David Shim’s entrepreneurial journey took a wild turn in 2019.
The longtime Seattle techie sold his location analytics startup Placed to Snapchat parent Snap in 2017 for a reported $135 million, marking a significant milestone for the company he founded in 2011.
Then, in a surprising follow-up deal two years later, Foursquare — the one-time social media “check-in” darling — made its first acquisition, swooping up Placed from Snap this past May as part of an announcement that included a $150 million investment round.
And the headlines didn’t end there.
Last week, Shim became the CEO and a board member at Foursquare. He’ll relocate from Seattle to New York City next month to lead the 10-year-old company, which has morphed into an enterprise-focused firm that sells location technology to marketers and developers at companies such as Uber, Twitter, Apple, Microsoft, JetBlue, Target, and others.
“In my new role, I’m most excited about the next leg in growth at Foursquare as the clear, independent choice for location technology,” he wrote in an email. “While I won’t share all the details today, the resources and 2020 roadmap for Developer Tools, Placed Powered by Foursquare, and Data Solutions will further cement Foursquare as the location layer of the internet for the next decade.”
So after a roller-coaster past couple of years that included two “exits,” what can other entrepreneurs learn from Shim’s experience?
“My advice is, don’t focus on the exit — rather, focus on building a great company, and everything else will fall into place,” he told GeekWire this week. “With two exits in the past two years, I can confirm that an exit isn’t the end outcome, rather it can be just the beginning to building a truly great company.”
Shim previously served as president of Foursquare. He’ll succeed Jeff Glueck, who was CEO for four years, and work alongside Foursquare co-founder and executive chairman Dennis Crowley, who Shim described as the “godfather of location technology.”
“As a fellow founder, I have enormous respect for David Shim and his accomplishments,” Crowley said in a statement. “He has passion and vision, and he brings a great energy to the company. I am excited about having him as a partner as we continue to ‘invent the future’ here at Foursquare.”
Shim’s entrepreneurial roots started at an early age. He made stock trades at age 13, with his mother helping him approve transactions before Shim became a registered investment adviser at 17. “I use a lot of brute force to get through,” Shim told The Wall Street Journal earlier this year, a lesson learned from watching his parents run their convenience store.
After graduating with a political science degree from the University of Washington, Shim worked at Seattle startups including Razorfish (acquired by aQuantive) and Farecast (acquired by Microsoft), in addition to WebTrends and Quantcast.
He launched Placed eight years ago as a solo founder. The company was originally called Sewichi and raised $13.8 million from firms including early investor Seattle-based Madrona Venture Group and Two Sigma Ventures.
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. Placed helps “advertisers track foot traffic to stores,” as The Wall Street Journal describes.
Combining forces with Placed bolstered Foursquare’s ability to help retailers, publishers, and restaurants better understand the value of their digital advertising through smartphone location tracking. The company’s customer roster includes more than half of the Fortune 100 and more than 75 of the 100 most-visited chains in the U.S. It posted $100 million in record revenue in the past year and has more than 300 employees. Foursquare still operates consumer-facing apps such as Swarm and City Guide.
“Foursquare is delivering a single currency for location across all use cases, signaling that the location tech space is ripe for even more growth and comes with significant upside where Foursquare is the clear leader pulling away from the pack,” Shim said.
Placed has maintained an office in Seattle through the two acquisitions and employs 50 people there, with 20 open positions.
Tracking user location via smartphones has come under the microscope in recent years. A New York Times article last year revealed how dozens of companies sell anonymous smartphone location data to advertisers, retailers, and even hedge funds, without the knowledge of individual users. Glueck, the former Foursquare CEO who is stepping down, wrote an op-ed in The New York Times this past October asking Congress to regulate the location data business.