Inside The Hive: Dennis Crowley: Would You Turn Down $125 Million From Zuck?

  • What is Foursquare today? It is a location intelligence company. Foursquare builds tools that enable companies to do interesting things with location technology. 

  • The precursor to Foursquare was Dodgeball: Dennis started Dodgeball when he was a grad student at NYU. He wanted to make software that made cities easier to use. Dodgeball developed software for flip phones. 

  • The idea came for Dodgeball came from Harry Potter: In the books, you could see where all your friends were by are using The Marauder’s Map. Dodgeball did this with text messages: Hey I’m at this bar. Hey, I’m at this coffee shop. 

  • Google bought Dodgeball. Then closed it down: We were pretty upset and disappointed. This was a project we really cared about. We went to Google to get help to build it. It was a sad day leaving the project behind.

  • The beginning of Foursquare: Since Google didn’t want to continue to work on Dodgeball let’s build another, better version. This time using the tool of today. The iPhone. 

  • People get energy from different things: I get energy from creating new things. I like to build things other people get enjoyment out of. In the absence of doing that type of creation, I get dissatisfied and restless.

  • Foursquare launched at SXSW in March 2009: About 5,000 people cared. We tried to raise money after. 33 investors said no. They said the idea was awful. They said we were wasting our time. 

  • We just kept working on it: In August 2009 one investor said they were interested. Once one investor was interested then everyone else was interested.

  • Yahoo offered $100 million. Facebook offered $125 million. Why not sell?: If you were driven just by the fact that you wanted a financial exit then you’d take the money. After selling Dodgeball to Google I learned money wasn’t the thing that made me happy. The thing that made me happy was building things. We have an opportunity to build something great. Why would we give that up? Let’s go build this!

  • The best advice Dennis got from Mark Zuckerberg: If you going to continue to be the CEO you need to figure out what kind of CEO you want to be. You can be the product CEO, the operations CEO, the sales CEO, the evangelist CEO, the engineering CEO, etc. Pick one and do that job really well. Delegate the rest of the responsibilities to other people. That’s the only way to keep sane in doing this job. 

  • The thrill of entrepreneurship: This experience has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve made a lot of sacrifices in my personal life to be able to do it. But it’s been a huge privilege. It is the best ride you can ever be on.

  • The point is not to build something and then sell it to a big company: The point is to build something great and be a company that gets to contribute to the legacy of awesome products that have been built. If you let go too early you don’t get to be a part of that.

  • The turning point for foursquare: Growth stopped around 50 million users. We can’t be valued as a growing ad-based consumer product. We started to make money selling insights from the location data generated by consumer apps. We package up the data and help companies make sense of these foot traffic trends. That stuff is really valuable to retailers.

  • What’s important to Foursquare: To make sure we are treating everyone’s privacy with respect. That we build apps that surprise and delight people. That we build technology that inspires another generation of entrepreneurs.

  • The best advice came from his Mom: We wanted to work on Dodgeball and everyone was telling us it was a stupid idea. She said you should just do the thing you love and the rest of the stuff will figure itself out. Work on the thing that is personally interesting and if you do that for long enough there is a good chance that other things will just happen around it.

  • Best advice from his Dad: In the early days of Foursquare we were getting a lot of press. He said you can’t eat newspapers. You need to find a way to make money.

  • When things were going bad Dennis thought he was going to get fired by the board: I was reading the book Hatching Twitter. An unexpected board meeting was put on my calendar. In the book, unexpected meetings from board members resulted in the firing of the CEO. I thought I’m going to walk into work and get fired! It turned out it was just a meeting to check-in.

  • The hardest thing to do: To convince yourself that the next idea you have is worth doing. There are so many moments when you think I have no business doing this. I’m so over my head. I’m not the right person for this. I’m not qualified to do this. That doubt plagued me all the time. You just have to forge through. You just make it work. Sometimes you just have to put your foot down. Say fuck it. I will be the one that makes this thing. The world will be better if this thing exists. If I don’t do it no one else will.

  • Full podcast here.