This past week I traveled to San Francisco for the semiannual Ad Tech conference and the 2013 AppNexus San Francisco Summit.  The week was a great success.  We met with lots of clients, made some significant product announcements and got some good press.  All in all, it was a great week and, ironically, one of the highlights of the trip came on my flight out there.

I had never before noticed that JetBlue boarded their planes from back to front.  This time I noticed.  My ticket read “7E” and I was one of the very last people to get on the airplane for our Monday morning departure from JFK.  Settling into my seat, I mentally prepared myself for the long trip ahead.  Sandwiched tightly in a middle seat, the first thing I noticed was all of the babies and toddlers on the flight.  Seemed like way more than usual.  Most of them were crying or yelling, including the one sitting directly behind me kicking my seat.  Amid the symphony of shrieking babies, I chuckled and looked over at the gentleman on the left, hoping to commiserate over the auditory assault.  He was totally unfazed and concentrating intently on his iPad Mini, sending emails.  He looked about my age and vaguely familiar.  For a second I thought we went to high school together.  I lingered for a moment examining his profile.  I quickly concluded that I probably didn’t know him and, having failed to capture his attention, I shrugged and went back to minding my own business.  Minutes later the engines on the Airbus A320 roared to life and we were on our way to San Francisco.

Hours into the flight, I was weary from working on my laptop and decided to give conversation another try.  I turned left and asked my seatmate what brought him to San Francisco.  He explained that he worked for a consumer technology company and that he travels out regularly for business.  I explained that I also worked for a technology company and that my name was Andrew.  We shook hands and he said he name was Dennis.  At that point I realized where I recognized him from – I was sitting next to Dennis Crowley, the CEO of Foursquare.

We chatted for a while about his business and the best way to monetize the Foursquare platform.  I had read a lot about Foursquare, but it was really interesting to hear about the company directly from the co-founder and CEO.  He explained the direction the business was heading and I talked a little bit about AppNexus and the monetization solutions we provide app publishers.  I couldn’t believe my good fortune.  Many people would pay to spend an hour with Dennis Crowley.  I got to spend six hours with him just by the luck of the draw.  It’s probably the closest I’ve ever come to winning the lottery.

It’s hard to say how much impact our conversation had on him.  Maybe he came away inspired and full of ideas about how to take Foursquare to the next level.  Maybe he sat there totally annoyed wishing I would leave him alone.  Hard to know for sure.  Either way, just three days later Foursquare announced a fundraising round of $41M, released a new version of their mobile app and received a ton of press.  Who knows how much of that was influenced by a chance encounter on the flight out to San Francisco.

As the plane landed and started to taxi to the gate, Dennis and I both pulled our iPhone’s and “checked in” at the San Francisco airport using the Foursquare mobile app.  I sat there for a sec and smiled, just appreciating a meta-Foursquare high that only few have experienced.  Shaking hands, we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.  What a way to start the week.

Sitting Next to Dennis Crowley on the Airplane
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