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The Fourth Anniversary of Foursquare

Swen Graham, Foursquare’s Head of National Strategy & Sales Solutions Talks About What’s New

JS:           Swen, I know plenty of people that would love to have your job. How did you get to Foursquare?

SG:         Three years ago I decided to take a job with Quattro Wireless, a mobile advertising network. It was a Marketing Manager role. I was charged with designing all the sales materials, figuring out how to market our products to advertisers, website development, etc.

It was a departure from my role as a Sr. Strategic Analyst at Y&R, and more of an unknown than other companies I was considering, but the start-up world had always been intriguing, and I’ve been a big mobile geek since I got my hands on the first generation iPhone, so I figured what the hell?

As luck would have it, I was in the right place at the right time. Seven months after I joined, Quattro was acquired by Apple. Initially it was business as usual, but eventually we built and rolled out the iAd advertising platform, scrapped the old business, and my role evolved into what would become the Creative + Strategy team.

Steven Rosenblatt ran the sales and revenue operation at Quattro Wireless and continued on in the same role at Apple. Anyways, he joined Foursquare as CRO about a year ago and gave me a call about getting the band back together. We got to talking about what he was building over there, and I wanted in.

JS:           Wow, you were lucky to be at the right place at the right time, but you could’ve easily been tossed out during Quattro’s acquisition. You seem to have aligned yourself with the company’s leaders and visionaries.

SG:         I feel very lucky. To his credit, Andy Miller, who was CEO and co-founder at Quattro and reported directly to Steve Jobs post-acquisition, made it a priority to keep the team intact.

JS:           What’s it like working for Foursquare?

SG:         I’m really enjoying it. I find it’s a lot of fun building out the business and revenue side of what was already a huge success as a company. We just launched our Promoted Updates, which was our first ad product in the summer – serving up contextually-based advertising and offers based on smart proximity to a client’s business.

We’re solving a problem that hasn’t been addressed before in the same way. Location-based advertising is a relatively new thing. For a long while, local couponing by Valpak and store circulars was about as close as you could get. Now that Smartphone penetration has passed 60% in the US, you can see how mobile advertising can really move market share.

I read a statistic that the average Millennial changes media 27 times in one hour. Making sure your ad is seen isn’t the toughest nut to crack any longer. Now it’s about delivering it at a relevant time and location so customers can act on it.

Culturally, Foursquare is definitely a hustle environment. We’re only a 160-person company – with 11 of us in our group – to support 33 million users. There’s a great culture of transparency and collaboration. Every week, we hold a company-wide meeting where you can ask any question that’s on your mind and we have a system in place where any employee can see what anyone else is working on. Very different than how things work at Apple.

JS:           What’s your job at Foursquare?

SG:         It’s basically creative services for the monetization effort. I work with agencies, brands, and internal teams to come up with revenue-generating ideas leveraging what Foursquare can do. I figure out how Foursquare markets itself to the ad community and develop all the sales presentation and support materials for our sales team, as well as meet with clients and other folks in the industry.

JS:          What new services are you working on?

SG:         There are a couple big ones right now:

  • Local discovery & search. These are promotional updates that are pushed into your Foursquare feed based on smart proximity, e.g. a Mexican restaurant is running a special menu item, and they want people in the neighborhood who are interested in having lunch to know about it.
  • Special deals for cardholders. We’re working with AMEX and other credit card companies to offer deals to our users based on certain spend thresholds that the business can define.  This is great for users because they save money just by swiping a card synced with Foursquare, and it’s great for businesses because they can increase the basket size of the average purchase.

For example, if we know the average spend at a particular retailer is $15; we might run a deal where AMEX cardholders get $2 off $20. The beauty of these specials is that they’re applied automatically and credited on the backend. You don’t need to show the coupon, which is key for national retailers who don’t want to train 10,000 employees nationwide every time they decide to try a marketing initiative.

We have some additional products that we’re working on rolling out in the coming months but I have to keep those under wraps for now.

You can read about more new developments on the Foursquare blog.



JS:           What are typical response rates?

SG:         We are seeing 5-10x more than what I have seen from other mobile campaigns in terms of engagement. And not only are we driving a click, we’re getting people actually into the business. I think this is because they’re extremely relevant to location and context of a particular user. In my opinion, disruptive advertising doesn’t work very well for mobile. No one wants pop-up ads on their phone. It’s always been my aim in mobile to create “additive” advertising experiences, e.g. have them contribute meaningfully to your Foursquare experience.

JS:           What skills do you need to flourish at Foursquare?

SG:         I think there is a counterbalance dynamic between monetization and product. On one hand, you need to create revenue opportunities. On the other, you have to make sure those endeavors don’t hurt the product and drive away users over time. It’s about balancing the short- and long-term. It’s like that line from Jurassic Park when Jeff Goldblum’s character says that the scientists were so busy wondering if they could that they didn’t stop to consider if they should. We spend a lot of time thinking about if we should. I guess it’s similar to the tug o’ war between Creative and Account. You’ve got to be able to bridge the goals of both and that’s what makes a stronger product for all users, whether they’re consumers or advertisers.

Want to know how to talk to your clients about using Foursquare? Reach Swen here.

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