David Shim, founder of Placed, now CEO of Foursquare has some invaluable advice for founders. He built Placed over six years from an idea incubated at Madrona into the industry standard for brands and advertising agencies – and an acquisition by Snap. This conversation with Matt McIwain, managing director, covers how David and his team transformed Placed’s core location technology into a solution for the age old problem of how does advertising actually perform.
We hear the story of how David harnessed the power of big location data and revolutionized the way companies market to and understand consumers. Although he had developed a solution to a pain-point for many businesses, he ran into a few pain-points of his own, especially around finding product/market fit and scaling the company.
Matt and David reminisce about the trials of building Placed and how listening to the market transformed the potential of Placed. David and Matt talk about being frugal with spending early in a company’s journey. That frugality made it easier to raise more money and also created urgency amongst Placed’s team.
David recalls stories of his time with aQuantive, Farecast and Quantcast. He also weaves in a sheepish story of his time sharing Madrona office space with founder and CEO of Rover, Aaron Easterly.
This episode is well worth the listen!
Erika Shaffer 0:05
Welcome to Founded and Funded! This is Erika Shaffer from the Madrona Venture Group. In this episode, Matt McIlwain, Madrona Managing Director, sits down with David Shim. David founded Placed.com and is now the CEO of Foursquare. Placed was incubated at Madrona and the two worked closely together for years. They talk about the journey of building the company including the struggle to find product market fit. Throughout his founder journey, David has consistently recognized big trends and embraced frugality. They talk about spending venture capital with intention to fuel the simultaneous development of a company and a culture of accountability. Listen on.
Matt McIlwain 0:49
This is Matt McIlwain from Madrona and I’m really excited to be here with my good friend David Shim. David and I have worked together for a number of years on a couple of different companies, but why don’t I give him a chance to introduce himself.
David Shim 1:00
Yeah, David Shim CEO Foursquare. Previously, I was the founder and CEO of Placed. Before that it was called Sewichi,thanks to the board we changed the name of. And for those who don’t know, Sewichi is a Korean term that I made up where “se” is three and then “wichi” is location. So location, location, location.
Matt McIlwain 1:17
I love that! David and I have had a great opportunity to work together. I’m actually going to take you back before Placed for a second because we got to work together on a company called Farecast that our great friend Oren Etzioni had founded back in 2003. And you joined in the business development area. So tell us how you joined Farecast cast and what you learned from that experience.
David Shim 1:39
Farecast was great. That was my first real experience in a small startup. So prior to that I was at a company called the aQuantive, specifically Avenue A doing business intelligence. So looking at how digital advertising drives specific actions like purchase on a website. During that time, someone named Mike Fridgen came along and said, “Hey, I’ve heard good things about you. Do you want to meet up for coffee?” And this is the first time I’ve ever actually, like been recruited. I’m like, yeah, sure, let’s meet up for coffee. So we meet up for coffee. He starts telling me about this company called Farecast, or at that time, it was called Hamlet
Matt McIlwain 2:11
Yes, to buy or not to buy!
David Shim 2:12
So he started giving me the pitch. And I was like, why is he telling me all this stuff? Why is he goes so deep in the business, and then he ended with like, “Hey, we’d love for you to come on board.” And that was kind of a first for me where I was like, “Okay, this is really interesting.” I like the idea. But it’s a startup. I’ve always wanted to join a startup, but there’s risks associated with that. So I kind of did the math in my head. And ultimately, I was like, let’s take that jump. And I will say, knowing that Madrona was funding that company went a really long way. Someone smarter than me believed in this company, that I should be more comfortable in taking the leap.
Matt McIlwain 2:44
Well, you know, that’s an interesting point. I mean, we have the opportunity all the time to meet with the talented young, you know, executives and really, it does seem to matter that somebody who is doing this for a living and helping build companies is on board and as a validation. And we were really fortunate to have you come and join the team, Mike Fridgen, was the VP of Marketing and Hugh Crean was the CEO. And at the end of the day, that company was one of the early companies trying to use data science in a very basic way to predict in that case whether airfares went up or down, and ultimately they were competing against Kayak. So what was your role there?
