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Summary:

How are people like Sun co-founder Scott McNealy, Paypal co-founder Max Levchin, Wordpress founder Matt Mullenweg, Cisco CTO Padmasree Warrior and Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley approaching 2012? We asked 12 of the best-known tech industry leaders to share their New Year’s resolutions with us.

scott-mcnealy

Be a better manager

By Dennis Crowley, CEO, Foursquare (As told to Ryan Kim)

Dennis Crowley, the co-founder of Foursquare, has been thinking about location for a long time. He built Dodgeball in 2003 and sold it to Google two years later. With Foursquare, which he built in 2009, he returned to his idea of building a location-based service that helps people explore the world around them. The company is now up to 15 million users with more than 100 employees and is poised to move into a cavernous new office next month.

2011 has been about learning how to do this job. With Dodgeball, it was just Alex (Rainert) and I, and we weren’t really managing any people. With this we’re realizing that we’re creating a company from scratch that has its own culture, and 100 employees. It’s about creating the structure, the processes, the culture and the work ethic and stuff like that. It’s challenging to do especially as the company keeps growing.

That said, I’m really satisfied with the way the company’s grown. We haven’t had a lot of problems, but we’re working hard to make sure the company doesn’t break every couple of months. We have to maintain the right ratio of team members — that there are enough product managers to deal with the engineers, and enough designers, community teams and the marketing folks. Things usually work fine and then you add a couple of folks and then things slow down a little bit or there might be too many cooks in the kitchen.

As a company gets bigger, the chain of communication changes. It’s up to us to make sure we can be as transparent with 100 people as we were with 20 people. And ensure that really good ideas that come from someone that just started can make it as quickly into the product as we’ve been able to do in the past.

We have a lot of ex-Googlers here and we’ve taken a lot of the Google culture that we really like and applied it to Foursquare. For example, people do weekly snippets and we have a pretty strong review process and pretty strong interview process. And we take management techniques from a lot of our investors like Ben Horowitz, Bijan (Sabet), and Albert (Wenger).

Now we’re going to go from 100 employees to whatever the number eventually will be. We’re about to move into a new office space which is considerably larger than the one we’re at now. We have plenty of room to grow, and the new space is going to solve a lot of the infrastructure problems we have at our current office. But just because we have more than 100 people doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods. As we get 10 more people, we have to adjust, as we get 20 more people, we’ll have to readjust.

I think one of things we need to focus on next year is now that we’ve built a lot of the stuff, we have to find all the interesting ways they work together. The Foursquare app is great but there’s a lot of things we can tweak to make it significantly better, faster, easier to use. I look at the changes that Twitter has gone through recently for the product. They’re looking at it like, hey we’ve hit the point of 250 million users and we need to change the way people think about Twitter, so the new people understand it as well as the early adopters. We’re not quite at that stage yet but we can look around we can already see this happening in the app.

People know us for check-ins but with the data, we want to push people more toward the recommendation engine and the way to do that is make that prominent and a big part of the app. Check-ins will always be a big part of what we’re doing but there are other parts of the app that are extremely valuable and we almost hide them a bit and so we want to pull things out and position them for users in different ways. You’re going to see different types of activity coming out of Foursquare.

Our eyes re on what Facebook and Google are doing and they’re probably the two most dominant players in location besides us right now. And when you look at our class of startups, like the Instagrams and the Paths, it’s interesting that Instagram pushes check-ins to us and they’re using our location platform to power their location-based photos. We’re playing a very important part in their ecosystem.

Looking at the big challenges, it’s about growing our user base. We’re at 15 million users now and the next stop is 20, 25, 50 million users. We just want to continue to be able to compete with the bigger names in the space. We have a nice built in advantage because we’re all about location. That’s been our focus from the beginning and now that we’ve grown a little bit, a lot of people know the Foursquare brand, even if they don’t use the product. That’s the big difference from last year to this year.

People think of Facebook as web, social, status updates and photos and people think of Google as search, Gmail and maps. And here we are off to the side but we’re all about location, deals, check-ins, recommendation, everything about place. That puts us in a really nice position.

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  1. Excellent. Pure McNealy. Punchy, invigorating, real, entertaining.

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    1. If I was a Cisco exec, I’d be more worried about Huawei than advocating for women. You want to advocate for women, become a lobbyist.

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  2. is that Matt or is it Jeff (as in Bridges)

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  3. He it the nail on the head about consumer vs. business products.

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  4. Putting Steve Jobs and open web and open source in the same article is blasphemy. I don’t know how you can connect the two and be serious. He was the embodiment of everything you are afraid of. Proprietary platforms driven by locking users in so they cannot leave and have to keep buying things for him under the excuse of “experience”.

