By Grace Nasri, Iran Times
Omid Ashtari, born in Tehran on March 27, 1980, is set to become Foursquare’s first international employee, as the social media company—famous for its “check-in” feature— expands globally.
Ashtari is the perfect candidate to take the company international. In his 31 years, Ashtari has lived in eight different countries, including: Iran, Germany, Australia, Mexico, Denmark, Ireland, UK and the US. Ashtari left Iran in 1983, when he was just three, and moved to Frankfurt, Germany. Sixteen years later, Ashtari moved to Australia, bounced around to Mexico and then moved to Cologne, where he received his BA in European Business Administration. He completed a semester abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark, and then returned to Cologne until the summer of 2004, when he moved to Dublin, Ireland, to work for Google. In 2007, Google moved Ashtari to London and then to San Francisco in early 2011. After leaving Google for Foursquare earlier this year, Ashtari will be relocating to London. His extensive travels have taught him Farsi, German, English, Spanish and French.
At Google, Ashtari began in sales but was eventually promoted to the New Business Development Manager, where he worked on several projects including—most recently—Google’s social media project, Google+, which is seen as a direct competitor to Facebook.
In an interview with Ashtari, he explained why he left Google for Foursquare. “Working for Google was an amazing experience and I not only met a lot of outstanding colleagues—many of whom have become good friends—but also learned a ton. At the same time, Foursquare had been on my radar from day one. I love the product and the mission to become a guide in your pocket for the real world. So when I was offered the opportunity to take on the role as the first employee in Europe for Foursquare I had to seriously evaluate my options: Continue to work for Google—one of the leading tech companies of our time as a small fish in a big pond—or join Foursquare, one of the hottest startups around in a challenging role and be a bigger fish in a smaller pond. As you know by now, I went for the latter and am very happy with my choice. While Google is an amazing company, it couldn't give me the type of role with the responsibility I was seeking at this point in my career,” Ashtari explained.
While Foursquare has been growing in terms of its users—Ashtari said the company currently has more than 10 million members, 50 percent of whom are international—Facebook’s check-in feature is now competing with Foursquare for users. But Ashtari explained that Foursquare’s check-in offers more than Facebook’s simple check-in feature.
“We are happy to see that many companies are embracing the check-in model; it validates that we were and are on to something. But Foursquare offers more than just the check-in feature. For instance, we offer users an ‘Explore’ function in the app that gives you suggestions for places that you should visit based on your check-in history in a similar way to Amazon’s tailored recommendations feature,” Ashtari said, adding, “It’s a great tool for people that like to find new things to do in their cities or need suggestions for things to do in an unknown city.... I Foursquare has a broader vision for the location space than some of our competitors that just offer check-ins and offers.”
Ashtari elaborated on his top three Foursquare features. “One of them has to be Foursquare’s ‘Explore’ feature. I've found some amazing places with that feature. What I also love are ‘Tips.’ People who don't look at tips on Foursquare are missing a lot of great information. It's really like the wisdom of crowds for every place. Wonder what dish to order at a restaurant? Take a look at people's tips. What's also great is that a lot of brands have left tips all over cities around the world. For instance, The History Channel’s London tips are awesome! Checking in at Big Ben? Want to know about the history? Look at the History Channels tips,” Ashtari said.
“Finally, I also love ‘Specials.’ I recently saw a restaurant offering to name their dish of the week after the Mayor of the restaurant—the person that checks into that place the most—of the place. I love that! Imagine people ordering Omid's special sandwich of the week. I've also gotten free edamame and free dessert just for checking-in, which in turn makes me more loyal to that particular business,” Omid said. Customer loyalty is an issue that other social companies—most prominently Groupon—are facing a hard time with. The fact that Foursquare’s products encourage customer loyalty is a positive sign for the New York-based company.
The Iranian-born, German-raised technie is now back and fourth between New York and London, where he’s looking for an office space.
When asked where he sees Foursquare moving next, Ashtari said, “Even though my remit is to work on the European market, my focus will initially be the UK. I don't see us opening any other offices in Europe any time soon.”
As for social media in general, Ashtari doesn’t think it’s a fad that will fade anytime soon. “I'm excited about Google+ and I think we'll see that platform growing and becoming a lot more useful than it is now. In general, I feel social media adds a lot of utility but also noise to my life. I predict that we will see a lot less noise through smarter auto-magical filters. I'm also really excited to see more social collaboration emerging. Startups like AirBnB, Taskrabbit and Getaround are just the beginning for a future where people use the social web to ultimately share their assets and time in a more collaborative, efficient and resource friendly ways. The fact that Kleiner Perkins last year started the sFund (social fund) with Amazon, Facebook and Zynga (Google joined this month)—funding social sites like Klout, Spotify, FindTheBest and Flipboard—shows how much support there is for social companies from the major players.”
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