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Foursquare Explains Its Transformation From Check-Ins to Location Intelligence

February 25, 2016

Foursquare Executive Chairman Dennis Crowley and CEO Jeff Glueck speak at Cornell Tech @ Bloomberg event.

Foursquare Executive Chairman Dennis Crowley and CEO Jeff Glueck speak with Vonnie Quinn at Cornell Tech @ Bloomberg event.


We are not trying to be Facebook,” said Foursquare CEO Jeff Glueck to a room full of students on February 22 at the third installment of the Cornell Tech @ Bloomberg speaker series (#CTechBBG).

At a live panel discussion held at Bloomberg headquarters in midtown Manhattan, Glueck and Co-Founder Dennis Crowley, who stepped down as CEO last month to become Executive Chairman, unpacked Foursquare’s pivot from a consumer-oriented app known for letting people “check in” to places, to a location intelligence company that sells data to businesses. The startup raised $45 million to finance its revamp and build out its location intelligence tools.

By selling data to businesses to show the effectiveness with which mobile ads drive people to brick-and-mortar stores, Foursquare wants to be the connection point between the digital and real worlds.

Foursquare – whose user base is roughly 50 million people – is positioning itself for the long term not as a competitor of Facebook or Yelp, but more as a provider of enterprise data and developer platforms.

“The Holy Grail is to know which ads work to get people into stores,” Glueck says. “Now instead of having to wait six months, you can actually get that feedback in real-time.”

The lynchpin of the new strategy is Foursquare’s API, or application programming interface, which allows companies to tap Foursquare’s trove of location data. The API is beloved by developers because the place and venue data presents an alternative location source from other mapping providers like Google.

“How can we change the whole ecosystem and give new superpowers to developers?” Crowley asked at one point in the discussion. He said the community of engineers using Foursquare data in their apps is now roughly 100,000 strong.

A new platform forms the core of Foursquare’s new flagship product, Attribution, which was announced on Feb. 22. By tracking users’ devices on an opt-in basis and comparing them to people who didn’t see an ad, Foursquare can register customer volume and lift from ads in stores directly after the Super Bowl ads air, for example.

“Looking at foot traffic is one piece of the puzzle for a retailer or a hedge fund,” says Glueck. “We are trying to be the best in the world about how phones move around and stay on top of that.”

Data and its implications for privacy were also a topic of the conversation. At one point, panel interviewer Vonnie Quinn asked Crowley about Apple’s refusal to release encrypted phone data after a federal court ordered Apple to help the FBI unlock an iPhone used by one of the attackers who killed 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif. in December.

Crowley and Glueck both backed Apple’s decision. While companies like Foursquare often receive orders to turn over data existing on its servers, they said creating new software that breaks encryption on devices is just too dangerous a security breech to introduce to the world.

“I think it’s great that Apple is taking a stand in this particular case,” says Crowley. “It’s over the line for them and I understand why.”

To view highlights of the interview click below.