Foursquare rolled out a revamped app in June with increased focus on recommendations through the Explore tab. It followed up in July by launching Promoted Updates, its first paid advertising format for the service, along with Local Updates. MediaPost sat down with Steven Rosenblatt, Foursquare's chief revenue officer, to discuss the changes and Foursquare's efforts to ramp up monetization.
Prior to joining Foursquare in May, Rosenblatt was director of advertising sales and strategy for iAd at Apple. Before that, he was SVP, advertising sales at Quattro Wireless, which Apple acquired in January 2010.
MP: For better or worse, Foursquare is synonymous with the check-in. How has it evolved over the last few years as a key part of the user experience?
SR: We still get 5 million check-ins a day, and have 2 billion in our system. What the check-in does is give us a lot of data about where you are, what your friends are doing, what you like, where you go -- we don't need to guess. With the all-new Foursquare we rolled out in recent weeks, we've recently brought the concept of Explore to the forefront.
We're getting really smart about recommending things to you. That's what you're seeing with this evolution. Yes, we have a lot of people who love playing the game, and that's still going to exist, but we're really seeing this broadening of the audience with people using Foursquare to help them and their friends make the most out of where they are.
MP: Foursquare has 20 million active users. Has the growth rate been steady this year?
SR: It's constantly going up -- each week is a lot higher than the week before. We don't announce numbers until we have a new number to announce, but we're certainly getting closer to that 25 million number.
MP: You have a partnership with American Express giving cardmembers discounts if they check into businesses via Foursquare. Beyond that initiative, how do you bring on the millions of small and medium-sized businesses not plugged into Foursquare yet?
SR: American Express is using its relationship with 100,000 local businesses to promote their credit card offers to a much broader audience. That's a great example of a partner we're working with, getting users to sync their Foursquare account to the American Express card.
Eventually there will be plans to do a self-service platform for small businesses. Today, small businesses can go into Foursquare and create a special, and get it up and running. We've created these flexible products that can work for all business types. If you're a mom-and-pop, and you don't discount -- you don't need to discount. But if you have something good about your cupcakes or cookies you want to tell customers, you can do that with the tools we have.
MP: Is the AmEx partnership something you could extend to other card companies, like Visa or MasterCard?
SR AmEx has a unique business model because they're the merchant acquirer, they're the bank -- they have the end-to-end loop, which Visa and MasterCard don't. It's a complicated situation, but one day, hopefully we'll have a way for you to do something similar with other cards.
MP: Besides small businesses, you're working with national chains like Best Buy, Old Navy, Lowe's and Hilton Hotels. How do you provide the kind of scale big brands and agencies are looking for?
SR We're working closely with all the major agencies -- they drove a lot of the national brands we're working with. The paid part is great, but we have a lot of other tools they can use -- our Connect Apps platform, our APIs, and just getting the data up and accurate for clients. When you talk about advertising, that's going to scale, but it's a great marketing vehicle -- a great CRM vehicle.
MP: What about Foursquare as a vehicle for brand advertising?
SR: It is great for the upper funnel, too. We're not doing anything yet -- there's no ad product for CPG, or auto or entertainment because we're focused on the business, but you can imagine the possibilities. Walgreens sells lots of CPG brands. This spring we launched at SXSW; if you check into a Walgreens, you can see a coupon for Arizona Iced Tea. We ingested their unique codes and surfaced it as a barcode, and they had 31% redemption rate from that coupon. You can see where some of these relationships would go.