David Shim 3:19
So when I first started there, this is where it started for interesting, I came on board to lead marketing, and he got me the experience around things like PR when you’re in an ad agency, you think you do PR, but in reality, you’re doing a lot of PowerPoint, you’re doing a lot of spreadsheets and Excel. And so it got me to understand what is the full marketing in it all the way from spending media to see how it performs, to going in and actually saying, did that actually drive return? What’s the right narrative that you want to put what’s the right creative, it was a great experience to do all of those things in a very short amount of time. And I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world in terms of it set me out for what I was going to do next. And then from the role itself, so it was doing marketing first, then we expanded to things like monetization. How are you going to make money? And are you getting traction there or not. And in those days, we had a search engine similar to Kayak, we had airfare price prediction, say is the price going up or down. And people were using us at a very high rate, we were getting great press because this was the early days of Web 2.0. But what happened was we weren’t monetizing it because we weren’t selling tickets directly, we send somebody else and we get a referral against that. So we started experiment with advertising. And that advertising was like, hey, let’s put a Google Ad here. Let’s put some text links here, hey, let’s start to put logos on here. Let’s start to drop them off into other online travel agency websites. And we started to see revenue starts to come in. And then it became really kind of this experiment where what is the right layout? What is the right kind of area to focus in on to drive maximum revenue? And it was really fun in those days, because there wasn’t a bunch of software solutions. We were actually working with the web developer with Google and saying, how do we actually monetize this?
Matt McIlwain 4:54
Yeah, it was a lot more hand rolled as it were back in the day and one of the things I I noticed about you then is that you were great at coming up with little hypotheses, testing, iterating testing iterating, and it just kept getting better. The company got bought by Microsoft and became Bing travel, you went off to California, you know, in a flight of fantasy maybe mentioned that for a second. And then we’ll come back to how that led to the startup Placed.
David Shim 5:16
Yeah, I think this is I want to go to the valley like that was one of the things like if you are in the startup scene, it’s kind of like if you’re in country music, you can be in LA, you can be in New York, but you want to go to Nashville at some point. I went to Nashville for me, Silicon Valley, work for a startup that had recently been acquired. And the thing that I was missing in my kind of portfolio was Farecast was doing really well. But at the same time, we weren’t going to have a team on the marketing side that was going to be 20, 30, 40 at the time, and the opportunity came up with the startup that was acquired to say, “hey, we want you to come on board and we’ve got a team of 40 people right now that you would be managing,” and I did that not because I didn’t like Farecast but it was just more something to fill out my resume. I stayed there for a year good experience. learned a lot of things and then ultimately made the jump over to a company called Quantcast. Quantcast was a great experience. So during that time, it was a little similar to farecast and Hamlet in the sense that they didn’t have any monetization, but they had a lot of great data, a lot of great engineers and data science. So for people who don’t know, Quantcast, you will put a pixel on your website, and they would give you analytics but not analytics on what pages were most visited. But it would give you analytics on demographics, and who actually came to your website. And then where else do they go, what other websites that they visit, and they build a very large business where at one point, I think they were measuring, you know, 90 plus percent of the internet population, the US because they were on so many different types of websites. And that was a lot of fun because I had this great data set and they said, “hey, let’s figure out how to monetize it.”
Matt McIlwain 6:47
Yeah, and you had some experience with that. And so it’s really interesting to think if you go back there’s you know, Avenue A and aQuantive. And then there’s Farecast and there’s Quantcast and these names are all kind of blending together a little bit here, but what I’m noticing is that both from a sort of domain experience perspective, it was building a lot of experience sets for you. And then from a skill building perspective, it was building a lot of capabilities to potentially step into that role of being a founder. And you came back to Seattle, you saw the light, realize that it wasn’t quite so wonderful down there in Silicon Valley came back up to Seattle. And I remember, it was right around the beginning of 2011, that we had this conversation now.
