling – it could snowball. But who do we focus on?

      1. kidmercury

        entrepreneurs. blog stars are well poitioned to intermediate the transactions of their startups. fredland could thus be an economic region for re-wiring the internet startup economy.

  19. awaldstein

    Foursquare building a relationship with the merchants is one really interesting way to go.Yes, ‘X’ check in gets a free expresso shot will both reify the process and create economics.Dating services have long built a network with places to go to. One of the genius merchant connections for Meet Up is with the locations and the services to stage an event.Don’t just track my behavior but motivate it is a great concept and rings true.

  20. philiphotchkiss

    Amen to the Foursquare comments-this is where the big opportunity lies. I live in Minneapolis, I actively use Foursquare and I amazed at how many opportunities small businesses are missing by not alerting me to special offers, rewarding me for my loyalty, etc. Perhaps the experience is very different in SF or NYC due to a much larger base of users, but points and mayorships only go so far.If I owned a small business, I would become obsessed with nabbing my nearby competitor’s customers and rewarding my loyal customers using GEO apps like Foursquare.

    1. David Dellanave

      Great point Philip. How many other opportunities to you have to directly advertise to your competitor’s customers. It’s like being able to post a flyer in their restroom.Or even better, think co-marketing like for an espresso at Rustica after you have a pizza at Punch. The missed opportunities are numerous.

    2. David Fishman

      Agreed …. I have started notice small business out here in LA starting to reward for loyalty, specifically Mayorship! I think there are a number of ways retailers + foursquare can provide incentives. At the end of the day what foursquare has accomplished is a new form of customer affiliate marketing. This is the future of retail marketing on the internet and Foursquare has done a good job applying a game concept to business + baking in some social networking!

    3. Joe Siewert

      Hey, on that note, you may be interested in a meetup of Foursquare Twin Cities users happening on 2/11. Details are here, This will hopefully be the first of many such events.

      1. Aviah Laor

        This is the key: finding the bindings between web activity and real life activity. Meetup and Forsquare are a perfect match here.

        1. fredwilson

          my partner Brad has pushed us to look at services that leverage the internet in the real world. i am glad he did that. meetup and foursquare are great examples.

        2. Joe Siewert

          There is an initiative around building Foursquare meetup (or streetup) communities in cities that @ryangraves is leading (he commented in today’s thread as well). The goal is to help Foursquare grow by showing users and venues the benefits of the service. I’m helping out in the Twin Cities and we’ve got an event next week where a restaurant is going to be offering some one night only specials to people that check-in. If you’d like to get something similar going in your city, contact Ryan. There is a tumblr page with some more background:, just to clarify, we are not employees, just really passionate Foursquare users that want to help it succeed.

          1. Mark Essel

            With a community of fans like yourself Joe I’m certain 4square is on a glorious growth path πŸ™‚

    4. Aviah Laor

      but that could quickly lead to spam

    5. fredwilson

      there is also a role for venue owners to incent their customers to use foursquare

  21. ShanaC

    OK free stuff to incentivize users, that’s good. Recommendation engine, also good.I just question how many places I could possibly want a recommendation engine. I’m not engaged with tagging the internet or giving out another reccomendation. I’m trying to figure out how to use Glue best? I feel like if I gave it to a bunch of friends, who are real gurus in their field- I’m not sure what they would do with it either.Foursquare- well practically everyone goes somewhere. Except for newborn babies…

    1. Alex Iskold

      Are you into movies or books? How do you find new stuff?

      1. ShanaC

        I go into small bookstores that specialize in areas and ask for recommendations. I also always am behind on movie watching -it’s not something I do regularly, my family never did large amounts of going out to movies all the time when I was younger, so I never picked up the taste for it.It’s something I’m finding I need more as I get older.

        1. Aviah Laor

          Interesting. This is where the two services actually meet: you check in a bookstore if forsquare, and recommend as a guru in Adaptive Blue. content+geo. Add DISQUS to the mix, and we have the new social web, presented to you by USV.

          1. fredwilson

            and tweet and tumbl about it while you are at it!!!

        2. Fraser

          Hey Shana – we’re working to make this exact task a little easier, a little more convenient, and a little more accurate.Right now we’re offering up suggestions based on your collection of books and movies and music. You built out your collection by installing the browser add-on and, as you visit popular book, movie, music sites the service learns what you like.Shortly we’ll be introducing the concept of neighbors, so that you can see who the people are that share your tastes and (maybe more importantly) see what they love that you haven’t discovered yet.

