5 Years at Foursquare

FoursquareI have spent the past year or so working on the latest advertising offering from Foursquare called Pinpoint. It’s really the culmination of my five years working Foursquare and an undertaking that was touched by almost every team within the Company.

In the months leading up to launch we have assembled an amazing team, some of the smartest people I have ever worked with. Interestingly they all pretty much had the same question before joining my team; “So why are you still at Foursquare?”. You see 5 years at a startup means something like 20 years at a regular company (or maybe that’s in dog years). I gave an answer that convinced them to not only join my team, and Foursquare, but also gave them confidence in their choice and I wanted to share those thoughts here.

As I approached this milestone, I really couldn’t believe it’d been 5 years. That’s the longest I’ve ever worked at any company, and feels like an eternity in start-up years. I have made some of my best friends at this company, and certainly worked with some of the smartest people ever assembled. I am sure I sound biased with these superlatives, but after interviewing countless candidates, and helping other startups recruit top talent, I can honestly say the caliber of people at Foursquare are unmatched.

“So, why are you still at Foursquare?” The answer is simple; I’ve had the opportunity to wear so many different hats within this Company that I might as well have worked at 3 different companies…or hat stores.

Its a longer story, but here’s the abridged version;

Chapter 1: The consumer story

Foursquare began its journey in 2009, with its flagship app connecting people to places and introducing a series of game mechanics that got people hooked. I had the opportunity to meet the founders (Dennis Crowley and Naveen Salvadurai) while working at Union Square Ventures and really loved what they were working on. The firm shortly thereafter invested in the Company, leading its first round. I helped with a few key projects for Dennis early on including changing the name from PlayFoursquare.com to Foursquare.com, and soon took on small tasks within the company. Through what felt like a very organic process I gravitated towards some big tasks they needed help with. Shortly after, I joined in April 2010 as the first full time BD hire. Throughout this time I was on the other end of all the inbound requests and deals on the business development team and learned a ton. I could not have been happier, but always kept wanting to focus on monetization – not an easy task for a consumer facing company.

Chapter 2: Building the Sales Machine

After 2 years and a renewed focus, Foursquare doubled-down on its promise to connect places and people – and building a scalable sales infrastructure. While we made significant revenues in the past, everyone agreed that focussing on scalable revenue was key, and building a real revenue and sales machine. I next became the first person on the sales team, jumping ship from a very PR/spotlight heavy BD team. I got asked question ALL the time about the switch and why I left that group. Challenging myself in a new role to built up a team from scratch was my answer – I got a chance to introduce a sales infrastructure to a traditionally product, design, and engineering focussed company.

Job #1 was to find and hire my boss, our CRO (Steven Rosenblatt), which is an interesting task to say the least. We spent the first few months developing our relationships with existing “customers” (merchants) and asking them to give feedback on what would become the first ad products at Foursquare. Focussing on merchants first made the most sense and we soon introduced our first advertising product at scale, Promoted Places – paid advertising for merchants. This was followed of course by our second advertising product for brands (no physical locations) called Place Based Ads.

I helped build out a National Sales team in the US, focusing on clients and agencies at scale. We fast followed this with rolling out those same products to local SMBs and then mid market (think places with greater than 50 locations). Then I focussed on International sales in our biggest markets. I worked on bringing the same ad products to Europe and Latin America.

Scaling a sales team in this manner and adding this type of culture to a company is one of the hardest tasks I have ever had to do. There is a clear divide between those who joined the “consumer” company and those who joined the “commercial” company – and with those changes, people tend to either shape up or ship out.

Chapter 3: Building The Foursquare Audience Network and Pinpoint

After having two products in market for awhile, we soon realized that we were limited to focussing only on our own properties (app + web) and were limited to our own audience and scale. One of the next hats I wore at Foursquare was developing our out of app and off web ad products, which focussed in the programmatic space using a lot of the maturing mobile ad technology that has developed. This was a well paved road for advertisers who are using to placing traditional banners on desktop, mobile, video and social channels. This product, called Foursquare Audience Network (FAN), was a great addition to our sales arsenal. Giving us reach and scale, this was a great way to onboard our audiences into great platforms, only reachable by the Foursquare sales team.

The opportunity to go beyond the Foursquare & Swarm audiences became the next obvious step. Many advertisers were asking for more scale based on great performance to date. While we polished our in house programmatic practice, we embarked on an ambitious plan. The question was; “how could we leverage 6 years of location information and make sense of all the disparate signals out there.” The answer is Pinpoint. We looked at other apps, mobile ad exchanges, other third parties – partnering and creating a way to make audience segments for advertisers. Using 60 million places, billions of visits to these locations, and the best location signal parsing available, we are able to create audiences and bring them into the platforms we use like nobody else can.

This now marks my next chapter at Foursquare. Wearing many hats and having many roles has been the reason I have been here 5+ years. It has been an incredible learning opportunity for me building these things from scratch and watching the revenue story grow.

Building the sales machine within Foursquare has been a great experience and I am looking forward to what happens next.

If you are interested in joining the team visit our Foursquare jobs area.

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