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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

How Companies and Small Business are Using Social Media and Mobile Platforms to Bolster Business

Naveen Selvadurai, Co-founder of FOURSQUARE
New York, NY
June 16, 2011

Date: 06/16/2011 Location: New York, NY Description: Naveen Selvadurai, Co-founder of FOURSQUARE, briefs on ''How companies and small business are using social media and mobile platforms to bolster business,'' at the New York Foreign Press Center on June 16, 2011 - State Dept Image

3:00 P.M., EDT

MODERATOR: Okay, welcome, everybody. I am very, very happy to see you all and I appreciate you coming to the Foreign Press Center today. I’m sorry about the little bit of a wait downstairs. I am delighted to introduce our speaker today, Naveen Selvadurai, who is the co-founder of Foursquare, one of the fastest-growing media platforms today. I’m not going to speak about that; I’m going to let him do his own background, and I think he needs no further introduction. So we’re delighted to have you here. Thank you.

He’s going to speak for about 15 minutes with a presentation and then with a Q&A. So thanks.

MR. SALVADURAI: Thank you for having me. My first time here; it’s really exciting to be able to speak in front of all of you. So yeah, I’m going to a quick overview of Foursquare and tell you a little bit about how we got where we are, what we are, and then all the interesting data and how people are using us. So I’m Naveen.

We started Foursquare about two years ago, a little over two years ago, in March of 2009. It was founded here in New York City. My buddy Dennis (ph) and I met about four years ago, and we’ve both been interested in building something for mobile. We wanted to build a mobile app, a mobile social network of some sort. We wanted to bring people together in real time. We wanted to do more interesting things with travel and remembering places to go to, both in our cities as well as when we travel all around the world. So we brought some of these ideas together into this product called Foursquare.

And we decided to make a playful kind of theme, like a mission statement, and we decided to settle on this: How do we make cities easier to use? So if you think about technology as helping us do and get better at things and make things easier to do in real life, this is just an application that allows us to experience the world in a little bit more digital and a little bit more in-your-pocket kind of way than ever before.

Foursquare exists in maybe two or three components. You oftentimes hear of the idea of a check-in. So the check-in is basically a status update, so very similar to a status update on a Facebook or a Twitter or all these other things. But it’s a status update at a location. You see a list of places near you, you choose one of those places from the list that the application tells you, and then you check into it in order to tell all your friends that you’re there, in order to give some insight into the system, in order to share that data with the world.

On the left here, you’ll see – as soon as you check in, you see the check-in actually goes into a news feed, very similar to all these other social sites that you see. And then you also, in this news feed, get to see what your friends are doing, where are they going to in a city, whether they’re traveling, what they’re doing in their travels, photos that they’re taking with their travels, who they’re hanging out with.

And then the second component of Foursquare is the idea of recommendations or tips. So in addition to just sharing information about where you’re going and seeing this information from your friends, what you can do is you can actually share tips about your favorite places with your friends, your favorite travel experiences, your favorite coffee shop. And you can learn from your friends in a very similar way. So your friends, as they go around exploring the world and discovering their neighborhood or their city, they’ll be able to leave tips all around so that when you go out, you can find them.

And we’ve actually taken some of these tips and we’ve put them into a product called Explorer, which is the screen shot on the right you see. And the Explorer product is basically a whole bunch of algorithms at the front and back end. They analyze what you’ve done and what you like and where you’ve been and they take all the data from what your friends are doing and the things that they recommend and they suggest to you things that you might want to do.

So for instance, if Foursquare realizes because of the way I use the service that I like eating healthy food and I like going to the gym and I like running tracks and things like that in New York City, when I go to another country, when I go to another city, it’s more likely to recommend those types of places for me. So it’s a city guide; it’s a city guide that evolves based on what you’re doing and what your friends are doing and it evolves to fit your life.

And the last component of Foursquare – and this is something that you’ll hear often – is the idea of a game, right? So you’ll hear about points and badges and all these other things. And this is kind of like a thin layer of – it’s very simple game mechanics that we added to the system to make it, one, very playful, and two, to make it so that we can use these things to actually encourage people to talk about in a playful way and come back and use the service more and be encouraged to come back and add more data and share more things.

So for instance, one of the questions we asked was, very simply: If we were to give a virtual reward like a badge, this little sticker or this little icon that you see on the screen – if we were to give you a reward for going to 10 places, would people go in and check in and perform an action 10 times? If we gave you a reward for going out four times in one night, would people actually go out four times and try to get the badge?

So very simple mechanics and we did this mainly to encourage people to come and use the service because we’re a very small company, we just started, and we wanted to attract attention and we wanted to attract kind of this ability for people to talk about it in a very exciting way. And people actually responded really well to this. People would actually throw meet-ups, so either flash mobs or get-togethers or parties, all sorts of things, just so they could go and earn these rewards, these virtual rewards.

