Dennis Crowley

Co-founder & CEO of Foursquare

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON September 09, 2015 Thank Dennis Crowley on Twitter

Discussion

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Dennis Crowley — Co-Founder, Foursquare
Hey hey, I’m Dennis Crowley the co-founder and CEO of Foursquare. I’ve been working on “building things that make cities easier to use” since I was in grad school at NYU. My grad school thesis turned into my first company, Dodgeball, which we sold to Google in 2005. For the past six years, we've been building Foursquare and Swarm, which are now used by more than 50M people around the world every month!

Most of you probably know us for our two apps. The Foursquare app can help you find great places literally anywhere in the world and Swarm turns every day into a game as you check-in to earn coins, stickers and mayorships. The company is also hard at work behind the scenes tackling technical challenges. We've built a contextual awareness engine that allows us send all those smart pings to your phone and smartwatch and ad targeting technology (Pinpoint) that helps brands connect w/ people based on places they go.

I also enjoy such things as snowboards, soccer, fixing broken dirt bikes, shooting arrows and throwing axes. Ask me anything!
Ryan Hoover — Product Hunt
Welcome, Dennis! What's the backstory behind your hat? 😊

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Dennis Crowley — Co-Founder, Foursquare
@rrhoover Ha, Doug Fir is a music venue in Portland. I met one of the founders (Jeff Kovel!) on a ski trip this year and he gave me this hat. Kind of awesome, right? (I got the same sticker on my laptop)

Doug Fir Lounge
830 E Burnside St (at SE 9th Ave)
Portland, OR
https://foursquare.com/v/doug-fi...
Ryan Hoover — Product Hunt
@dens I noticed the sticker! It feels very Oregonian (my hometown!).
Tomas Ruta — Growth @ Founders Factory
@dens Do you have any "Requests for Startups" - ie things that you would like someone else built (or problems someone else solved)?
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Dennis Crowley — Co-Founder, Foursquare
@tomasruta Ha, I have a list in my Evernote of "things I wish people would build off the 4SQ API" .... we're starting to get around to just building these on our own (Foursquare hack projects -- stay tuned). As for non-Foursquare, I hate the existing TV structure and I really like the *platform* that Apple rolled out today w/ AppleTV + apps. Excited to see where that goes.
Tomas Ruta — Growth @ Founders Factory
@dens If you/Foursquare had a 1bn USD budget for acquisitions, who would you buy?
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Dennis Crowley — Co-Founder, Foursquare
@tomasruta Nabisco.
Jack Dweck — Product Manager at Unroll.Me
Hey Dennis! I've been using Foursquare since the early days and swear by it in NYC. Props for bringing back gamification to Swarm!

What's one big lesson you learned from splitting Foursquare in two, and what would you do differently if you could do it all over again?
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Dennis Crowley — Co-Founder, Foursquare
@jackdweck Hey Jack! Thanks for asking the first question! #1 thing we learned from the process of splitting the apps was the importance of communicating (and overcommunicating. and overcommunicating some more) to the fans and users of the product. I think we did a "just okay" version of this, instead of doing an A++++ job of it. I think we left some people confused early on and it took us a full 6 months or so to *really* explain the story to folks. In short, we underestimated how much work it would be to really tell the story of why we decided to split the apps.
@dens Honest question: Do you think Swarm+4sq was "just ok" initially and it's great now?

I really understood the gamification being reduced to your friends only, as in most places it's impossible to be mayor of most venues due to cheating. And just the week after the leaderboard came back, I began to see again people doing tons of useless check-ins just to earn points (e.g: Checking in to country + city + venue instead of only venue)
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Dennis Crowley — Co-Founder, Foursquare
@felipecn I think the first version of Swarm that we launched was "just okay" --- we tried to make it more utility (e.g. the "where is everyone?" app) and we misread how many people just LOVE LOVE LOVED the game. But we heard you... and we made it a huge priority to not just bring the fun back, but to do it in a way that made it 10x better. I love what the team has come up with and I am VERY PROUD of the product and team behind it.
Teresa Hammerl — Socialmediapreneur
Hi Dennis, I always loved being a Foursquare Superuser. Can you maybe explain a little bit what it means to you and Foursquare and are there any future plans for it?
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Dennis Crowley — Co-Founder, Foursquare
@colazionearoma The Superuser Community is one of the most important parts of the Foursquare story + ecosystem. There are more than 40,000 of you around the world (!!) and you're a big reason our data is so fresh & accurate. We always listen to the community and continue to build new tools (and toys) for the Superusers to play with. If you have ideas for things you'd like to see, I'd love to hear them!
Connor Lee — Founder at Hosty.club
Dennis!

