Dennis CrowleyCo-founder of Foursquare Published On: Wednesday, January 20, 2016 Views 4442


To give you a short brief – Dennis Crowley is the co-founder of Foursquare, which is a combination of location awareness, social networks, and game functionality to persuade and lure the masses in exploring the world that surrounds them.

Recently, Dennis has stepped back and moved on to the position of Executive Chairman of Foursquare (the company), where he would be taking care of strategic vision for product and innovation. Prior to this, he was the CEO for roughly seven years.

Other than that, he also works as an accessory Professor at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP)

Over the period of time, Denis has also made some personal investments in various entities, some of which include: – Dash, Electric Objects, Thredhq, Timehop, Svpply, Metamarkets and Square.

Some of his accolades include: -

Named as one of Fortune’s “40 Under 40″ (2010, 2011),

Listed as a member of Vanity Fair’s “New Establishment” (2011, 2012)

Won the “Fast Money” bonus round on the TV game show Family Feud (2009)

Denis is married to Chelsa Lynn Skees and holds a Master’s degree from the New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, and a Bachelor’s degree from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University.

What’s His Story? How Was His Early Life?

For Dennis, life has always been a game. And just like everything else, it came with a price. His success was a result of a series of failures and disappointments.

He grew up in a close-knit family that had a believed in making everything playful; like a game. Over the period of time, these social games turned into a social business.

During his days at Syracuse University; freshmen were unable to get into bars and were left desperate for alcohol. This gave Denis and his friends an idea. They started throwing parties for freshmen, and used to take cover charges. From each of these parties, they used to make somewhere around $1,600, and even had got busted by the cops once.

This was his first attempt at entrepreneurship!

Around that time, Denis had also created another personal web page apart from his online diary (Teendrama). It was called Dodgeball.com, and was a part of his new projects.

Post his graduation at Syracuse, Denis moved to Manhattan to work for Ken Allard as a Research Analyst at Jupiter Communications in 1998, and the moved on to work with Vindigo as a Product Developer in June 2000.

This stint continued for about a year, after which the inevitable began. Soon after 9/11, just like the twin towers his life too, came crumbling down.

In a matter of months, Denis lost everything – his job at Vindigo, his girlfriend, his home, his direction life, New York City and finally all the friends it held too. He was also forced to back to New Hampshire to live with his parents. He was left clueless.

He remained in New Hampshire for the next seven months, during which he met the lowest point of his life, which forced him to leave his luxuries and to work as a Snowboard Instructor for kids at Attitash Bear Peak for a meagre way for $6 / hour.

While at it, he also applied at the New York University in the Interactive Telecommunications Program to pursue his Masters Degree. That is when he decided to move back to Manhattan, after his application got accepted.

At the university, he also got the opportunity to meet Alex Rainert, a fellow student. They met at the orientation and realised that both shared quite a few common interests such as – gaming, mobile, social, music, sports, etc. This got them more closer, and both of them also started working on Denis’s pet project that had been sidelined since long. Dodgeball!

denis & alex

Anyway, together they transformed Dodgeball into a crowd-sourced alternative for the slow-to-update site, CitySearch. They also introduced their work to their fellow students at NYU as well.

They also began working with a professor at NYU called Clay Shirkey, to develop it during an independent study too. With his help they tested out social and mobile features for Dodgeball.

By then Dodgeball had become a service wherein, a user would “check-in” to bars or restaurants by sending a text, and all of their “friends” on the service would get a text with the location, and the user would get points for checking in.

After completing his Masters, both of them moved on to work for different companies. Denis went on to work for MTV (as a Product Dev, Wireless), PacManhattan (Pac-Man), and even ConQwest (as a Co-Creator).

All this time, their pet project kept functioning on the side and had begun gaining traction as well. Around the same time, a half-page article was written about it in The New York Times, which gave them the desired recognition, and also got them to thinking.

They decided to formally make it a company, left their jobs and began working on and for Dodgeball. They gave each other six months to turn Dodgeball into a business.

Denis began learning about finance and angel investing, which eventually led them to Google, who was fresh out of its IPO.

They loved their product but since they did not have any intentions of investing in any start-up, they asked join them. And that’s how Dodgeball ended up getting acquired by Google in 2005!

As much as this was one of the highest points of his life; but it didn’t last long.

After running Dodgeball for a while, Google shut it down in 2009 and replaced it with Google Latitude.

Heartbroken, Denis left Google, and began working for a mobile gaming start-up called – Area/Code. Alex also found a job. And as they like to put it, these were like – Rebound Jobs!

But what they couldn’t see was that – these rebounds were very important learning experiences for their future company, Foursquare.

Alex learned to grow and manage a product team, while Denis worked on games and also met his future co-founder – Naveen Selvadurai. Naveen was the one guy who knew how to make iPhone stuff, and loved hacking city apps.

Soon they both started working together and began experimenting for about four to five months on a product.

Around Jan 2009, they thought of getting serious about the product and decided to launch it at SXSW (an annual set of film, interactive media, and music festivals and conferences that take place in mid-March in Austin, Texas). By this time, Apple’s App Store had also gained its popularity and had created a market these boys were looking for.

After about a week, Denis’s friends and family got an email with the first version of Foursquare and asking for their advice. It was originally called Jimmy Disco.

And with that – it was onn!

What is Foursquare – Business Model?

Technically speaking – founded by Denis and Naveen, Foursquare (the company) is a technology company that uses location intelligence to create meaningful user experiences and business solutions. As a whole, they offer two mobile apps: Foursquare (the app) and Swarm, and a suite of enterprise and advertising tools.

