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From wannabe ad exec to tech god- the founder of four square

June 12, 2010

The Wired UK article on the battle between Four Square and Gowalla makes for a fascinating read.

What’s especially interesting is the career path that Four Square founder, Dennis Crowley took after graduation. After graduating in communication from Syracuse University in 1999, he wanted to work in advertising, but never ended up there and went to a consulting firm instead. The fact there was nothing for him at the time in advertising isn’t surprising, but it’s indicative of the lack of opportunity in the business for true innovators and visionaries- if you don’t fit the system, there’s nothing.

The other interesting element of the story is Crowley’s drive to keep pushing at his original idea by learning more through education and evolving it through various incarnations; he was behind Dodgeball.

Although a profitable future for Four Square isn’t guaranteed, through perseverance and a clear understanding of the opportunity, Crowley has a created a brand that’s highly valued and desired by the investment community.

Here’s an excerpt..

Dennis Crowley graduated from Syracuse University in 1999
with a degree in communications and an eye on getting a job in a New
York City ad agency. Instead, he took one at Jupiter Research, a techanalysis firm, joining a staff
of young city dwellers with plenty of disposable income. But Crowley
felt that something was missing from his social life. It was too hard to
find out where people were; there needed to be a better way to know
about the next party.

Citysearch a cityspecific web guide to
restaurants and entertainment just “wasn’t keeping up”, he
says. At work, Crowley began tinkering with an application that would
provide realtime
restaurant reviews. He proposed it to his bosses. They said it wouldn’t
fly. So Crowley quit, and landed at a company started by a couple of
guys from Dean Shaw, a big turnofthecentury webinvestment firm.

They envisioned a future where a handheld computer could help people
navigate around cities and experience them more fully. Out of that
vision, they’d designed Vindigo, a city guide application for the Palm
Pilot, released in 1999. Crowley, whose job title was “product
manager”, spent much of his time thinking about how the clunky app could
work better. The company later sold Vindigo to a Japanese firm called
ForSide, which combined
it with a cutesy ringtone app called Zingy.

Long before that, though, Crowley got laid off. Then 9/11 happened,
and he was evicted from his West Village apartment. New York was no
longer fun. He moved to New Hampshire to work as a snowboarding
instructor and plot his next move. In 2004, he entered the interactivetelecommunications master’s
degree programme at New York University.

It was a fertile environment for laidoff tech geniuses. For his
thesis project, Crowley started designing something that he called
“Friendster for cellphones”. A fellow student, Alex Rainert, had similar
interests.

After graduating and failing to find work, they formed a partnership.
The result was a free application called Dodgeball, a predecessor to
Foursquare that sent text messages to your friends when you checked in
at specific places. Dodgeball became the favoured online hangout of an
elite few, its membership never topping 75,000.”

Posted by Ed Cotton

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