David Shim 7:26
Absolutely. So the first thing I did want to get back to Seattle was reach out to Matt, I said, “Hey, I’m starting this company.” I didn’t think Madrona be interested. So this is where I was a little bit of a rookie in terms of the entrepreneurial space or the funding space. I was more moved up to Seattle because I wanted to start the company outside of the noise of Silicon Valley, because in Silicon Valley at the time, everybody wanted to be a founder and people were raising like a million dollars $2 million with four engineers, but they were really diluting the equity value right off the bat. So I came up to Seattle, I had some money that I earned from the Farecast acquisition as well as a couple of other things that I said “Hey, I want hire one or two engineers and I want to build out a prototype.” I met with Matt. Matt said, “Hey, this, it is interesting,” but I think he more believed in me as an entrepreneur, “He said, Hey, you know, we do seed investing.” And I was like seed investing, I kind of know what it is, but I wasn’t like 100% sure. And I was like, “Yeah, I don’t know.” I remember the conversation. I was like, “Oh, I felt really honored that you would say something like that.” But I also it wasn’t necessary part of my original plan. We continued to have those conversations. And I was talking with engineers and product people and saying, like, “Hey, do you want to come on board?” And I kept on running to like, it’s a really good idea, but you have no track record. And, and then we continued the conversation. And it really when I mentioned to someone, I think I probably mentioned one of the engineers I was trying to recruit, “Hey, I’m talking with Madrona.” All of a sudden, he changed a little bit where I got further along in that recruiting conversation. I’m talking with Matt McIlwain, who made the Midas list he’s the only VC in Seattle did that. And that actually helped me out a lot as an entrepreneur because becasue I didn’t have a track record. So I was kind of borrowing from you, that really helped me kind of say, I do need to get money from a drama in a way that it would be beneficial for the company, as well as beneficial for recruiting.
Matt McIlwain 9:10
That’s an interesting set of dynamics. And we’re just delighted that sometimes we can be helpful in terms of both the early capital because sometimes people are taking a big risk on leaving an established company and established job, even if they’re willing to kind of in that short term sacrifice a paycheck or portion of a paycheck that they would otherwise be able to earn for the equity and the excitement of being in a startup. And they want to know that there’s some kind of hooks and kind of guardrails around this really early stage startup. You know, one of the other things that really impressed me in addition to kind of your ground truth understanding of the market, is that you saw some of these big trends. I mean, the way I think about at least be interesting to hear how you thought about it, you appreciated that, you know, smartphones at that point, which were only like three or four years old, you know, we’re really maturing and the 4g network was starting to come online, and even the fact that there were cloud services where you could actually do real time analytics. Tell us a little bit about some of the trends you were seeing that led you to believe that this thing that came to be known as Placed after it was called Sewichi, might be possible.
David Shim 10:11
One was, even while I was at Quantcast, I wanted as a company for us to do more and mobile because the iPhone had just come out while I was at Quantcast. When I left Quantcast, iPhone two had come out and Android was just rolling out as an operating system. And what I did during that time was I actually had an engineering friend and I paid him to go to different conferences for me and just check in and say here, here’s my thesis, I think location is going to be important. I think that it requires an operating system that is available widely. And it has to enable programs to run in background and persistently. Yeah, so those things for a while didn’t exist like iPhone didn’t nice actually let you run apps and background for a little bit. Android did not roll out yet. So there was no kind of widespread adoption across carriers. But he went to one conference for Android. I think it was an at&t. conference, they said you could actually do this. So that was my kind of tipping point to say, Do I leave the company and work on this project? Or do I stay at Quantcast and really kind of continue to build a great company. And that was a really hard decision. Because when you’re in a startup that’s successful, that’s doing really well where you’ve got a lot of opportunity in front of you. But it’s also you don’t get many chances where you see that product market fit. And then you see the market saying like, “Hey, there is no incumbent, there’s nobody that is better than you bigger than you. It’s wide open.” And that was something that got me really excited. So that was one thing. So the the operating systems for smartphones were enabled technology in the smartphones were “Hey, most people don’t know this right now. But you actually had to carry this computer around. You put it in your car, it’ll give you directions.”
And then getting it into the smartphone. That was crazy. That was like “What is going on here?” And you see that where if you ever remember going to the Best Buy in the 90’s. They had a whole section for navigation. Yeah, that section completely disappeared and it was replaced by smartphones. Right and that just got bigger. getting bigger and bigger. That was a huge opportunity as well, in terms of market was saying I’m buying smartphones, the technology to do GPS was built into the smartphones, the operating system existed, then it was kind of a bet to say are mobile phones going to be big. That wasn’t a really hard bet to say, it’s just more when it was going to happen. And it was right around that.
Matt McIlwain 12:18
But it’s good to tease out the GPS point too. It’s now 10 years post that timeframe. And we just take it for granted that you know, there were the 4g networks and there was the GPS network and you could leverage it. I mean, I remember in the earliest days of Placed, you know, we were worried that we were just killing the battery life on phones so there was a whole optimization even once these things were available that you could run the place that but maybe tell a little bit about well what was the purpose of the place to app and why was it at risk of burning somebody’s battery life and why does it even matter given what you were trying to do?
