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Gowalla CEO Josh Williams: Coupons Won't Be Enough To Take Check-Ins Mainstream

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Gowalla CEO Josh Williams wins the award for the most stylish tech CEO I've interviewed to date.

He arrived at our SoHo offices wearing elegant leather sneakers (no toe shoes for this entrepreneur), a polka dot sweater layered over a floral collared shirt, and boasting what might only be described as a hipster handlebar mustache (Williams lives in Austin).

His style betrays his background as a designer and is fitting considering Gowalla, with its slick stamps, has distinguished itself as the "pretty" location based service.

Yet with Foursquare, Facebook, SCVNGR, and other services all competing with Gowalla for users' check-ins, being more beautiful may not be enough to make it big. Gowalla recently made a major offensive play, announcing an update that allows people to integrate other services into Gowalla so they can use Gowalla both to check in on Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter, and Tumblr, and also feed all of their friends' check-ins on Facebook, Foursquare, etc into Gowalla. The impact of "Gowalla 3," unveiled less than two weeks ago, has yet to be fully felt, but it's an important move that's bound to shape how Gowalla's competitors fare and respond. The industry is, however, still in its early stages: a recent Pew Research Center study found that just 4% of adults online are using location based services.

We spoke with Williams about the future of this industry, tech terminology, his holiday wishlist, and more. Read on for his take on everything from Groupon to world peace.

On tech terminology:
A lot of the terminology use to describe [services like Gowalla] is still couched under "location based services" and "geo this" or "geo that." It's all rather nerdy and your average consumer doesn't really mesh with that. For us, the question is, "How do we start to explain things in more human terms?"

On Facebook's entry into the location-based services space with Facebook Places:
In the long term, it's probably helpful. They supposedly have 150 million [mobile] users and I think they will play an important role in how these services work. [...] It will be important for [Facebook] to get things right because they'll have a lot of sway over how the space evolves.

On how frequently he checks in:
I tend to temper myself--I check in a few times a day, a few big 3 or 4.

On how location-based services will grow:
Offers and coupons are not going to be enough to drive this space mainstream [...] The value proposition has to go beyond simplicity of getting 10 percent off because I can get that in other ways.[..] It would be a shame to have all this technology at our fingertips and the best we can do is create next-gen Valpak.

On Google's $6 billion bid for Groupon:
We had everything lined up to say "yes" to a $6 billion acquisition. [laughs]

On Groupon:
They're going to continue to be an even bigger force in this space than people originally anticipated. It's an amazing company. [...] They have a lot of opportunity to grow awareness around local businesses.

On competition in the location-based services space:
We're still in a place where there's not one dominant player.

On what's on his holiday wishlist:
Peace on earth, good will towards men. I feel like I'm at place in life where I have everything I want. I would like to spend more time with my family and some more time skiing.

On how he gets his news:
I killed my RSS reader a few months ago. [...] Now I get my news from Twitter. I follow people that I value and I feel like if there's something important enough, it will bubble up. I watch CNN at home, too--I'm a total Anderson Cooper fanboy.

Free response:
iPad: Awesome
iPhone: I need a new one. I was waiting for the white one.
Google: Groupon
Groupon: Coupon
Microsoft: Old
Android: Complicated

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