Adam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided uring an interview of Dennis Crowley, co-founder and chief executive of Foursquare, the location-based social networking site. He says its employees — himself included — occasionally change seats so that they can get to know one another better
To read the complete interview as well as Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.
* * *
Bryant: What are some leadership lessons you’ve learned since you started Foursquare
Crowley: I learned early on not to feel badly about reaching out for help, and not to feel embarrassed about saying that you’re in over your head. We have a fantastic group of investors, and I’ve always felt comfortable asking for guidance. Early on, everyone in the organization became really comfortable with the idea that if there’s something you can’t do, just talk to someone about it or find someone to help you.
Bryant: Other things you’ve learned?
Crowley: The importance of overcommunicating. We’ve been working in this space for a long time, and it’s taken me a while to realize that just because I understand things doesn’t mean that everyone else understands them. In our company meetings, I’ll say things that sound repetitive, but you have to do that. You have to make sure that everyone is on the same page.
As the company has grown, I can sometimes start to feel disconnected, and I’ll decide to randomly meet with one person a day, and we’ll go out for a half-hour coffee. You do that for six weeks or so, and then all the channels of communication are open again. People feel like they can come and talk to me. I learn about the things that are troubling them or challenging them, or questions they might have.
I always ask them for feedback, too. “Is there anything that I can do better to make your job easier? Is there anything I can do to make the company better?”
Bryant: How do you make sure you get honest feedback?
Crowley: We’ve taught people that it’s O.K. to be critical. We try to air all that stuff in public at company meetings, and I think it creates a really healthy environment so that people aren’t running off to a conference room and saying, “I can’t believe we’re doing this.” If you want to talk about that, talk about it in public. That’s one of the things that have made it easier for us to be 120 people and still feel relatively small.
* * *
Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times‘ domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the SundayBusiness section and on nytimes.com that he started in March 2009. In his book, The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed, (Times Books), he analyzes the broader lessons that emerge from his interviews with more than 70 leaders. To read an excerpt, please click here. To contact him, please click here.
“Foursquare and seven ‘innovative ways’ ago….”
Frankly, I did not know quite what to expect when I began to read this book, except that Carmine Gallo may perhaps develop some of the concepts he discussed in an earlier book, The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs. Moreover, until then, I knew nothing about the foursquare organization. As Gallo explains, “Foursquare is a social media tool that businesses of any size can use to tell their stories and engage their customers in an innovative way…Users sign up for an account by visiting http://foursquare.com.” At this point, I need to point out that Gallo does not provide instructions for an easy process that takes about two minutes nor is his book an operations manual. Rather, presenting his material within a framework of seven innovative “ways” (strategies, actually), he can help any reader to take full advantage of the ever-expanding, ever-increasing opportunities that foursquare offers.
“For users, the free foursquare Smartphone app allows them to ‘check in’ to a location and to share that location with friends. It’s also a game. Users who check in earn points, badges, and rewards for exploring their cities. It makes their world a more interesting place.” How so a game? “Because it’s meant to be fun…People like collecting virtual badges that have no meaning except bragging rights. For example, a user will unlock the ‘superstar’ badge for checking into 50 different venues or the ‘crunked’ badge for checking in to four different venues in one night. It’s silly, right? But millions of people around the world are having a blast paying the game. Foursquare is a game. It’s meant to be fun. Play along.”
Personally, I dislike audience participation and have no interest in playing online games to earn badges that have no meaning except bragging rights. However, I am among those who are eager to attract, retain, reward, and (yes) delight my customers. That’s what makes foursquare appealing to me. Gallo devised an acronym, CHECKIN, for the seven strategies and devotes a separate chapter to each:
1. How to Connect your brand with “Connection Superstars”
2. How to Harness new fans with “Newbie Ringleaders”
3. How to Engage your followers with “Superusers”
4. How to Create rewards with “Super Mayors”
5. How to Knock out the competition with “Swarm Masters”
6. How to Incentivize your customers with “Local Heroes”
7. Why you must Never stop entertaining with “Crunked Kings”
Sure, some of the nomenclature is goofy but so what? Under Gallo’s expert supervision, each reader will learn how to make effective use foursquare capabilities. Keep in mind that the smartphone app is free, can activated in about two minutes, and offers substantial benefits to almost any user, whatever the size and nature of the given enterprise may be. Well-known brands that have active foursquare partnerships include American Express, Chili’s Bar & Grill, McDonald’s, NASA, 7-Eleven, Starbucks, and Walmart but as Gallo demonstrates throughout the book with dozens of examples, family-owned businesses can also achieve great success with their foursquare association by attracting, retaining, rewarding, and (yes) delighting their own customers.
Gallo concludes this amazingly entertaining as well as informative book with a rigorous review of “10 Pitfalls to Avoid” (Pages 231-239) followed by his interview of Dennis Crowley, foursquare’s CEO and co-founder. I presume to conclude this brief commentary with an observation of my own: Ultimate success with foursquare will ultimately depend on effective innovation and effective presentation. In my opinion, the person best qualified to provide the best advice in both areas would be Steve Jobs but, in his absence, the next person best qualified would be the author of The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs and The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: Carmine Gallo.