One Year Of Foursquare

Our portfolio company Foursquare turned one year old yesterday. They posted about their birthday on the company blog. It is stuff like this that makes startups so fun to be around:

It was exactly a year ago when Naveen and I flipped the switch on foursquare.  It was the day before we headed down to SXSW – back when we were still feeling 50/50 on whether people would think the “let’s turn real life into a game!” idea was really interesting or whether they’d laugh us out of Austin.

We took separate flights.  I remember walking down the tarmac into the plane still on my laptop fixing the database.  Naveen landed in Austin and texted me something along the lines of “its still alive!”.  We made it though the weekend with a bunch of hiccups but nothing disastrous (special thx to friends in NYC who were keeping an eye on the melting database).

One year later, Dennis and Naveen head back to SXSW with a company of 16 people supporting them and 500,000 users checking in almost 300,000 times daily. It's been really fun to watch them turn an idea into a service into a breakout mobile phenomenon, all in one year. Well done guys. Happy birthday.


Comments (Archived):

  1. William Mougayar

    They are definitely punching above their weight in mindshare and putting their competitors on the defensive. Congrats!

    1. Joe Siewert

      I wonder if Facebook, Twitter and Yelp would be moving into the geo-location space as quickly if foursquare wasn’t around.

      1. William Mougayar


  2. RichardF

    They have done an amazing job on getting so many eyeballs but I do feel that they need to add something that the mainstream will get and find useful. They’ve got a chunk of location aware real estate now it’s time to develop on it.

    1. fredwilson

      one thing that is working great for them is partnering with mainstreambrands like starbucks, bravo network, etcthose brands build badges in foursquare and bring their customers/audiencesto the service

      1. daryn

        which unfortunately means I’m going to look for a starbucks this morning.

      2. Joe Siewert

        Agree. I think this is key for adding value to the check in and making foursquare the location platform of choice for users and businesses. I linked to a few other recent partnerships here:

  3. awaldstein

    Congrats to the Foursquare guys and you Fred.There is something exciting when a product is creating a new paradigm that has less to do with market need and more to do with the extension of behavior made possible by new technologies.The local merchant connection is a good one…tried and true for other services (like online dating and Meet Up) and works cause merchants always want customer connections.I count myself as 1 of the 500,000 and en route to London and looking forward to using it there.

    1. Mark Essel

      The introduction of new behavior through games that blend the web into the real will be realized in a huge variety of ways thanks in part to the 4Square team and it’s backers. I love to see reality bending startups, and the technology required for the AR part was just location and mobile web.Now instead of checking in, apps will track how many people took a photo of an object , or navigated to the same end point, etc. An entire augmented mobile market is taking shape.

      1. awaldstein

        Great stuff. It gets me excited every day.

  4. Kevin

    I didn’t realize they’ve only been at this for a year. Impressive.

    1. DGentry

      It does seem like longer, doesn’t it? The compression in Internet time is still really disconcerting.

      1. ShanaC

        I think the compression of time and space is kind of normal in a highly mediated environment. I think we are just very unaware of how mediated we are.

        1. fredwilson

          Mediated and medicated. My daughter tells me her friends routinely take drugs to cram for tests. We didn’t use drugs that way when I was in college

  5. Satish Mummareddy

    Off topic but how many cards were in the rubberband yesterday? 🙂 I counted 14

    1. fredwilson

      You nailed it

      1. eddyfh

        that reminds me… After reading your article I happened to be traveling cash-less yesterday (not a conscious decision but have gotten into the habit of carrying little cash with me in the city) when I got a cab back home from work. When trying to pay, I tried my normally very speedy tap-to-pay cc, but it somehow wasn’t accepted properly by the machine. I then re-tried it and about 3 other cards for the next 10 minutes in increasing frustration, as I was late to meet some people. Finally I gave up, and (luckily since I was home) ran to my apt to grab some cash and pay the cabbie. Technology’s great, but only when it works. Have you dealt with this or does it always work for you? Pretty sure I’ll stick with carrying around some backup cash for tips, splitting bills, and hiccups like this

        1. fredwilson

          hasn’t happened to me. i would try to veno the cabbie the cash

  6. mediaeater

    FredI remember the day Naveen invited me down to a LES cafe and showed me the first build and thinking, dear god he gets it on so many levels. The talk about “life is game” vs “life as game”, the aspirational behavior layer (badges and crowns) coupled a value layer (tips, near, nearby tweets) all wrapped in strong sense of design and functionality.They were the first company (for me) to crack open the location space and I think they opened more doors they they know. Just like Twitter was more then a social network, Foursquare is more than a game. Propers to them and the work they have done indeed. Thank you for seeing that and giving them resources to improve mine and others using it user experiences.