What are your thoughts on the on-demand ride-sharing economy, and how does that impact your mission at Foursquare and Swarm?

-Connor
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Dennis Crowley — Co-Founder, Foursquare
@connorrlee Have you seen the integration we did w/ Uber (via Button): http://techcrunch.com/2015/06/01...

Foursquare is great at knowing where you should go.
Uber is great at getting you there.
Button helped us launch this today (vs. 12 months from now).

I'm a big fan of lots of companies working together to make little experiences better / easier / more frictionless (is that even a word?)
Corley — COO @ Product Hunt
Hi Dennis - thanks for joining! How do you think about teamwork? What are some of the attributes of company culture that you think are most important when building teams?
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Dennis Crowley — Co-Founder, Foursquare
@corleyh Great question -- I think the most important things are (a) setting a clear leader for a team (no co-leaders), (b) giving them clear goals ("hey you gotta ship this thing by X date" or "you gotta raise MAUs by 10% by X date") and then (and most importantly?) (c) trusting them to just go out and get it done (aka: get our of their way / stay out of their business). The more we stick to these rules (and we don't always do it...) the better results we have.
Hadi Rashid — CoFounder, Linute
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Dennis Crowley — Co-Founder, Foursquare
@hadiudoit Agreed!
Steven W — Nice guys finish lunch.
@dens Did you pitch Dodgeball to Google or did they find you? Do you currently self fund your projects or still look for VC/Angels?
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Dennis Crowley — Co-Founder, Foursquare
@mrwongsteven A little bit of both. I was at Google visiting a friend for lunch in 2004. Rumor got out that "one of the Dodgeball guys was in the office". And so I "pitched" like 4x that day to all different people... and then eventually it was like "you should just come here and work on this thing"
Zack Shapiro — Head of Mobile at Splash
Hey Dennis,

Any tips for managing your psychology as a founder?
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Dennis Crowley — Co-Founder, Foursquare
@zackshapiro You ever read this Ben Horowitz post? It's at the top of my bookmarks list and I read it like 1x/quarter: http://techcrunch.com/2011/03/31...

You have to make time for yourself and your life outside of work (e.g. my wife @chelsa and I try to get out of the city every weekend). It's one of the only things thats kept me sane during this crazy ride.
Zack Shapiro — Head of Mobile at Splash
@dens Thanks Dennis!
@jason_ — Living life in ludicrous-mode
@dens where do you see @swarmapp in ten years?
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Dennis Crowley — Co-Founder, Foursquare
@jason_ On Mars!
Sameer Noorani — CEO, Roomvine
@dens Apart from gamification what do you think brought your first 100k loyal users? How did you make checking in useful or exciting for them?
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Dennis Crowley — Co-Founder, Foursquare
@sameernoorani It wasn't just making a product they liked... it was making a community that people wanted to be a part of (figuring out badges, competing for mayors being a super user, being an early adopter, leaving tips everywhere!). That was a big eye opener for us... it's not just the product / the screens... its the community behind it that really makes it work
Andi Muskaj — Co founder @ Linute
@dens Hey Dennis! Really love Foursquare and the gamification of Swarm has made me very excited to use it. Nice work! I'm curious to know if the rate of checkins has increased year over year in the past three years.
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Dennis Crowley — Co-Founder, Foursquare
@andimuskaj Checkins have been consistent (tho they've been WAY UP last few weeks -- since leaderboard/coins, etc -- which I guess isn't too surprising). The real story is (how much more signal* we're getting about places now (in the 2 app world) -- e.g. checkins, likes, ratings, tips, photos, etc etc... the crazy amount of data is what enables us to do so much interesting stuff with contextual awareness / predictive location tech.
megan quinn — General Partner at Spark Capital
Dennis! What's the future of 4SQ lists and will it ever get easier to add places to specific lists, share lists, etc?
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Dennis Crowley — Co-Founder, Foursquare
@msquinn Wassup Quinny! And yes, lists will get better :) In fact we're working on this right now... in fact I am working on this right now in another side window. Hold on.... :) (seriously tho, every build has subtle tweaks to list UX)
Olly S — Marketer
@msquinn You can save to specific lists already (at least on iOS, can't speak for Android). Long-press on the 'Save' button rather than simply tapping it.
Gregory Koberger — Founder, ReadMe.io
Hey Dennis! I'm such a huge fan of FourSquare; both check ins and now restaurant discovery.

