All posts in “Foursquare”

Foursquare buys Placed from Snap Inc. on the heels of $150M in new funding

Foursquare just made its first acquisition. The location tech company has acquired Placed from Snap Inc on the heels of a fresh $150 million investment led by the Raine Group. The terms of the deal were not disclosed. Placed founder and CEO David Shim will become President of Foursquare.

Placed is the biggest competitor to Foursquare’s Attribution product, which allows brands to track the physical impact (foot traffic to store) of a digital campaign or ad. Up until now, Placed and Attribution by Foursquare combined have measured over $3 billion in ad-to-store visits.

Placed launched in 2011 and raised $13.4 million (according to Crunchbase) before being acquired by Snap Inc. in 2017.

As part of the deal with Foursquare, the company’s Attribution product will henceforth be known as Placed powered by Foursquare. The acquisition also means that Placed powered by Foursquare will have more than 450 measureable media partners, including Twitter, Snap, Pandora, and Waze. Moreover, more than 50 percent of the Fortune 100 are partnered with Placed or Foursquare.

It’s also worth noting that this latest investment of $150 million is the biggest financing round for Foursquare ever, and comes following a $33 million Series F last year.

Here’s what Foursquare CEO Jeff Glueck had to say about the financing in a prepared statement:

This is one of the largest investments ever in the location tech space. The investment will fund our acquisition and also capitalize us for our increased R&D and expansion plans, allowing us to focus on our mission to build the world’s most trusted, independent location technology platform.

That last bit, about an independent location technology platform, is important here. Foursquare is ten years old and has transformed from a consumer-facing location check-in app — a game, really — into a location analytics and development platform.

Indeed, when Glueck paints his vision for the company, he lists five key areas of focus:

  1. Developer Tools to build smarter apps and customer engagement, using geo-context;
  2. Analytics, including consumer insights for planning;
  3. Audiences, so businesses can reach the right consumer segments for their message;
  4. Attribution, to test and learn which messages, segments and channels work best;
  5. Consumer, where through our own apps and Foursquare Labs’ R&D efforts we showcase what’s possible and inspire developers via our innovations around contextual location.

You’ll notice that its consumer apps, Foursquare and Swarm, are at the bottom of the list. But that’s because Foursquare’s real technological and strategic advantage isn’t in building the best social platform. In fact, Glueck said that more than 90 percent of the company’s revenue came from the enterprise side of the business. Foursquare’s advantage is in the accuracy of its technology, as afforded by the decade of data that has come from Foursquare, Swarm, and the users who have expressly verified their location.

The Pilgrim SDK fits into that top item on the list: developer tools. The Pilgrim SDK allows developers to embed location-smart experiences and notifications into their apps and services. But it also expands Foursquare’s access to data from beyond its own apps to the greater ecosystem, yielding the data it needs to power analytics tools for brands and publishers.

With this acquisition, Placed will be able to leverage Foursquare’s existing map of 105 million places of interest across 190 countries, as well as tap into the measured U.S. audience of over 100 million monthly devices.

Foursquare and Placed share a similar philosophy of building against a truth set of real consumer responses. Getting real people to confirm the name of their location is the only way to know if your technology is accurate or not. Placed has leveraged over 135 million survey responses in its first-party Placed survey apps, all from consumers opted-in to its rewards app. Foursquare expands the truth set for machine learning exponentially by adding in our over 13 billion consumer confirmations.

The hope is that Foursquare is accurate enough to become the de facto location analytics and services company for measuring ad spend. With enough scale, that may allow the company to break into the walled gardens where most of that ad spend is going, Facebook and Google.

Of course, to win as the “world’s most trusted, independent location technology platform,” consumers have to trust the platform. After all, one’s location may be the most sensitive piece of data about them. Foursquare has taken steps to be clear about what its technology is capable of. In fact, at SXSW this year, Foursquare offered a limited run of a product called Hypertrending, which was essentially an anonymized view of real-time location data showing activity in the Austin area.

Here’s what Executive Chairman and cofounder Dennis Crowley had to say at the time:

We feel the general trend with internet and technology companies these days has been to keep giving users a more and more personalized (albeit opaquely personalized) view of the world, while the companies that create these feeds keep the broad “God View” to themselves. Hypertrending is one example of how we can take Foursquare’s aggregate view of the world and make it available to the users who make it what it is. This is what we mean when we talk about “transparency” – we want to be honest, in public, about what our technology can do, how it works, and the specific design decisions we made in creating it.

