Almost Famous: Kent Lindstrom of PlacePop

This week, we stopped by Ooga Labs, a little incubator on Market Street in San Francisco, to meet Kent Lindstrom, CEO of PlacePop. PlacePop is an Apple (AAPL) iPhone app and Web site, advertised as a check-in sharing service like Foursquare, but without the game. Hmm… a start-up that’s touting that it does LESS? We had to see about this.

Who: Kent Lindstrom

What: CEO

Why: Kent held various roles at Friendster, including president, after moving to the tech sector from a management position at Deloitte & Touche.

Where: (Web site); @kentlind (Twitter); San Francisco (analog place)

Who Else: Foursquare and Gowalla are the big location fish right now, but a move from Facebook or Twitter could change the game at any moment.

Five Stats You Won’t Find in His Facebook Profile:

Worst Job: I was a busboy for one day, at this French place in La Jolla, California. I just couldn’t do it and my employer agreed.

Beach Bum: I ended up lifeguarding in La Jolla during high school. It’s not a bad job, but it’s a lot more boring than people think.

Geek Crush: Jeff Bezos of Amazon (AMZN). I really try to live by his regret avoidance principle. Basically, try to look forward and see what you would regret not doing, then just do that now.

Family Affair: I take after my mother’s father. He was an entrepreneur. He ran a cigar store in Muscatine, Iowa. And he just had it going on. Much more than my other grandfather, who worked at the phone company and was miserable.

Moment of Geek Spark: In the late 1990s, this guy who was PhD student at Stanford University showed me the really early Web. It wasn’t the Web yet. You could log into the computer at the University of Michigan from here in San Francisco. At that time, you had a very physical sense of, “Holy crap, I’m inside the library in Michigan, but I’m here in San Francisco. Now, you are jacked into Facebook and have no idea where that thing is.

Bio in 140 Characters

Kent lounged on the beaches of La Jolla before a BA and MBA at Northwestern. Then to Deloitte, Friendster and finally to PlacePop today.

The Five Questions

So, PlacePop is a location-based check-in app, but no game? Are you the Grinch?

You’ve got it. We are a location-based check-in app that enables sharing. You can share your location via Twitter or Facebook, as well as sharing photos and earning points.

Wait, so there are points, but no game?

Yeah, so, think of it like a frequent-flier program. You accumulate points, or, in our case, bronze, silver, gold or platinum status at a given location. We’ve only just released the app, but we’ve been in talks with various national brands, say, Tully’s Coffee, to start offering incentives for achieving specific status at a location.

The idea is that once we reach scale, we’ll be able to go to a business and say, “Hey, we have 2,500 people who are gold members that want a $3 off on their coffee.” We’ve got a Web site that allows a user who has gone to a place, say, 10 times and has silver status to say that they want a free drink. If you then get 250 people who have the same status to click that they like that specific idea, then one of our business development people can go to the restaurant and cut a deal.

We want to build this affinity program for every place in the world.

There is a sense around location-based services that they have huge potential, if only it could be realized. What is it? What are we waiting for?

Ever since I was at Friendster, I felt that associating people with a place was powerful. I think what we are seeing is a convergence of the location-based services and recommendations. I sort of see Yelp right now as sort of like Yahoo (YHOO) in Web 1.0–very good curation of recommendations.

At some point there will be this critical mass of location data, right? And then someone will come along and be a Google (GOOG). Instead of asking people what they think, and doing this very hard process of curation, we will be able to analyze the data about behaviors and do something altogether more powerful with it.

When you make the shift from reviewing and writing about things to observing what people actually do, you have the most substantial recommendation database of places that has ever existed. That transition hasn’t happened, but is about to.

What learnings from your Friendster experience should be shared with the Foursquare of the world?

I’d say first, don’t declare the game over. When Friendster came out, people were saying that this was it, and there was no more. It was over when MySpace came out. It was over when Tribe was gonna nail the local thing. You just have to stay at it.

The other thing is, be careful about being too much of a gimmick, rather than just a value proposition. You had the whole tagged thing with MySpace, where they were trying to use game dynamics to motivate behavior. Then you had Facebook come along and took all that out. There was no thing like, “Hey, get 50 friends and get the super-friendly Zuckerbadge.” Nothing like that. They just stuck to the value proposition.

Everyone was watching Facebook this week for a big location announcement. How are you guys planning to adjust?

We’ve had a Facebook app in development for a while. I think we’ll probably be releasing it this week. I think the lack of announcement from Facebook is an indication that they are going to do something, but that they are having an internal debate on exactly how.

It probably centers around the following: They are trying to figure out whether to do latitude and longitude, or whether they want to put in the places themselves. Once they’ve figured out that they want to do places, they need to decide if they want to do curated places–do they want to do, “Cornell: or just leave it to fan pages. Once they do that, they need to decide how much of their mobile app to devote to it. They are probably trying to figure out what that looks like.

Once that’s all figured out, they have to decide if they want to put it all in the API and let us use it to make a killer recommendation engine, or a dating engine to figure out who you are most compatible with.

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