foursquare’s Dennis Crowley Checks In at Social Media Week New York

foursquare co-founder and CEO Dennis Crowley was the subject of a keynote interview as part of Social Media Week New York, conducted by Fast Company‘s Austin Carr at JWT’s Media & Communications Hub in Manhattan.

Crowley mentioned that the company has grown from four employees and 100,000 users to 50 employees and some 6.5 million users, saying, “Going from 100,000 users to 6.5 million users, a lot of things break in the middle.”

Describing how the foursquare platform evolved, he said, “You can get 10 random foursquare users in a room and ask them what drew them to the platform, and you’d get 10 different answers. What should I eat? Can I get a special? We threw 10 things at the wall to see what sticks, and all 10 of them stuck. It’s a good thing, because it shows how rich the platform is and how rich it could be. How do you boil everything that foursquare does down to one sentence? I don’t think we want to tell people how to use the product. We want people to teach us how they’re using it. The initial design was, ‘I go out for happy hour, I broadcast my location, and a bunch of people show up.’ ”

Crowley continued, “Can you use game mechanics to incentivize and encourage people to go out and enrich their lives? I think there’s something good about software that can get you to try new experiences. No matter where I’m standing in Manhattan, there’s 1,000 options of things I could be doing right now. foursquare can help me filter those options.”

As for issues raised by users, he said, “We hear a lot about check-in fatigue. We can evolve the game mechanics in such a way that makes users want to continue to do those things.”

An on the topic of future features, Crowley said, “How do we weigh tools that we want to build for new users against tools that we want to build for super users and tools that we want to build for merchants and brands? I don’t think so much about how to monetize the real-world behavior. That will eventually happen. There’s so much to do, but we’re still a very small company. We’re definitely the underdogs in the story. I don’t think we’re willing to give up on any of it. We want to do these things. The fact that there are a lot of competitors in the space shows that we’re on to something. I’ve never really been bullish on QR codes. It’s hard enough to get people into checking in. It’s a tough sell for people.”