In 2010, Foursquare co-founder Naveen Selvadurai believed that his company, and several other social-media upstarts—Twitter, Tumblr, Path—could carve out successful niches against Facebook.
But Facebook had other plans. That year the company introduced a feature that allowed users to “check in” at any location, a copy of the main feature of Foursquare’s app. In response, Selvadurai conceived an “anti-Facebook alliance” of up-and-coming social-media Davids taking on their industry’s Goliath. At a minimum, they could share survival tactics. Selvadurai had informal discussions with friends at Path, Instagram and Twitter, all of which had faced threats of Facebook copying key features. “It was common knowledge, even back then, that Facebook would just approach a company and say something to the effect of, ‘Join us or we will copy you,’ ” he says. More broadly, they believed that Facebook’s closed-off “walled garden,” was hurting the thing they loved most about the open Internet—the fact that anyone could build something that could reach millions of people.