But Foursquare’s deal with Starbucks points to an inconvenient truth about scaling a check-in service: for check-ins to have real value, they need to be incentivised. And real incentives come through partnerships laboriously hashed out by a strong biz dev team.
That means it’s going to take more than snappy engineers, pretty badges, or even tons of users, for a company to win the war for check-ins. It’s going to take a strong salesforce that can offer users lots and lots of coupons and making checking-in worth their while.
From: "Foursquare keeps up the buzz | Tech Blog | FT.com."
The irony of a scalable, viral social app that requires an enterprise team to close revenue is thoroughly enjoyable to anyone who's lived/worked through a Valley startup and heard echoing down the corridors of Sand Hill Road: "Yeah, but will it scale?" or "Don't worry about revenue, just get users."
I'm looking forward to the day when startups (some, not all, the old early 2000's model of virality is still useful) focus more on maximizing VALUE per individual user rather than scaling a service that has less than 5% repeat, 'regular' users.
Thesis: With geolocation and check-ins, the 'quality' of your users (where they go, how often) will matter more than the quantity.
If you are Foursquare for example, consider this example of individual user value: a loyal user may check-in 7+ times weekly.
This user is more valuable than 5 other users who check-in, on average, 1x a week.
With check-ins and other real-time data capture services, all of a sudden recidivism matters (again).
After the novelty of checking in wears off, the company providing that service better be able to build in real-life perks (geopromotions, coupons for 1$ off my Frappuccino, etc) to keep you coming back.
Check-ins are essentially confirmations of life events (places we go, people we're with).
And this requires, gasp, a focus on individual user loyalty and utility over time, offered in the context of an intensely personal contextual data firehose.
Foursquare's badges, leaderboard, and mayor awards were a good early strategy to get users comfortable with the check-in behavioral pattern, but now they'll need to move past virtual incentives to real-world goodies.
Fortunately for Foursquare (and friends), most of us fill our days with an endless parade of comings and goings to lighten the tyranny of hours.
The brilliance of their platform is that it captures the underutilized asset of how we spend a portion of the 10,080 minutes we're each allotted weekly.
The question will increasingly be whether or not it's worth my while to burn 21 or so of those minutes checking in (3 mins/checkin, 7x weekly).
"Life is like a coin. You can spend it any way you wish, but you only spend it once. " ~Lillian Dickson