Flickr CC: Kim+5

“Great entrepreneurs and companies don’t spend large amounts of time and money refining and defining nuances of differentiation from competitors or indulging in feature wars with them.”: Robin Klein

For a year ago I wrote about the two key elements of location based services, also explaining why I had placed my vote on Foursquare:

1. It doesn’t make me a target.

2. It gives me incentives to share my location data.

Earlier this week Foursquare released its version 3.0 with new explore function including personalized recommendations, putting its half a billion check-ins data into work. Based on your preferences, habits and the expertise of your network, the risk of ending up at “wrong” places is now reduced by calculated recommendations. Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb has done a great job unwrapping all the goodies, benefits and how the recommendation algorithm works.

Having now grown from 500 000 to 7 500 000 users within just a year, Foursquare hasn’t let me down. Not once. It has kept its cool, not messed with my privacy settings, nor has it forced any new behavior upon me. I’m still on the driver’s seat. Thank you.

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“Nice try Facebook Places. Thanks, but I’ll stick with @Foursquare :)”

Facebook on the other hand had quite the opposite approach to introducing new product features when it launched its check-in service Places. That was, I must say, one of the most hostile introduction to a new feature in a service I’ve ever experienced. I was in London at the time of Facebook Places UK launch, having to experience my iPhone screen froze up to only allow me access Places when logging into the app. Well, the rest is history. There was no way they’d win me over. I’m yet to place my first Places check-in.

The question “Is Foursquare to survive Facebook Places?” on everyone’s lips at the time was naturally justified, but did prove out to be unnecessary: It has doubled its user base since the launch of Facebook Places.

The Passion Gap – Foursquare Executing On The Long Term Vision

The Passion Gap – The difference between a product built by someone who is deeply invested in the underlying product idea, as compared to a product built by someone who is just trying to check off a set of feature boxes.”: Jonathan Betz

There is a lot of discussion about, and rightfully so, whether focusing on the product in favor of the business model is likely to cause more long term damage, since “In the end, that business model ends up defining how companies get built over a long period of time” (sharp post by Om Malik). When launching the new Specials Merchant Platform for the existing quarter of million businesses using Foursquare today, and thousands more getting on board every week, one might have raised her eyebrows to its statement: “We won’t charge for something still being baked… we’ve always said we won’t monetize until we get it just right”. Not everybody is in the position of being venture backed, allowing companies like Foursquare to execute before having figured out its revenue model, but having said that, I agree with Foursquare on its decision. Why? 

When a company is introducing new technology enabled customer behavior to a large SMB market, e.g. check-ins and real-time location, it at the same time also becomes a teacher, someone to hold hands in the beginning. Mom-n-pop stores need to see the actual benefits of their every single marketing effort before buying into it. It’s completely different than selling to the world of big brands, who actually have a branding budget, thus can afford to try new innovative things. There’s an old saying – “Give before you get“. Executed wisely on the SMB market, the returns will wildly exceed the costs.

To be able to make these kind of decisions without compromising neither the product, nor the future business, requires a clear and focused long term vision. It takes passion to take the journey, and to keep users to stay with you along the ride.

I’m still excited to be on the Foursquare ride. Keep launching awesomeness!

Photo credit: Kushal DaveFlickr cc: Finitor

My Foursquare Wishlist

Now that team Foursquare has pushed out not just recommendations, completely automated Specials platform for merchants, but also a deal with American Express with 60 local merchants during SXSW, why not move up a few things to the next sprint once the dust from Austin has settled? 🙂 Here are my Top 3:

1. Maximize Discovery with Recent Check-ins Worldwide

By listing Recent Check-ins in a timeline regardless of Geo position even in the mobile app, just like on the web page, would expose me to more places to discover. With lots of frequent traveller friends, and many living around the world, I miss lots of awesome places to put on my To-Do List. The “Nearby” option still allows me to keep my eye on my “local” buddies.

2. Travel Guide

Ability to search places outside my geographical reach in order to add them to my To-Do List. In that way I can better plan my trip and save both time and Kilobytes while out of town exploring new cities.

3. Check-ins Abroad

Light version of check-in, preferably with automatic roaming detection. Even if the amount of data isn’t overwhelming, every Kilobyte still counts, and I really don’t have to know the Mayor or who’s there prior my check-in. Just let me check-in and give me an option to fetch the additional data in next step. That way, I’d be checking in even more frequently when abroad.

SXSW 2011 and The State of SoLoMo, Gaming and Group Messaging

It’s not only Foursquare that has been pushing the midnight oil lately. There doesn’t seem to be a single social / mobile / location / gaming / group messaging app or service that hasn’t launched this week, prior, or at SXSW. It’s kinda like the week before Christmas when term sheets are being signed faster than one can refresh the TechCrunch feed.

Compared to this year’s lineup at SXSW, last year’s expected location wars at SXSW now seem like a Sunday School gathering. Facebook added Deals in Januari to complement Places, Google is getting back in the game with Latitude and Hotpot, having appointed Marissa Mayer as head of location and local services, experimenting with loyalty-based check-in rewards on Latitude at SXSW as we speak.

Mobile gaming is spreading into real-time and location with new games like Shadow Cities, a location-based MMORPG by Finnish startup Grey Area, putting people in a game-like environment using real-life locations.

I can now also check-in to future with a fresh mobile social location service Ditto, brought to you by Jyri Engeström, Founder of Ditto, and co-founder of former epic microblogging service Jaiku. Ditto lets you tell what you’re about to or wish to do, although there’s no guarantee it will help you to get laid 🙂 According to Jyri, Ditto aims to increase serendipity and help businesses catch customers prior the decision making process. In a more conversational form, that does bring back memories to Jaiku, the user can easily exchange recommendations about restaurants, movies, and other activities. Watch how you should pitch yet another social mobile location service to Robert Scoble. Unlike Foursquare, though, all check-ins are public by default without notifying the user (can be changed in the Settings), and one has to sign up with Facebook account. Thankfully two easily fixed features.

And then there is the rest of the world: No less than three participating teams, Bipsly, eeve and Geomium, pitched location-based check-in services to us at the first Mini Seedcamp of the year in London this January.

Find out more About Me and fellow Top 100 Women in Tech in Europe. Connect with me on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, or just drop me a line! Subscribe to my Feed, Startup Advice, and Swedish Startups Twitter list. And remember, “You never learn anything when you speak, only when you listen” – Roelof Botha / Douglas Leone, Sequoia Capital

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