At TechCrunch Disrupt, Foursquare Takes A One-Two to the Chin


What sets Foursquare apart and always has is that it is one of the most Silicon Valley-like companies New York has produced. It’s not an adtech. It’s not a fintech. And they seem to be struggling to devise a revenue model.  They’ve raised quite a bit from investors, have a charismatic, mediagenic founder who is the darling of the New York tech scene. But their latest funding round was more a loan to keep the company afloat as opposed to a bona fide raise.



Which made Dennis Crowley prime fodder for interviewer Colleen Taylor at TechCrunch Disrupt. Then again, isn’t Crowley one of the jewels in the burgeoning New York tech scene’s crown?

“We’re not the shiny new thing any more,” Mr. Crowley admitted. “We’re in that interesting hazing period for companies, where people are still skeptical of whether this company is going to be able to pull it off or not. We’ve seen other people, like Facebook, go through this as well.”

Crowley was quick to point out that the company’s original investors also participated in the latest round.

“There’s a lot of perception we’re not growing — that’s totally false,” he said. “A lot of folks think we aren’t generating revenue or that we don’t care about revenue. This past March was our highest-generating revenue month so far. We expect to see that going forward.”

Taylor brought up former Square COO’s Keith Rabois’ criticism of Foursquare, which played out over twitter recently when former Googler Hunter Walk innocently tweeted about a TechCrunch article: “Wow, who knew 40,000 developers used the Foursquare API.

To which Rabois tweeted “@hunterwalk same number of real users.”

“If I was on the board of Yelp, I’d be nervous, too,” Crowley shot back. “I don’t think he’s looking at the same data we’re looking at.

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“A lot of people still think of us as the 2009 Foursquare, with mayors and badges. People haven’t figured out how much the app has changed. People get caught up in the story and not the things we’re actually doing. Facebook has built the social layer of the Internet. We’re doing the same thing around places. We’re building the app layer of the internet.”

Apps like Instagram, Uber, and Path all use Foursquare’s API.

He also pointed out that the metrics they track regularly (like active users and signups) are all growing 10 to 30 percent month after month.

“We’ve grown an audience and we have a million merchants signed. We’re routinely signing six-figure deals.” There’s a problem when you charge people to early, he said. “Now we have something that really works. Since early days, we’ve shown a dashboard and (merchants were saying), ‘make a button that says bring more customers into my store. Now we’ve built that. I feel really good about what we have right now.”

Not that he’d talk about hard numbers, even when pressed. Or about a possible IPO or acquisition strategy.

“We’re a private company, so we don’t have to disclose our master plan for you… We spent for years building a product that people are just starting to understand. We’re just in that spot where things that people have been talking about for 20 years are now on people’s wrists and faces. We’re getting to that sweet spot, too. As long as we continue to build the app layer of the internet, we can operate pretty well as an independent company.”

About the author: Bonnie Halper

Bonnie Halper curates the StartupOneStop.com newsletter, which focuses on startups and entrepreneurs, and is currently being read in 50+ countries around the world.

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