Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

What, Exactly, Is Foursquare? And Why Are Investors Clamoring for It?

Dennis Crowley FoursquareMany digerati had this reaction to last week’s news that mobile start-up Foursquare had closed its first financing round: About time.

And many also had this reaction: Why, exactly, should I care about Foursquare?

The first reaction makes sense. Foursquare is just a few months old, but it has received an extraordinary amount of buzz and press since its debut at South by Southwest in March. That seemed to reach a fever pitch this summer when Twitter investor Fred Wilson started blogging about it.

And sure enough, Wilson’s Union Square Ventures did indeed end up betting on the company. The $1.35 million round was actually led by O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, and by all accounts investors were clamoring to throw money at the revenue-free start-up, which may have all of 50,000 users. I know of at least one high-profile VC firm that wanted into the deal but got shut out.

But the befuddled reaction some people have to Foursquare also makes sense. Foursquare is a “location-based” app for your iPhone (or Android-based phone, or even your BlackBerry) that sort of combines elements of Twitter and Yelp and “social” Web/mobile games like Zynga’s Mafia Wars. But even if you’ve used it, it’s not exactly clear what you’re supposed to do with it. You tell your pals that you’re visiting this bar or that restaurant and then…what?

At least, that was my reaction when I played with Foursquare at South by Southwest in Austin: I couldn’t figure out how it was more useful than Twitter at broadcasting my location and/or finding my friends.

And once I got back to Brooklyn, there didn’t seem to be any point to the service at all for me. No point in telling anyone where I am because it’s almost always the same place: My apartment in Brooklyn. Nothing to see here.

But my nightlife problems aside, there are a bunch of people who think co-founders Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadurai are on to something. Even if they’re not sure exactly what it may be.

A more cynical take: Crowley sold Dodgeball, his last buzzy mobile start-up, to Google in 2005. And even if Crowley was unhappy about the way things turned out after that–he left in 2007, and Google (GOOG) pulled the plug on Dodgeball (along with a host of other nonstarters) this year–it’s always good to bet on a guy who’s already had one successful exit.

But why not listen to Dennis Crowley explain what he’s up to in his own words? Here’s an interview I taped with him last month, a couple days before he closed his funding round.


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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus