by Liz Burr
If you haven’t heard about mobile social startup FourSquare, then you must not be paying attention to the news, your TV or your local Starbucks. A location-based application for your phone, FourSquare is seen as the frontrunner among the crop of location-based services vying for your attention. In charge of business development over at FourSquare is Queens-bred Tristan Walker, a recent graduate of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and former Wall Street oil trader turned tech shot-caller. Walker leads FourSquare’s partnership development with media, brands and retailers such as MTV, Bravo, American Eagle, CNN, The New York Times, Louis Vuitton, and VH1.
Walker talked with The Atlanta Post about what it’s like juggling a full-time exec-level position at a hot startup while simultaneously finishing up his MBA at one of the leading business programs in the country. Find out how he landed this position, how he became interested in the Silicon Valley hustle, and what he thinks about diversity in technology.
Name: Tristan Walker
Position: Vice President of Business Development at FourSquare
Hometown: Queens, NY. (Born in Jamaica Queens, raised mostly in Flushing)
Located: Palo Alto, CA
Undergraduate School: Stony Brook University
Marital Status: Married
Last Book Read: Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Favorite movie: The Godfather
Tell us a little bit about FourSquare.
[At Foursquare], we’re trying to make things that make cities easier to use. What I mean by that is that we’re trying to get people out exploring the cities in which they live or visit and incentivize them to do so. FourSquare is part friend finder, part social city guide and it uses game mechanics to tie it all together and encourage people to check in and share their location with their friends.
What does your position as VP of Business Development involve and tell us about your journey to this position.
Before business school, I was an oil trader on Wall Street. Hated it. I did that for a year and half, almost two years. I started out with this ambition to get as wealthy as possible [laughs]. I grew up with humble means and thought, I am never going to live like this again. How can I get rich? I felt that there were really three ways you can do it: 1) Be a professional athlete 2) Work on Wall Street 3) Start your own company.
At the time, I thought I didn’t have the money to start my own company, so I couldn’t do that. The professional athlete thing was just not working out for me [laughs]. So I really hustled to get on Wall Street. I had the fortune to do so, but then I realized that it just wasn’t for me. So I said, now that two of the three [options] are gone, I might as well try this entrepreneurship thing.
I applied to Stanford Business School. It was the only place I applied and fortunately I got in. I knew Stanford had this appeal toward entrepreneurship, so I wanted to dive in with both feet first. I got out here and started exploring. I didn’t know much about the Silicon Valley tech thing until I got out here. Once I learned about it, I just started getting really obsessed [with] it. I tried to read every blog and book I could about technology in general. Then I started to narrow it down to social media and particularly how brands are starting to use it in interesting ways.
I hustled and got my way into an internship with Twitter. I did that in January of last year until June of last year. I helped them with what is now Twitter 101 for Business. Essentially my internship [involved] talking with a bunch of brands on how they use the service, and helping give Twitter ideas around how they can potentially monetize the engagement brands are having with their consumers.
Last summer, I had some experience at a consulting firm with a consumer retailer. I helped them think through their operations and so on. Then I got this fascination with retail brick-and-mortar in general. Transactions are something that have always fascinated me. I wanted to blend what I learned at Twitter (how brands engage consumers online), with how they engage consumers offline with brick-and-mortar. And I wanted to do something at the intersection of that.
With starting my own company I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to do something, so I kept researching. Then one day I heard about this thing called FourSquare back in June 2009 and right away I got it. They work perfectly at that intersection. That night I emailed Dennis [Crowley] and Naveen [Selvadurai], it was only them at the time, and I didn’t get a reply back. I think I emailed Dennis about six or seven times before he got back to me. And when he got back to me, he said, “You know what I just may take you up on some of this. Are you ever in New York?” And I said, “Yeah, coincidentally I’m in New York tomorrow.” When I got home I booked my ticket and flew out the following morning and hung out with him for a week.
What did your email say?
The more Dennis was busy, [the more] he couldn’t think through the business and locations. I was more fascinated by the transactions and the point of sale when people swipe their cards. I wanted to get as close to the point of sale as possible. When I heard about this thing called “the check in,” I thought, you can’t get any closer to the point of sale than that, right?
So I told [Dennis] all the implications of what this could mean for business. [I said] give me a chance, and I’ll work for free, I’ll do whatever it is. I get it and I want it. I kept reiterating that over and over again. I was a big fan of his from Dodgeball, which he started like 10 years ago, so he’s been in the space for a while. Then he let me in, [I] hung out with him for a week and we just brainstormed together, and a month later I was doing biz dev for the company.