    And the reason why others will try to think about what would Steve do is because everyone saw that locked down, proprietary approach is making A TON of money. He single-handedly contributed and instigated what you are afraid of.

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    1. Steve Jobs was successful in many ways. There are lessons that can be learnt from what he did, and those lessons can be applied to any technology, be it open source.

      And user experience is not an excuse. Its the reason people buy things. Try making stuff without it, and see if you are able to sell a single piece of it.

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    2. apple being closed does not mean that one cannot browse certain sites. think of apple as a company that charges double ( consumers hate that) but delivers half tco (businesses love that). and it is able to pull that off only by keeping certain things closed.

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      1. May be so, but 2 weeks into my new Android phone and I’m still struggling to export MY sms text messages from MY iPhone. Even Apple support doesn’t respond to my requests for help with this. I think they forget I was a customer for many years, and if this was easily resolved I could become a customer again!

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  5. Great Stuff…We are building a new community first platform here
    http://www.kleemi.com/privacy.php

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  6. “A few years ago, Google started favoring some of their own websites over others” I am happy for google to provide me an option “do you want our services to be displayed first or not” and I’d check that blindly because so far, google’s services have been much better at providing me with what I need.

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  7. Why shouldn’t they? ABC advertises ABC shows and not NBC or CBS’s. This is one reason why some people and companies create large networks (whether they are broadcast or information networks); to help promote each other.

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  8. I have always enjoyed McNealy. Cool dude. But come on! You left SUNW because the stock was crashing and you wanted out of a dying business…Not because you wanted to spend time with your kids,

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  9. Mullenweg makes no reference to photographing food in this interview. I’m suspicious.

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  10. I still haven’t got out of “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish” of Steve Jobs and now you are giving me “Stay Nervous”. I would say “Stay Cool”.

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  11. Good Article….But I think that looking for funding may not be synonymous with technology that brings about “real” and “Lasting” change.
    Real and Lasting change could involve putting the “Community” that adds value to your service first in a way that may eventually break the cycle of inequitable distribution of monetary value to the “Corp”

    http://kleemi.com/conversations/

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  12. Brilliant post and I shall print it out and pin it down on magic board!

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  13. Philip has a lot to say , but there is a silicon valley assumption hidden here that no company is valid unless it has VC investment and makes a quick exit. Anything else is derided as a “lifestyle business.” When you take VC or angel money you instantly change who your customer is. No longer are you solving a problem for a million people, you are now solving an investment criteria for a very few investors. Don’t do it. Find a small enough piece of the market/problem and using you own funding go to market and grow organically. Keep focused on your real customer. They have far more money that any VC. Only take money from friends and family who are giving you money because they love you. Think Bill Gates, not Google. The math is rather simple. A typical VC funds less than 1 in 100 business plans that they see and 90% of their funded businesses are failures (by VC standards). Why would you want to twisted your life’s work for such slim odds.

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  14. A GREAT article but please note that grouping it under “leaders’ New Year’s resolutions” was wholly unnecessary and misleading (given there were no resolutions, and anyway I did not go to this article because of “resolutions” but rather because I saw a quote from the article in an NRF newsletter regarding the increasingly closed nature of the web). And it wasn’t easy to get here from the page that showed the photos because the text was poorly printed in contrast so that many of the names I couldn’t read, I happened to guess correctly at Matt Mullenweg’s likeness.

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  15. GREAT article. But linking from the “12 tech leaders’ resolutions” was both inaccurate (given there are no “resolutions” here) and unnecessary (as I was enticed to come to the article via an NRF newsletter linking this and that newsletter gave a quote from this particular article – I have no interest in reading tech leaders’ resolutions).

    Further it was difficult to get to this page from the page introducing the 12 leaders’ resolutions, as the text on the photos was in many cases unreadable, especially for this Mullenweg article. I got to this as I could make out the “Open” word and guessed this was Mullenweg’s likeness.

    Second attempt at commenting – seriously, my comment doesn’t appear and no notification like “pending approval of the comment” because I chose “guest” instead of one of the commercial services? Fine, I logged in via Twitter this time. But this really needs to fix its messaging and/or technical issues (I’m not sure which it is). Apologies if this resulted in a double post.

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  16. “A few years ago, Google started favoring some of their own websites over others. They left a path of scorched earth through many prominent businesses and publishers.”

    It’s fairly irresponsible to say this without justifying it. Which Google services are you referring to, and which businesses were hurt by it? There are many individual cases you could be referring to, with varying degrees of debatability.

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  17. it does not matter if the net is open or closed, what matters is the extent of run time criteria vs compile time criteria. we live in a world of power gradients, which are maintained indicating the absense of a countervailing force. this is possible if resistance buildup is nipped in the bud, which requires run time criteria.