It was the second iteration of that same idea, usage of mobile devices to interact with other people. Foursquare was a re-imagined and modified version of Dodgeball, and was manufactured taking advantage of the newly introduced smartphones which had a built-in GPS.

Dennis Crowley Foursquare

FOURSQUARE (the app) is a local search and discovery service that offers search results for its users, keeping in mind the places they go to, the information they have given about their likes, and the other users whose advice they trust. On the basis of these, Foursquare gives out recommendations of the places to go around their location.

SWARM, on the other end, is a companion app to Foursquare that offers the social networking and location sharing aspects of the Foursquare into a separate application. One can share their location with friends, see where their friends are, and user all other features offered by the app. Basically, Swarm works together with Foursquare to improve a user’s recommendations

Some of the features offered by Foursquare include – Local search and Recommendations, Tips and Expertise, Tastes, Location detection, Ratings, Lists, etc…

Their service also provides three levels of “Super User” status, which is conferred on users who have been selected by Foursquare staff for their helpful contributions to the community.

Other than these, Foursquare also offers Business Solutions such as: -

  • Foursquare for Business, which is a compilation of tools that helps businesses to manage their listing on the service.
  • Foursquare Brands is something that allows companies to create their pages for tips and also allows users to “follow” them for future check-ins.
  • For developers and enterprises, Foursquare offers hosted technology and data to build context-smart, location-aware apps. Nearly 100,000 developers rely on Foursquare tech.

Talking about their partnerships – over the period of time, Foursquare has entered into strategic partnerships and alliances with a list of companies and brands such as Zagat, Bravo, Conde Nast, The New York Times, American Express, OpenStreetMap, London 2012 Olympics, Microsoft, etc…

How Has Their Growth Been So Far?

Foursquare was created in late 2008 and launched in 2009!

It took Denis and Naveen around nine months to raise the first round of $1.35 Mn from Union Square Ventures. They didn’t even have a bank account back then.

This was also the first time; both the founders were taking home their first paycheck of $1,000 from Foursquare and had added their first employee to their firm.

They channelized their funds effectively, and started out their service in 100 worldwide metro areas, and soon, also launched their ‘Version 2.0’ in 2010, which also helped to direct users to new locations and activities, rather than just sharing their location with friends.

Other than that, they also started with a “Foursquare Day” on the 16th of April in Tampa, Florida. This eventually spread across to many other cities as well.

Dennis Crowley

By the beginning of 2011, they had also launched Foursquare 3.0, which further moved to end the year with 4.0 version of Foursquare. In the same year, Foursquare also had managed to acquire more than 10 Mn users, and further scaled to 25 Mn users by the mid of 2012.

Beyond that, what was even more interesting was that, President Barack Obama had also joined Foursquare, with an intention that his staff at the White House would use the service to post tips from places the President has visited.

Around the same time, they modified their service to support various other languages including – French, Italian, German, Spanish, Japanese, Indonesian, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Thai and Turkish.

Between late 2012 and early 2013 – not only did the company reach to about 30 Mn users, but also took some tough decisions and brought about some big changes. These were done in attempts to maintain, sustain and grow the user base, and also to bring the focus of the company back to where it should be!

Subsequently, Foursquare also got on board Steven Rosenblatt to begin building an ad sales team and moving revenue in a meaningful way. He was hired to be their Chief Revenue Officer.

By the mid of this year, they also revealed Promoted Updates, an app update that was introduced to create a new revenue generation stream for the company, which would allow the companies that are listed, to issue messages to Foursquare users about deals or available products.


2013 was the year when they introduced Time Machine – which provided a visual way to review someone’s historical check-ins, moved beyond Version 5.0 and 6.0 and were then on Version 7.0, and were now catering to a customer base of 45 Mn registered users.

As Foursquare evolved, the social media scene also simultaneously exploded as well. They were now at a juncture where the original intention for the app was sorted, but user behaviour was drastically shifting, and to match up to the pace, the company had to quickly make some major changes.

During the summer of 2014, Foursquare (the company) divided its flagship app into two products: Swarm and Foursquare. Swarm was all about the game side of the app and also encouraged users to check-in to local venues to earn badges. On the other end, the Foursquare app was similar to that of Yelp, which leveraged the users to give and receive smart local recommendations, along with tips on what to do in each place.

They also began diversification of their revenues as well. Instead of just selling traditional banner units to advertisers, Jeff Glueck (COO) and Steven began selling its robust location data to other businesses and brands.

Later in August 2014, they also launched a new and improvised Version 8.0 of Foursquare, with various modifications.

Additionally, they also launched Pinpoint, which targets audience more accurately and looks just like any other mobile ad that you’ll see anywhere. Pinpoint helps advertisers identify, reach, and measure their audiences based on where they go in the real world. They are the only company that has first-party location data.

More recently in January 2016, Foursquare announced that Jeff Glueck has replaced Denis Crowley to become the CEO of Foursquare. Denis would now be taking over the role of Executive Chairman, and Steven Rosenblatt would become the President.

This shuffle was done to give Denis the space and time to lead the company’s vision without day-to-day distractions.

Talking about their recent statistics: – With a staffing of over 180 employees, the company currently accounts for more than 60 Mn registered users collectively each month, Over 8 Billion check-ins have been done so far, and more than 2 Mn businesses use Foursquare to connect with their audience and grow their business.

And lastly, over the period of time, foursquare has raised a total of $166.35 Mn in 6 Rounds of funds from 18 Investors.


“A businessman by blood, but a business writer out of passion”! As a Business Writer; Karan’s forte lies in writing some really interesting Case Studies about Companies/Eminent Personalities covering aspects which certainly, would not bore you to death!

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