Keynote Discussion with Tristan Walker of FourSquare

March 8, 2011
By Lisa Barone in Internet Marketing Conferences

Welcome to the Day 1 keynote! Up on stage we have Tristan Walker from FourSquare, which I’m pretty excited about. But before we start – stop what you’re doing and make sure to check in wherever you are.  You owe it to Tristan.

Chris Sherman and Danny Sullivan are both on stage helping to feed questions to Tristan. We start with some background learning that Tristan worked on Wall Street for two years. His claimed to fame is he’s the first person in the world to buy $100 oil.  He apologizes for all of that. Heh.

Okay, onto the questions.

Danny: You’ve just launched all this new stuff with FourSquare 3.0. Tell us about what’s been going on?

Tristan: We’re super excited. We like to say that FourSquare has really gone beyond the check in. FourSquare 3.0 gets into the app store tonight for iphone and Android (BB comes later). They did 3 things with the new version. They’re trying to make it easier for users to discover the cool things to do around them. Over time they’ve garnered half a billion checkins on the platform. Now they’re taking that data and feeding it back to users in terms of recommendations. You’ll get recommendations based on where you’ve checked in, where your friends have checked in and what’s around you.

They have an Explore tab which will give you recommendations of things to do. Discovery was a big piece of what they wanted to do in this release.  They also wanted to really incentivize people to check in. Today they have a revamped leaderboard to encourage people to compete and discover more seamlessly.

They wanted to provide merchants with tools to help them engage users in interesting ways. Merchants can view analytics and run new special types. They started with Mayor and Frequency specials and now there are Friends specials, Swarm specials, Flash specials, Newbie specials, and other things.  They want to provide the best tools for merchants to engage and reward customers.

Danny:  In going back to the Explore tab – right now when you fire up FourSquare it gives you venues near you, tips, etc. But now we’re going to have a dedicated thing?

Tristan: Totally. We really tried to bring life to our tips and to dos to allow you to learn about some of the things your friends like, things you should act on right now.  No two Explore tabs are the same. They have all this really rich data and they owe it to you to feed it back to you.

Chris: Last week you announced a partnership with American Express – their demographic is a little older than yours. What do you expect to get?

Tristan: Our core goal is to redefine what loyalty really means. To determine customer loyalty you need to know three things — when was the last time they came, how often do they come, and how much did they spend? They want to build tools to help merchants understand this. The AMEX partnership allows for a truly seamless redemption experience. Today with AMEX, you can link your FourSquare account to your AMEX credit card, and when you check in you can load deals to your credit card in real time. When you swipe your card you’ll pay full price and get money back in 3-5 days. It’s the first time merchants can measure the value of their offline advertising.  At every venue, they want people to be a “regular since X”. If they can replicate that nostalgic experience, the partnership makes a lot of sense.

Danny: What are you doing to improve things for businesses? FourSquare 3 will be a huge thing, but businesses still have to go through a manual process.

Tristan: For sole proprietors, they have a self-service platform to claim their listing and be up and running.  For retailers, you’ll start to see some new scalable solutions coming soon. They have badges, Sponsored badges, etc. That’s not self-service. But there are things we can do to help brands more easily get on board.

Chris: Most of the brands you’ve been talking about have been local merchants, but you’ve also partnered with The History Channel. How does that work?

Tristan: It’s all about leading consumers to do really interesting things in their city. A lot of people are good at “encouraging”, we want to lead. In History Channel’s example, you can unlock tips about important historical content.  As you explore your city, you can unlock digital candy. It incentivizes people to do things by leading them to do it. He says Jimmy Choo is the epitome of this.    He woke up one morning and read an article that said Jimmy Choo partnered with FourSquare. He was like, really, that didn’t happen…but it did. Jimmy Choo came out with a new sneaker line in London and gave it a personality through a Twitter and FourSquare account. The sneaker would check in all around London.  If people got there in time, people would get a free pair of shoes. People ran around London for THREE WEEKS. It was the epitome of leading people. [Awesome!]

They said at the time they had 1 in 17 London users running around trying to catch the sneaker. They did a comparison of sneaker sales and they saw a 30 percent increase in sneaker sales.

Danny: One of the other things you’re doing is getting into events like the Oscars and the Super Bowl. How are you dealing with that sort of thing?

Tristan: We’ve gotten a lot of requests around brands for meta check ins like checking into TV shows or events. FourSquare’s real focus is to nail physical place. We’re less inclined to do the meta check in stuff. They did the Super Bowl as an experiment.  It worked fantastically. They  had 100,000+ folks checked into the Super Bowl.  He’s not sure if they’ll do it again but it was a good test.

Chris: You shared a lot of really interesting business success stories – I’d be curious to hear more of those but we have a room full of marketers. This is cool, but how can we work with you?

Tristan: You have to really think about it in the free tiers.  We’re free. Get on the platform.  They have this thing called the Swarm badge. You get it if 50 people check in to a venue over three hours. They had just launched and Joe, a guy who owns a restaurant, asked how he could unlock the badge.  He told him how to do it.  Joe emailed him the next Monday and said he threw a Swarm Badge Party.  Once he opened over 13 minutes he had 150 people check into his venue, on average he’d only have 10-20 a day. Some of the core fun of FourSquare can be leveraged to do cool things.  They get success stories like that all the time.

Danny: Where’s the revenue model?

Tristan: Their goal is to get as many people on the platform as possible. His goal is to find out what they want. They’re talking to retailers and brands every day to see what they want.

Chris: Are people’s interest tapering off? How are you keeping them engaged?

Tristan: We’ve grown well over 3,400 percent over the past year.  Their monthly growth is growing at a surreal rate.  It’s up to us to provide tools to keep people actively engaged in the app.  They have half a billion checks in on the platform but they’ll continue to innovate.

Danny: How do fend off Google and Facebook?

Tristan: There’s the product answer and the business answer. FourSquare, at it’s DNA, is all about location. We’re built on location from the ground up. For the other services, check in is something that’s sort of ancillary.  We were the first people to bring “checking in” into the mainstream. Their second wave is to do that through recommendations.

And that’s it for Day 1. Wow, that was an awesome keynote.  Off to meet new friends!  Thanks for hanging with us today and we hope to see you tomorrow! :)

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