Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Reading Up On FourSquare

Foursquare's Valuation Is Getting Chopped in Half

Once the heir apparent to Facebook and Twitter, the location app is raising a "down" funding round after years of slow growth.
If ever there was a startup that seemed like a can't-miss bet to build the next billion-dollar app, it was Foursquare. From the beginning, it was social, local, and mobile, that holy trinity of totem words parodied on Silicon Valley for being a mandatory part of every pitch deck. Its launch at SxSW in 2009 set the bar for a buzzy debut. It had the backing of blue-chip VC firms like Union Square Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz; a pedigreed founder, Dennis Crowley, who had sold his previous startup to Google; and the love of early-adopter types and journalists, the same constituencies that helped make Slack a breakout hit. ...... Foursquare will take between $20 million and $40 million at a valuation of $250 million, a haircut of more than 50 percent from the one attached to its last round of funding, in December 2013. ...... Down rounds are typically punishing for founders, reducing both the value and the size of their stakes in concert. Frequently, doing one triggers "anti-dilution" mechanisms designed to protect early investors by carving up founders' equity still more. ....... Foursquare's move primes it for an acquisition, with Microsoft, current investor, and Apple being the most likely buyers. ..... grew steadily, and now claims 55 million users, several obstacles prevented it from attaining the kind of mass popularity enjoyed by Instagram or Twitter. ...... Expecting users to "check in" everywhere they went turned out to be asking too much of them, but making check-ins an automatic process raised privacy concerns. ...... while it never escaped its early-adopter niche, Foursquare did manage to amass an enviable trove of location data.

Foursquare's location data is way more powerful than people realize
The technology that makes Crowley’s magic trick possible is a computer brain the company has been building since the early days of the iPhone called Pilgrim. According to Crowley, Pilgrim “is the thing” that separates Foursquare from not just competitors like Yelp but every other app in the App Store. And now he wants it powering every other app on your phone. .......

Foursquare is in a period of crucial transition. Since basically inventing the location check-in concept on mobile phones in 2009, the app has slowly faded into relative obscurity.

...... To date, Foursquare has raised over $120 million dollars in venture capital and reportedly turned down acquisition offers from the likes of Facebook and Yahoo. ..... A feature like Trending this Week, which collects aggregated and anonymized foot traffic data from Foursquare’s users, wouldn’t have been possible without Pilgrim. “We have this real pulse of a city now,” Foursquare head of engineering Andrew Hogue told Tech Insider in a recent interview. "We know where people are going.” ....... Since Pilgrim went online in early 2014, the company has started “finding interesting things to do with the data” it collects, Crowley says. It already licenses data to Twitter, Pinterest, Yahoo, Microsoft, and others to enhance their location features (Foursquare used to power location tagging in Instagram before it was replaced by Facebook’s own tool.) In the last year, Foursquare has started offering business analytics with its foot traffic data, which Crowley describes as “an incredibly lucrative market." ........ banks that give small business loans pay Foursquare to know if a business actually exists and isn’t a scam. .....

In September, Foursquare accurately predicted Apple would sell 13 million iPhones during the iPhone 6S opening weekend based on its foot traffic data around Apple stores.

....... “We had all these people from financial institutions saying, ‘What data do you have that we don’t have?’” Crowley says. The answer is Pilgrim. ...... “We have this superpower,” he tells me from across a conference room table in Foursquare’s New York City headquarters. "We have this awesome thing that we built, and it only lives in two apps — Foursquare and Swarm." ...... It’s an engine that runs in the background and records every time a phone with Foursquare or Swarm installed stops moving. When it stops moving, Pilgrim tries to figure out where exactly you are, if you’ve been there before, or if there’s anything going on in the area you might be interested in, like a happy hour at an oyster bar. It has to decide if you're stopped at a traffic light, walking down the street, or entering a coffee shop. Pilgrim makes these decisions millions of times per day. ..........

The biggest misconception, he says, that still exists about Foursquare is that it’s reliant on manual check-ins. Pilgrim has made it possible to check in without taking your phone out of your pocket. And Foursquare knows more about where its users are going than ever before.

