Editor’s note: AJ Arora is a former Yahoo! product guy and one-time TechCrunch intern. He currently works on startups in local discovery and e-commerce. In anticipation of Foursquare’s three-year anniversary, AJ examines the success of Foursquare from a Product Manager’s perspective. (He has no affiliation with the company.)
Six years ago I first set foot in Silicon Valley to attend one of the early “Hack Day” events that are now perpetual. It was an event where fellow nerds were creating web-apps using whatever technology they could get their hands on. VC’s and Valley luminaries were judging and dishing out fat prizes. Mike Arrington was moderating. We were being treated like rockstars, and I was hooked.
I quickly found myself obsessed with creating products; trying to follow the work of Steve Jobs and other product leaders that did it best. With so many approaches to product management, I found but a single common philosophy that bound all successful products together:
- Identify product opportunities.
- Create products to seize them.
In the timeline below, I aim to identify a few of the seized opportunities – whether they be technical, market, or business ones – responsible for Foursquare’s success. If you want to skip the product lessons, just jump straight to the end to my predictions for Foursquare’s future.
As a disclosure, I have no affiliation with Foursquare whatsoever…but I’ve had a man-crush on their founders for a while and can assure you their approach exemplifies the philosophy above.
Some might argue the events above were serendipitous rather than deliberate. But to paraphrase Jesse Eisenberg, “If y’all could’ve invented Foursquare, y’all would’ve invented Foursquare.”
Their success must also obviously be attributed to other details like excellent design, witty copy, tenacious biz-dev/PR, and epic marketing during major events. But winning one of the most competitive spaces in tech, surviving where Gowalla couldn’t, and when everyone said they’d fall to Facebook…took sheer product execution and opportunism.
And there should be no doubt that Foursquare’s best work lies ahead. By looking closely at the past three years, we can attempt to extrapolate:
What’s next for Foursquare?
Events & Plans
Foursquare already lets you specify events when checking in at major venues. But to meet their vision of “making cities easier to use”, they could re-invent the very foundation of their platform: the check-in. If Foursquare allows people to broadcast their plans ahead of time, there’s no reason why they can’t be what Plancast tried to become, “Foursquare for the Future“.
The first step will be the inclusion of events happening tonight in Foursquare’s Explore section. But eventually, you can probably expect notifications like, “You haven’t hung out with Anand in a while, would you like to reserve dinner with him at Ryoko tomorrow at 9?”.
Foursquare’s official line on adding events to Explore: We’ve seen that people love checking into events — hundreds of thousands have checked in since we officially launched events last year. We never share specific product plans ahead of time, but we’re focused on designing product around the intersection of people, place, and time, and events are naturally a big part of that.
Foursquare supposedly partners with Groupon, LivingSocial, and others to distribute deals — but in trying to locate these deals within Foursquare, only ScoutMob deals appear to be active. Why are the daily-deals companies so sparse? They may feel they’re becoming middlemen to merchants, who’d probably prefer creating specials on Foursquare without forfeiting revenue.
Combining discounts with the Plans feature above would be even more enticing for users.
Anyone who’s tried Square’s side project, Card Case, has felt the future of mobile payments — and knows it feels a lot like a check-in. Foursquare already has a popular integration with American Express cards for discounts, as well as the ability to view restaurant menus and prices.
But mark my words: Soon, when you check in to Crave and see the Mac & Cheese for $6, you’ll be able to order and pay for it all from within Foursquare. When I asked Alex Rainert – now Foursquare’s Chief Product Officer – about plans for payments, he could only say, “We’re always looking for new ways to help our community save money and unlock rewards. Stay tuned.”
Real-time location based Q&A, chat, or dating.
Imagine asking people checked into JFK if they wanted to split a cab to midtown. Or asking people checked into The Bubble Lounge, “How long is the line?” or, “are there lots of cute chicks there?” With the answerer being awarded 5 Foursquare points.
As for dating, a casual “crush” feature to connect strangers was part of Dodgeball years ago, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s somewhere in Foursquare’s product backlog today.
One real-world app to rule them all.
Mobile users will soon grow tired from app-fatigue, and Foursquare aims to provide the solution. Think making OpenTable reservations within Foursquare. Or checking into a Zipcar lot and selecting your car in-app. Or checking in to a hotel actually checks you in at your hotel. At the rate Foursquare is moving, the 2012 Scoble envisioned is not so far off.
If you’re heading to SXSW this year, you’ll have the chance to see MG ask Dennis about his “real-world” plans point-blank.
Looking back it’s plain to see that some of the newest concepts being implemented at Foursquare have been in their plans since the days of Dodgeball. To me, the most beautiful aspect of their execution has been in rolling out features at the precise moment when their user-base is primed for them, constantly reinventing their product and the space as a whole.
In 2010, when asked about the future, Dennis Crowley believed that Foursquare was only “10% of what it needs to be.” If asked today — despite all their unbelievable growth — I’d imagine the visionary in him would say it’s still nowhere near complete.