I have been interviewing a number of candidates for different roles within Foursquare which have resulted in some very interesting conversations. One of the things I do at the end of every interview is leave time for folks to ask questions. One of the most common questions I get is “why did you join foursquare?” (or some variation). I have gotten into some great conversations around my answer and I thought it was worth writing about here.
To answer the question properly I walk folks through my previous roles and what motivated me to change jobs in the first place.
When I graduated from college I thought I wanted to work in advertising. I got a job at Mediacom as a Media Planner, which means planning advertising for clients in areas such as TV, out of home, radio, print, and other mediums. It was during this time that I actually started this blog (when it was all about Marketing). I soon realized that this type of advertising was not really accountable for clients. It was (and is?) thought to be effective by very hand wavy metrics such as “visibility” and “brand awareness” but it was impossible to really track.
I realized that interactive advertising and banner ads provided great accountability and metrics you could really dig into. Around this time I made the switch to focus on a role that allowed me to work on many more clients instead of just one (those at Mediacom and Beyond Interactive) looking for interactive ads that they could track and learn from. I saw this as a great answer to the great unknown of traditional ad effectiveness and much more reasonable to spend budgets against.
It was around this time that I became obsessed with ad stats, ROI, and metrics that could measure success for advertisers.
Some of the campaigns I worked on were traditional banners campaigns while others were more sophisticated sponsorships of the apps and programs of the day such as instant messaging clients, rollovers, and takeovers on sites.
In early 2006 I heard from an in house recruiter at a company called Reprise Media that worked specifically in Search Engine Marketing (SEM) which was a nascent advertising space dedicated to delivering targeted advertising solely based on someones intent. Ding!
Once I groked what they actually did I jumped at the chance to meet with them. It was amazing to see under the hood at a startup, and begin to understand the world of search advertising.
I saw SEM as being the so-called “holy grail” of advertising, only showing ads to those people that were actually looking for something similar! If someone typed “running shoes” into a search engine, chances are they are looking for “running shoes”. Therefore ads targeted around running, shoes, and combinations therein made for a great experience, perhaps even helped by the ads. By virtue of an auction based system, quality scores, and actual click data search marketing seemed like the best way to reach someone who had real intent. The marketers that got it early benefited from great results, an uncrowded space, and real metrics they could sink their teeth into and bring back to their CFO’s and claim success. It was the first advertising medium I found that if effective, would result in unlimited budget from clients. In a few cases we could beat the margins for products and arbitrage ads/traffic making clients a ton of revenue and profit in the process.
Fast forward 2+ years, after the company was sold to IPG, I was looking for what was next. I soon found Union Square Ventures as a place to learn even more about startups, but from an entirely different viewpoint. (I will leave that experience to other posts)
When I met the founders from foursquare, and I heard what they were doing, I immediately became fixated on real world analytics. A Foursquare merchant could actually see results in the form of real live foot traffic walking into their stores. This time around there was a company that actually knew when you were in a “Running Shoe” store by the act of visiting that store.
It seemed I had actually found something that was further down the funnel than any other type of advertising I had ever seen. People were checking in to places by the hundreds (at that time) and merchants were getting their first look at bridging the digital and physical world together.
I knew right away that what foursquare was working on was fascinating to me, appealing to my analytics side as well as my curiosity in figuring out how brick and mortar locations could innovate.
Over the past two years I have helped build up a massive group of interested merchants from around the world (over a million now!) that all use this dashboard information to speak to customers.
Its been an exciting journey and I hope to go into further detail about many of these experiences – but this is how I look at a decade of job progress since I graduated.