IntroductionIt Didn’t Used to Be This Way

The value of an idea lies in the using of it.

—Thomas Edison

So how did Foursquare predict Chipotle’s sales for the first quarter of 2016 with such scary accuracy?

Permit me four answers to this question.

Here’s the really short one: data.

Here’s the second, just-plain-short one: Foursquare collected accurate and real-time data on Chipotle check-ins over time. Equipped with this information, the company’s data scientists built a model. That’s it.

Now, I don’t mean to oversimplify or to diminish Foursquare, its employees, or what it was able to do here. As explained in the preface, Foursquare merely answered a question by using the technology and data available to it with a considerable tip of the hat to:

  • The hardware of third-party smartphone manufacturers such as Apple, Samsung, and others.
  • Powerful software such as iOS and Android.
  • Related tools in the form of software development kits and application program interfaces.
  • The massive investments of Verizon, AT&T, and others to build their carrier networks.
  • Government research and infrastructure projects.*

That is, Foursquare built something very impressive, but not entirely unprecedented—at least in today’s environment—and not without considerable assistance. Jeff Bezos of Amazon has made the same point: Yes, he worked very hard, but his company did not need to build a national transportation system. It merely took advantage of the existing one.

The third and longer answer is: ...

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