How Foursquare bought my domain to steal my idea

A timeline showing how my idea made it into the hands of Foursquare


Today is May 1st, 2014— the day Foursquare announced they are creating a new service called Swarm app.

The problem is that I have had a very similar idea since 2010. You will learn on this page that I spoke to the Founder of Foursquare prior to them pursuing the same idea almost four years later.

Why did I sell the domain? The money would go towards finally funding the development of Swarm. After the sale of the domain, I would just need to secure a different URL. I previously owned swarmm.com, joinswarm.com and getswarmapp.com.

As a lot of web designers, developers, and other creatives would attest to, it’s not easy to get funding without proof of concept. We were in the middle of developing a beta version for the application and still are.

I created this dropmark account to share some of my files that once were secret: http://swarmapp.dropmark.com

Hopefully this story helps you to protect your next idea.

Sean Taylor @_seantaylor

Designer: Kyle Ruane

The Timeline

Dec 9, 2010 11:23am

I email Naveen, founder of Foursquare

First off, I want to say congratulations on creating such a life-changing app as Foursquare. It’s a pleasure to know that you can be reached directly, and it’s very impressive. You’re basically living my dream. Anyways, I have an idea for an app that could possibly use Foursquare’s API or maybe even just be built into Foursquare. The problem is I don’t know programming too well, I’m just a full-time designer and frontend developer. Obviously I want to protect my idea, but if you’re interested, can I send you an NDA first? I’d love to talk to you about it and see what you think and if it’s something you might be interested in. Thanks again for your time and I look forward to talking with you!
Sean Taylor

Dec 11, 2010 6:00pm

Naveen responds to email

hmm, i usually don’t do NDAs — it’s something i learned from working with a lot of other guys in the tech industry ☺ let me know, even if at a high level, and how i might be able to help provide feedback. it’s not like i’m going to go out and do it — i have a full time job that eats up my weekends too ☺ and agreed on the dev experience: it’s hard to get started. but sometimes the only way to try something out is to just hack away and it and try to get it to work by yourself. i think you’d be surprised how much you can get done even if you only have a little background on development
Naveen

Dec 20, 2010 9:19pm

I begin searching for developers

Here’s a snippet from an email to a local friend/developer:

I started calling this app “Treehouse” from the beginning since it was focused on hanging out. Now I’m leaning towards “Swarm” so it can have a theme and be fun. It’s not set in stone yet though. Here’s what I jotted down on the plane this weekend. Hopefully you can understand it and kind of get a more in-depth idea.
Sean Taylor

Feb 14, 2011 10:18pm

Concept summary is written

View Document


Mar 9, 2011 3:52pm

List of app functions are written

View Document


May 16, 2011 1:25pm

I backorder swarmapp.com through GoDaddy Auctions


June 1, 2011 5:57pm

Wireframes are complete

View Wireframes


Jan 13, 2012 3:57pm

I secure swarmapp.com through GoDaddy Auctions


July 4, 2011 12:58pm

First batch of app designs are complete

View Designs


Nov 20, 2012 9:13am

Website goes live with coming soon page and email sign up

View Website


April 4, 2014 9:26pm

I receive an email from a personal email account asking about the domain

Hi Sean, I am trying to get in contact with you regarding your domain swarmapp.com to see if you wanted to sell it. I tried emailing you directly but didn’t hear back. Are you still using the domain? Let me know! Thanks, Jon
Jon F.

April 4, 2014 1:43pm

I ask what the purpose of the domain is via email

Do you mind if I sign an NDA and know the purpose of the website? I want to make sure that the product we are building doesn’t fall within a similar scope before we agree on anything.
Sean Taylor

April 4, 2014 6:46pm

I receive a reply via email about the purpose of the domain

I also am in a bit of jam around any kind of information of signing an NDA as I signed a MNDA (Mutual) with my client and cannot relay any info (their rules!). I can see about signing if you want, but my thinking is that I won’t be able to. This is fairly common as its part of most consulting agreements.
Jon F.

April 7, 2014 1:29pm

Escrow trasaction for sale of domain (swarmapp.com), Facebook account, and Twitter account is initiated


April 10, 2014 4:16pm

Escrow trasaction for sale of domain (swarmapp.com), Facebook account, and Twitter account is complete


April 28, 2014 12:59pm

I give away the Tumblr account

I realize I also have swarmapp.tumblr.com. After a few emails, I decide to give the domain broker swarmapp.tumblr.com as well at no extra cost.


May 1, 2014 11:00am

My idea has been stolen by Foursquare

Was my idea patented? No. But, Foursquare did see the idea since it was clearly stated on the website (swarmapp.com) prior to them purchasing it. Even if they have similar idea, why target my name and domain? When asked, why weren’t they willing to sign an NDA to make sure the idea wasn’t similar? Usually people will not sign an NDA if they know their idea is similar to the one discussed in the NDA. This alleviates the person of any restrictions and/or conflict that it may place on producing their own idea.

It’s myself against an enormously funded company. I work 8-5pm to make sure my bills are paid. I don’t have people throwing millions of dollars at me to back my idea.

All I can do is continue to build— build a better product.


What’s next?

We are still building Swarm.
Sign up here or let us know if you are interested in helping!


Update

May 5, 2014 4:46pm

Foursquare Labs trademarks Swarm January 31, 2014 and updates April 30, 2014.
http://tmsearch.uspto.gov/bin/showfield?f=doc&state=4801:dee522.3.11
http://tmsearch.uspto.gov/bin/showfield?f=doc&state=4801:dee522.2.1

IC 009. US 021 023 026 036 038. G & S: Downloadable software in the nature of a mobile application for displaying and sharing a user’s location and finding, locating, and interacting with other users and places; downloadable mobile application software for displaying stylized icons; Computer application software for mobile phones, namely, software for posting reviews and recommendations on products and services of others
IC 041. US 100 101 107. G & S: Entertainment services, namely, providing on-line computer games
IC 042. US 100 101. G & S: Providing on-line non-downloadable software for displaying and sharing a user’s location and finding, locating, and interacting with other users and places; on-line non-downloadable software for displaying and sharing a user’s location and finding, locating, and interacting with other users and places, incorporating stylized icons
IC 045. US 100 101. G & S: On-line social networking services