January 28, 2021
So here's a little story about how a shared passion for the places we love has led to an unexpected new adventure — and an announcement about what comes next:
Back in March 2009, a small team of designers and engineers introduced Gowalla, a pioneering location-based social game, to a curious audience of tech enthusiasts at SXSW in Austin, Texas. Gowalla’s mission was to inspire people to explore and share the world. The game invited people to look up from the social media feeds on their phones and experience the world around them. It was a hit.
Hype-filled years followed. Gowalla (along with its rival foursquare — and numerous others) heralded an era of real-world social connection fueled by fast-evolving mobile platforms. The excitement was palpable, and millions of people chronicled and shared their real world experiences around the globe by “checking in.”
Of course, the larger social platforms took note, and over time the “check in” and location tagging became commonplace. So commonplace in fact that location became more a utility and less about the places we all loved to visit.
Foursquare evolved into a powerful developer platform, providing location technology for many of the internet's largest companies. But despite our best efforts, Gowalla's growth flatlined while social apps like Instagram took flight. Many of the Gowalla team, myself included, landed at Facebook and Instagram where we worked on core mobile and location products. The company and app were shut down. The brand fell into internet obscurity.
Unknown to me at the time, Patrick was exploring similar themes at Apple, where he spent several years working on a broad collection of technologies that naturally connected people with the physical world: Core Location services, Core Motion's gyroscope framework, turn-by-turn navigation interfaces, and gestural mapping interfaces to name a few.
After leaving Facebook and Apple respectively, there was no serendipity in the fact that we connected while working on Last Guide, a consumer product that aimed to make it fun and easy to share real world places and experiences with friends. While the Last Guide experiment ultimately failed, we both remained convinced there was undiscovered magic to be found while using our smart phones in the real world.
I also hoped to build something with Patrick again in the future.
Over the past few years as camera technology advanced rapidly, Patrick turned his attention toward computer vision experiments, natural user interfaces, and highly social augmented reality projects. In turn, his work quietly inspired me to explore again the unique circumstances that made Gowalla successful a decade ago.
🧡 ❤️ 💜
Then last summer, while sheltering in place, we both became convinced — due to technical advancements and a pent-up desire to simply go back outside — that it was an opportune time to re-introduce the world to Gowalla. Not the Gowalla from 2009 (though they certainly share common values), but a new Gowalla built from the ground up for a fresh day and age: A Gowalla that's immersive and provides you with a sense of play within the world around you; an experience that finds delight in all the places that have been cast adrift or lacked love and attention during these challenging times and lockdowns.
We were fortunate to reacquire the Gowalla name, a vibrant brand that stands for community, exploration, and fun.
Much like its namesake, the new Gowalla will be largely curated by local enthusiasts, and we have decided to focus first on this incredible community of people. To that end, just two weeks ago we launched a companion app for Gowalla, called Gowalla Street Team. This experience makes it easy for Street Team members to curate their cities and neighborhoods with their favorite places for inclusion in the Gowalla flagship app.
Since the launch we’ve been floored by the response: Within a week, over 14,000 places have been added to Gowalla by the Street Team, and we’re well on our way to gathering a core set of attributes for the real world locations that will power our unique social game experience when it is introduced later this year.
🧡 ❤️ 💜
To fuel our development, we’re happy to announce today we have raised $4M in seed funding, co-led by M.G. Siegler at GV and Nabeel Hyatt at Spark Capital. M.G. was an early user and evangelist of the original Gowalla app, and Nabeel is social gaming pioneer whose work we've quietly admired for a decade. We couldn't have dreamed of better people to work with.
We’re also delighted for Niantic, the groundbreaking AR company behind Pokémon Go, to join our round alongside two dozen other funds and angels. They include Upside Partnership, Form Capital, Launch Fund, April Underwood, Leah Culver, Scott Belsky, Otherwise Fund, Rogue VC, John Lilly, Dennis Crowley, Offline Ventures, and (Austin’s own) Capital Factory.
The funding will be used to expand our small team, develop our flagship product, and launch the Gowalla beta in dozens of cities around the world this summer.
We're currently hiring engineers, 3D artists, and a community lead. If you're excited about connecting people with the real world through a fun and immersive gaming experience, we'd love to hear from you.
We're excited about the year ahead, and are eager to welcome you once again to Gowalla.
— 🙌 Josh + ✌️ Patrick