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  18. Re: Program or be Programmed, I just penned a related post on the Learn it Yourself movement: http://bit.ly/sReK6m

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  19. we are facing tech evolution so fast that we are increasingly lagging behind. in such a situation, the best thing we can do and should do is work from first principles. in an ideal business setup, there is no profit or loss. also we need to separate the goals from the paths. these three form the basis of all my thinking about how technology can improve our lives FP / IB / GP

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  20. If you look at the world through a pair of eyes then naturally we surmise that there might be more considering the lack of use of the most part of our brain…then stating that we might neurologically partake of data and images in the future is plainly stating the bleedin obvious.

    I see that we strive forward as a collective group of engineers trying to convince the world that 3D is the next step…when it may damage eyes to the point that we had better, and pretty soon find the answer to the absorbtion of images neurologically because we may be on route blinding a generation….The folly of the human being and the “no sir nicotine is not harmful” attitude of businessmen is a frightening legacy!

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  21. I have already come.
    As I promised that I would come again, I have already come. Now all the people around the world must listen to this message,

    “I have already come”

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  22. Nice post Mr. Hesse and I’ve been a loyal Sprint customer since the year 2000 but you guys still screw your existing customers under contract and always favor new customers when new handsets come out (which is pretty rare). But, you guys still are the best of the big 3 in the US.

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  23. GREAT!!! I agree with you about women being more hesitant. I also want women to push for society to accept us as Mom’s and Dad’s with lives. The American workplace is not child friendly and we shouldn’t have to sacrifice our family’s quality of life for careers, or vice versa. At least this is the case in the entertainment industry. I hope we can stop working crazy hours and spend some time with our families and friends.

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  24. Please if you’re going to advocate women in tech, make it actually “tech” or scientists, inventors, “do’ers”, etc.-not executives

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  25. I feel sorry for you, and all people who have such shallow, politically correct introspection.

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  26. panjwani_ajay Monday, January 2, 2012

    pixel qi is following apple model – designed in us made in china. that indicates the onset of higher optimizations for higher margins. and that is where the conspiracy lies. those mit stanford phds were always at hand watching china under optimize all over the place. only when the margins got wafer thin did these phds decide to add intellectual property margins

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  27. panjwani_ajay Monday, January 2, 2012

    dans story reminds me of the problem of electricity grids where half the power gets wasted in transmission. in telecom too, there is no need for owners of networks to provide services too. have number portability and have a separation between network ownership and service providers

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  28. This gave me some ideas. Now, I’m having trouble with my resolution: Be a better manager or be a better leader? I think there’s a difference between the two. I would love to see technology humanized this year and we have a lot to clean up amidst all that clutter. More success to all this 2012!

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  29. ….More Humane should be about reversing the flow of “VALUE” from “COMMUNITIES”” to “corps”…This should be the next phase of and evolution of tech….

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  30. I like the human face to technology bit and the acceptance that technology can become overwhelming. I think more tech entrepreneurs should help users deal with the deluge of information rather than adding even more information to an already overflowing knowledge stream. As someone once said, and the big data debate supports this, the future belongs to the information curators, not the information creators.

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    1. I actually like that as an entrepreneur, he brought up physical activity. I find that its critical to get a good oxygen rush in at least a couple times a week as well.

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  31. 1) Path is confusing and you’re telling the user how to use the app (which is annoying and will be one of facebook’s failings)
    2) what was the point of mentioning you are an olympic jr skier? #humblebrag
    3) we’re not all rich like you Dave. Most people cannot afford a personal trainer in this economy
    UGH

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  32. MATT W IS 25 YEARS OLD! WTF coud he possibly truly understand about a 20 year tech cycle (a tech cycle, that changes SO fast, is not anything akin to a political or financial cycle). Not taking away his supposed brilliance but I would rather hear from weathered CEOs who have been around the block many times, not from some kid who got it lucky once.

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  33. Bruce Ketchum Sunday, January 8, 2012

    One word… Graphene.

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  35. “the industry doesn’t get it” ..?

    The “industry” never shuts up about it. Where have you been?

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  36. Warrior’s last comment about helping other women is a very important point. As a technical female, I find that too often, women who are in a position to mentor or help, instead act with spite and competition. There seems to be an innate sense of cattiness that these women don’t realize sabotages the reputation of women overall in the workplace. I would cherish the chance to be mentored or even have a decent conversation with a woman who has been through the uphill battle of being a technical executive and not being labeled as any of the derogatory things that successful women are often called!! Even more so, a woman who has been able to do so without sacrificing the idea of family and a personal life.

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  37. aha!

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