    1. fredwilson

      You have great taste mark. I should just invest in the services you love to use

    2. Nick Giglia

      I had the same feeling when I saw them present a year ago at the NY Tech Meetup – it was such a simple idea executed brilliantly in a way that feels pretty natural.

        1. fredwilson

          You aren’t the only one. It took our firm way too long to grok this one.

  7. Dan Lewis

    Congrats! Can you pass on a feature request?Verizon blackberries in NYC don’t geolocate correctly — we’re always off a block or two, often an avenue away. (I’ve tried this on at least three different VZ blackberry models and it’s always a problem, not just for 4SQ but also for, e.g., Google Maps.) I think it has to do something with the GPS not being enabled and, instead, the phone triangulates off cell towers to find its location, but honestly, the reason doesn’t matter much.When I go to check-in on my blackberry, the 4SQ app is basically worthless. It gives me area restaurants, sure, but it misplaces me on the map, and typically does not cast a wide enough radius to capture where I actually am. But this is 100% fixable, because a large percentage of the time, I’m willing to tell 4SQ where I am, giving them the correct information. As enough people do that, 4SQ should be able to build an error factor into their product and, over time, tell me where I am.It’d work something like this:1) Ask NYC (and other?) BB users if they’re using Verizon. 2) If so, collect data to see how far off the triangulation is.3) Fix the geolocation on the BB app4) Sell the data to Google so they can fix their Google Maps app on the BB for VZ, too.

    1. fredwilson

      Shared this with the team. Thanks

      1. Dan Lewis

        No, thank you!

  8. Aviah Laor

    Only 16 people? amazing.Question is if they will go all the way? Create another Google/Ebay? Create an alternative to the valley, with location-mobile-gaming startup-hub around them?They reached this junction very early though.

    1. Dave Pinsen

      Google/Ebay? Didn’t Ebay have a revenue model from the start, taking a vig on auctions? And Google had one as soon as it facilitated search engine marketing. Ebay has gotten money from me in the past, and Google is getting money from me right now.I’m sure Fred and the Foursquare team are thinking up ways the service could turn a profit, but Foursquare at the moment seems more like one of those dot-com era companies that aimed initially for eyeballs instead of wallets. There were a lot of those. But there were also a few, like Priceline, that put themselves in the middle of a money stream. I’ll be curious to see how Foursquare does that. Coupons targeted to location and time (e.g., sending an e-coupon for a discount on a hot fudge sundae good for the next hour at the ice cream parlor at 123 Main Street, to the Foursquare user who just checked in at the pizza place at 103 Main Street) are one idea, but I don’t know how much vigorish there is in the coupon business. Will be interesting to watch though.Of course, from Fred’s perspective, it may not matter: Foursquare can end up being a successful investment for him without it ever becoming profitable, as long as next round investors are willing to pay more for it than he did.

      1. fredwilson

        you can’t build a successful business without focusing on revenue.

        1. Dave Pinsen

          Of course not, but you can sell your share of a business for more than you paid for it without it becoming profitable first, if there is enough demand among investors (public or private) for the business.

          1. Aviah Laor

            It’s a new type of linkage (there must be a better word) between people and business. Eventually they will find how to monetize.I don’t think it’s a dot com bubble, because social gets new forms of expressions in tech and urban space. Before we had mobile phones we didn’t ask during a call “where are you”. Now we do. They hit something deeper than badges.

          2. fredwilson

            That’s a dangerous game to play. I think its better to have a monetization plan. When you turn it on is another thing though

          3. Dave Pinsen

            I agree.

      2. paramendra

        If you are wondering if FourSquare can be monetized, I have to ask, what planet do you live on? Google did not monetize for a few years and did just fine focusing on growth, and that was during the nuclear winter. Not that FourSquare is Google, but it sure is a Twitter. Location is fundamental. It is like social, like search.

        1. Dave Pinsen

          Well, first, I already mentioned a way it could be monetized, so I am not wondering if it’s possible. I am wondering how they will do it, and whether they will be able to make it profitable. Saying it “sure is a Twitter” doesn’t answer those questions, as Twitter, as far as I know, isn’t profitable either.

          1. fredwilson

            Twitter was instantly profitable the day it did the search deals. Whether they will stay profitable is another question. When you are growing fast, sometimes you need to invest ahead of revenue

          2. Dave Pinsen

            Interesting, hadn’t known they had reached profitability (at least for a point in time).

          3. Prokofy

            But then they’re under pressure from Google or Salesforce or whatever simply to be taken over. Twitter’s indepenence is an important thing to keep, and it may not be able to do that.

          4. paramendra

            I can see many ways FourSquare can be monetized. I also see many ways Twitter can be monetized. Actually I have felt the Twitter guys running a little late.

          5. Dave Pinsen

            Have you shared your ideas with them?

