November 27, 2018
Jeff Glueck, CEO, Foursquare discusses the power of media and technology in changing the world, concerns around global data protection, and the future of virtual reality in marketing and content creation. Unveiling the capabilities of advancing location technologies, Jeff explains how the digital and physical worlds are becoming more interconnected than ever.
Jeff R: Foursquare has really evolved since its inception. What’s the latest?
Jeff G: I think many of your viewers may remember Foursquare from our early years, founded 9 years ago, as the company that invented the mobile, local check-in as a consumer social app. Well, we’ve done 13 billion check-ins to date and still do 1 billion a year, but the company overwhelmingly now really is a location technology platform. We’re really a B2B enterprise company and we’ve grown tremendously.
You should think of us as a company that’s enabling contextual awareness and the next generation of location technology across the board. If you tag a tweet on Twitter that’s Foursquare technology. If you get a geofilter on Snapchat you're using Foursquare technology. Much of the content on Apple Maps comes from Foursquare. If you get paired on Tinder in their new feature that pairs people not just based on who’s close but who have a common set of places they love as a great match for you, that’s Foursquare technology. If Tripadvisor says “hey, you’re in Barcelona around the corner from this great tapas place that your friend Jeff recommended, you gotta stop and go in there”, that’s Foursquare technology at work. If you get a location weather alert in Accuweather that’s Foursquare. 150,000 developers use our technology to make their apps contextually aware and to be able to tap you on the shoulder like a friend when you’re you've arrived at a place where you can save money or discover something new so that’s a lot of what we do.
We also help some of the top brands in the world connect with audiences who are going to be interested in their offerings because of the way they move around the physical world. You might want to connect with people who are yoga fanatics or people who love going to movie theatres and we have massive data sets that help us understand audiences in the real world, so that’s Foursquare today and it might be eye-opening to your listeners that we touch over 1 billion people a month through the apps that we power and a lot of people don’t realize that.
Jeff R: You’re connecting the digital and physical world together. I find it fascinating how precise weather alerts are now.
Jeff G: One of the things we think about is contextual awareness. When an app like Dark Sky pioneers micro weather alerts that is just knowing latitude and longitude and knowing that rain clouds are approaching and that is powerful, but what we’re trying to add on top of that is contextual urgency. An example to make that easy to understand is if you are at Yankee Stadium and its about to downpour in 6 minutes you need to know now to get to cover, but if you're in your office a 2 pm in the afternoon and you usually leave at 6 pm then it doesn't matter so much if it rains in 6 minutes, so context is really important.
The context of are you arriving at this tapas place in Barcelona for the first time and you're a tourist, or you work there and it's your thousandth arrival at that restaurant is very important. For us, context means helping coupon apps remind you that you've got a coupon to save money on a movie but also telling Uber where that low-cost movie theatre is. That’s our database of 105 million places that power that ability for the Uber driver to know where that low-cost cinema is.
Jeff R: Obviously location intelligence is at the forefront. How do you package it differently for different business models?
Jeff G: I generally divide what we do into 3 buckets. When we work with developers like Uber or Apple or TripAdvisor we are helping them on kind of an API call basis on a usage-based developer model with our STK and API. Those are developer tools to make your app smarter.
And then a second bucket is analytics. We help folks understand where their advertising is working. 90% of consumer spending today is in the real world and in the bricks and mortar world and all of Amazon accounts for only 4% of U.S. consumer spending. For the first time, because Foursquare connects the physical and digital world at scale, we are able to tell advertisers whether their ads are incrementally driving people into these thousands of locations versus a control group that didn't see the ads. That’s analytics.
We also help major hedge funds anonymously see shifting foot traffic trends to better understand economic trends. Lastly, we help create and segment audiences. We help 50 of the top 100 advertisers in the U.S. find people who are going to be interested in their products based on their real-world behavior, not their digital behavior.
Jeff R: You're in big data territory. How do you maintain trust with consumers in light of everything that’s taken place over the last year in regards to data protection and privacy concerns?
