It’s probably been a few years since you’ve “checked in” on Foursquare at your favorite restaurant, pub or hotel.
But the one-time popular location-based social network is still alive, and the New York-based company — which has dramatically evolved since it launched 11 years ago — made a major move Thursday in the coveted (and controversial) location data arena, raising $150 million and making its first acquisition, swooping up Placed, a location analytics company with roots in Seattle.
The acquisition is intriguing on a number of levels, and not just because some may be surprised that Foursquare is still standing. It comes nearly two years to the day that Placed — led by former aQuantive and Farecast employee David Shim — sold to Snapchat parent Snap Inc. in 2017 for a reported $135 million.
It’s unclear why Shim and crew abandoned Snap for Foursquare, but we’re in touch with the tech entrepreneur and collecting more details. (Update: See comments from Shim below)
Foursquare has morphed from a popular social media location sharing app into an enterprise-focused firm that sells location data to marketers at companies such as Uber, JetBlue, Target, and others.
Placed was a Foursquare competitor, operating a similar business that measured the effectiveness of a digital advertisement, to see if a campaign actually drove users to a physical location. Or, as The Wall Street Journal put it, Placed helps “advertisers track foot traffic to stores.”
Both companies use opt-in location sharing agreements with millions of consumers to help monitor visits to stores, restaurants, and other physical locations.
Shim — who is assuming the president role at Foursquare — writes in a blog post that the combination makes a lot of sense, bringing together two companies that are helping retailers, publishers and restaurants better understand the value of their digital advertising through smartphone location tracking. Together, he said the combined 350-person company boasts more than $100 million in revenue over the past 12 months, with a customer list that includes 50 percent of the Fortune 500. Foursquare will now offer “Placed powered by Foursquare” as its flagship measurement product.
Since starting Placed almost 10 years ago, we held the thesis that the location industry needed a single source of truth in order to truly drive adoption. Placed has delivered that single source of truth in measuring media to store visits with Placed Attribution, used across 440+ publishers and platforms on behalf of 500+ advertisers. Additionally, Placed Insights, our open location analytics platform, is the most widely utilized in market with thousands of users logging in monthly.
While the adoption of Placed has exceeded our own expectations, there has been a competitor that I’ve begrudgingly admired from a distance. They hold many of the same principles as Placed, invested in proprietary first party data, building models based on validated visits, focusing in engineering and data science first, creating a market leading point-of-interest database, and most importantly, valuing and protecting user privacy. This company is Foursquare, and I’m excited to announce that today Placed is merging with Foursquare to deliver the most comprehensive and fully independent technology stack in the location technology industry.
In an email to GeekWire, Shim noted that Placed will continue working with Snap.
“This is a story of Foursquare acquiring Placed, and Snap embracing the opportunity and impact that the combined companies will have on the industry as a whole,” he said. “The relationship will Snapchat will continue as their preferred solution to measure ad exposures to store visits.”
Shim added: “On Day 1, Foursquare will be the single largest player in location, delivering industry leading solutions across attribution, audiences, analytics, and developers tools. The ability to be a part of a company that is now synonymous with location in the same way that Google is with search on Day 1 is incredibly compelling.”
As a result of the deal, Foursquare will have an office in the Seattle area for the first time. The company said about 80 employees from Placed will stay on through the acquisition and continue working out of Seattle. Foursquare will employ 350 people after the deal, with additional offices in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. The Seattle office is the company’s second-largest, behind NYC.
“Under the Foursquare umbrella, Placed can continue to serve clients and publishers as an independent analytics service, standing apart from any of the big media platforms,” said Jeff Glueck, CEO of Foursquare, in a release.
Tracking user location via smartphones has come under the microscope in recent years. A New York Times article this past December revealed how dozens of companies sell anonymous smartphone location data to advertisers, retailers, and even hedge funds, without the knowledge of individual users.
Founded in 2011, Placed raised $13.8 million before the Snap acquisition, including a $10 million Series B round in 2014. Investors included Seattle-based Madrona Venture Group and Two Sigma Ventures.
Shim, who previously worked at aQuantive, Farecast and Quantcast, founded the company in 2011 when it was called Sewichi.
Snap, maker of the social media app Snapchat, went public in March 2017 when the company priced its stock at $17 per share. Shares closed at $12 per share on Thursday.
The Raine Group led the $150 million round. Foursquare raised a $33 million Series F round eight months ago; total funding to date is $390 million.
“We see location based data and technology underpinning some of the largest fundamental shifts in technology with companies like Foursquare helping drive accelerated innovation in commerce, transportation, entertainment, and personalization across AI/Machine Learning and AR/VR,” Raine Group’s Gary Little said in a statement.