With regards to today’s acquisition of Placed, Jeff Glueck had this to say:

Both companies also share a commitment to privacy and consumers being in control. Our Foursquare credo of “data as a privilege” only deepens as our company expands. We believe location should only be shared when consumers can see real value and visible benefits driven by location. We remain dedicated to elevating the industry through respect for transparency, user control, and instituting layers of privacy safeguards.

This new financing brings Foursquare’s total funding to $390.4 million.

Q&A with J Crowley, Head of Product at Airbnb Lux, on what makes a great PM

The role of Product Manager can mean very different things at various companies. Should a product manager be technical? Scientific? Opinionated?

J Crowley has run product at three big-name companies. At Foursquare, he led the rebuild of Swarm after a rocky initial launch and eventually became Head of Product. He then moved on to Blue Apron as Head of Product, overseeing growth and monetization. This was right before Blue Apron went public, which ushered in a turbulent time for the company but one that yielded a wealth of life lessons for Crowley.

Now, he serves as Head of Product for Airbnb Lux.

I hopped on the phone with J to talk about what makes a great product manager, some of the lessons he’s learned, and how he’s made difficult decisions and communicated that to his team.

Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Jordan: How did you get into the tech world in the first place? You used to work in TV, right?

J Crowley: I worked in the television industry for about 10 years. Many years at NBC for a bunch of different departments. Started in the Page Program, and worked on everything from late night comedy, to sports, news, election coverage, digital programming.

I ended up leaving NBC to start my own company, which was a small digital studio here in New York City. We made hundreds of digital shorts and web series. It was probably the most challenging, but most fun three years of my career.

I eventually packed it up to join Foursquare as their Director of Business Development in 2010. There, I helped them grow their brand by securing hundreds of media partnerships with major publishers, sports leagues, TV networks, musicians, etc. That was actually my first job in tech. It wasn’t a product role. It was business development.

Foursnap? Snapchat tries “Status” location checkins

Today’s teens missed the Foursquare era so Snapchat is giving them another shot with a new feature to aid in-person meetups. Snapchat is now testing Status, an option to share to the Snap Map a Bitmoji depicting what you’re up to at a certain place. You could show your little avatar playing video games, watching TV, asking friends to hit you up, and more. And Snapchat will compile these into a private diary of what you’ve been doing called Passport

This fixes the biggest problem with Snap Map and many other location checkin apps. Just because someone is down the street doesn’t mean they want you to drop in on them. They could working, in a meeting, or on a date. Snapchat Status lets people convey their activity and intention so you can tell the difference between “I’m nearby but stuck with my parents” and “I’m nearby and want to hang out!” As Snapchat refocuses on messaging after Instagram stole its Stories thunder, Status could ensure there’s more to see that makes Snap Map worth opening.

Snapchat Status and Passport were first spotted by reverse engineering expert and frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong. “Share the Moment with Status” the introduction to the feature explains. “You can now share where you are or what you’re up to. Your Status will only be visible to friends you share your location with.” To se your status, you choose from reams of poses for your Bitmoji ranging from them reading a book to holding a sign saying “text me?”

Meanwhile, “Passport is Just For You: Passport helps you keep track of the Places you’ve been. Places you set your Status at will be added to your Passport along with who you were there with. Only you ca see your Passport, and you can delete a Place from your history at any time.” Your Status only lasts until you leave a place, but it’s tallied along with the number of countries and cities you’ve check into on your Passport.

A Snap spokesperson confirms that “Yes, we are currently testing new ways for Snapchatters to better communicate on the Snap Map with their friends. This test is running with a percentage of Snapchatters in Australia.” Previously, special Bitmoji were only displayed on the Snap Map involuntarily, like when you were road tripping or flying to a new place; visited somewhere special like a beach, mall, or major event; or if there was a breaking news moment.

If you don’t want to use Status or even show up on Snap Map, you can go into ghost mode at any time, plus all your location-based content disappears if you don’t open the app for eight hours. And if you do want to be found, you can check who’s viewed your location or Status in case you need to know who’s blowing you off.

Snap launched Snap Map back in June 2017, basing the idea off its acquisition of French location startup Zenly that it bought for $213 million in cash plus bonuses. Beyond spurring real world interaction, Snap has also made Snap Map an embeddable way to explore breaking news events or hotspots around the world. Status could provide structured data about your behavior which could beef up Snapchat’s scrawny repository of ad targeting information. The app could even try surfacing nearby businesses or discounts.

Snapchat’s tighter-knit social graph and stronger track record on privacy lets it offer features that would freak people out if built by Mark Zuckerberg. Given Facebook is aggressively cloning Snap’s whole product philosophy from its direct copy of Stories to ephemeral messaging to its premium content hubs Watch and IGTV, Snapchat desperately needs to differentiate. Luckily, Facebook has failed to figure out offline meetups, and has yet to roll out the “Your Emoji” status feature that similarly tries to convey what you’re up to visually but within Messenger instead of a map.