          1. romigli

            Info overload though, no? if I have 100 neighbors all of whom consume as much as I do, how am I ever going to get through all that stuff?In some ways, it’s why defending 1 Foursquare mayorship is interesting but seeking out a 2nd or 3rd – unless completely greenfield and undiscovered – is not.

          2. Fraser

            The suggestions will be ordered based on what’s most likely interesting to you, which will help cut down on info overload. Probably more importantly, they are also surfaced in context, so based on your intent you’ll only see the relevant, filtered items that make sense at that moment in time.

          3. Aviah Laor

            Chris Dixon had a great post which claims that brand marketing is still out of the web, maybe that’s the way to grab brand ads to the internet

          4. awaldstein

            link please

          5. awaldstein


          6. ShanaC

            I like subtle. I find the bar annoying. I want to review at the moment.And I sort of don’t want a bar poking me to review. Further, if most of myshopping online is done through a few locations- such as amazon, whywouldn’t I want to just leave a reiview there (I mean I don’t), why anotherreview. I wish it could just capture what I am looking at and the reviews Iplace already and guesstimate from there. Thinking about reviewing is toohard. And I am not sure how to do so.

    2. Guest

      If you apply recommendations at the point of purchase, there are a lot of people that buy things… I think timing is the key, and the process needs to be made easier. Buy product -> use product -> recommend / don’t recommend. How can you make that part of the shopping process? It’s disappointing that the only real way I get valued recommendation is verbally through friends, rather than a click of the mouse.

      1. ShanaC

        Exactly. Honestly three quarters of the time most people I know don’t care/aren’t looking. And you never know when you need that recommendation either. I mean I store some information away- but still, most of the time do you really think about that random suggestion. The point where it hits people is either where it comes up in random in a conversation, or if it is something they need at the moment. All very time based and not so easily guessable points. Otherwise I’m (and I’m guessing most of my friends) probably wouldn’t care. Most people are the center of their own universes, after all.

      2. Fraser

        I agree completely – a big part of a useful recommendation is context: presenting it when and where it makes sense.The GetGlue browser add-on partly solves this by showing you personalized suggestions as you browse book or movie or music sites. You’ve expressed your intent by visiting these sites and then we try to create a better experience by showing you personalized suggestions based on your past behavior.

        1. vadadean

          In the advertising world, context is the new adjacency.

  22. RichardF

    Reward systems definitely work. I have a Starbucks card that entitles me to extras if I load it up and pay with it. I get free wifi, an extra shot and a free drink when I buy a bag of coffee (which is a great bonus because I’d have bought the drink when I went in to buy my coffee anyway.)There is another way for foursquare to incentivise business to use them more but that is not for this post πŸ™‚

  23. falicon

    I would also like to see more immediate response to check-ins as it relates to my friends…stuff like “58% of your friends have checked in to ‘XYZ coffee shop’ in the past month. It’s just around the corner from where you are now.”Oh and I think there’s some interesting stuff going on in mashups with foursquare too (one of my own projects is which is in HEAVY alpha but more or less works…it takes your last forusquare check-in and gives you information about what bands/events are in that area [via bandsintown], what local news is going on in that area [via], and what other people are in that general area [via twitter] – needs a bunch of work still, but anyone that’s interested should feel free to test out the alpha.) πŸ™‚

    1. fredwilson

      kevin, you are full of great ideas for stuff built on top of APIs. i think you have a unique skill in that regard

      1. falicon

        Thanks! As the saying goes, ideas are the easy part….and now thanks to open and simple APIs execution ain’t so hard itself!The new “hard part” is making money on top of APIs! πŸ™‚

        1. fredwilson

          the api providers should include the monetization with the api and cut thedevelopers in on it

          1. falicon

            That would be cool…but I also think it’s just like any other business or project…you (or rather me as a developer building on top of API) has to add some type of value for people…if all I’m really doing is tying things together or redisplaying the same old data in different ways, there’s not a lot of value there…It’s no longer a chicken-egg situation…the Chicken has laid the egg and now we can all make omelets…so now it’s all about the side orders, the extra ingredients, and the decor (and hopefully only a little bit about the price)… πŸ˜€

          2. Mark Essel

            I hear that Kevin. Trying to do something that truly brings people and information together that’s beyond API connections is challenging. It’s as much art as it is technical work. There’s a pea soup of information overload, and we are challenged with interconnecting just the right layers to help people out, or make something fun.

