The year was 2011 and it was my first trip to London. I was there by myself. But I wasn't alone. I had Gowalla with me.
I was still a reporter at the time, and for a couple of years before that, the "location wars" between players like Gowalla and Foursquare had been one of my key beats. To be honest, I probably followed them too closely, but I was drawn to the idea of location-based networks buoyed by the rise of the still-young iPhone and the hype around "geolocation".
I still vividly recall that time spent walking around London guided solely by the recommendations Gowalla was serving up to me. It was a great first tour of a great city. And it was a magical experience — and I have the receipts to prove it. This, to me, was the promise of location-based services. Beyond the "check-in", they could highlight the power of place and the realization of real-time recommendations and discovery.
But it didn't quite work out that way at that time.
As a social app, Gowalla reached an impressive scale, but they couldn't quite figure out how to pair that with a viable business model at the time. So the team moved over to Facebook to help them build out some of the same ideas.¹ But now here we are, a decade after that London trip, and Gowalla is back. Founder Josh Williams believes the timing is right, this time. As does his co-founder this time around, Patrick Piemonte, who knows a thing or two about the location-based functionality pioneered by the iPhone, as he helped invent it.
I'm also a big believer in timing, and in entrepreneurs so driven that they return back to the ideas and spaces that they obsess over. And so I'm happy to announce that GV is co-leading a seed round of funding for the reborn Gowalla with our friends at Spark Capital and alongside a great group of other firms and angels to back Josh and Patrick to get back to work on their vision.²
Of course, it's not all about timing. The technology in our pockets has advanced significantly in the past decade. That includes cameras, processors, and location capabilities, but also newer technology such as augmented reality. It's still the early innings in that game, but it's going to be a new piece of the puzzle for Gowalla this time around.
It's incredibly exciting to be "getting the band back together" in a way, all these years later. Especially after a year in lockdown with the possibility of a spring and summer outdoors looming on the horizon. Exploration and fun around our neighborhoods await all of us. And eventually, once again, travel.
Gowalla should be poised to take advantage of a world awakening, knock on all the wood. And to light up lives with the sense of adventure once again.
The service will be rolling out in beta in the summertime, but if you want to get an early start on helping to build this (augmented) reality, you can sign up for the Gowalla Street Team here.
¹ How much does Josh live and breathe this space? After Facebook, still having the itch he didn't quite scratch, he set out again with a new, tangential attempt, The Last Guide Company. The timing still wasn't quite right. As the saying goes, the third time will be the charm.
² Including, I should note, Niantic. The company which actually spun out of Google back in the day and perhaps now best known as the makers of Pokemon Go, a pioneer and absolute beast in the real world AR space. And yes, incidentally where my wife is Chief Operating Officer.