The ability to monetize a product remains a central problem/conflict for many a startup. The ability to live off infusions of investor money is a luxury only afforded to the companies that captured mainstream attention and fervor early and managed to build massive social brands and user services around them. While Foursquare may be one of these exceptions, Eric Friedman, the company’s director of sales and revenue operations, doesn’t let the popular check-in app stagnate in ubiquity. At a recent BD Meetup-hosted talk,, he elaborated on his background in tech and how his team tries to expand Foursquare into something that better represents the communities it painstakingly profiles.
To some extent, Friedman believes Foursquare’s special brand of geo-tracking was a natural progression in his working life, viewing the history of his career as a “funnel” that inadvertently inched him towards greater innovations in the world of advertising. Entering the scene through traditional media, Friedman witnessed marketing transition from the earliest days of banner ads and search engine optimization (which he initially thought was the logical apex of target-advertising). But even when he began a career in venture capital, overseeing early stage tech investments at Union Square Ventures, his initial pursuit grew sharper: that’s where he first met Foursquare founders Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadurai (the latter is no longer with the company). After maintaining an open working relationship with them, he joined the Foursquare team, a move that he thought would make him a stronger venture capitalist through hard, hands-on startup experience, while taking him to the next evolutionary step in how businesses advertise.
“[To] be an effective venture capitalist, you have to go on your own trek,” said Friedman, likening the job to a guide whose success in shepherding would-be adventurers (in this case, startups towards fiscal gain) means knowing the paths first-hand. “I didn’t know what it was going to be or what was going to happen – we still don’t.”
Friedman credits his professional trajectory to a willingness to be as helpful as possible to whichever team he found himself on, even lending a hand in situations where he otherwise may not have been an expert. He’s convinced that “wear[ing] every hat” is crucial to his work identity, frankly admitting that total preparedness for whatever came next was never a reality, or a real possibility.
That said, he also stressed that traditional skills could still be honed and utilized in an otherwise unpredictable environment. His experience in advertising helped him map out new revenue potentials for Foursquare, moving them from coordinating one-time marquee promo deals to fostering deeper relationships with clients, making Foursquare a multifaceted problem-solver, while giving their users more reasons to utilize Foursquare as their all-purpose destination compass.
While brand product promotions and post-check-in coupons – two types of new products the app offers– will continue to incentivize users to “go out and do something interesting,” Foursquare is also tailoring tools to the local businesses that its users explore daily. This was the basis for Friedman’s local outreach, investigating the problems independent stores face in advertising their goods. Allowing owners to “claim” their location through Foursquare allows them to create and manage their businesses’ verified profiles and customize exclusive promotions, all while helping Foursquare to aggregate better location data in order to make it the most comprehensive map on the market.
Between recruiting businesses and investment management, Friedman finds his constant re-invention in the workplace lives and dies by how he treats his co-workers.
“Nobody goes to work and says ‘I’m going to network today,’” he said, mentioning how easy it is to overlook the people working around you, although they’re often wearing just as many hats as you are. By perceiving their problems and helping them in a solid “support role,” he left strong impressions on co-workers that lasted far after they moved on to other companies and projects.
“Make the people around you shine,” said Friedman, “and your network will shine accordingly.”