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Video: Foursquare’s Rise as the Location Layer

This is the latest in LSA’s Video Vault series. Running semi-weekly, it examines selected conference talks and video clips, including embedded video and key takeaways. Speakers’ opinions are their own. Check out the entire series here.


One saying that’s come out of Adam Draper’s Boost VC incubator is “Be the cockroach.” Though rather pejorative-sounding at first, this designation means avoiding lavish marketing budgets and vanity-driven attention to publicity. Instead, focus on fundamental business metrics unsung-hero status.

On some levels, this slogan characterizes the last five years of Foursquare. As more of a behind-the-scenes B2B player, it’s less sexy and exposed than its former consumer-facing self. It’s also shown cockroach-like survival in pivoting into its own high-point of growth. It’s now more successful than ever.

This is what CEO Jeff Glueck has expressed to me in the past as the “100 Club.” Better-sounding than the cockroach analogy, this references more than $100+ million in revenue, more than 100 engineers working on location, more than 100 million locations measured and $150 million in funding to date.

This move from consumer-facing tech darling to behind-the-scenes location layer to the internet is something we’ve been tracking for a while. But it still surprises people outside of the media and tech worlds to hear the name Foursquare. The company sometimes can’t shake the persona of its former self.

On Bloomberg this week (video below), Glueck sought to remind and further educate the market on the strength of its positioning, despite residing in the shadows. In addition to business metrics and enjoying the most vaunted KPIs in its history, its advantage is also gained by its independence.

In other words, Foursquare avoids channel conflict by selling location data but not media/ads. This is an inherently conflicted position that’s rampant among ad networks that report their own location data. Foursquare also offers a rare opportunity for location data at scale, outside of the duopoly.

But due to the aforementioned confusion about Foursquare’s current business model, how are its products now structured and how has it achieved the above metrics? Most of it comes down qualitative and quantitative growth. That basically means collecting location data responsibly and at a large scale.

Specifically, Foursquare powers location features of third-party apps. That includes location tags on Twitter and other apps that want to bring place data into their UX. That in turn gives Foursquare lots of data from which to glean aggregate insights. It also still sees a billion annual check-ins from its own apps.

It also works with wi-fi networks and other sources built up over years, which lets it triangulate accurate location signals. For example, in urban settings, GPS alone doesn’t determine if you’re on the 8th floor of a building or the Starbucks in the lobby. For ad targeting and attribution, that’s a key difference.

The scale it achieves from this large and perpetually-improving database engenders greater reliability. It’s also big on “true stops” which incorporate dwell times into location data. This can determine if someone stopped at a business or was just walking by — an important distinction that lots of data providers ignore.

Those insights are then packaged in its various products for brand marketers to make smarter decisions. Those include Placed by Foursquare, which measures ad effectiveness/attribution, and Pinpoint which creates Acxiom-like audience profiles from aggregate location behavior (privacy friendly).

It also increasingly works in non-advertising contexts like supply chain logistics, franchise development and equity research. This list will continue to grow as location intelligence gains relevance and applicability to business operations — everything from predicting election outcomes to urban planning.

See more in the video clip below, including Foursquare’s privacy stance and its embrace of scrutiny over big tech. Stay tuned for further posts in our video vault series, running semi-weekly on Fridays.

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