SAI StartUp 2010: Dennis Crowley on Foursquare

Last week, I attended Silicon Alley Insider’s StartUp 2010 conference to network and see what I could learn from the entrepreneurial crowd.  Rather than do a full re-cap of the event like I did with the L2 GenerationNext Forum, I’ll focus on a few of the events of the day.

After some introductory comments, the meat of the event launched with an interview with Dennis Crowley, the co-founder of Foursquare (or as I like to refer to it, “my mobile addiction.”)  The interview topics ranged widely from the history of the service to the ways that it’s being used to the plans for where the service will go.  Here’s the video of the interview.  It’s pretty long (24 minutes), but I’d recommend you at least listen to it in the background while you surf the net.  Just make sure to come back to read the rest of the article!

Crowley’s interview was full of great sound bytes, but a few of his points really stood out to me.  Here are some that I feel are applicable to more than just a single service.

  • Do what you love: Foursquare was developed so that Crowley and his friends could stay in touch.  They didn’t want the end of a previous service to disrupt their nightlife.  They then found that millions of people liked the same idea.  People wanted to know “how far along [they are] living vicariously through [their] friends.”
  • The key to your success is timing: Foursquare didn’t just succeed because people started carrying GPS phones in large numbers.  Over the last few years, services like Facebook and Twitter have trained people to share their status and information with others online.
  • Niche services can survive in spite of competition: Just as Facebook’s evolution of status messages didn’t kill Twitter, the addition of location-based features to market leading channels don’t spell the doom of Foursquare.  Rather, it’s forced Foursquare to become more focused and stronger.  Foursquare’s user base is focused enough that they appreciate the complexity of the apps, whereas Twitter’s user base, for example, is broad enough that its service’s interface has to remain simple.
  • Remain focused: Similarly, Yelp’s check-ins won’t kill Foursquare.  People think of Yelp as a review service, not a check-in service.  There’s a disconnect when established channels start offering new, unrelated services.  This allows smaller players to remain in the market, surviving thanks to a kind of judo strategy.

Foursquare’s success is an excellent example of growing a company in the midst of a competitive landscape.  Still, they’re not out of the woods yet.  Crowley himself admits that it’s only a matter of time before check-ins become a commodity.  What will be Foursquare’s competitive advantage then?  Will they be able to maintain the explosive rate of membership growth that they now enjoy?

What do you think Foursquare has to do to remain competitive?

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