Jeff G: I couldn't agree more. We think about this every day. Data is a privilege for us. We started as a consumer location business so we have this trusted bond with our users from our core DNA. Location is sensitive for people so we have had to put in place all kinds of privacy protection from the beginning because location was always super sensitive for tons of people and so everything we always do is based on a very transparent opt-in, disclosure, notice, and choice.
This year for instance when Europe put in place what's called GDPR, we made those new data rights available to all of the users globally, not only of our consumer apps but also anyone who uses the thousands of apps that depend on us and Foursquare technology. So if you want to opt out later or you want to export your data we offer that as a choice to anyone globally who have opted into our technology across the whole network.
We often talk about creating value for users through that location context, it has to be visible value to the user because if you opt-in to share your background location you deserve more personalized and relevant services otherwise no one should grant that right. Everything we build is about being so accurate and precise.
Unlike coarse geofences, we really understand multistory buildings and dense urban areas, and that you went to the juice store and not the yoga studio next door; that you went to the vegan restaurant and not the steakhouse next door - those are very different things. We built the technology to be hyper-precise because it wasn't designed to extract data, it was designed to make people’s lives better. We think technology can be part of the solution, not just part of the problem.
We have a whole ethics training program here and one of the things that I love that some of the leading tech-ethicists talk about is a hippocratic of where people trust you with your data and the credo for us here is do no harm. Are we making people's lives better, are we saving them money, are we reminding them that they’re around the corner from that amazing tapas place in Barcelona that their buddy said they can’t miss? Are we affecting the physical joys and creating memories? Obviously, we need to have a sustainable business but in a privacy-by-design style, so that’s how we think about it. I’m a father of three young kids so it's always upsetting when you see certain actors in tech not following those high standards around opt-in and disclosure and creating value.
Jeff R: How do you think location technology is reshaping marketing and content creation?
Jeff G: Well, this is where we live so we love inventing the future; that’s one of our core values here. We’re really proud of using location to shape how consumers experience the real world. I talked a little bit about working with Tinder recently on how can they rethink how Tinder works so that you're paired with people who aren't just within a few miles at this moment, but who you actually have something in common with - you go to the same cold brew coffee shop in Brooklyn or you go to the same dog park every day. You cross the same paths but you also have some common values with. What Tinder’s finding so far is that using these location signals to personalize matches, kind of how Spotify uses the songs that you've liked to recommend better songs, that leads to better matches so they're seeing better reciprocal invitations to swipe so to speak. That’s one way that we’re helping folks make location more contextually aware.
We worked with Samsung on augmented reality, which is not to be confused with virtual reality, augmented reality is using devices to overlay information over the real world as you move about and mobile is a perfect vehicle for this. We worked with the big speed team at Samsung and now all the Galaxy phones are able, with the click of a button as you lift the camera up, to overlay information over the businesses as you scan around you in 200 countries with the name of the business you're looking at, a rating, some tips or reviews about it, contact information and opening hours just on an AR vector, and you can do that globally because Foursquare data is global in 100 million places around the globe. That’s the kind of capability we are interested in and looking into whether the future of games, social and travel can be more contextually aware.
We worked with the Hilton Owners app this year. With Airbnb proliferating, people expect more when traveling and they expect to be able to live like a local and what we wanted to do was give the best of a concierge recommendation using Foursquare intelligence and so we combined those into the Hilton Owners app now so that wherever you are and wherever you are staying you can ask the concierge what's interesting near you, and you can also tap into the whole Foursquare recommendation algorithm and so that’s where this is going. You don't have to wait in line at the concierge desk to know the best patisserie near the Hilton in Paris, you have all that information at your fingertips.
Jeff R: Do you have any favorite interests or hobbies?
Jeff G: I’m a father of three so a lot of what I do is hanging out with my kids on the weekends when I’m not in tech. For anyone who follows my Twitter feed knows I’m a big believer in recruiting new talent into our political sphere personally. I worked with a group called thearena.run which is a great non-profit that recruits people into office for the first time. We support them with funding, narratives, messaging training and it's been a blast to see such talented people elected as a result.
Please note, the above has been paraphrased for editorial purposes