Foursquare has gone through a profound transformation since it popularised the concept of the “check-in” back in 2009.
The New York-based company’s main business is now licensing its location data to other companies like Starbucks, Pinterest, and Nike. When you use a geofilter in Snapchat or type a venue name into Uber, you’re using Foursquare data.
What’s led so many companies to rely on Foursquare’s location technology?
For starters, there are the more than 10 billion check-ins that Foursquare’s 50 million monthly users have registered to date. But the company’s real “superpower,” according to founder and chairman Dennis Crowley, is something called Pilgrim. And starting Wednesday, Foursquare is making Pilgrim available to all apps for the first time.
“We live in a world today where people are building things based off of basic GPS coordinates,” Crowley told Business Insider during a recent interview. With Pilgrim, Foursquare can give other apps and marketers “specific awareness of context in space” — a “big idea’ Crowley said will “take time for people to wrap their heads around.”
While traditional GPS can see when a phone enters a mall, Foursquare’s Pilgrim technology is able to understand that the phone is on the second floor of said mall and inside a J Crew store for the second time. It’s by analysing this data that Foursquare has been able to accurately predict everything from iPhone to Chipotle sales.
Crowley envisions other companies using Pilgrim to send notifications like hyper-specific coupons and even create Pokémon Go-like games that “change based upon where you bring your phone.” Foursquare’s main app has been using Pilgrim for years to send custom-tailored recommendations based on where its users go in the real world.
For Crowley, who first made his name by selling his location-based social network Dodgeball to Google in 2005, opening up Pilgrim is the culmination of Foursquare’s seven-year history. While the company won’t disclose actual numbers, Crowley said that “revenue is growing nicely” and that the business is in “a really healthy spot right now.”
“We always thought that someone would come along and make something like the Pilgrim SDK and we would just us it,” he said. “I don’t think we imagined way back in the day that we would be the company to actually bring this to market.”