David Shim 12:49
We started with this when check-ins were big and this actually goes full circle back to when Placed was started we built an app that was called Check-in King. It let you check into Foursquare, Gowalla, Google and Facebook and this is when it was really a fun thing to do is check into a place, let everybody in your social network know. As part of that, we actually went out and said, “Hey, we’re going to build an aggregation app,” that aggregation app would let us run location data and background and users would opt into that. And we were transparent. But these were people that love to check in and they wanted to show people where they were. So that got us a lot of data where it said run the application and background, people are going to confirm where they are. So it’s ground truth data points. And then we had scientists that actually ran models against that to say, “Is there enough signal to predict a store visit occur?” And so in the old days, batteries used to die very quickly. And so you’d have to be very careful on how you collect or measure that data and process the data. So we did something that was kind of unique back then, we didn’t actually push it out to the cloud right away. We said store the data on the device, collect it, but then when someone charges their phone, there’s a flag when the battery starts to go, then sync that up and you don’t have to use the cell towers, but you can actually use the WiFi connection. They’ll be faster. So you had to find all these like novel hacks to solve that battery issue.
Matt McIlwain 14:04
Yeah, you guys were really great. Not only I think, you know, technologically speaking, also, culturally speaking, I mean, one of these things that I used to give you a little bit of a hard time about I don’t do this very often is you were pretty frugal. So just tell us a little bit about like, in those early days, you know why frugality was so important to you into the company.
David Shim 14:23
I thought of the VC money as my money, it was a very high bar to side what to spend against. And the way that I kind of addressed it was to say, “Hey, would I spend my own money in the same way,” and that let me make the right decisions for the business where we raised $300,000, $400,000 seed round, like that is nothing these days, but that was a very big round for me that we wanted to make sure and Shepherd that correctly. And the way that I wanted to go out and extend that even further was I took zero salary. So technically, I think I’m employee number seven or eight, because I was never on payroll. But that that was that extended the runway even further out, and that frugality actually helped out on the recruiting side because people started to understand like, this is a company that wants to be around for a long time, they’re not going to go out and flame out after three months because they spent all their money. And that let me recruit the right type of person. And that right mindset,
Matt McIlwain 15:12
and I think that that frugality did serve you well. And it was part of that it was one of the cultural cores of the organization. And what was interesting is that, you know, you needed to get to a critical mass of these consumers that decided, “Hey, I’ll trade off having your app running in the background on my phone.” And eventually, I think pretty quickly, kind of the trade was well Placed would give you something, a Starbucks gift card or other kinds of monetary appreciation for allowing us to have your data so it was a very explicit triple opt in tray, but it took time to build a critical mass of those folks, but because you were so capital efficient, I think it gave us the confidence because that was taking a little bit longer to collectively put some more money in together.
David Shim 15:53
I would say also the frugality also had hunger. Yeah, where he you had to be successful. You had a clock, it wasn’t something where I could wait six more months and kind of develop the code further try to test out these different ideas, you had to make a bet you had to go all in on the men, but that actually helped to the people that we brought on board as well. The frugality actually said, like, “Hey, we have a small amount of money, we’re investing it correctly. Now let’s go really aggressive and dive into it.” And that’s where people were wanting to stay. This is like the old school startups where people would stay till 9pm, 10pm, 11pm. Like it was nothing. And then we come back in early in the morning, but that was the culture that we had built. And we kind of extended that even further out where this is unheard of these days, but we had office hours, etc. So we, we said in the interview process, anybody who wants to join the company, we have office hours, nine to six o’clock, if you are not okay, with nine to six o’clock, you should not join this company.
Matt McIlwain 16:44
And what David means by that is that there is this expectation that we’re going to all be in the office together during that time window because we want to productively work together, engage with one another, and we’re going to make that commitment to each other. And yeah, sure there was going to be obviously people had a little bit of a here and there. And there’s gonna be times when you had to work later. But it was it was another interesting cultural dimension of the company. Before you know it, you had thousands of people that had made this trade and then even 10s of thousands of people, of course, it cost you some more money to get people to, because you had to market to them, get them to download the app store very nacent at the time. Eventually you started having enough data that you started to think about what might we do with this data that might be valuable in a kind of an anonymized, abstracted way to different audiences?