Dodgeball was a few years too early from a tech standpoint. When the iPhone came out, though, it showed you predicted both a market and tech that didn't exist when you launched Dodgeball.

Any mobile trends you see coming in the future that are currently limiting Foursquare/Swarm from a product standpoint?
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Dennis Crowley — Co-Founder, Foursquare
@gkoberger The big "magic trick" we can do at Foursquare right now is understand how phones move in and out of physical spaces -- e.g. are you moving or stopped? if stopped, are you at a place, on the sidewalk, in traffic? and if you're in a place, is it an interesting place (vs, say, a dry cleaners?) and if it's interesting, what can Foursquare tell you about that place... and is that thing interesting enough for us to warrant us buzzing you phone (or wrist) to tell you about it? This stuff is VERY HARD to do... so hard that there are basically no other companies doing it right now. Will we be the only company that EVER figures it out? Probably not... but for now (and for the foreseeable future), we see it as our job to invent this version of the future that we want to see (and to work with other companies to take our vision for the future and to help sprinkle it throughout other companies' products too)
Nikita Korotaev — Incubating products @ Glocal Partners
Hi Dens, Thanks for bringing leaderboard & mayorships back. I was one of the superusers who was pissed off after the split, and hardy ever checked in on Swarm until the last update. Now I'm hocked again. Give us a hint of what is next for Swarm?
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Dennis Crowley — Co-Founder, Foursquare
@nikitakorotaev MOAR FUN. :)
Graham Macphee — Designer at Yavi
Hey @dens! Today I saw an awesome project from a Foursquare designer (Input by @lankybutmacho). I'd really like to know your thoughts on side projects within the company and how you encourage and help the team with them.
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Dennis Crowley — Co-Founder, Foursquare
@gmph Hmm.. lemme ask him. @lankybutmacho is a rockstar. No surprised he's cooking up something awesome. :)
Hadi Rashid — CoFounder, Linute
@dens Have you thought about using Augmented reality as a feature for Foursquare similar to how StarWalk 2 does? So i could walk down the street with my camera pointed forward, being able to see all the places, their reviews, which friends have been there etc live on my screen?
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Dennis Crowley — Co-Founder, Foursquare
@hadiudoit Eh, interesting feature... but people just don't walk around the real world holding their phones like that. I love the idea of it, but I don't people in 2015 are doing that yet (maybe when Google Glass version 5.0 comes out??)
hey Dennis, what are some big features you're excited about? anything new in the works?
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Dennis Crowley — Co-Founder, Foursquare
@twomouthed YES. I am working on a few new 4SQ projects now that I am really really into. Can't share here (sorry!) but you'll know em when you see em.
Sebastian Gonzalez — Entrepreneur, VP Sales at WyeWorks
Hey @dens. Have you ever tried an automatic check-in feature?
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Dennis Crowley — Co-Founder, Foursquare
@sebagon Yes, people hated it :) Its one of those things everyone asks for, so we built it and tested it (back in like 2011) and it was awful. So instead we focused on making it as easy and quick to checkin as possible.
Melissa Joy Kong — Content, Product Hunt
(1) What's something you'd really like to do, but still haven't done yet?
(2) What's something you said you'd never do, but then did—and why?
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Dennis Crowley — Co-Founder, Foursquare
@melissajoykong Been thinking about this one since the beginning of the AMA (and it's been driving me crazy that I didn't have a good answer... so making this my last question for this AMA)

1. To be honest, I don't have a crazy bucket list of stuff -- I've been pretty blessed with being able to travel a bunch and having a super interesting job/career and super supportive friends and family. I almost feel guilty for not having something super awesome here, but I'm going to say cross country road trip w/ my wife Chelsa, because I've always wanted to do that.