So every time you check in, you can get many different types of rewards. Some of the rewards are virtual, right? So, like, the points and badges are very ephemeral. They – you get them, you earn them, you show them off to your friends, maybe they stick around in your profile, and then they go away. They don’t give you any real world reward. Sometimes, some of the other rewards you can get also happen in the form of tips and specials. So when you check into a place, as I mentioned before, you might suddenly or sometimes, as the place or the time may suit, you’ll be presented with a popup tip that says, hey, you checked into this coffee shop, this is where your friend Matt goes, and he recommends that you get this croissant. Sometimes you might get tips from interesting people, celebrities or brands that you follow. For instance, if I checked under the Brooklyn Bridge, I might get a tip from the History Channel, which is a TV channel here in the U.S., and it might tell me a little bit something about the way the Brooklyn Bridge was constructed.

So not only are your tips real time and tell you about food but they also tell you about history and brand relevance and celebrities and all of these other things that people might be interested in following. And users are free to choose what they want to follow. So very similar to Twitter, if I wanted to follow celebrities and get the latest Lady Gaga news, I could do that. But if I wanted to follow more news-related things or technology-related things, I could do that and get that feedback. So it’s very similar here.

And lastly, what we built into the system is this idea of specials. And specials are basically deals or discounts that you get with local merchants. So almost half of our goal – more than half, obviously – is to build a great platform for users to come and use – and get social value out of the service.

The other part is this idea of using such a platform so that local businesses can actually use this for advertising, for bringing in more customers, for rewarding their best customers. So that’s what you see manifested or reflected in this idea called specials. So when I check into a place, if I come there – let’s say if I come there 10 times, the coffee shop might give me a free cup of coffee, so local deals inside the application. If I bring three of my friends into the place, maybe all of our drinks are free or our first round of drinks are free, something along those lines. So businesses are free to come in and add all sorts of specials into the system in order to encourage people to come back and try out more things and to bring their friends in, build more business. So there are more than 400,000 businesses that have registered themselves and have put up specials like this in our platform all around the world.

Oftentimes you wonder why do people check in, and I think it can be kind of crystallized into five or six different things. People check in to meet up with their friends, so you, as soon as you check in, blast it out to your friends and it makes this kind of serendipitous coming together more easy; to meet up with people with similar interests so you get to find out who is interesting in your neighborhood, especially if you live in a small town, or even something like this – as big as New York is, oftentimes you often hang out in the same neighborhoods as people that have similar interests. If you always hang out in midtown, you’re more likely to meet people that you might share some tastes with. So people do this.

People also check in to keep a log of all the places they’ve ever been, so it’s almost a digital diary; it’s a journal that they keep. So by checking in every place that I ever go to in the world, I can come back to it at some later point – I’ll get to some examples of that later – and I can draw insights into where I go, how much I travel, how much time I spend in the air where I go, how much time I’m away from home, all these sorts of insights.

And lastly is people share it for – as a status update, so very similar to Facebook or Twitter, to let people know what they’re doing and vice versa, to have this ambient awareness of what everyone in the world is doing, what every one of their friends are doing. And then to get insight on recommendations by putting a lot more data into the system, they’re – we’re able to analyze it in a better way and then lead them to new experiences. So if they prefer going to interesting cocktail bars, we’re more likely to recommend that. So with more data comes more insight into what can we do with this data, how do we lead the user to new things, and how do we get them signed up for new experiences?

So another thing that I’ve been playing with for the last few months is this idea of describing Foursquare as a way to build something, something on the internet, and using the internet to get people away – to get people off the internet. I love doing this. So oftentimes, you see all these social networks and all these sites where they are very, very rich and very engaging but people are always behind their computers and you can’t really – you’re always communicating with someone behind the computer, behind a screen, behind your phone. And the – part of the idea of Foursquare is to get people out in the real world, go to that park that you’ve never been to, to go to the UN, to travel all the way uptown north of 14th Street, to come all the way up here to go to the UN and to have a tour or, like, hang out with your friends in the park. And that kind of goal stays in the back of our head as we design new products. How do we use tools, use something that’s always in our pocket, to get people out and moving around the world?

So over the last years, we’ve noticed we have a lot of – we’ve amassed a lot of history and we were able to extract a lot of patterns from this. We’re two years old. We have almost – we have 9 million users; we have almost 10 million users now. We gather about 3 million unique check-ins a day from all around the world, and that sums up to about 600 million check-ins all around the world. And the math looks a little something like this. I don’t know if you can tell. So this is – it almost reminds me of a map of the night sky with the lights all around the world. So as you can tell, people are checking in from all around the world. Probably about 50 percent of usage is from – 50 percent of check-ins are from the U.S., 50 percent from elsewhere in the world. And we’re pretty close to 50-50 male versus female, so very balanced in how this is being spread out. And as you can see, the U.S. is where we started, it’s very strong, Europe, and then many parts of Asia are very strong – in Asia, especially like Japan, Korea, Indonesia are all a very, very big players.

And then now that we have all this great data, 600 million-plus data points all around, we can extract some unique insights from this. So we can extract insights on a global basis, just looking at – anonymously out of all users and to seeing when do people go out? At 4 a.m., there are not a lot of check-ins. At 10 a.m., people go to get food in the morning and they go to work, they check into work. And then at 5 or 6 p.m., they check into places that have travel, so like train stations and things like that; they’re going home. Or they check into nightlife places, so bars and restaurants and movie theaters, arts and entertainment. So it’s very cool and very interesting to see this kind of progression throughout the day of all the users.