David Shim 17:31
Now, and that’s where the thesis was. The digital world is very measurable today. Like if you go to a website, they measure every possible action on the site, they try to get inferences on who you are when you visit the site. But when it comes to the physical world, there wasn’t a Nielsen there wasn’t a comScore, which are rating services to say how many people actually went into a Best Buy and how many people went into a Walmart, a Starbucks. And so the play for me originally was to say, let’s measure the physical world, make it as measurable as the digital world, and then the use cases will come. And the first use case that we had was called Placed Insights. And this was the idea that if you wanted to go to our website, you type in any business, let’s say Starbucks, we could show you how many people visited a Starbucks that month, we could break it down by day, our what other businesses they visited afterwards. And that got a ton of attention. Like we were in the New York Time, Wall Street Journal, and I was doing the press and this is where I probably should have someone else doing the press. But we had a lot of traction in market where people were talking with us, I had VP’s, CMO’s pinging me. The problem that I ran into, and this is where Matt was actually great was, and I didn’t think at the time I was like, now you don’t understand my business. I know what’s right. So we probably spent 18 months to 24 months, acquiring the data from users doing it in a very transparent way. Then we had the analytics where our team was predominantly there was almost no business people on the team. It was mostly data scientists crunching the data as well as engineers on building the app and processing it. We built this great suite got a lot of press. We were able to go in and for the first time ever tell someone how many people went into a given business on Black Friday, and was that up year over year, but people wouldn’t buy it.
Matt McIlwain 19:07
People liked it. They appreciated it. They thought it was interesting data and made for great media coverage. But there wasn’t a business model there that was a sustainable business model. It was kind of a researchy, novelty kind of thing.
David Shim 19:18
Absolutely. And this is where Matt did a great job. At first, he’s like, Hey, this is great. You’re getting a lot of traction. But let’s look at the pipeline. Like what’s the flow in from the meetings that you have to the actual in person that gets to an opportunity that turns into a contract, and we we had a couple wins, but it wasn’t something that was like replicable. It wasn’t like, hey, for every 10 we got two meetings in person that one turned into a contract. And that was strategically that was as an entrepreneur. The mistake I made was sticking too long to what I thought was right, versus I think this is where Matt did a great job of just pinging me just kind of reminding me like, what’s the revenue model? What’s the sales process look like? Are people actually buying this even though you’re getting all of these meetings and over time it’s a subtle process, but because it was never like you need to get revenue, it’s very much like, are you thinking about this and we got to the point where this is hard. It’s like a six to nine month sales cycle and we’re making 100 grand on a contract like this is tough.
Matt McIlwain 20:11
Probably not going to scale. One of the things that you did is you also noticed the rise of these mobile ad networks. And I think this is where, you know, while we might have been encouraging you to think about is there a real business model here, your insight around the attached to the mobile ad networks, you know, made a made a big difference in terms of getting advertisers to see the value in mobile ad attribution. Tell us about that.
David Shim 20:35
I take zero credit for the product that generated all the revenue and the acquisition that it drove from so one was the board kind of telling us “Hey, look for product market fit, you’ve got a great solution but you haven’t found the right product or services to sell to customers.” The big thank you will be to Ground Truth formerly known as xAd, where Monica Woo, who was their head of marketing reached out to me and said, “Hey, I see all this press about you. Everyone trusts the you’ve got really great data, what we would love you to do is actually take our ad impression data, bump it up against your store visits because we have an audience that opted in to let us measure where they go and tell us did that ad drive someone in the store?” I actually told her no for about three months. So I said, I don’t want to do this, like I am comScore Nielsen for the physical world. That’s a billion dollar company like this. Then I then you had mentioned like, Hey, what’s the process? What’s the revenue? How’s this flowing? Finally, we took it. And I said, Sure, we’ll do it. I’m getting enough pressure from the board. Let’s try something else. And it worked, where they’re like, “Hey, this is great. We’ll give you 10, 20 $30,000 for one report, we deliver the report like, “Hey, we want to do five more.” And I was like, okay, we’ll do five more report back to board a we get someone that wants to five more should we explore this like yes.
Matt McIlwain 21:47
Sounds like it’s a winner!