2. In 2001 I got laid off from my awesome dot-com job and it was a huge humbling / ego smashing setback for me personally. And then 9/11 happened and there were no jobs in NYC and we got evicted from our apt, and I eventually moved out of the city and was became a snowboard instructor for the winter. That is literally the last thing I ever expected I'd do, but it was also one of the most awesome / most fun experiences I've ever had. I always think of how supportive my parents were during that really upside-down part of my life and I'm super thankful for that.
Melissa Joy Kong — Content, Product Hunt
@dens Thanks for your thoughtful response, Dennis. Love the story about being a snowboard instructor. Amazing how deeply tragic events like 9/11 can catapult people into some of their most awesome/meaningful/important experiences.
Youcef Es-skouri — Co-Founder Welovebuzz.com
@dens What's the % of your users who use only Swarm? Same q for Foursquare!
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Dennis Crowley — Co-Founder, Foursquare
@technologix It's roughly 40/40/20 (with the 20% being those who ping/pong back and forth between the two). When we look at this, we feel it *really* justifies our strategy to split the one app into two.
Taylor Crane — Senior Product Manager, Originate
Hey Dennis,

In NYC, Foursquare is king. Elsewhere, it's not. When I travel to SF, I'm reminded of how little the rest of the world uses Foursquare/Swarm. What's your plan to change this? The product is objectively better than anything else, but the data and users just aren't quite there outside of NYC. And I'm rooting so damn hard for you guys to change this!
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Dennis Crowley — Co-Founder, Foursquare
@taykcrane The US is tough because of all the competition (e.g people been using Yelp here forever and have no idea that a better alternative exists). 4SQ is HUGE outside of the US (because Google Maps is pretty lousy in some countries and Yelp is non-existent). For now the strategy is just keep doing what we're doing, sprinkle some ads around in the US, and let the users tell each other about the great things we're building. The best ad strategy is positive word of mouth from friends, IMHO
Sarthak Grover — All things Consumer
Hi @dens! Long time Foursquare/Swarmapp "Check-in" user . I love the gamification/history but find it a hard sell explaining to others why do I check-in at places. "So you become a Mayor...okay....now what? You get coins. Ok....cool, so....virtual coins and sometimes free chips+salsa for the Mayor somewhere? So.....". What would be your Swarm elevator-pitch?
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Dennis Crowley — Co-Founder, Foursquare
@sarthakgrover Not every minute of every day is fun... but Swarm can turn little pockets of boringness (waiting in line for coffee, pumping gas, etc etc) into small little fun moments. The big drumbeat for this year has been "just make it fun"
Sarthak Grover — All things Consumer
@dens Fun it is! Glad to hear about the continued fun-ification plan for Swarm, very few companies ever think about that. I love the "turning little pockets of boringness into little fun moments" description. Thanks!
Erik Torenberg — Product Hunt
Hey Dennis!

Q: When should an entrepreneur keep going on their project/startup or hang it up? What framework should they use to make their decision?

As someone who's worked on a passion for so long and grown it to the business it is today, I'm curious what advice you can give fellow entrepreneurs here.
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Dennis Crowley — Co-Founder, Foursquare
@eriktorenberg A few people have asked me this in the past... to be honest, you gotta figure this out on your own. Are you tired? Do you have the team that can do it? Is the space still open (or did Google beat you to it?) Its not really a cookie cutter answer. Check out this Ben H post which has some good wisdom in it: http://www.bhorowitz.com/should_...