We did something interesting a few months ago where we took all the movie theater check-ins. We just wanted to see what popular – what days were really popular for check-ins into movie theaters, and then we plotted it against what movies were released then. And you can see over the last year – this is in 2010 – New Year’s Day saw a lot of check-ins, Christmas Day saw a lot of check-ins; all the holidays, obviously; July 4th in the U.S. and Thanksgiving in the U.S. And you can see there are some interesting insights into those peaks at movie theaters actually corresponding with big movie releases. So we were able to draw some interesting analysis from this huge data set and cut it up in interesting ways.

On a more personal level, since we’re just looking at it anonymously, if you were to take your own history – so through using our API, you can actually use a whole bunch of other services that are out there to extract meaning from your own data. So in this case, I’ve actually taken my own data and have plotted it against a map of the grid of New York City. And all the heat points here, all the little bubbles, are where I normally go hang out. Our offices are in downtown Manhattan, so right in the center there in Greenwich Village. I occasionally come to midtown, so you can see I go to the Upper East Side a few times, probably go to the Apple store, and to Sony where I used to work, go to Central Park to go for a run. And then I’ve been to – in to Williamsburg. You can actually see that one little dot in Brooklyn, and that’s the only time I’ve ever been out there. (Laughter.) I don’t really go out there.

So it’s very cool. You see, like, where I live, where I go to meetings and to give talks and things like that. I hang out on the West Side a lot because I run out there. It’s very interesting to see this data of your own life. Even though you probably kind of realize what’s going on, it’s very interesting to see the data and then extract this meaning from that.

To blow it up from another level, what we can do with this aggregate data to lead to more of a personal discovery is we can aggregate what are the popular venues in a certain area. We launched a feature called Trending a while ago. And Trending basically shows you how many people are at certain popular places in your neighborhood, within let’s say a mile or two radius, and that’s always changing. And in his sample you can actually see at Buffalo Billiards, there are 300 people checked in, that the people icon shows you. The Parish has 216, and so forth. It gives you this zeitgeist of what’s going on in your neighborhood and your city. On Thursday, Friday, Saturday nights in New York, for instance, you’ll see that concert venues stick up, and movie theater venues stick up every once in a while, especially on big releases. At the end of every day, you’ll see train stations and airports stick up. So it gives you this kind of cross-slice into what’s actually happening in your own city.

If we were to dive into the deeper level, you can see – if I were to just take my data, you can see when do I go out most often, when do I go out per day. It’s almost like a Google analytics. It shows you this analysis into real life – who do I hang out with the most often, who are my friends, what cities I travel to around the world. So I don’t know if you know of a service called Dopplr. Dopplr basically – or Tripit was another one. You submit your itinerary, your travel plans, and it automatically keeps track of all the cities you go to. This kind of does very – something very similar. Based on your check-ins, it can tell what parts of the world you’ve been to and what you’ve covered.

And then you can also do more interesting things on a micro level with the data. You can take it and you can plot it against your calendar so you can see, was I actually late for that meeting with Mike or did I actually come in early? You can see – by overlaying your check-ins and the time that you checked in against your calendar, you can kind of compare what’s going on. I’ll come back to these.

And then we do some interesting things with the diary idea as well, so the history is a very powerful element, where I have been in the world, in Foursquare. So we’ve taken that and we’ve actually plotted it against who are your friends that also checked in. So down the road, a year down the road, two years down the road, you can actually look back and say I was at the computer history museum two weeks ago and I was there with my friends Maury and Seth. And you see their little icons out there. So this diary also keeps track in real time of everyone with you’re with, and it tries to help out your life. Or for instance, at the Wooly three weeks ago, I was a party, and you can see 40 of my friends were also there – just a very fun way of actually looking at this data.

People are building more interesting things off of our API. So our API is basically this thing that’s – this is an acronym that stands for Application Programming Interface. It basically is a series of methods and a way to access our data, provided you are a registered user and you authenticate and deal with this stuff, and you can pull your own data up. So you can see – you can get an email in your in-box every morning that says where have you been, where were you one year ago today? So kind of like a – Google’s site, I guess, does this. You can see all the cities you’ve ever been. You can see heat map that I was showing you about. So it helps you a little bit – learn a little bit about who you are and what your city is like.

And to fast forward to the second part of it, which is the idea of, like, what are we doing with businesses and why is this exciting for businesses? We’re taking this data and we’re trying to build a great platform for businesses so that they can reach their best customers. Even before we built in specials into the platform, businesses locally and a few places around the world even two years ago were going around and writing down Foursquare-related things and offering specials for their customers. So on the chalkboard outside the – outside their front door, they would say Nick is the mayor of Southside. And then when you went inside, it would say the mayor gets a free drink.