Doubling down on Snap Map is a smart move because its one of the few areas where Facebook can’t follow.

Boundless gets $7.8M to help immigrants navigate the convoluted green card process

Two years ago, former Amazon product manager Xiao Wang stood on the stage at TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco and made the case for a platform meant to help couples apply for marriage green cards, a complex process made worse by bureaucracy and red tape.

Called Boundless, the startup had spun out of Seattle startup studio Pioneer Square Labs and raised a $3.5 million seed round. Now, Foundry Group’s Brad Feld has led a $7.8 million Series A in the startup, with participation from existing investors Trilogy Equity Partners, PSL, Two Sigma Ventures and Founders’ Co-Op.

“Families have really only had two choices, they could spend weeks or months trying to figure this out on their own, or they can spend thousands and thousands of dollars on an immigration attorney,” Wang, Boundless co-founder and chief executive officer, told TechCrunch. “What we are trying to do is basically give everyone access to the information, the tools and the support that was previously only available to those that could afford high-priced attorneys.”

Boundless charges $750 for its online green card application support services, which includes ensuring families correctly complete applications and have access to an immigration lawyer to review those applications. The fee comes at a major discount to the costs of an immigration lawyer and streamlines a process that can be delayed months when errors are made. The startup also offers a recently launched $395 naturalization product meant to assist eligible green card holders with their U.S. citizenship applications.

Wang founded Boundless in 2017 after helping build Amazon Go, the e-commerce giant’s line of cashierless convenience stores. Wang is an immigrant, having relocated to the U.S. from China when he was a child.

“We spent almost five months of rent money on an immigration attorney because the stakes were so high and we only had one shot,” Wang said. “We wanted to make sure we were doing it right. This is a story that is echoed by millions of families every year; this is such an important part of them starting a new life in a new country.”

Wang, after three years at Amazon, realized he could use his technology background and data prowess to build an information platform supportive of these millions of families.

“This is exactly what tech and data is meant to do,” he said. “I believe there is a moral obligation for tech to be used in meaningfully improving people’s lives.”

Boundless plans to use this investment to expand its team and product offerings, as well as build out its content library, which Wang said is rapidly becoming the go-to place for immigrants navigating the legal labyrinth that is the U.S. green card and citizenship process. Its resources page, which includes straightforward guides, a number of forms and more, counts 300,000 unique visitors per month.

“We hold their hand through the entire process,” Wang said. “We want to be the single source of information and tools for all family-based immigration.”

Wang and his team also hope to shine a brighter light on immigration policy. In late 2018, as part of its effort to be louder advocates for immigrants, Boundless, alongside Warby Parker, Foursquare, Foundation Capital and more, published an open letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security opposing its proposed “public charge” immigration regulation, which would allow for non-citizens who are in the country legally to be denied a visa or a green card if they have a medical condition, financial liabilities and other disqualifiers.

“The stakes for making sure your application is correct have never been higher; the government has far more leeway to be able to deny applications,” Wang said. “While we can’t speed up the government processing times, we can make meaningful improvements to helping families gather all the materials they need to send in the right information.”

Foursquare’s Hypertrending helps you spy on the coolest local happenings

Ten years after the launch of Foursquare at SXSW, the company is laying its technology bare with a futuristic version of its old app that doesn’t require a check-in at all. The godfather of location apps is returning to the launchpad with Hypertrending, but this time it hopes to learn what developers might do with real-time info about where people are and where they aren’t.

Hypertrending uses Foursquare’s Pilgrim technology, which is baked into Foursquare’s apps and offered as an third-party enterprise tool, to show where phones are in real time over the course of SXSW in Austin, TX.

This information is relayed through dots on a map. The size of those dots is a reflection of the number of devices in that place at a given time. Users can filter the map by All places, Food, Nightlife, and Fun (events and parties).

Hypertrending also has a Top 100 list that is updated in real time to show which places are super popular, with arrows to show whether a place is trending up or down.

Before you throw up your hands in outrage, the information on Hypertrending is aggregated and anonymized (just like it is within Pilgrim), and there are no trails showing the phone’s route from one place to another. Dots only appear on the map when the phone arrives at a destination.

Hypertrending was cooked up in Foursquare’s skunkworks division, Foursquare Labs, led by the company’s cofounder Dennis Crowley .

The feature is only available during SXSW and in the Austin area, and thus far Foursquare has no plans to launch this publicly. So… what’s the deal?

First and foremost, Hypertrending is about showing off the technology. In many ways, Hypertrending isn’t new at all, in that it runs off of the Pilgrim technology that has powered Foursquare since around 2014.

