Kara Swisher

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Checking In With the Foursquare Founder Parting: More “Tense” (Of Course)

(c) Tim Vetter / Flickr

This last weekend, Foursquare founder Naveen Selvadurai announced in a blog post that he was leaving the company, three years after launching the check-in service with Dennis Crowley. In a terse note, Sevaldurai wrote that he would remain on the company’s board and as an adviser, as well as the “single most vocal user” of the popular check-in service.

But, he added, “spring is time for things that are new, and i realize that i have a desire to do something new as well. i’m not sure about my exact next steps.”

Spring forward indeed, because — according to numerous sources inside and outside the company — the impetus for Selvadurai’s departure was a lot more complex and fraught than he or the company indicated.

To be fair, this is not uncommon for start-ups at all. Twitter went through the mother of all contentious partings — twice, in fact — in an ongoing battle among its founders. Tech is rife with similar examples, most often of lesser drama.

And it is much the same with Selvadurai and Crowley, who had together become New York’s highest profile entrepreneurs in recent years. The pair cut a wide swatch of fame, including doing commercials together (see video below).

But times change and sources said that they had come to the conclusion over a series of talks over the last several months that there was no place for Selvadurai any longer at the fast-growing start-up.

“This company grew very quickly and a lot of senior management has been added,” said one person with knowledge of the situation. “It got to the point where Naveen was not in charge of much.”

Indeed, since Foursquare began adding execs — I have a list below — he had become ever more sidelined, ending up with a small team focused on platform efforts and supporting APIs.

“Naveen was no longer heading any meaningful area of functional responsibility, so things got tense,” said another source.

Still, according to several people familiar with the situation — unlike the highly charged parting that took place at Twitter — the departure was not ugly or closely related to either a recent stock sale by employees or its most recent funding in June that valued Foursquare at $600 million.

“Dennis and he don’t hate each other — things just changed,” said one person.

Said another source: “When you look at all the external stuff, Naveen’s leaving was really not tied to anything in particular. The business was really starting to mature … and there is eventually a line in the sand between building a product and building a company.”

Indeed, rather than a scrappy start-up, Foursquare now has 111 employees, up from 50 last year, and has moved into a new phase of trying to evolve from simply being a check-in service.

As that was happening, said multiple sources, the discussions about roles at the company became more pronounced.

“The way this company has been structured, the talks centered on how to contribute to a company and Naveen and Dennis agreed that there was not a place for him day to day,” said one person. “But that does not mean he still will not be contributing to the future of Foursquare in a different way.”

The pair both emailed Foursquare’s staff about the change, although Crowley’s public goodbye on Twitter was short and, yes, sweet:

Like I said: Things change.

Here’s the current Foursquare management team:

Dennis Crowley, CEO & co-founder
Evan Cohen, COO (joined January 2010)
Holger Luedorf, head of business development (joined summer 2010)
Alex Rainert, head of product (joined April 2010)
Harry Heymann, head of engineering (joined summer 2009)
Susan Loh, head of talent (joined fall of 2010)
Jon Steinback, director of marketing and communications (joined fall of 2010)

And here are some of the latest stats from the service:

* Over 15 million users (up from just over five million this time last year).

* Over 1.5 billion check-ins.

* Five million check-ins per day.

* Over 750,000 businesses affiliated.

And here’s the video that Foursquare’s co-founders did together for USA Network last year:

Image: (c) Tim Vetter / Flickr


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— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google