So businesses all around are using us as a very new, interesting advertising platform where you can – where they can try all sorts of new things and iterate very quickly, see what works, see what doesn’t, see what people are responding to. This is something very new to be able to reach the customer as they’re coming in the door or as they’re in the neighborhood and ping something in their pockets. And what we’re doing is something that applies both to single mom-and-pop stores as well as big national chains that have, like, a Starbucks that is – or a McDonald’s that’s all around the world as well as your single store, like that art store that’s only in your neighborhood and nowhere else in the world.

So the specials look something like this in Foursquare. When you go into a venue page and you’re about to check in, you see Starbucks and you see a little icon that says Special. When you tap the icon, you see – you’re going to see a more richer view of what actually the special is there. In this case, if you go to H&M and you bring three of your friends and everyone gets – everyone unlocks the special so everyone gets 24 percent off, and it keeps track of this data. So it’s a very social way of going to explore and getting rewards for going to explore.

When businesses come in and verify and claim their business and they prove that they’re the owner, they get access to a dashboard in the back end. So they can see, hey, I added a special into Foursquare, and then that actually resulted in an uptick in traffic. More people came into the store to claim specials. And then they can use this data to then further their businesses and offer more valuable rewards. When a business comes to register, we send them clings, so you actually see this on the front door. We’ve been trying to do this more proactively, so that you’ll be reminded to check in. You’ll notice that there’s a special here and you should do something about it.

We did a deal with Amex a little while ago, which kind of approaches it from the other end. When I go to a restaurant or when I go to places all around the world, I most often pay with my card and I’m always swiping. The swipe is a little like a check-in. So instead of taking out my phone to check into a place, by swiping and paying for something, I’m proving that I’m there. So we worked out something very interesting with them back in March where, if you are – if you link your Amex card to your Foursquare and you swipe in, you check in, you get $5 off. This was a test that we ran in Austin, Texas, in the U.S. And you’ll get $5 off on your statement. So anywhere you go all around the city of Austin, many of the vendors out there – many of the businesses, restaurants, museums, bars – every time you use your card, you get $5 off.

As I mentioned, we worked with the History Channel to bring their kind of custom content – their brands, their branded image – into Foursquare. So as people are going around the city, they get to see this city channel view – or, I’m sorry – this History Channel view of the world. We did something very similar with Bravo, where we brought all their kind of celebrity voices and personalities from their top shows and we kind of brought their voice and their message into Foursquare so people could follow them around in real time, in the real world, and kind of interact, so this bridge between what I see on TV as well as what I do in the real world.

And the specials haven’t always been just very, very simple things. Sports Authority, back in Thanksgiving in November, offered up $500 to, I believe, 20 different people all around the U.S. for checking into Sports Authoritys. So they’re rewarding something – they’re rewarding and giving you a present, a little surprise, for something you’re already going out and doing. So I guess Black Friday here in the U.S., the day before Thanksgiving – I’m sorry, the day after Thanksgiving – is known as a big shopping day in the U.S. Everyone goes to the stores to buy holiday gifts and all that stuff. And what Sports Authority decided to do with us is offer up something really unbelievable like $500 off so they can go buy all the great gifts that you want to go buy.

So I just put this up there to prove that the specials aren’t very – aren’t just the simple things that you see, a free cup of coffee or 24 percent off clothes and things like that. It can also be really meaningful and can be at a very high level, high impact. So to find out more about this, you can just go to

That’s all I will say for now. I’m just going to leave the rest of it up for Q&A. I think there’s a lot of things to cover, and I think this might be an easy way to do that.

MODERATOR: Just a reminder this is being recorded, so please state your name and organization for the transcripts.

QUESTION: Yeah, hi. Marc Dillon (ph) from Danish media Borsen. This certainly raises privacy and data protection issues and the data could be very commercially valuable. Do you have any plans to share the data with market researchers? Also, can you let us know how long you store the data? And if people delete their accounts, is all their data deleted?

MR. SALVADURAI: Yeah, a lot of questions in there. So we think very, very carefully about privacy, ever since the very beginning. So anytime we design something new, we think about how we’re going to use it, how our friends will use it, how everyone else in the world will use it. There’s this funny thing I like to say where I like to say I would never build anything that me or my friends wouldn’t want to use. So that’s how we think about it. We think about it at a very personal, close level.

So at any point when you check in and where you share this data into Foursquare, you’re allowed to choose – I’ve actually – well, I don’t know if I have that picture. You’re allowed to choose to whom it’ll actually go out. So every time I go to check in, I can opt to keep that between myself and Foursquare or I can send it to my friends, I can send it to Twitter, I can send it to Facebook, every time you do that. So it doesn’t passively track you at all times. And when you delete your account, obviously this data entirely disappears. We don’t want to keep track of any of this stuff.

All this data that’s in your history is accessible only by you, so if you to register and come in through the API, you would have to come in and prove that you are the person and you are giving access. So you’ll be able to see, very clearly laid out, I want this mapping application, this heat map application, to use my data so it can show a heat map. And you give it permission, and only then do we send the data to them. We don’t just send it without your permission. And then if you want to take it back, you can revoke the permission so they no longer have it.