David Shim 21:48
They were growing at the time they were offering it to more and more advertisers. As advertisers received the report, they saw the benefit of measuring media to physical store behavior, so saying this address Someone in the store, they started to ask other publishers and mobile ad networks to include Placed. And that just snowballed where all of a sudden, without a sales team without a business development organization, we went from no business to, you know, 10s of millions of dollars, hundreds of partners on an annual basis. And we never actually grew out that function. But by the time we were acquired by Snapchat, we had over 400 publishers that were using us for in store attribution.
Matt McIlwain 22:26
Yeah, I think that that was just a high leveraged, you know, sort of frugal and smart way to scale your organization because it started to become the expectation that if you’re running mobile ads, where you’re going to be able to attribute that to whether or not people actually went into physical stores. You had this by now really built out healthy network of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people that had downloaded the app, and you had a really great panel. So you could get down from a demographic level into a really precise level. And as you say, you know, you were doing 10s of millions in revenue growing very nicely. So what happened? Why did you guys sell to Snapchat?
David Shim 23:00
It was very interesting. So as a first time founder, you don’t know when you’re actually being courted a lot of times. And you had mentioned before we’re having meeting with this big internet company, even early days where we just raised a series A people would reach out to us and say, “Hey, do you want to meet?” And I didn’t understand the difference between Corp Dev and Biz Dev. It’s I go to these meetings, it’d be great. It’d be like, hey, do you want to come back again? I’m like, That sounds good. And I would tell you, like, I think they want something else. Yeah. And I’m like, I don’t think so, Matt, I think I just wanted the business deal with them. So we had a couple of opportunities. But as an entrepreneur, I would say one thing I would recommend to others and I’ve done this myself is never think about the exit until you’re right at that point, because the minute you do anyways, for my personal mindset is I’ll overthink it. I’ll start to go to that direction because now I’m thinking about, “Hey, if I have an exit, that’s great. My employees will make this much money. I’ll make this much money. Hey, what would I do with that money?” It starts to clear a path to go down that direction. I’m glad I didn’t do that because we had multiple offers or any indications of interest over the last kind of six years of the business while we were independent. And with Snapchat, it was really they came to us and said, We want to partner with someone location space.
Matt McIlwain 24:08
Tell me about what you look for because you get, you know, young entrepreneurs coming and knocking on your door to get your advice. And sometimes have you consider making an angel investment. What do you look for in an entrepreneur, that’s at the the early early point of their journey.
David Shim 24:23
So I’m probably the worst investor in the world when it comes to seeing opportunity.
David Shim 24:26
But there are things in terms of what I look for. But I will say the reason why I’m the worst investor just so people know, Madrona incubated so that you have a space they gave us, internet, they give us desks, all these things that were great. And Madrona has this program back then where it was more of a section of the office that we worked into, but it was incredibly helpful because I didn’t need to hire an executive assistant office manager. Right behind the wall. There was another company that was being founded that I thought was a horrible idea. I was like, Who would ever do this? It was called Rover.
David Shim 24:56
There were dogs running around the office and they were having accidents and I was like “Is this a real company?”
Matt McIlwain 25:01
What is Madrona thinking about?
David Shim 25:03
And looking back at it, I should have said, “Can I invest in this?”
Matt McIlwain 25:09
Well, they’re really fun thing about that, of course, is that both you and Aaron Easterly, who’s the founder and CEO of Rover, were ex aQuantive folks. And in fact, Brian McAndrews ended up being on the Placed board prior, who was the CEO of aQuantitive. And a longtime friend here at Madrona, it does come down to people.
