In summer 1994, Dennis Crowley ’98 had just graduated from high school and was preparing to start his first year at SU. He spent his days reading about a new phenomenon known as the World Wide Web. He was fascinated, and carried that interest with him through his years at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, experimenting with emerging technologies and imagining what the future of media would hold. Now, it is clear that Crowley not only envisioned the future, but also had a hand in shaping it.
Crowley is co-founder and CEO of Foursquare, a service that blends social, locational, and gaming elements in a mobile application, allowing users to “check in” at various locations via their cell phones and let their friends know where they are. Regarded by many as one of the hottest innovations in the field, Foursquare now boasts more than 10 million users. In spring 2010, it landed $20 million in venture funding, placing it at $95 million pre-money valuation.
Crowley’s entrepreneurial streak was evident early on. He entered Newhouse as an advertising major because, he says, “the most progressive stuff happening on the Internet at that time was in advertising. I liked the idea of targeting. I thought about what the future of interactive television would look like. I gravitated toward emerging technology—what would people be doing five years from now? I wanted to be involved with ‘the next big thing’ early on.”
Crowley’s “next big thing,” of course, was Foursquare, which he created with Naveen Selvadurai and launched in 2009. But Foursquare had its origins in another Crowley creation: Dodgeball, which he co-founded in 2000 and sold to Google in 2005. It was one of the first mobile services in the United States and one of the earliest examples of social media—long before Facebook, Twitter, or even MySpace. “My friends and I were grad students living in New York City, trying to develop solutions for real problems,” Crowley says. “And it was really Friendster [an early social networking site] that opened our eyes. We looked at it and thought, we could make this more interesting. We could make social media work for people once they turn their computers off and are out in the real world.”
Crowley maintains close ties with his alma mater. He and his brother, fellow Newhouse alumnus Jonathan Crowley ’02, partnered with SU to help develop its Foursquare presence after a student tweeted Crowley asking for assistance. He participated in Newhouse’s Monetizing Online Business (M.O.B.) Conference last spring and recently partnered with MSNBC anchor Contessa Brewer ’96 to record a personalized video greeting for Newhouse’s incoming first-year students. Meanwhile, Foursquare continues to grow.
And the next big thing? “I’m still fascinated with Internet + social + TV and how you combine interests,” Crowley says. “All through school you do the same thing—take stuff from one class and apply it to another and find interesting ideas and figure out if they’re worth pursuing. Take one or more things you’re interested in and see where they overlap—that’s how innovation happens.”