So yeah, we’re constantly thinking about these things even as we develop new products. We actually have laid out all of these, kind of, mechanics and the way they are shared and how you are actually sharing them on our website. So if you go to, you’ll be able to see and – see our privacy policy, terms of service and all this stuff. But you’ll actually be able to see it laid out in more simpler language, which we actually introduced more than a year ago because we wanted it to be easy for people to understand, for our users to understand. So there’s actually a grid there that we’ve called Privacy 101, and it’s basically a chart that shows you these are the different things you can do and these are the places or people to whom it’s shared at the time that you’re actually sharing them. So we’re – we think very carefully about it and we get it all out there.

QUESTION: Stephen Foley from the UK Independent. It sounds like with all these specials, you’re experimenting with a variety of different types of arrangements with businesses. I wonder if you’ve hit on the magic formula yet for making repeatable, profitable business out of this for you guys.

MR. SALVADURAI: Oh, for us. I think we’re still in the experimental phase for the most of it. There are so many things you can do with this platform, with this idea. What we try to focus on is more in the vein of rewards for loyalty. So oftentimes when you see specials in the system, they’re not like traditional coupons. So coupons would be something like come in here and you get 50 percent off or whatever it might be. We want to reward and then surprise someone, so very similar to how when you check in you might get a badge or a tip or something that comes in to you. Oftentimes when you check in, you actually get something physical back in real life. That first round of drinks is free for you and your guys. Or you’ve been to the coffee shop 10 times this week so your drink is free, or something like that. And we find that more meaningful things like that get people to come back. This idea of loyalty and that the venue owner and the waitresses know your name goes along way and we realize that. So we’re trying to build towards that.

Yeah. It’s still in the experimental phase. There’s not much more data I can share I what’s working or what’s not. But I hope that one day we can publish more of this stuff. Yeah. We’d love to do, like, case studies.

QUESTION: Do you take cuts from individual (inaudible)?

MR. SELVADURAI: Oh, I forgot to mention that. So at the time being, the Foursquare for business platform is entirely free. So all of these businesses that are in the system, all 400,000 around the world, all these specials, are entirely free for businesses to come in and subscribe and publish and come and do more interesting things with. And the reason we did it that way is because we don’t know what’s possible, right? We want them to come in and try all sorts of great things. There was a gym that offered – I feel like – if you come in like three or four times a week, your power bar and your drink at the end of your workout is free. There was a hotel that offered a night’s stay for free, for being the mayor. So it’s really wide-ranging in what they can do, and we just want them to try all sorts of good things. So that’s where we are.

QUESTION: So why are more people using Groupon than you? If you’re free, more people should – more businesses should be using your (inaudible).

MR. SELVADURAI: Yeah. So – oh, the last thing I should have mentioned was specials. So what we’re trying to do is not build just the deals and the thanks, although that is kind of like the second goal. Our primary goal is to build a social network that is a great network on mobile that provides great value both with your friends and with people that you could meet and things that you can go do, the explorer and the recommendations, and that’s our primary focus. The deals and all this business stuff is really – it’s great, right? It’s going to build a great business one day. The idea is we focus on what we know and what we want to build up. I think in the long term when we have this very great social graph, we’ll be able to do more – better things with it. So that’s where the priorities lie.

QUESTION: Nick Miller from Fairfax Media, Australia. With – when you put, add a social network to the kind of commercial context, it’s – you – businesses start running a risk, which is that bad comments will be left there as well. And you said you’re starting to see a lot of customer reviews, and people are more likely to go online when they’re upset than when they’re happy. Are you seeing a bit of that? And is that causing a bit of angst in the kind of – your interface with the commercial world?

MR. SELVADURAI: At the moment, we’re not seeing actually a lot of that. So maybe it’s just the nature of the service, maybe it’s the way we’re phrasing some of the ways you can leave comments. So when we suggest the idea of tips, they’re usually things you can go try at places. The tips are very, very short. They’re not reviews of what was good and what was bad. Tips tend to carry a more positive connotation with them, I think. Maybe that has something to do with it. So when I leave a tip at a place, I usually tend to like it or really love it. I don’t leave tips at places I don’t like. That tends to be the general makeup of the population. So we haven’t seen that yet. But I guess when the time comes, we’ll have to handle it. In fact, most of the businesses – I was talking about how businesses actually did this thing called specials before we added it to the system. They wrote it on the chalkboard. They found out because people were going in, users were going in and adding great tips about the business. They were talking about the business on Twitter and Facebook and all these other things.

So when a business, very similar to how we go Google our own names, when the business went to Google their own names, they would see these great comments from users, and then they would see these comments are coming from Fousquare. So they decided to come in and align themselves with us. So more often than not, really positive stories have come out of it.

QUESTION: Hi. My name is Sandro Pazzi. I work for the Spanish daily El Paiz. Coming back to the – Stephen’s question, good ideas are good, but I’m sure you want to grow, you want to hire people, and you have to pay a rent, and you have to pay insurance, and the lease of cost is really high and can be higher as much as you grow. What is your source of revenue to cover –


QUESTION: -- the expenses? I’m not saying that you’re going to be profitable or not to pay people and (inaudible).

