Naveen Selvadurai is Co-founder of foursquare, a location-based networking application for mobile devices. With 20 million users, foursquare is steadily promoting his founders to the throne of location-based marketing, the next big thing in rapidly growing social industry.
He founded foursquare with Dennis Crowley who was one of the pioneers in mobile social services, creator of Dodgeball, later acquired by Google, and one of the “Top 35 Innovators Under 35” by MIT’s Technology Review magazine. These guys created the company that is currently valued around 600 million dollars. Not bad if we put in equation that the company is launched on a kitchen table in March 2009.
Naveen Selvadurai was born in Madras (now Chennai) in Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
His father is Kuppuswamy Selvadurai, Chief Marine Engineer currently working for Reidville Hydraulics & Repair Co., mother Latha Selvadurai was mostly responsible for raising the kids when his father was working, and one sister Chinduri Selvadurai who is research assistant in neuroscience at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
According to his mother, Naveen (born January 27, 1982) was an affectionate, quiet and shy boy. He didn’t like to play with other kids too much, he never watched television and he was avoiding toys. It was clear from beginning that computers were his natural instruments. His mother said that his life changed when he got his first computer in the sixth grade. In high school he won Texas Instruments contest with science project on artificial intelligence.
India is full of young people with exquisite intelligence prone to natural science, mathematics and computers, but this is still an undeveloped country and these guys have so few opportunities to fully develop their potential. I wonder how his life would look like if his family didn’t decide to move to United States when he was 8. The most likely scenario is that he would be employed as software engineer, respected because of his skills, but working under foreign boss that imposes his own business strategies. Even if he started his own company there is very few angel investors that can fund great ideas. Can a young man of his caliber fully develop his potential in this kind of environment? Possibly, but improbable.
However, they moved to United States in Torrington, Connecticut. His growing up was hard. They moved from a really hot environment to one that had snow. It was a different culture, a different language and it was hard to make friends. His best and closest friend was his younger sister Chinduri. Naveen was the mentor to Chinduri, after his success he was inspiration to her and she looked up to him for everything. He even told her if she surpasses him in school, he would give her a million dollars (of course that was after he already earned few).
He graduated from King’s College London and Worcester Polytechnic Institute where he got his both bachelor and master’s degree in four years.
In time when he was finishing college he got a chance to work with a startup company that was working in mobile space. Guys that started this company were his friends and he was consulting them and helping them out. Then this company got acquired by Sony Music, and because of his previous connections Naveen moved to New York and ended up working for Sony Music for 3.5 years. He was part of the team that was responsible for development of their mobile tools, mobile backend, mobile music store, and that was all before iTunes ever existed.
Working for Sony was important step in his career because he learned there how to sell content online, what does it mean to have digital content, how to distribute content to all of different mobile platforms, how to make API’s, and most importantly he acquired mindset of building an application for end consumers that have real market value.
His first serious connection with development of application for mobile social networking begun in joining Socialight, where he was vice president of engineering. Socialight develops and provides a local content and community platform that attaches multimedia content and local social interaction to real-world places. Location-based content is added by individuals or professionals and shared socially. Any similarity with foursquare?
Naveen Selvadurai was a brilliant young software engineer, but most of his experience is only in that, software engineering. To make foursquare he was missing something equally important, if not more important, that was ability to transform a great idea into a great product from business point of view.
He found his partner in Dennis Crowley who was working in AreaCode, another software startup that shared office space with Socialight, where Dennis was director of product development. AreaCode takes advantage of today’s environment of pervasive technologies and overlapping media to create new kinds of gameplay, for example Facebook games that create innovative new forms of social interaction. Any similarities with foursquare social gaming elements?
Dennis was already tech star with experience in Dodgeball project, and he had connections that led foursquare to be fund mostly by Union Square Ventures, Adreessen Horowitz and O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures. The company raised $1,35 million in its Series A and $20 million in its Series B of fund raising rounds. On June 24, 2011 foursquare raised $50 million on a $600 million valuation.
Partnership between Naveen and Dennis was a perfect match. Both young and brilliant, both with already hefty experience from working in cool and innovative companies, and both with ability to take everything they learned and forge it in something new and special that will overshadow everything they did before.
His departure from foursquare
Now when the foursquare is valued around $600M Naveen decided to leave the company. His official statement is that he feel that he has done everything he can and that it’s time to move on and to focus on new projects. Other sources are saying that Naveen was pushed out by Dennis Crowley and the foursquare board of directors. Truth was that Naveen and Dennis was not getting along for some time before his departure, and company can have only one CEO. So Dennis won the battle of who will take the charge of this exciting young startup, but the question is what will Naveen Selvadurai do next? Most certainly he gained precious knowledge of how to create hot products and how to operate a successful company. My bet is that his next project will also be something big and exciting.