Pilgrim is the tech that recognizes you’ve just sit down at a restaurant and offers up a tip about the menu on Foursquare City Guide, and it’s the same tech that notices you’ve just touched down in a new city and makes some recommendations on places to go. In Swarm, it’s the tech that offers up a list of all the places you’ve been in case you want to retroactively check in to them.

That sounds rather simple, but a combination of Foursquare’s 10 years worth of location data and Pilgrim’s hyper-precision is unparalleled when it comes to accuracy, according to Crowley.

Whereas other location tech might not understand the difference between you being in the cafe on the first floor or the salon on the second floor, or the bar that shares a wall with both, Pilgrim does.

This is what led Foursquare to build out the Pilgrim SDK, which now sees more than 100 million user-confirmed visits per month. Apps that use the Pilgrim SDK offer users the ability to opt-in to Foursquare’s always-on location tracking for its mobile app panel in the U.S., which has grown to 10 million devices.

These 10 million phones provide the data that powers Hypertrending.

Now, the data itself might not be new, per se. But Foursquare has never visualized the information quite like this, even for enterprise customers.

Whereas customers of the Foursquare Place Insights, Pinpoint and Attribution get snapshots into their own respective audiences, Hypertrending represents on a large scale just what Foursquare’s tech is capable of in not only knowing where people are, but where people aren’t.

This brings us back to SXSW, which happens to be the place where Foursquare first launched back in 2009.

“This week has felt a little nostalgic as we try to get this thing ready to go,” said Crowley. “It’s not that dissimilar to when we went to SXSW in 2009 and showed off Foursquare 1.0. There is this curious uncertainty and my whole thing is to get a sense of what people think of it.”

Crowley recalled his first trip to SXSW with cofounder Naveen Selvadurai. They couldn’t afford an actual pass to the show so they just went from party to party showing people the app and hearing what they thought. Crowley said that he doesn’t expect Hypertrending to be some huge consumer app.

“I want to show off what we can do with the technology and the data and hopefully inspire developers to do interesting stuff with this raw visualization of where phones are at,” said Crowley. “What would you do if you had access to this? Would you make something cool and fun or make something obnoxious and creepy?”

Beyond the common tie of SXSW, Hypertrending brings Foursquare’s story full circle in the fact that it’s potentially the most poignant example of what Crowley always wanted Foursquare to be. Location is one of the most powerful pieces of information about an individual. One’s physical location is, in many ways, the most purely truthful piece of information about them in a sea of digital clicks and scroll-bys.

If this data could be harnessed properly, without any work on the side of the consumer, what possibilities might open up?

“We’ve long talked about making ‘a check-in button you never had to press’,” said Crowley in the blog post. “Hypertrending is part of that vision realized, spread across multiple apps and services.”

Crowley also admits in the blog post that Hypertrending walks a fine line between creepy and cool, which is another reason for the ephemeral nature of the feature. It’s also the exact reason he wants to open it up to everyone.

From the blog post:

After 10 years, it’s clear that we (Foursquare!) are going to play a role in influencing how contextual-aware technologies shape the future – whether that’s apps that react to where you are and where you’ve been, smarter virtual assistants (e.g Alexa, Siri, Marsbot) that understand how you move through cities, or AR objects that need to appear at just the right time in just the right spot. We want to build a version of the future that we’re proud of, and we want your input as we get to work building it.

And…

We made Hypertrending to show people how Foursquare’s panel works in terms of what it can do (and what it will not do), as well as to show people how we as a company think about navigating this space. We feel the general trend with internet and technology companies these days has been to keep giving users a more and more personalized (albeit opaquely personalized) view of the world, while the companies that create these feeds keep the broad “God View” to themselves. Hypertrending is one example of how we can take Foursquare’s aggregate view of the world and make it available to the users who make it what it is. This is what we mean when we talk about “transparency” – we want to be honest, in public, about what our technology can do, how it works, and the specific design decisions we made in creating it.

We asked Crowley what would happen if brands and marketers loved the idea of Hypertrending, but general consumers were freaked out?

“This is an easy question,” said Crowley. “If this freaks people out, we don’t build stuff with it. We’re not ready for it yet. But I’d go back to the drawing board and ask ‘What do we learn from people that are freaked out about it that would helps us communicate to them’, or ‘what are the changes we could make to this that would make people comfortable’, or ‘what are the things we could build that would illustrate the value of this that this view didn’t communicate?’”

As mentioned above, Hypertrending is only available during the SXSW conference in the Austin area. Users can access Hypertrending through both the Foursquare City Guide app and Swarm by simply shaking their phone.