MR. SELVADURAI: So we’ve taken the approach that we can come back to doing something with businesses. So we are actually – I forgot to mention we are actually venture funded. So we’ve taken in two rounds of venture funding. So once in 2009 – so we’d started the service. We’d been working on it in secret for about six months, we launched it in March, and in September we closed our first round of funding. And then the following June, almost a year ago, we closed our second round. And we’re using those funds to actually go build a great team. So we grew from two people the first year to 25 at this point last year, and our team is probably about 65 people now. And so that gives us a lot more runway and a lot more room to actually go build what we want to build, so build a better application, better product, build a better platform, and then come back and solve all these other things, so a step by step.

One of the hardest things to do in a company, a small company especially, is just prioritizing what you want to do. At the time being, we prioritized on growing a great social graph and getting people on board because they’re the ones that are going to be talking about us. They’re the ones that are going to go sign on more businesses. To this day, we don’t have sales people that go around and sign businesses up. So all 400,000 of those businesses that you saw in there came to us, or our users actually go – went and got them to come to us. So not a single phone call was made from the inside to go sign these people up. So that proves the power of what people really want. People are very excited and engaged about this idea called Foursquare because, one, it allows them to do something in the real world, and two, it gets them rewards from their favorite places. They have these bragging rights, and the bragging rights actually equate to something good. So we’re seeing great pickup in just the way people are talking about it. So we want to go and build for that.

QUESTION: Are you going to pray that this approach from outside is – can be temporary, fueled by the enthusiasm that is generating the social era?

MR. SELVADURAI: Yeah. I mean, of course we watch all sorts of numbers and things like that, but at the time being, it seems to be working really well. Yeah, I guess that’s all I can share. It’s working really well, and we are not just resting on that alone carrying us. So we are indeed building a better team in the back end to go out and build out the business side of things.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. SELVADURAI: At the moment, all the money – so the question was – I’m sorry – so the question was do we get money from the business for adding special? At the moment, it’s entirely free. It’s an entirely free platform for businesses to come and do something.

QUESTION: Jessica Kung from China TV. The first question is: What’s the social implication of this tool? Can you see the wife maybe attempting to use this tracking her husband or parents want to use this tracking their children? And that’s the first question.

The second question is: The recent incidents that the (inaudible) picture – the Weiner picture, I’d like you to share your view on do you think even the correspondence between two people, even that’s on the social networks, still should be between two people? And the reason – maybe you could also educate me the law, the regulations now regarding this. What is private and what is not private? I don’t know if there’s a law. So I guess this is sort of general –

MR. SELVADURAI: So your first question was around – could you repeat your first question again one more time?

QUESTION: Yeah. The first question is: do you see the husband or wife or the parents would want to use this? And that’s hard for the kids saying no, I don’t want you to check me, right?

MR. SELVADURAI: Sure. Yeah. So I’m sure there are some people that want to use it to track their friends and their husbands and spouses and girlfriends and kids. One of the things to understand about Foursquare is that it doesn’t always track where you are. So it only knows that I am here at the Press Center because I took out my phone and I chose it from the list and I told it to the world – well, tell all my Foursquare friends. So that’s the only reason it knows that. If I hadn’t done that – so if I hadn’t actively taken out my phone and done that – no one would know that I’m here. So from a tracking perspective, it actually is not that application. So I’m sure if there’s some contract where husbands want to track their wives or something or kids, they would tell their kids to go check in so that they keep track; are you at soccer or are you at the restaurant afterwards? And the kids would be empowered to share that data if they want to. And that’s where we leave it. We don’t really want to do the idea of priv-attacking (ph) because you’re right. It tends to result in weird social interactions.

And the second question was around the –

QUESTION: The correspondence between two people on a social network –

MR. SELVADURAI: The correspondence, whether that should be –

QUESTION: -- should be protected, should be strictly only private between two, and the law. Where – I have no knowledge of this. So that’s – I’m interested to know the law, the regulation regarding this issue.

MR. SELVADURAI: I’m – I don’t have too much insight into all sorts of laws around the world about that. I guess I can – I guess the only thing to say is that I do believe that, very similar to an email or all of these other things, that something that you send to one other person should stay between the two of you. I don’t think there should be anyone in the middle to blast it out to everyone else. I think the only thing that can get in that way is maybe accidentally you log in insecurely somewhere and then there’s someone in the middle that gets this data, but we just have to build secure systems to get around that.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you. Wang Yu from Caijing Magazine, which is a business economics from China. One of my question is: How do you find the business environment for the social networking because I mean, for just like your predecessor, the (inaudible) has already bought by Google for several years before. So you could see that Google is trying to be a big company in this area, especially (inaudible) media and also in large TMT industries. And also you mentioned that you have – already has lots of venture capital supporting your business. So how do you find their taste in supporting the social networking media? Thank you.

MR. SELVADURAI: Yeah. I think there’s something – well, you guys already now there’s something exciting going on with social networks overall. There’s room in the market for many different ones. Currently, location especially is very popular for social networks, so there are a lot of people that want to be in this game, so your big guys, like your Google as you mentioned, as well as a lot of smaller clones and competitors that are getting into the space. But as kind of history has proven, I think the ones that end up really getting scale and doing really well are the ones that are reasonably funded so they can actually go build a team, the ones that have a good team behind them, the ones that build interesting products and keep it innovative instead of resting on the graph that they already made, and go out and continue doing this.

