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Co.Location: Gowalla Grows Out Of Check-Ins And Into Making Money [Video]

"The idea of 'checking in' has resonated with a generation of users," says Josh Williams, CEO of Gowalla, "but at the same time it's one-dimensional and is going to evolve a lot over the next year."

When it comes to mobile location apps, I am little skeptical, very intimidated and completely uneducated in how to use them. I'm a 45-year-old man. How will I ever use these products, and more importantly how will they affect my daily life? These questions have cost me a lot of money, as I have passed on many early stage investments in the likes of Foursquare. In this video series, I set out to talk with companies that are pioneering in the mobile location sector to find out how they plan on making revenue, and what's next for the entire industry.

I knew very little about Gowalla as I entered their impressive 10th floor offices in Austin, TX. One of the first companies to invent the location-based "check in," Gowalla prides itself on having a deep focus on design and user experience. I expected to have conversations at Gowalla about monetization opportunities like deals, but instead I discovered a company that's leading the way in smartphone-based guided tours, and is thinking very long-term about revenue potential.

To follow the next installment of Co.Location, check here next week.

Howard Lindzon is the co-founder and CEO of StockTwits — a social network for traders and investors to share real-time ideas and information. StockTwits was recently named one of the 10 Most Innovative Web Companies in 2011 by Fast Company and one of the 50 Best Websites by Time magazine.

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  • Jim Brady

    It is frustrating to see money - and attention - flow to ideas that have no real indication of success or profit. Especially when you create a company - earlier - that does connect people with things around them directly, no games involved.Check out earthcomber - actually try the app - and see if you are surprised you haven't heard much about it. I continue to be flummoxed.... Where's Howard??

  • Paul Reynolds

    Social location services do not stand up well on their own. My personal enjoyment comes from telling friends about a new restaurant, starting a conversation about a popular spot, or getting on-the-fly recommendations. The leaders in the space have tried to address that with "highlights" you can stick on a location. But when you choose not to share the check-in on Twitter or Facebook, you're ultimately missing out on the rewarding part of the experience. It's similar to people that used the "cheese sandwich" example to belittle Twitter. 

  • jason sadler

    As a Gowalla user from early 2009, I greatly appreciate what they've built, their continued focus on design and the fact that they never once tried to "compete" with Foursquare or FB Places. There's a lot to be said for just enjoying the social check-in space and embracing other companies in the field (and standing out). I'm excited for Gowalla to continue to grow and will be a lifetime user, no matter what direction they go.

    Now, as an aside... This video was really hard to watch. The constant ad interruption sucks. Yeah, it's sponsored by Hilton, that doesn't make me want to book a hotel when you interrupt a video I want to watch. That actually makes me want to book a hotel LESS. And how about a tagline at the end "Stay tuned for the continuation of this interview next week at XYZ website"? Just trying to give some user feedback here, but ending a 3 minute video with a flash of white is really odd.

  • NoahRobischon

    Thanks for the feedback on the video Jason. There's not a whole lot we can do about the advertising -- it's the price you pay for getting all of this for free. But the ending can be fixed. In fact, we'd originally planned to plug the next episode at the end of each week but it's not quite as easy as it appears. We're working on it.

  • Tim Letscher

    Yeah, have to agree with Jason on the video comment - is it the fact that the midpoint ad felt completely arbitrary, interrupting mid-sentence? Or is it that the "ad" felt more like a video series intro that, when repeated, caused me to think the video player reset and was again playing from the beginning. The video's really not long enough to justify plopping the ad in the middle, but I guess you gots to pay them bills.

    I'm looking forward to more in this series and hopefully the viewing experience won't be so disjointed in the future.

  • Roger Toennis

    Hi Howard,

    Thanks for taking a look at Gowalla and sharing your discussions with them. 

    I resonate with your skepticism about check in apps. I know they have a lot of popularity in certain segments of people and I even use Foursqaure mainly to share some of my locations with friends on Facebook. 

    The one thing that really sticks out for me about the Gowalla team in the video is how much they seem  puzzled about how they are going to find a way to consistently make money.

    They seem like really nice and hardworking folks but I guess I'm always stunned when I hear about companies that have raised and spent millions but clearly haven't deeply thought through the "how do we make money?" question.

    Is the idea that..."Well if we are cool eventually someone will buy us and we can let them figure out how to make money."?

    I've deeply thought through the check in app model and I see compelling use cases for users but I just don't see compelling business models they will generate interesting net revenue for a check in app company.

    Why don't investors demand the entrepreneurs have fully worked though at least a model for how they will make money and why the people who will pay the money are will be willing to pay that money?

    Is it that many early stage VC's are more interested in "cool first" and "exit to the next investment round fast" so they can avoid that step of figuring out business model?