  9. joey horvitz

    mazal tov

  10. William Mougayar

    Slightly off-topic, it struck me that I just placed my 300th Disqus comment on this blog a couple of hours ago. Where is my badge?But kidding aside, Disqus could implement a badge-like system per blog, so- of the 300 comments I made, they could slice off the ones made on AVC, and generate an instant sub-segment point system rank for all. Could be a $ service to the blog owner who wants some analytics on their commentsphere composition, and even slice-off their social graphs by clicking on a dashboard.

    1. fredwilson

      believe me, they have plans for all of thatright now, they are working on scaling issues though

      1. William Mougayar

        Cool. So you’ll get a Commentroll of top commenters …Probably more meaningful than MyBlogLog.

  11. skysurfer172

    I am having much more fun with Foursquare now that I have an Android. As mentioned already, their Blackberry app was just a bit too buggy for me to fully accept it. Now 4sq has become an addictive part of my social life. The problem I am currently having is getting my late 30-something non-techie friends on board. They don’t see the value of the “game”. I think as Foursquare partners up with more businesses and starts promoting more real-time rewards for participating (free cup of coffee on 10th check-in, etc), the service will jump the gap from the innovators to the general audience. That will be fun to watch.

    1. skysurfer172

      I also wonder if there will be any mudslinging at SXSW between 4SQ and Gowalla.

      1. kidmercury

        hope so, that sounds like fun

    2. fredwilson

      I carry both an android phone and a blackberry. I’ve been doing most of my checkins on android but the brand new bberry build is fantastic. I think they finally nailed it

  12. LIAD

    in the medium term at least i think they will need to strengthen the depth of the ‘game-play’ side of the business, im not sure that simple check-ins and badges have sufficient ongoing fun factor/utility.of all the positive things to say about 4SQ I think the most impressive is the sheer momentum they’ve got. not a day goes past without a write-up on a blog somewhere about a new partnership/brand tie-in.they have been very lucky getting lots of blogger evangelists (especially paris lemon at TC) who are happy to keep them in the limelight.Kudos to the whole team.

  13. Nick Giglia

    I love Foursquare, and it’s fantastic to see them moving into spaces that take them away from pure mindshare into business benefit. One thing that’s clear is that the points, badges, and “Mayor” function are what can drive significant value to businesses because it’s more visible. I’m sure in the next year we will see more high-profile businesses (and smaller forward-thinking ones) leveraging these functions to create new and unique customer loyalty programs…of course, the side benefit to this will be that hardcore fans of those brands will sign up for Foursquare just for these benefits, and they may start poking around.I’m excited to see what we’ll be talking about a year from now, in relation to Foursquare. In the meantime, happy birthday to them.

  14. markevans99

    It’s fascinating to watch Foursquare explode out of the gate with big brand partnerships. It’s the first time I’ve seen a clear path to monetization for services like this.I will say, however, the path to monetization for local biz/geo-loco seems less clear. As I pounded the pavement in San Francisco for weeks prior to putting on Geo-Loco (last month) to get check-in app interest from restaurants, etc.., it was totally lost on them how they could benefit from such a service. And these we’re hip – Social Media aware folks using Twitter/FB… And I thought I did a pretty good job selling the service….Perhaps I’m in the bubble and the tipping point for local geo-loco adoption is not yet on the map.

    1. Joe Siewert

      That’s good “on the ground” feedback. I’ve noticed in the Twin Cities that many places that are already leveraging Facebook/Twitter are slow to pickup on foursquare. They are either not aware of it, or aware but not participating yet.

      1. markevans99

        That’s certainly my read on it. We did get one big bite from a local brewery, Gordon Biersch. They/we offered anyone who checks-in to their restaurant free garlic fries and for those who buy dinner – free passes to our next Geo-Loco event.I certainly see an opportunity for a go-between service that helps local biz get connected and setup up with social media campaign bundles, i.e. Twitter/FB/Foursquare.The possibilities are endless.

    2. fredwilson

      Maybe their customers will alert them to the opportunities

  15. Joe Siewert

    Their growth has really been phenomenal. Saw a tweet from @ceonyc where foursquare thought they would be at 43k users at this time, but instead are at 500k.I wrote a few thoughts about the new analytics tools they are introducing and how that will hopefully get more businesses to participate on the service.

  16. RacerRick

    Foursquare is going to blow up this weekend. Every location is going to have tons of checkins.It’s a great service.

  17. davidhkim

    Fred. I would just like to know if you know anything about why Techcrunch’s MG is covering foursquare so often? I mean on the one hand, it’s getting Foursquare a lot of coverage and exposure but on the other hand, the backlash could get worse. Also, isn’t a little bit embarrassing for the foursquare team? I’m just curious to know the truth….I am not a hater at all.

