Foursquare CEO Jeff Glueck has explored much of the world, both in a professional capacity and for his own personal enjoyment. The list of cities he’s visited and worked in is longer than most, which would make sense for the head of a company that thrives on its users’ thirst to explore, discover, and share their own adventures.
From working on economic reform in South America to creating Travelocity’s famous travelling gnome ad campaign, Glueck says that his personal and professional experience has helped him pinpoint what he calls the “magic” of Foursquare.
While at lunch with Business Insider at
Lure Fish Bar in Manhattan’s Soho neighbourhood, Glueck shared what he’s learned from his journeys through Peru, the former Soviet Union, and Washington, DC, as well as the latest on what’s happening at Foursquare.
Glueck chose Lure Fish Bar in Soho for our lunch. Only one block away from Foursquare's headquarters, it's a company favourite.
Glueck discovered Lure the way many people hear about restaurants -- from a friend. '(Foursquare founder Dennis) Crowley has (always) loved this place, and Steven Rosenblatt, who's our president, is a regular here as well,' Glueck said. 'He knows the maître d',
and she greets him, 'Hey Steven, welcome back!''
'There's both a New York tech element to Lure, and it's a neighbourhood spot. It's sort of like 'Cheers' -- they know your name,' Glueck said. He's an especially big fan of the restaurant's homemade salt and vinegar potato chips, which appeared on the table as we settled in.
Originally hired as Foursquare's COO in 2014, Glueck replaced founder Dennis Crowley as CEO in January. Crowley became the company's executive chairman.
Around the same time that Glueck became CEO, the company raised a new $45 million financing round led by Union Square Ventures with the participation of past investors like Andreessen Horowitz, but it reportedly had to take a cut in its valuation to do so. A report in Recode placed the company's value around $250 million, down from $650 million in 2013.
When Crowley founded Foursquare in 2009, the idea was that people would use the app to virtually 'check in' to particular locations. In 2014, it launched a second app, called Swarm, which uses Foursquare's original check-in idea to offer users monetary and virtual prizes for creating a log of where they go. The original Foursquare app -- Foursquare City Guide -- is now focused on making activity recommendations, similar to Yelp.
With more than 50 million users, Foursquare's apps have now surpassed 10 billion check-ins. In the past two years it has also launched its for-business enterprises, which include selling location data to mobile advertisers and app makers like Uber, Samsung, and most recently, Snapchat.
At lunch, Glueck was sure to check in on Swarm. Logging his every move is clearly a habit for him. 'I particularly like to compete with Fred Wilson (on Swarm),' said Glueck. Wilson, a venture capitalist at Union Square Ventures and an investor in Foursquare, is an avid Swarm user, and he checks in every morning with a photo of his latte. 'If I can beat Fred, then I feel like I've had a good week,' joked Glueck.
By checking in, Glueck was contributing to the ever-growing data set that Foursquare has about Lure: the restaurant's shape, its popular hours, and how many people have visited it. In fact, it's the Swarm data that has been the cornerstone to Foursquare's enterprise efforts.
Glueck's marketing background helped him see how Swarm's life-logging could be helpful to online advertisers, particularly Foursquare's attribution feature, which can measure how effective digital ad campaigns are at driving people into stores.
But brick-and-mortar stores aren't the only companies benefitting from seven years' worth of Foursquare check-ins. The 'Places' data is also used by Apple, Uber, Twitter, Microsoft, Samsung, and thousands of other developers whose services depend on location information.
Glueck orders the chicken club sandwich, mostly because 'the French fries here are fantastic,' he says.
Glueck often uses Foursquare's City Guide to help him find local favourites, which, he admits, he used to rely on Yelp for. However, he claims that Foursquare's community has helped him find much better hidden treasures.
'Because there's such a passionate community of explorers on Foursquare, we find those off-the-beaten-path, special, original places that aren't always the mass market, or the most popular,' he said. 'And that's the kind of thing I love exploring.'
Foursquare users can add 'tastes' to their profile to help inform the app's recommendations. Tastes can range from specific favourite foods, like fish tacos and pancakes, to restaurant features, like outdoor seating and karaoke.
Glueck has lived in England, Peru, Bolivia, and Venezuela abroad, and Washington, DC and New York City stateside. While in grad school, he travelled all over Europe, including a visit to what was then the Soviet Union.
After graduate school, Glueck was hired by the Monitor Company, a strategy consulting group that was in Peru to advise then-President Alberto Fujimori on economic growth.
'I moved to Peru with the team, and you could occasionally still hear a bomb going off on the outskirts of town,' said Glueck. 'But we travelled all over Peru and helped (Fujimori) figure out what new markets (Peru) could enter, eco-tourism (options), and exporting.'
After his time there, Glueck moved on to consult with leaders of other South American countries such as Bolivia, Colombia, and Venezuela. But Glueck grew impatient with slow government reforms, so he decided to move to Washington, DC to learn how policy could be reformed quickly.
Fellows typically spend a year assisting White House staff and other government officials.
'As a Fellow I worked on toughening environmental rules in trade and finance globally. (We also promoted) clean technology exports to China and Latin America to offset climate change,' he said.
But Glueck was realising that even in the US, reform is a slow process. Glueck arrived in DC during the middle of Bill Clinton's impeachment trial. 'I didn't see great reforms enacted,' he said.
'I've worked on Middle East peace and I worked on fighting poverty in Latin America, and they were all causes that I just believed in -- and that I still believe in -- but they were all really slow-moving,' he explained.
He compared the situation to the Greek myth of Sisyphus, who was forever condemned to push a boulder up a hill. 'You could really work for years and move things just a little bit,' Glueck said.
Tired of the slow-paced world of government, Glueck moved on to tech just in time for the dot-com boom.
When his close friend Michelle Paluso, who was also a White House Fellow, pitched the idea to create a website that could help fellow travel-lovers book affordable trips, he jumped at the opportunity.
With Site59.com, Glueck helped build something that was already exciting and fun -- such as planning a trip to New Orleans' Jazz Fest -- into a $125 million dollar operation. And when Travelocity bought Site59 in 2002, Glueck became the CMO.
After seven years with Travelocity, Glueck moved on to Foursquare. 'Immediately before joining, I said, 'Oh my god, this is what any analyst or marketer of the real world would love to understand,'' he said.
Glueck mentioned the 'magic' of Foursquare several times during our conversation. 'It's kind of magical -- you walk around with the app for a couple weeks, and it says, 'Hey you forgot to check in at your local coffee shop.' ... You're teaching the app what you like,' he said.
Now Glueck is happily settled into his fast-paced, startup office environment. 'Everything we want to do we want to make it more delightful than a big company would make it. More fun, more quirky, more whimsical. We really want to invent the future,' he said.
'One of the magical things that Dennis Crowley did when he founded Foursquare was that he wanted to get people off their screens and enjoy the real world,' he said.
Glueck currently lives in Irvington, New York, with his family, about an hour's train ride north of Manhattan.
In addition to helping continue to create that magic, Glueck also simply wants the benefits that any average Foursquare user enjoys. That means sometimes using Foursquare data to plan a family vacation.
'(My wife and kids and I) just went to the Harry Potter world in Universal Studios in LA and I asked our team, 'What is the optimal day to go to get the least lines during the summer?''
The data team found the best time: morning on a Friday or Monday in late August, when most California schools are in session.
'So we went on a Friday early in the morning and there were no lines, but by the afternoon it was crazy,' he said. 'I'm so glad we used location intelligence to have a great time, and my kids had so much fun with their wands making things happen.'
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