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How Foursquare reinvented itself as an enterprise play—and might IPO soon

Daniel Roberts

Foursquare, after 10 years in business, made its first ever acquisition this month: it bought foot-traffic measurement firm Placed from Snap Inc., financed by a new $150 million investment round in Foursquare.

You’d be forgiven if you had forgotten about Foursquare for a few years.

When the company first launched in 2009, it was a social network for “checking in” to locations and earning digital badges for achievements. (Remember becoming “The Mayor” of your local bar?) By 2014, user growth had cooled and Foursquare rebranded its check-in app as Swarm and its Yelp-style recommendation service as Foursquare City Guide.

In 2016, Foursquare raised a new $45 million Series D round from investors including Union Square Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz. The round reportedly gave the company a new valuation of $350 million—half its valuation from just three years earlier. Foursquare also made its COO Jeff Glueck, the former CMO of Travelocity, its new CEO, and moved Dennis Crowley, the cofounder and face of the company, to executive chairman.

Since that time, Glueck has quietly led a very successful pivot. Foursquare has transformed itself into a business-to-business partner that sells location-tracking data to other tech companies and retail brands. Glueck (pronounced “glick”) sees Foursquare today as a “location toolkit” for analysts, marketers, and brands.

How does that actually work?

For partners like H&M, Taco Bell, Lowe’s, and TGI Fridays, Foursquare Analytics tracks foot-traffic to their physical locations.

In addition, many social apps now use Foursquare for their location-tagging capabilities. When you tag your location in a tweet, or let Uber pinpoint your current location, or apply a geofilter in Snapchat, that’s all powered by Foursquare’s API.

Foursquare can also track foot-traffic patterns of companies that are not its official partners. That’s particularly helpful after a new ad campaign runs. For example, after Nike rolled out its controversial Colin Kaepernick ad last year, Foursquare said foot traffic to Nike brand stores spiked 17%.

It’s all about determining “whether advertising—whether it’s out-of-home or digital or TV—actually works or not,” Glueck says.

L: Foursquare co-founder and Executive Chairman Dennis Crowley on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange waiting for Snap to go public on March 2, 2017. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson) R: Foursquare CEO Jeff Glueck onstage at the Kairos Society Global Summit on April 21, 2017 in New York City. (Brad Barket/Getty Images for Kairos Society)

Foursquare’s acquisition of Placed, Glueck says, will strengthen those tools.

“I think Snap did a lot to build up Placed,” Glueck says. “Now we have 1,000 leading brands that are using either Foursquare attribution measurement or Placed. Placed powered by Foursquare is going to be the flagship product going forward. You’re talking about 75 of the 100 most-visited retail chains in America, 14 of the leading retailers, 18 of the leading restaurant chains are now clients.”

Foursquare, in its 10 years, has raised nearly $400 million in funding. The company, combined with Placed, now has over $100 million in annual revenue and more than 100 million American consumers in its total measurable audience.

“We are really the only company at that level of scale now in the space,” says Glueck. “And that provides for marketers—and for companies that want to build location services—an alternative to Google or Facebook or these walled gardens.” (Google and Facebook might both disagree.)

Of course, all of this reinvention has gone on behind the scenes; ask the average millennial about Foursquare and many think the company must be dead. The truth is a far better business story.

Foursquare’s Swarm app still gets 1 billion check-ins per year, but social check-ins now account for a low-single-digit percentage of Foursquare’s business.

Glueck makes no bones about the pivot he’s orchestrated: “Mostly we’re an enterprise software company now.”

And an enterprise software company is the hot thing to be right now. Recent IPOs of such companies, like Zoom, PagerDuty, and CrowdStrike, have gone extremely well.

Could Foursquare be next? Glueck’s answer does not sound like a no.

“I do think the location space deserves an independent public company eventually,” he says. “And I think of our company very much like a Twilio for location, or the way Salesforce operates—as a platform, the way TradeDesk enables thousands of other companies to do their jobs.”

Daniel Roberts is a senior writer and live show host at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

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