    2. Tereza

      kevin you have me thinking about a mashup/api that tells me which people in my local area I have the most venue overlap with, and then push intros to us so we can organize carpools.the cost/benefit is pretty easily quantifiable bc many people in the burbs have to pay a sitter after school to get kids #2, 3 and 4 to their various activities all at the same time.

      1. falicon

        Great ideas! Most of the geo-aware service don’t really share this sort of information yet via their API (they are all still trying to figure out the proper security levels on just what they *should* let someone access)…but if/when they finally do, this is def. the type of app I want to see exist (and would build if no one else was doing it *right*)

  24. willcole

    Glad you put Foursquare and GetGlue into the same post. I often describe GetGlue to friends as “Foursquare on the Internet” or vice versa depending on who I am talking to. These companies are lucky to have a common investor in USV. Seems like there could be some significant sharing of ideas between them.

  25. andyswan

    #FIVEsquare has a cool “rewards” feature. Simply go to a place often enough, interact with the staff, tip well…and before you know it, they’ll be calling you by name, giving you apps or drinks on the house, and maybe even holding a table for you!More info on the FIVEsquare movement:

    1. markslater

      spot on!how i have felt about this service all along.

  26. Oo Nwoye - @OoTheNigerian

    FourSquare is an innovative company but it is quite unfortunate that Internet business processes are hardly patentable. Except they sign exclusive agreements, there is nothing stopping the next location application company from copying the same thing. The barrier for entry seems to be too low.

    1. Joe Siewert

      Yeah, that’s why we’re seeing other players like Gowalla and Yelp getting into the check-in game. The check-in part of these services is quickly becoming a commodity, but I think Foursquare is doing a great job differentiating itself through the game mechanics they put in place so far. Seems like Foursquare’s key to success will be establishing itself as the check-in service of choice for incentives. Hopefully as the user base grows it will drive more incentives and vice versa.

    2. fredwilson

      same is true of our entire portfolio. delicious, twitter, tumblr, meetup, etsy, zynga, etc, etcthe barrier of entry is the size of the network and who is on it, the utility of the service, and the API and developer ecosystemi am amazed at how often first movers in this category can beat back the fast followers

      1. Mark Essel

        The early community drives it forward, very actively. Any founder or startup that gets even a handful of super fans rockets forward.

      2. Joe Siewert

        Almost seems like you have to be a first mover in these types of categories and need to be right on target with your product out of the gates or one of the followers will be there to take your user base. Competitive!

      3. kidmercury

        IMHO size is the illusion. it will increasingly run counter to utility, as niche stuff will have be capable of offering greater utlility.

  27. joeagliozzo

    Why not 2 for 1? When you check in for the xth time, you get 2 drinks for the price of your one and you can click on one of the other people in the place and “award” them your free extra? That makes you, the regular a good guy and also provides a reward for the new person (maybe has a qualifier of first time checking in or something) and you have a nice exchange when you meet!

  28. BmoreWire

    I think it would be cool to have a validated check in. For example give vendors web accounts and when I go to the pet store I check in and the pet store owner sees me at their store and can click ‘validate’. That will allow better incentives and vendors can choose to validate on purchases so they can track how many sales Foursquare is driving for them.Online to Offline is key. You can link that? You bring in big money.

    1. fredwilson

      neat idea. where do they “click validate”. on my phone or on their computer?

      1. BmoreWire

        Their computer or their phone which pings your phone. This way they control a database of virtual loyalty cardholders. And can be advertised to and targeted.Brian Tomasette443.668.7262

        1. fredwilson

          hmm. very interesting

          1. Mark Essel

            Another brilliant application. Better hope Gowalla or clone X doesn’t own this one first πŸ™‚

          2. markslater

            what about a text engine? πŸ˜‰

  29. Anthony Piwarun

    Fred – I agree with the notion that you need to add value to keep users coming back to your site. I’m worried that offering incentives like free stuff will de-legitimize user opinion social ranking sites. Any thoughts?

    1. fredwilson

      adding money to any social system is always a risk. yochai benkler has written about that and it’s worth reading his thoughts on the topic.

      1. Anthony Piwarun

        Fred – Despite Benkler’s “Wealth of Networks” being nearly 4 years old it answered a lot of questions and has guided my strategy for future projects. Thanks for the information and pointing me in the right direction.

