You Can Check In Any Time You Like

Hotel CaliforniaWhen Foursquare was launched in 2009, it started as a fun check-in game that immediately exploded in popularity. It was not too clear what Foursquare was for, but the app came in a moment when the digital world was all cool and fun. And it was nice to check in at remote places fighting to become the mayor. For a while.

After such promising start, Foursquare struggled to find an identify and a sustainable business model. In May 2014, the company launched Swarm, a companion app that took over the social networking and location sharing features of the service as a separate application. And later in August that same year, the company launched Foursquare 8.0. The new version of the app removed the check in and location sharing entirely, to re-focus on local search and discovery. Users can “follow” others to receive local recommendations from them.

This week, Dennis Crowley, one of the co-founders, has stepped down as chief executive of Foursquare Inc. Jeff Glueck, who joined Foursquare as its operating chief in 2014, has been promoted to CEO. The leadership change comes as Foursquare closes a new round of $45 million in funding, very likely at a substantial discount to the $650 million valuation from 2013, according to WSJ.

Crowley will remain at the company full-time as executive chairman, focusing on developing new products. In his own words:

Today, I’m excited to share some leadership team changes that have been in the works for a while.

(…) I will be stepping up into the role of Executive Chairman. This new role will allow me to focus full-time on vision and innovation, long-term strategy and creating new consumer products. If this sounds more like my job from 2010 than my job from 2015… well, that’s the point.

Foursquare is in great hands with both Jeff and Steven at the helm and our company is fantastically set up for success. We just raised a $45M financing (!!!) that will allow us to grow the company and continue to build the location intelligence tools that have proven so successful over the past 18 months. I am incredibly proud of the team that’s helped us get here, and I’m so excited about what’s to come in 2016 and beyond.

I don’t know what you think, but to me, it does not sound like that truly “exciting” moment when one is thinking: “We are going to change the world for the better.” It sounds very much like the misleading jargon of a large corporation announcing a profit warning.

Foursquare is but one of several would-be unicorns which, like Square, Snapchap, and others have recently sold their shares at substantial discounts to their previous valuations, either on going public or in the latest private round. Disappointments of this sort are becoming more common, and are contributing to put the digital revolution in perspective.

This week the World Bank has published a thorough report showing that the impact of digital technologies is lower than expected and is unevenly distributed. According to the World Bank, the better educated, well connected, and more capable have received most of the benefits of the digital revolution. However, not even the better educated in the most developed countries are consistently thriving in the digital economy. Silicon Valley’s technology firms appear to be exacerbating economic inequality rather than improving it.

Also this week, The Economist argues that software firms are not the supposed paradise for “talent.” The tech economy is a ruthless meritocracy. On top of it, there is a layer of cruel fortune—a.k.a. sheer luck—, and a career as a software engineer comes with no guarantee of job satisfaction:

Tech firms that offer lavish perks to their staff do not do so out of the goodness of their hearts. They offer them because they expect people to work so hard that they will not have time for such mundane things as buying lunch or popping to the dry-cleaners. As Gerald Ledford of the University of Southern California’s business school puts it, they are “golden handcuffs” to keep people at their desks. Some of the most extravagant perks are illusions: “take as much holiday as you like” may really mean “take as little as possible, and as much as you dare.” Some have vaguely sinister undertones: might the option for women to freeze their eggs end up becoming the expectation?

With Eagles’ permission, let me summarize: Welcome to the Hotel California (read SV.) Such a lovely place. Such a lovely face. Plenty of talent at the Hotel California. Any time of year, you can find it here. “Relax,” said the CEO, “We are programmed to receive. You can check out any time you like but you will never get rich.

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