    1. fredwilson

      I honestly don’t know. I can tell you without any hesitation that there’s nothing unethical going onMaybe he thinks its the next big thing and wants to be the ‘ace’ on the story

      1. davidhkim

        Been reading your blog long enough to know that you reputation is based on being of the highest moral character and integrity. I’m not accusing you or foursquare at all. It’s just so weird. I mean I read the comments and it’s quite funny. In any case, good job with the blog! Also, update… i really liked your “hacking education” post. I’m the reader from South Korea interested in English education. We recently entered a JV with Interpark, the company that sold gmarket to ebay last year. Still trying to tackle the whole ESL problem/opportunity here in S. Korea. Just wanted to give you an update.

        1. kidmercury

          lol today was so weird. in addition to it being the bazillionth time mg covered 4sq, the haters were out early and often in the comments, and mg was playing defense the whole time….i don’t think it’s bad for 4sq, they have a legit service with a core group of fans, and some promising growth opportunities it seems…just kinda weird… me a chuckle….lol

          1. fredwilson

            I hope he hangs tough. He has been early and right on this one

  18. acocotas

    7×7, a local bay area magazine, recently published a good article about San Francisco’s Foursquare http://www.7×

    1. fredwilson

      Thanks for the link. I’ll check it out

  19. ShanaC

    Congratulations to them. we’ll see how this years SXSW goes (no I am not there) Must be interesting for them to be back.

  20. Reykjavik

    Chance that Google could buy them again, but this time not let them die on the vine?

    1. fredwilson

      Once burned twice shy. Don’t bet on it

      1. markevans99

        I was hoping someone would bring this up. Which goes to the whole is geo-loco a business or a feature?Will the big brands (Goog/FB/Twitter) just go on a buying spree and turn a promising differentiated/business model/industry into just another feature on bloated social networks?Or will a company stand up and fight for something new? The once burned twice shy experience of Dennis may be a blessing for us all as Foursquare seems likely to stay focused on going it alone.

        1. fredwilson


  21. paramendra

    Happy Birthday. These guys are for real.

  22. Prokofy

    It’s a fun and engaging idea for those who have i-phones.I do wonder if it is profitable yet.

    1. fredwilson

      Its available for android, blackberry, palm, mobile web, and even sms

      1. Prokofy

        OK. But is it profitable? Does it have a viable business model? If Starbucks and such pay them for ads, is that viable?I realize only one year after its founding is too soon to make a start-up profitable, but…will it be? I hope for your sake these projects don’t all start burn through their VC money at the same time without a plan.

        1. fredwilson

          yes, it has a viable business model. venues run offers through foursquareand they take a cut. think craigslist meets the newspaper inserts

          1. Prokofy

            Facebook has a “viable business plan” too. I show up and push content for free, and they push ads at me that they get a cut out of. These ads offer fabulous coupons and practically call me by name, they mention my age and location and interests. But…I don’t click on them. I’m more likely to use a coupon out of the hard-copy New York Times delivered once a week. I don’t think this is a demographics thing, I think most people will have an upper limit of how much ad-pushing they can stand that ultimately is interruptive.I have all kinds of plastic and paper cards that in a sense are a badge system (these systems are all based on the old Green Stamps concept). For example, if I get 20 holes punched in my UN book store card, I get a discount. My supermarket card will entitle me to certain specials of the week. Etc. But how much of that can I stand looking at in that tiny real estate of a screen on a phone?

          2. fredwilson

            right, but the great thing about foursquare is you get the offer on yourphone at the time of checkinyou’re at starbucks, you checkin, you get a free espressothat’s powerful

          3. Prokofy

            Fred, I know you’ve been a venture capitalist for the last few decades, but did you ever work in a store or small business. I’ve worked for 7/11, Rite-Aid, various restaurants, etc. And sure, coupons for a free drink are a way to get them into the store. The theory is with these loss-leaders that they will then buy a sandwich or candy or something. But…you the reason they call it “loss leader” is because it’s a…loss.Loss leaders are *part* of a business model, but not the whole thing. For that, you need to sell the sandwhiches.Where are the sandwiches for sale at FourSquare? I-phone at least sell the APIs so the engineers get paid.

          4. fredwilson

            think of foursquare as enabling coupons on your phone, no more no less

  23. shaan

    Testing Disqus

  24. David Bloom

    Woke up this morning to tweak my investor presentation, dreaming about the one year anniversary of our go-live date. Start contract discussion with our first enterprise client on monday. Outfits like Mint and 4SQ remind me to dream big. Create something great, execute great, find your apostles…anything can happen. Congrats!

  25. ErikSchwartz

    I just checked in down in Mexico. I was hoping for a sombrero badge…Oh well.

  26. TanyaMonteiro

    Looking forward to the London adventure!