        1. fredwilson

          He’s brilliant.

  30. Aviah Laor

    Adaptive Blue has done really impressive work here. Maybe it’s the new way to discover the web? It seems that this idea is just perfect for schools, let kids compete for the “guru” in history subject or math assignment, badges etc. Can encourage and bring fun to learning.

  31. Dave Pinsen

    Does foursquare have any gold farmers yet?

    1. Mark Essel

      Disclosure: I played wow for waytoolong. Just retired my belf army of alts at the end of 2008.

      1. Dave Pinsen

        I have Activision on my watch list for when we have our next big market correction.

  32. Carl Rahn Griffith

    I think every time I have checked-in to one of my bank’s ATMs ten times, they should credit me with a free withdrawal as a reward/incentive. Just an idea … :-)Seriously though, as Kid’ says in his comment in this thread, this is a great topic to initiate discussion on, Fred; this is a fascinating area for potential growth (linear and tangential) and – lo! – monetization!

    1. fredwilson

      what would you like when you checkin to hillsborough, other than a win πŸ™‚

      1. Carl Rahn Griffith

        Lol. Ironically, only the other day I noticed said temple of footie wasn’t registered in Foursquare as yet, so being the good Foursquare citizen that I am, I added it – ready for my being able to check-in at my next visit there in a few days time. :-)Now we have a highly effective new manager we’re winning most games anyway, Fred – 4 out of the last 5 in fact; not bad at all, eh? So, a complimentary chicken balti pie for half-time would be sufficient reward … ;-)PS, remember that dynamo of a player, Akpo Sodje, who scored a brace of goals in a few minutes at the match you saw? We have sold him to a lower league club, Charlton, this week – he’s barely played this past year or so due to recurring injuries. Shame to see him go, but we need to release the funds to bring in another – somewhat more reliable – goal-scorer.

  33. Aviah Laor

    The GetGlue toolbar disappear when the DISQUS thread is opened

  34. Aviah Laor

    GetGlue is StumbleUpon done right

  35. Chris Waldron

    The problem I see with monetizing small business owners is their lack of knowledge. I know a very successful wine bar locally that won’t get involved with Foursquare, Facebook, Yelp, or Adwords. It’s overwhelming to him.The company that is going to win will accomplish 3 things:Aggregate enough users/business ownersSimplify/Streamline the process across all marketing resources(Groupon, Foursquare, FB, Adwords, Yelp)Quantify the cost/benefit to the SMB

    1. Tereza

      SMBs know a lot. About their businesses. But they don’t know what they don’t know, and to them, they have a lot at stake.Only a small handful will try something early that, to them, is unproven. We have to respect that. Each comes in at the timing that’s right for them.So that’s where the winner has to go with that that dynamic. Lead with local businesses which are highest interest to its power users (e.g. Foursquare…bars) and then spread adjacently, to the power users’ broader circle of peeps (friends, sisters, parents), and at the same time neighboring businesses.Your wine bar buddy may be on the extreme end of resistant. But, eventually, his resistance will be chipped away by:–observation of his customers checking in to his place–rumors that a competitor is active in social–mainstream media –his son or daughter says, “I’ll do it for you, Dad.”On a practical level, this is how world domination happens. πŸ™‚

    2. Aviah Laor

      But 4square, and maybe getglue, are sort of yelp anti-pattern. While yelp can alienate small biz /customers (…. 4square is built on loyalty between smb’s and their best customers. Certainly in the interest of smb’s to offset the sometimes cruel yelp reviews.

  36. liked and commented

    I checked the guru page and all i saw was “liked and commented” for everything he is a guru of… Why would i want to know that someone likes and comments on everything. I think i would like to see someone who is a bit more choosy

  37. Steve M

    Wow. I just don’t understand how you have time for all of this, Mr. Wilson–and I say that out of complete admiration, not cynicism. Sounds like you just love trying new things. I’m trying to start my first company and I read your blog regularly, but I just got around to it at 1 am after spending hours upon hours working on my wee little project. You must never sleep!

