Dennis Crowley, CEO of FourSquare, took to the stage at Mobile World Congress to talk about the rapid take-up of his location-based service and the future of FourSquare as an enterprise.
The growth of FourSquare has been astonishing even by tech startup standards. "Last year we had 100,000 users" said Crowley, "this year we have six and half million users. The system has been growing at a rate of about 3,400 per cent."
According to Crowley, FourSquare is now reaching out beyond its original demographic: "We have this stereotype that it's a hipster app in New York and San Francisco, but now we have check-ins from all over the world." And while those check-ins are still mainly from metropolitan areas, it's clear that increasingly information is coming from more rural areas.
The appeal of FourSquare is the way it encourages people to share information on the places they are visiting in the real world. Crowley explained: "People check in for a number of reasons. They want to share information with friends and have a general awareness of what people are doing. But one thing that we do that's different is that we've made life into a game. You get points for checking in. You get mayorships and badges. You can leave tips and these tips are everywhere in the world."
Another key reason why people use the service is as a means for people to keep track of where they have been in life. Explains Crowley: "A lot of reason people to check in is to leave breadcrumbs behind. They check in as they travel to remember the places they went."
It turns out that Crowley is just as interested in getting people to do things, as it is in logging the things they do. Candidly, he explained: "We prescribe things that we want people to do, and people go out of there way to do that stuff. One big question he is keen to ask is: "Can software actually change the way that people experience the world? Will people organise crawls and change their behaviour depending on the mechanics we've implement."
Offering an example, he says: "You can only get the NYC marathon by using the Runkeeper app, which ties in with FourSquare. It goes beyond bars, museums and clubs to how do you reward people for doing physical things in the real world.. we're learning a lot a big goal in general is to introduce people to new experiences. How do you drive people to new experiences?"
The key announcement at MWC is that FourSquare is driving ahead globally by offering multi-language support. Instead of just using English as its language, FourSquare is now available in five new languages: Spanish, French, German, Italian and Japanese.
Crowley explains that it's not just the app that is being translated, but all the business back end functionality. Indeed, one of the key things for Crowley seems to be how to leverage all this vast data he has in a commercial way. "A lot of this year is making sense of the data," he says. "Take heat maps, imagine if we could build them in real time." That kind of live information could provide an interesting way for businesses to view the market around them.
And merchants are increasingly turning to FourSquare to drive business on a local scale. Crowley explains that "if you go to Google and search you tend to find websites, but if you go to Twitter and search you get check-ins from FourSquare. This is a way for merchants to insert themselves into the conversation."
"There's a lot of data,'' he explains. "We know that you're a coffee drinker, and we know that you like sushi places. We can make connections between the things you like to do and the decisions other people make from their connections to you." Also, he explains, "the devices are getting smarter. We're getting to the point where passive GPS doesn't drain your battery by lunch time. We can see where we're going with some of this stuff, but the big question for us is can we create serendipity. Can we manufacture this stuff?"
"It's kind of replacing the loyalty program" says Crowley, "and that's kind of interesting."