Yesterday, Google CEO Eric Schmidt sat down with a group of reporters after his panel at the Techonomy conference in Lake Tahoe, CA. He said he was open to taking any questions, so I decided to ask him about Foursquare.
It’s a particularly interesting question for Schmidt because back in 2005, Google bought Dodgeball, the company Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley previously started that was similar to Foursquare. Crowley and Dodgeball co-founder Alex Rainert famously left Google in a huff in 2007. A couple years later, Foursquare was born.
“Yes, I remember it quite well,” Schmidt said of Dodgeball with a smile. “Shockingly, founded by the same two people [as Foursquare],” he continued. That’s not technically true, Crowley co-founded both, but he started Foursquare with Naveen Selvadurai, who wasn’t involved in Dodgeball. That said, Rainert is now with Foursquare as well and was a seed investor, so we’ll cut Schmidt some slack there.
“Dodgeball was a good company,” Schmidt said defending Google’s purchase. He also praised the co-founders, saying that “the market proves how clever they are.”
“Would Google have built Foursquare earlier? I don’t know. Those are always sort of missed opportunities,” Schmidt continued.
“Foursquare and Gowalla are pretty impressive. They show you the power of mobile/social/local,” Schmidt said. “Google will play in that market in a lot of ways.”
That’s a particularly interesting comment when you look back at the note Crowley left on his 2007 Flickr picture when he and Rainert quit Google:
It’s no real secret that Google wasn’t supporting dodgeball the way we expected. The whole experience was incredibly frustrating for us – especially as we couldn’t convince them that dodgeball was worth engineering resources, leaving us to watch as other startups got to innovate in the mobile + social space.
So, if Crowley is to be believed, he tried to convince Google about the importance of that same mobile/social/local space back in 2005. But they wouldn’t listen.
“I think it’s going to be a very large business for us,” Schmidt said yesterday referring to the space. Perhaps it could have already been.
Schmidt affirmed Google’s strong commitment to both Places and Latitude. And he noted that the location capabilities built into Google’s website on smartphones such as Android phones and the iPhone “will freak you out. That’s how accurate it is.”
He also said that thanks to the success of Foursquare and Gowalla there will be 20 new similar companies that get venture funding. And I’m going to bet Google is a big player in snatching up some of those. Foursquare seems off the table given the Dodgeball history. But I’m going to go on record here with a prediction:
I bet Google is going to buy Gowalla at some point in the future. This isn’t based on anything concrete (well, I guess other than Schmidt bringing it up a few times). But that team’s commitment to design, gaming, and location seems to be a great fit for what Google is looking for.
Expect a lot of gloating if I’m right, and no further mention if I’m wrong.
Below, find the full video of Schmidt talking Dodgeball/Foursquare.
More from Schmidt: