Gowalla’s story is a fascinating tale of innovation, competition, and eventual acquisition in the dynamic world of social media startups. Founded in 2007 by Josh Williams and Scott Raymond, Gowalla was a location-based social networking platform that allowed users to check-in and share their locations and activities with friends. It gained popularity during the early days of mobile app stores, competing directly with similar platforms like Foursquare.

Gowalla’s main feature was its check-in option, which enabled users to share their location at various “Spots.” The platform gamified this experience, encouraging active location sharing among its users. Users who demonstrated high engagement levels could achieve a higher role and gain access to certain features. The app also served as a promotional tool, incentivizing users to check in with in-person deals at times.

Despite its innovative design and aesthetic appeal, Gowalla faced significant challenges. It struggled to keep up with rapidly evolving mobile app trends and the intense competition in the location-based social networking space. One of its main competitors, Foursquare, which launched in the densely populated New York, saw rapid growth by focusing on basic services like check-ins and rewards, which resonated well with users seeking social validation.

Gowalla raised a total of $10.4 million in funding, with investments from angel investors and early-stage venture capital firms like Greylock Partners, Chris Sacca, Kevin Rose, and Jason Calacanis. However, the funding and partnerships with giants such as Disney, National Geographic, and several major U.S. universities were not enough to secure its long-term success.

In December 2011, Facebook acquired Gowalla, primarily for the talent behind the startup. The acquisition did not include the use of user data generated over the years. Facebook representatives stated they were interested in partnering with the developers due to their shared values and vision, which could help enhance certain aspects of Facebook’s platform.

After its acquisition by Facebook, Gowalla ceased operations in 2013. The platform’s challenges stemmed from trying to do and be too many things at once, in contrast to Foursquare’s more focused approach. This lack of a clear, distinct service offering, along with the competitive pressure, ultimately led to Gowalla’s inability to sustain its operations.

Interestingly, Gowalla is being resurrected as an augmented reality social app. Founder Josh Williams, after stints at Facebook and other ventures, has reacquired the Gowalla name. The new incarnation of Gowalla, guided by co-founder Patrick Piemonte, a former Apple interface designer, aims to blend augmented reality with social networking. This resurrection highlights the enduring interest in location-based social platforms and the potential for innovation in this space.

Who started Gowalla?

Scott Raymond and Josh Williams

Why did Gowalla go out of business?

Gowalla faced tough competition from other location-based social networking platforms and struggled to keep up with rapidly-evolving mobile app trends. The team eventually sold via acquihire to Facebook in 2011.

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