........ "Can you make a game that’s different if you’re playing it in a coffee shop versus if you’re playing it in a bookstore or a bus station?” Crowley asks. "Can your exercise app be different if you went to a burger place for dinner yesterday or if you’ve been going to salad places for the last three weeks? Can the app that you use to hail a car be different if it can recognize that you’re in an unfamiliar city?" ........ Crowley says that it's this hyper-contextualized, location-aware approach that makes Foursquare different from competitors like Yelp, which still feels very much like a digital phonebook. ..... With Pilgrim, Crowley thinks Foursquare has technology that’s applicable in nearly any app. ..... "If we fast forward five years into the future, this is how apps talk to you,” he says. "The app will recognize when it’s time to tell you something about the world and it will wake up and tell you that.”

Foursquare has an amazing 'superpower' called Pilgrim that could finally let it take over your phone
Foursquare accurately predicted iPhone sales by analyzing foot traffic to Apple stores around the country.

Foursquare’s Value Will Be Cut by More Than Half in a New Funding Round
Foursquare is close to finalizing a funding round that will value the company at about $250 million — less than half of what investors thought the company was worth two years ago. .... at least one new investor will participate in this round; previous investors include DFJ Growth, Microsoft, Silver Lake Partners, Spark Capital, Union Square Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz. ........

In 2013, Foursquare raised $35 million in a round that valued the company at about $650 million.

..... a “down round,” which will reduce the value of stakes held by previous investors, as well as employees with equity. ...... last summer Crowley said the company had 50 million active users. ..... Crowley has also spent the past few years talking up the company’s data assets, accumulated via its users’ travels. That data could theoretically be valuable to a big platform company like Microsoft, which has already invested in Foursquare, or Twitter, which is already using Foursquare to power its location function. And if Foursquare forges ahead as a standalone company, it will try using that data to build up new revenue streams.
7 tech giants most likely to buy Foursquare

With word that Foursquare is reportedly raising another down round of financing, it seems logical to bet that the company is reaching some kind of end game.

..... We can assume its attempt to monetize all its location data hasn’t progressed very well, so profitability is likely a fantasy. And its IPO dreams probably died long ago. ..... Foursquare “has also talked to potential buyers” and that a deal might happen in place of a new round. ...... Microsoft uses Foursquare to power some of its location features. Microsoft has to be right at the top of any acquisition talks. ...... in the case of Google, there’s a bit of a delicious twist. Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley sold his previous location-based startup, Dodgeball, to Google in 2005. Google shut it down in 2009, and Foursquare was, in part, an attempt to show Google what an opportunity it had bungled. ....... If Facebook did make a play, it would really be for the employees. ...... The main debate around Mayer is how long she will be sticking around. And as for Yahoo, many investors would like to see it sold for parts. Even if Mayer wanted Foursquare, it seems unlikely the board would let her spend any more money on an acquisition that might create a little buzz but do nothing to enhance the bottom line. ...... Back in October, Apple Maps started pulling in Foursquare data. ... Buying Foursquare for less than $500 million would seem reasonable for a company that shelled out $3 billion to buy Beats. ...... Amazon buying Foursquare would probably make about as much sense as Jeff Bezos buying a newspaper. ...... Twitter probably has the shallowest pockets of the group.

Foursquare CEO Crowley: “We Do Location Better Than Anybody Else”

Company has evolved from a social "check-in" app to a location intelligence platform for enterprises.
Foursquare has come a long way from its early days as a social “check-in” app. Along the way, the company repositioned its app as a Yelp competitor; now the company is substantially focused on

“place insights” and “location intelligence” for enterprises

. ....... Earlier this year, Foursquare introduced its advertising platform, “Pinpoint.” Foursquare works directly with advertisers and makes media buys through exchanges (on both the desktop and mobile) and then measures offline actions (e.g., store visits) after ad exposures. This model is radically different from selling ads to local restaurants and bars — even check-in ads to brands — which is where the company began. ...... banks can use the data to determine business credit-worthiness based on foot traffic patterns. ..... Foursquare’s data is much more accurate than its competitors’ because the company has first-party data from 50+ million global users, whereas most of the location data many of Foursquare’s mobile marketing “location intelligence” platform competitors rely on comes from ad calls, which are often inaccurate. ...... “Everyone is drafting off someone else’s data,” except Foursquare. ..... the company disregards and discards “about 80 percent of the location data” it sees from exchanges because of inaccuracy and poor quality. ..... Crowley asserts that many mobile marketing companies are unable to disambiguate business locations in malls or areas of high population density (e.g., urban centers). “We’ve spent years figuring out where people are; and we can do this quickly at a high degree of precision and speed.”
Foursquare Raising Round To Capitalize On Data Business
The current investment environment has led many startups to pack on the pounds to prepare for leaner days potentially ahead. At this juncture, the rewards of getting the money you need to grow outweigh the optics of a decrease in valuation. ..... the fact that Foursquare — once one of New York’s hottest startups — is raising another financing round at a lower valuation than its previous one is significant. Down rounds tend to show both a more conservative interest in the company’s core business, and potentially slowing growth for the startup.