  38. Carl Rahn Griffith

    By implication (as opposed to assumption – which is a dangerous thing!) repeated check-ins at the same venue, by multiple people – eg, a bar, restaurant, venue, etc – would strongly suggest a high level approval for the entity – for its service, food, location, ambience, standards, etc.I could see an option for Foursquare garnering and leveraging approval ratings in a real-world, real-time sense; a users guide for all kinds of services/venues, voted for simply by the act of repeat check-ins; lots of interesting algorithms, demographics and metrics are possible here once the sample size grows.Imagine (instead of – eg – a passive, staid and usually immediately out of date ‘star’ ranking badges affixed to a restaurant window) a real-time, simple, cheap, dynamic LCD-type display panel in a window, with its Foursquare stats scrolling around; that would tell me much more about the success/popularity of a place than a Legacy star approval badge which is probably months/years out of date and granted by ‘whom’ exactly anyway?! Does that make sense? Sorry, rambling! Foursquare could very seriously monetize by licensing such a service, when the critical mass for its (active) users begins to take off.From what I can see, Foursquare adoption is happening slowly in UK cities, but is currently at a similar stage to where Twitter was a few years ago – when I explained Twitter to people back then (and its potential, most importantly), most simply didn’t ‘get it’ – even many ‘Web2.0’ VCs … πŸ˜‰

  39. markslater

    i just cant see this happening.FS has not truly looked at the merchant properly here. sit in the merchant chair and you will see it completely differently.

  40. Tereza

    Not sure if anyone’s mentioned this but vis a vis Foursquare, has anyone explored audio check in (one-touch)?Just had lunch w some guys doIng his in NY — could be a cool integration point.I can intro, if interested. Called Press4.

  41. Thomas Cornelius

    LBS with check ins and fun location exploring features are uniquely positioned to monetize on the SMB landscape I would agree Fred, but there is a real flaw in your thought process in my opinion.Have you looked at it from the SMB perspective? Can you imagine to be a restaurateur, running your restaurant, buying groceries, bringing the cash from the night before to the bank and dealing with the cook that did not show up today and now you have to stand in the kitchen yourself.Providing the consumer with the simple question near a location β€œDo you like to buy or clip this – yes or no?” removes the information and marketing clutter, that stands in the way of conversion in too many of today’s offerings and is fantastic, so I bet my company on geo – don’t get me wrong.But is the SMB ready to understand Yelp, Twitter, Loopt, Foursquare, Gowalla, Citysearch and so on. Does he understand how these services really work, which one to choose?I do not think so.Our business is focused on enabling publishers, geo apps and daily deal sites to use our deal content on their own site through our reseller platform and API.The acquisition costs of the small business deals on a national level in each city is too high for companies like foursquare and it is not the core competency for most of these companies, their focus is the consumer. We trust that SMB deals will be embedded as an overall strategy of social media sites and other publishers to monetize their traffic, but I don’t believe the connection to the SMB comes from one single provider with a gimmick LBS app (sorry – just needed to make my point).So keep in mind: Adility (Advertising Agility)

  42. Mark Essel

    That’s an awesome direction and advantage to local business wifi support. It just needs to outpace the $50/month to setup a wireless access point + ISP

  43. toddhoff

    Random rewards would be more reinforcing and would have the proper character of not being worked for. That might work πŸ™‚

  44. Tereza

    I agree – was about to write — but you guys beat me to it — the Randomized Chance element is a useful tactic. For web users, and btw also for incentivizing children (we’re all just big children, really) If you only use levelling, it gets boring and the effect drops off. Hope is addictive, use it.Think about the folks who play slots in Atlantic City hour after hour, only because they ‘might’ hit it next time.

  45. Tereza

    Agree but really would want to incorporate the randomness aspect too.When i go somewhere too much, and i get reminded of that, then actually my inclination is to shake things up and try something new.

  46. Tereza

    Does/could Foursquare apply an alternative tactic of pushed messages/offers, to re-route frequenters from a competing place.Sounds brutal but actually isn’t really different from TV networks which routinely charge a premium to advertisers to buffer from competitive adjacencies.For example a pushed message that says: “You’ve been to Starbucks 100 times. Isn’t it getting old? Come to Joe’s Coffee Shop RIGHT NOW, and we’ll give you automatic Mayor status, free cappucino and bagel, and flash your name prominently on our digital wall”Getting existing customers to spend more is relatively easy. Getting new people in the door is really hard and you might be able to make a lot of money doing it.

  47. Anthony Piwarun

    Ryan – I think an application like 4sq will gain in popularity with a rewards program similar to GetGlue. Since 4sq is not asking users to rank or give opinion on goods/services the notion of incentivizing check ins is legitimate. Good luck in your work with Foursquare!

  48. fredwilson

    that’s happening a fair bit in the service already