RIP Gowalla: An obit in the making for over a year

RIP Gowalla. You were my first true location based commitment.

Rumour has it that Facebook has bought Gowalla’s assets to incorporate into the new Facebook timeline product. While an exit happened and I suppose that is good for the investors and great news for Facebook’s accumulation of world class engineering talent, this marks an auspicious end to a bucket of business mistakes that marginalized a great product.

Gowalla, simply put, was awesome. The UI, the UX, the artwork were all far superior to the competition (really just Foursquare at the time). The business model was innovative and resonated with the mobile community. I’m not talking about the check in component, it was the virtual goods that made the company unique. A perfect example of their power and what was unique to the competition was when they worked with the New Jersey Nets to offer virtual tickets for games when they checked in to a number of locations around where the Nets played. People checked in, got the tickets, went to the game. Easy. Unique (at that time). Business model (see Case Study: New Jersey Nets + Gowalla + Sam Taggart = VaynerMedia rewriting the book on location-based marketing and VaynerMedia, The New Jersey Nets and Gowalla strike again and why EVERY brand, big or small, should be using location-based marketing — With Sam Taggart).

The move away from the check in as core was a smart move but one that left Gowalla in a tight spot – hunting for their business model. If check ins were a commodity, what could make them unique in this market? Virtual goods? Maybe as a piece of something larger but they were receiving many calls about custom badge design and companies looking to replicate the Nets experience – there was at least a demand.

Curated travel

Curated travel? Yikes, last in to a competitive market with established players and no real unique selling point. Did the mobile world need another one of these? Apparently not. Didn’t take a genius to see they were struggling and their community of loyal users voiced their rage, discontent and fled. The app was still beautiful – really really beautiful – but it went from an app I would use almost everyday to an app that I would shun because it required a persistent connection to data or it wouldn’t work – something that costs too much when travelling abroad.

In the end it was Facebook

If Gowalla was being built to flip it failed in that – it would have been better to go at the peak of their popularity – so this makes me believe they had given up. The lack of clear direction was trying on their users and, while I’m not sure what the final price will be, my guess is that the acquisition today was one for talent and expertise, not one for technology or vision or product or leadership.

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About the author

Rob Woodbridge

I'm Rob, the founder of and I've spent 14 years immersed in the mobile and pervasive computing world. During this great time I've helped some of the most innovative companies grow their business through mobile. If you are in need of a mobile business advisor or coach, connect with me here to get things rolling.

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