Foursquare, essentially, has to find a new way to impress investors with strong growth — which requires some rejiggering.

........ This isn’t the first “down round” for Foursquare. The team raised capital at a reported $650 million valuation in 2013, beneath the $760 million price tag it had in 2012. In total, the company has raised $162 million in venture financing and debt. ...... For the most part, the split appears to have been unsuccessful. ...... its Pinpoint mobile advertising service ...... it has more than 55 million people registered for its service, with more than 2 million businesses claiming locations. It has more than 170 employees based in New York, San Francisco and London ...... If it wants to spin up the data side of its business into a full-fledged empire, it’s going to take cash to craft sales teams, build products and, yes, pave runway enough to get it flying. ....... over 40% of its total revenue comes from powering other platforms’ location services. ...... Foursquare’s data contributing to the Bing platform’s location and context layers on both Windows 8 and Windows Phone. ...... any company that wants to translate GPS coordinates into an actual venue could pay Foursquare for its data. ...... Foursquare’s data could power hyperlocal advertising or marketing pointing to businesses just a few feet away. Search results, news feeds, and more could be personalized through an understanding of location. ....... As Foursquare spent its time splitting its app in two, other social networks replaced Foursquare, by making it easier to share what you’re doing in the moment. Foursquare originally powered Instagram’s location engine, but Facebook eventually made the shift to handling that itself, with locations essentially ending up a feature — not a separate application. It also removed its playful Mayor feature, and later had to re-add it to appease its user base in June this year. .......

All this distills down to a missed opportunity for Foursquare, which found itself experimenting with new kinds of social networking tools while new networks slowly chipped away at its user base. While the company was certainly experimenting, it apparently was not enough as the app slowly lost popularity. So, inevitably, Foursquare had to find a new way to show the company is valuable and get financing to grow — even if it has to shave off its valuation in the process.

Former FourSquare COO Evan Cohen Checks Into Lyft As New Director Of East Coast Operations
Cohen left his position as chief operations officer at Foursquare in June of 2014. He was one of a number of executives to exit the company over the past year and a half and did so shortly after Foursquare split its product asunder and launched the check-in app Swarm. ...... Cohen brings more than 20 years of operations experience to Lyft, according to a company blog post out today. He was the VP of strategy and operations for the social networking site Bebo (and then AOL after the acquisition) prior to his position at Foursquare. ...... Lyft recently announced it had a projected $1 billion gross run rate and said it was growing by 20 percent month-over-month – including a reported “triple market share” growth in New York City.
Foursquare dives deeper into data with new ad platform
When Foursquare decided to split its apps a year ago, followers of the location-based service scratched their collective heads. ...... A year later, with revenue growing at triple-digit growth, the privately held company knows it made the "absolutely right decision," Crowley says. ...... The split was necessitated by Pilgrim, technology introduced in August 2013 that makes it possible to "check-in" to a location without taking a smartphone out of one's pocket. The functionality was made possible when 6-year-old Foursquare passed 6 billion check-ins, allowing Foursquare software to determine the exact shapes of more than 60 million venues. ...... Pinpoint, a social-advertising platform unfurled in April 2015, took things even more forward. The platform combines Foursquare's location-intelligence technology tracking 7 billion check-ins and 55 million customers with GPS information from apps and publishers to sketch an accurate digital portrait of consumer behavior — from how often they frequent a store to affinity for certain brands. Samsung, Coors, AT&T, Jaquar Land Rover and FedEx are among Foursquare's business partners. ..... Pinpoint is available through both of Foursquare's apps, as well as 100 million other mobile users in the U.S. with non-Foursquare apps. ....... "Foursquare was ahead of its time (with location-based services), but Yelp and others came along and stole its thunder," says Hyoun Park, chief research officer at Blue Hill Research. "It has found a new niche with the combination of location and data analytics." ...... Foursquare used such an approach to accurately predict initial sales of iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, as well as revenue from Black Friday and all-day breakfast sales at a select McDonald's.

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