And then finally, the ones that I can actually translate all of that into some sort of revenue by working with businesses or working with advertisers or what might be and – forgot my original point, sorry. So there’s room in the market for all of these things. So at the end of the day, the guys that are able to execute and able to actually attract the most number of users or keep the most number of users are the ones that are going to win out. I don’t think the game has been decided yet, so to speak. We’re still very, very new in this space. Everyone is very new in this space.

QUESTION: How is the taste of the business, the venture capitalists?

MR. SELVADURAI: How is the taste of the VCs? I don’t know. It probably varies from service to service. As I mentioned, I think there’s a lot attention and a lot of interest in the local space right now all around the world, and not just in the U.S. I was in Korea last – two weeks ago. I noticed maybe 14 different applications in the local space. So every country has their own take on how to do this. But I think at the end of the day, the ones that will win out are the ones with the – with good VCs, good execution, good kind of product, and a reason to keep using the service.

QUESTION: Sorry. One follow-up question. I’m sorry (inaudible.)


QUESTION: So do you have strategy to go the Chinese –

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Do you have a strategy to go to the mainland China’s markets in the near future or finding some partners in these areas?

MR. SELVADURAI: We’re actually launched everywhere in the world, including China. I don’t have much data to share about each country. I do believe we were blocked in China for a little while last year, and then we were unblocked a few months later. So it’s been hard to tell how it is. Our current focus is working in all the – is in working on building a better product and getting it all around the world. So a few months ago, we internationalized it, so localized the client in many different – in five different languages. We’re about to come out with a release that will have five more languages. And we’re slowly getting better at doing this. I think we’re still a very, very young service, and I think we’ve translated the application at a point in our company’s lifetime that’s sooner than I think a lot of other social networks have done it. So we’re only two years and we’re already trying to do this. So we’re making every effort to actually be more global and get everywhere and to have this access everywhere.

QUESTION: Hi. This is Tamami from Nikkei Newspaper, a Japanese newspaper. And I have two questions. And the first question, I wonder whether you have any plan to go public soon? It’s – the currently the market is really friendly for any type of social networking services. And I understand you are still venture funded, but I was wondering if you have any plan to be public (inaudible).

MR. SELVADURAI: We can’t share anything about that, but we don’t have any plans. We’re working on building what we’re – this great product. And as I mentioned before, we’re funded. We have enough, kind of, to work off of that. We have enough there to actually go build a team and to go do the things we want to. So –

QUESTION: And second question is related, the current market conditions. It seems to be some people concerned about – especially for the IPO from social networking companies. It could be a bubble. I’m just wondering your personal experience, did you feel anything about that kind of bubble tendency in the market? Like so many inquiry from even some investment bankers or venture capitalists who want to give you money?

MR. SELVADURAI: Sure. I think a lot of people talk about the idea of a bubble. I don’t know. I can’t speak for everyone. I personally don’t think there is something – such a thing right now. Maybe there are two ways to look at it. One is people are comparing what’s happening now in the internet online space with what happened maybe 10 years ago. I think the circumstances are totally different. I think in a lot of cases back then, there was just too much chasing stuff that wasn’t actually there. I think what’s happened in the last ten years is we have proven that this idea of a social model can work. Mobile phones are really powerful, technology is much faster, the internet is really much better than it was – used to be. You can access the internet no matter where you are. And more importantly, we have proven that advertisers find something of value here, the local space and local businesses find something of value here. So things have changed so much in the last 10 years.

So oftentimes when you think of a bubble, you think about what happened then, are we repeating it? And I don’t think it’s anything like that. I think we’re doing exciting things, we’re doing interesting things. If anything, there are a lot of players now that want to do something here because they realize that there’s so much here.

QUESTION: So when a Foursquare user walks into a business, they’re essentially carrying with them a profile of what they previously bought, what they previously – their kind of profile of interests of things that they buy and so on. That’s kind of – that’s valuable data to a business. How much of that data is currently shared with businesses, and are they pushing for more, is there a way of doing it semi-anonymously on – is there – are there opportunities there that you’re thinking of exploring or are already exploring?

MR. SELVADURAI: Not a whole bunch of that data is actually shared. So we don’t actually track what you buy and what you do. We just know where you’re going and what kind of your tastes and interests are. So the – you’re using it for your own personal kind of benefits, but we can use some of that data, we’ve realized, to actually recommend new things for you to try. If a new place opens up in your neighborhood, you might not have known about it had your friends not checked into it, and we use that data to recommend it to you. We – so there’s not a lot that’s actually shared. When we realize that maybe there is something interesting there, we’ll find a way to kind of message it to the users and get some value out of that, I think.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. SELVADURAI: There’s nothing the businesses can come and ask for, no. There’s nothing that – so for instance like purchasing data, any of that stuff. So what businesses can see – and this is if they come and claim their venue, and we do claiming in a couple of different ways. You can actually go to to see this. So you either have to call in or you get a postcard, so very similar to the way Google verifies businesses. And then once you verify, you can see aggregate statistics about, is your special working? Is it actually resulting in more traffic? You get to see who the mayor is. So you get to see percentage of guys and girls and just very, very top line, very, very basic data, nothing beyond that.

