Foursquare Co-Founder Dennis Crowley Discusses Entrepreneurship and Transparency

Executive Chairman and co-founder of Foursquare Dennis Crowley drew from his career as a tech entrepreneur and encouraged Boston College students he spoke with over Zoom on Wednesday to transform their visions into something tangible.

“My best piece of advice is that if there is something in the world that you wish existed and it doesn’t yet exist, you have to go find a way to make that thing,” he said in an Instagram story video on the Shea Center for Entrepreneurship’s account in promotion of the event. “No matter what it is, focus on making that thing and get it built.”

After graduating from Syracuse University in 1998, Crowley moved to New York City and worked for an internet analyst firm. While working there, he was exposed to not only a rapidly growing city, but also an ever-expanding internet landscape, he said. Although the city was quickly expanding, the city guides were not.

“At the time I realized that no one had made a city guide that could keep up with how quickly New York was expanding,” Crowley recalled. “I kind of came up with this idea that there should be a city guide where anyone can just add a place, and anyone can add their own reviews.” 

Crowley was not going to wait around for such a platform to materialize—thus, Dodgeball, one of the first mobile social media platforms, was born. 

“[We thought,] ‘If no one is going to make it, we should just make it ourselves,’” Crowley said.

Google acquired Dodgeball in 2005, and a few years later Crowley and his partner, Alex Rainert, parted ways to pursue different projects. Crowley went on to build a program similar in nature to Dodgeball, which went on to become Foursquare in 2008. 

Crowley, along with Foursquare co-founder Naveen Selvadurai, envisioned the ability to check into a location automatically, so they created it themselves. In its early years, Foursquare served as a platform that automatically checked users into various locations, and it gave users the ability to share their whereabouts with others and provide recommendations on various check-in sites.

“The big magic trick that is Foursquare is that we built a piece of technology that was based on our original idea of the check-in, and if you bring your phone someplace, you don’t have to tell us,” Crowley said.

More than 10 years after the inception of Foursquare, the company has a global reach of more than 50 million people. Foursquare now operates its Pilgrim technology, which enhances the ability of devices to detect locations. More than 150,000 companies partner with Foursquare for its Pilgrim technology, including Uber, Apple, Samsung, and Twitter. 

The Zoom event was part of the “Zoom with an Entrepreneur” series hosted by the Shea Center for Entrepreneurship. When Crowley opened the floor to student questions, many students were curious about the nature of privacy in a world of databases. Crowley replied that his philosophy has always been to be transparent with users.

“It’s been kind of our philosophy since the beginning … we’ve always been building this stuff for our friends,” Crowley said. “We’re not trying to creep out our friends, or screw over our friends from a data perspective.” 

Crowley said the extent to which data is shared is largely left up to individual users. 

“We kind of had this instilled in us when we were at Google, that if you’re a user of these services, you’re just using them,” he said. “We might collect the data, but it’s your data. If you want us to delete it, we’ll delete it. If you don’t want us to sell it, you can opt out.”

Featured Image by Jess Rivilis / Heights Editor

September 27, 2020