David Shim 25:26
Absolutely, absolutely. And then I would say the investments that I’ve done, it’s been people that I’ve it’s very similar to kind of how you invested in Placed It was about the people that I know. So when they’ve had success in a career that I believe that they’re really the best or one of the best in a certain area or field. They’ll come to me and they’ll say, “Hey, would you be interested in investing?” And lately, at first I dive into the business model, I’d asked a bunch of questions. Then I realized, like if you’re giving 20 or $25,000, that’s a lot of money. But at the end of the day, they’re trying to raise a really big pie like I don’t want to distract so you really kind of have to bet on the person more than the idea to live have cases and I think that has its early days because I’ve only recently started investing. But I think those companies that I’ve invested in where it’s bet on the person, it really does mean a lot more from a return perspective versus Hey, it’s a referral from somebody else. I think this person’s good, but don’t know as well
Matt McIlwain 26:17
Maybe share a thought or two on where you think the big opportunities are going for areas that you are more excited about. And obviously, as you were just saying, you know, you want to have people that intersect with those opportunities that can do something really special. But as you think about opportunity spaces, what are areas you’re interested in,
David Shim 26:33
one of the biggest areas that I’m interested in as part of Foursquare, but I think from an investment thesis standpoint is privacy. I think privacy is something that people care about. There’s a lot of news stories, but there hasn’t been a company that has been able to kind of address privacy. I think the closest that you’ve been able to see is things like ad blockers where that’s great, you block an ad, but it doesn’t really help the ecosystem at all from a publisher who creates the content. It helps for the user to not see ads, but you also get a blocked area where there’s no ad. So it’s not a great experience. There are things where there are bad players in space around advertising and measurement…
Matt McIlwain 27:09
where you want to block those people and consumers want more ability to control who gets access to their data. And I think there is a big play there to say, who actually controls the data. And how do I meter that? How do I monitor that, as a consumer, I don’t know what the actual play is going to be. But that is something that I’m very interested in. And it’s on the privacy side of the business. And you guys were also I think, very early to go back like 2011, 2012, 2013 and understanding the potential in the data and using both AWS from a cloud perspective and then also, you know, hiring some some smart machine learning data scientists to leverage that. Things have come a long way since then, you know, do you see those areas accelerating as well?
David Shim 27:52
Absolutely. I can see on the cloud side, more services going on there. I think as a part of Foursquare, being the leader in location, we are getting a lot of people asking to say, “Hey, can you put your services in the cloud? Can you process data in the cloud,” and we are exploring those things today, we don’t have anything to announce specifically. But that is where the market is pushing. And people want the data within their walls, because that lets them kind of control who has access to it. And I think this goes to the privacy theme, where if you’re a company, you might have a partner that you’re interested in. But you don’t necessarily want to give up all your data. Now imagine being able to process it in the cloud in a protected environment, and then taking the data and the value out and then you deciding how you want to use it. So it becomes more of a relationship of a service than it is a product at the end of the day.
Matt McIlwain 28:36
Right? Well, maybe as we wrap up here, you know, if you’ve got any last words of wisdom to entrepreneurs, having been through this journey since day one have Placed and seen a lot of different angles on it over time. What would you say to the you know, kind of the the entrepreneur who’s either trying to decide if they’re going to take the leap, maybe leave one of the big companies here in town to go start their own business or they’ve just taken that leap. The most important thing or two that they should really focus on.
David Shim 29:01
Where I’d say I made the right decision was to quit a company that was doing incredibly well where my options were worth a lot. But it was a decision point where it was an idea that I wanted to go after that. And I was willing to walk away from all this opportunity. When I talk with founders from an investor’s standpoint, a lot of times they have their foot halfway out the door, but not all the way out. And I think a lot of investors will disagree with me. But my take is that it is important for you to go all in. You don’t have to take zero salary like I did. But it’s you need to go all in and say, can you actually make this work? By doing it as a side project? I think from an investor from a an advisor perspective, it’s kind of like if you don’t believe in it enough, why should I believe in it, and I think you should, if you believe in the idea, you should make the full jump. Now with that said, I made the full jump where I spent money to hire a friend that went to different conferences, and he validated this this idea as possible. So there’s also you make the jump You make an educated jump to say, “Hey, does this idea exist in the marketplace? Is this even possible to do?” And there are a lot of entrepreneurs, and I’m sure you get this a lot where they haven’t done the research to say, Is there somebody already in this space doing this? And I think that’s important. I think the second is really being able to go in and say, an idea has failed. When I saw I didn’t have product market fit for placed insights, I should have moved more quickly, where I did see product market fit versus I was a little bit hard headed as an entrepreneur and saying, like, my vision, my way, I believe I have the force to make this a thing. And in reality, you can do that a little bit, but not all the way. And I think the easier path was the one where the market said do this. And then I was able to apply the same type of force. And I was able to accelerate that to a very large business.
Matt McIlwain 30:48
Well, it was such a pleasure to work with you for all those years. I miss it and I’m looking forward to the opportunity we get to partner together again and building a great business. So thanks for spending time with us today.
David Shim 30:59
Thanks a lot, Matt.
Erika Shaffer 31:01
Thanks for listening. You can find Placed powered by Foursquare on the web at Placed.com. If you like this podcast, please share it with your friends and subscribe. We have more great episodes coming in 2020 so stay tuned.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai