SCVNGR, Battling Foursquare and Others, Looks to Stay “On Top of the World” After Facebook Fallout

8/24/10Follow @gthuang

“I’m the only person in location who’s happy today.”

That was Seth Priebatsch last Thursday. It was the morning after Facebook announced its new feature, Facebook Places, that lets people “check in” using their iPhone or iPad (or location-aware laptop) and share their location with their social network. The general consensus among tech observers is that location-based mobile startups like Foursquare, Gowalla, Booyah, and SCVNGR all have some adjustments to make, now that the 500-pound gorilla (with 500 million users) has put its foot down in their territory.

Priebatsch, 21, is the founder and head of Cambridge, MA-based SCVNGR, one of the darlings of the Boston mobile scene. So why is he happy? Because, he says, his company is based around “challenges” and “being the game layer on top of the world,” not around check-ins per se—meaning just a social network plus location. “Come on, Facebook was going to own that,” he says. “And now they do.”

A little background is in order here. SCVNGR started in 2008 out of DreamIT Ventures, the Philadelphia-based incubator and fund, as a text-message-based platform that corporations, associations, and nonprofits could use to set up interactive scavenger hunts and other on-site activities. The startup has since raised a couple rounds of venture funding from the likes of Highland Capital Partners, Google Ventures, and Bantam Group. It has also gone from five employees to about 60 in the past 15 months.

Paralleling the rise of Foursquare and other mobile check-in and rewards services, SCVNGR has evolved into a multi-pronged business that includes a relatively recent consumer-facing game, in which people can do challenges (some goofy, some not) at different locales. Consumers earn points for commenting, posting photos, or checking in with friends. They can also create their own challenges for others to do.

The company is also about to roll out a new online platform for small businesses to build rewards programs—players will be able to earn points and redeem them for things like a free coffee or burrito from local shops. The program will start with about 60 businesses in Boston, and then will look to expand to places like Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York. “It’s insanely powerful for local businesses, but super easy to implement,” Priebatsch says.

But SCVNGR’s main revenues come from conventions, events, and tours that sign up … Next Page »

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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