Sometimes a disruptive idea is so good, it's co-opted by giants, making that original startup irrelevant. Last year, Foursquare was named a CNBC Disruptor for revolutionizing the power of location with its mobile check-ins. The company allowed users to connect with friends nearby, creating an app that's sticky—encouraging users to open up and log in multiple times a day. The business potential was huge: Foursquare's clients, including Starbucks, Best Buy, and American Express, could use it to target deals based on a specific location.
Narrowly targeted local ads and offers are so compelling a range of Internet giants have adopted them. Facebook launched a check-in service in 2010. The next year, Google launched a product that invited users to "check in" for deals. In the past few years, Groupon has moved away from the deal-a-day model to increasingly focus on mobile deals based on location. The fact that all these services that people already use started incorporating location stunted Foursquare's growth.
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So this spring, Foursquare admitted it needed a change and split into two apps. The new Foursquare app is ditching check-ins to instead focus on local recommendations to compete with Yelp. The other app, called Swarm, will maintain that check-in capability and will show which friends are nearby.
Foursquare is just one of many examples of start-ups whose idea is co-opted, and rendered redundant, or even worse, irrelevant. Another innovative idea, newsreader Flipboard, has seen that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery: Facebook's Paper app has adopted many of its tools to flip between articles, and LinkedIn purchased a similar newsreader app, Pulse, last April.