You get to see who the mayor is not because we have a connection with the business, but the mayor data is actually public in Foursquare. And users know this. If users didn’t want the mayor to be public, if they don’t want to be mayor, they can actually take themselves out of it. So we give them the control to do that.

QUESTION: Hi. My name is Hajime Matsuura from Japan Sankei News. It seems like – it sounds like you’re still in a marketing phase, and sometime you’ll move into a profitable, like a business model stage. When do you think will be the – an inflection point, and are you thinking of becoming a, like, ad model or subscription model? And I’m just curious in the next stage how you are going to change your model. And assuming that no – your venture capitalists are expecting you to make money.

MR. SELVADURAI: Yeah. I think – I don’t know when the inflection is going to come. I think we’ll – hopefully we’ll just know or – around that time. But the – but what’s clear is that the inflection points will only come if we build up the user base and if we build up the business base. So almost 10 million users, which is a milestone in and of itself now, almost half a million businesses that have verified, so not just half a million businesses in the system. There are actually more than 15 million businesses in the system, and of them, half have actually come in and wanted to do the specials and wanted to do interesting things around the world.

So yeah. At the time being, it’s just about improving those numbers and getting them into a much stronger place and getting, more importantly, the businesses and the users, and the users to actually go engage and get more value out of the service. And hopefully at that point, we’ll know if that’s the right time to actually go and do it. And as far as the products themselves on the business side, I don’t think we can comment on that too much yet. But I think it could be a hybrid model that could – there are a lot of different things we can do here, and it really depends on how users react, how – what users really want, what businesses want, how – we don’t even know if users – let’s say they want certain kind of mobile coupon, right? Do they want – what do they want in their pockets. So it’s just about listening to that feedback and experimenting and getting there.

QUESTION: Sorry. In this process of gaining a scale, you see yourself making alliances with smaller players or with bigger players? Because at the end you have to – you said that they are not that – there is this room a lot of people –

MR. SELVADURAI: There’s (inaudible). Yeah.

QUESTION: -- no, but at the end, it can be overcrowded.

MR. SELVADURAI: Yeah. So yeah. Then the – we are very open with – we want to work with all sorts of interesting players out there. So we’re open to all those conversations. The – I guess the ones that we can – that we like talking about are a lot of the guys, big as well as small, that actually build interesting applications on top of our API. So for instance, a lot of other social applications like, I guess, the – a lot of the popular ones these days are things like Instagram and a couple of games apps – game app out there and food spotting and all these other smaller social networks actually build on top of Foursquare data. So they build on our venue database around the world. So we have 15 million places. They didn’t need to go in and create an additional 15 million or start from scratch. They could just use our data set. They send data our way, so any time people check in or people take photos on Instagram, they can actually check into Foursquare.

So we’re building integrations on that level as well as doing other things like when you check in Foursquare, you can actually integrate with other services as well. If you want to send your – check into Twitter and tell all your Twitter friends, that’s actually built into the application. So we’re taking a model where we want to make the data as shareable as you want it to be, and working with both other startups as well as sending data ourselves to the Twitter and Facebook, should the user want that.

MODERATOR: We’ll take, like, one more question? I’m trying to be mindful of your –

MR. SELVADURAI: Yeah. No. That’s fine.


QUESTION: Yeah. I have a question.


QUESTION: Yeah. How difficult was it to get –

MODERATOR: Please state your name and organization.

QUESTION: Yeah. I’m from Turkish Journal, Janet. How difficult was it to get funded? What attracted your venture capitalists to you? Because there are so many social networking sites, why did they choose to fund you twice? Could you talk about that?

MR. SELVADURAI: Okay. I – probably a whole bunch of different reasons. One, we’d already launched the product by then. So we’d been working on it for a while and we’d already done similar projects before. And we launched it six months before any of that stuff even happened. So we’d proven that by getting it into the market and getting real users and building this – just my co-founder Dennis (ph) and me going out there and building this – by building it with a very small team and getting the traction and getting people talking about it, we were able to attract their attention and get them to sign onboard.

And the second round, we brought on another venture capitalist firm in addition to the two that we had in the original round because that was about a year after we launched, a little over a year after we launched, and it was clear that we need to go build a team out in a big way, that people were really excited for this idea. We were just about to hit one million users. So this was in June of last year, May of last year, and it was clear that this was really going to add a lot more value and a lot users and people were going to get really excited about it. So I think that’s why they came onboard. And then in the last year, we’ve gone from one million users to about 10 now. So just to give you an idea what’s going on. We add probably about a million users a month, something along those lines.

MODERATOR: Well, thank you so much for coming.

MR. SELVADURAI: Yeah. Thanks for having me.

MODERATOR: (Inaudible) appreciate it. And thank you all for coming, asking great questions.

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