FSQ Faces/Behind the Tech: Emily Owayni, Research & Insights Lead

Can you tell us a little about your role and responsibilities at Foursquare?

I currently lead our Research and Insights team at Foursquare. My role is to synthesize location data into actionable insights for brands, agencies, publishers and platforms, enabling them to uncover and capitalize on behavioral trends and foot traffic patterns. I collaborate closely with our data science, insights reporting team to explore new methodologies and identify unique ways we could be leveraging location data to drive value for our customers. 

How did you end up at Foursquare? What does your career journey look like?

After graduating from the University of Oregon, I spent the first few years of my career in account management at various advertising agencies, and relocated to NYC somewhere along the way. After deciding I wanted to explore a different career path, I took six months off to travel throughout Southeast Asia, and eventually returned to a job in customer success at an AdTech startup. During that time, I came across a job posting for my current role at Foursquare. In truth, I knew little about Foursquare at the time outside of the City Guide app, which I was (and still am) a huge fan of. So, that’s truly what really drew me to the job posting – an opportunity to work for the company that developed my favorite app for discovering new places. Fast forward to today, I’ve been with Foursquare for three years (coming up on my three year anniversary in just a few weeks!). So, I guess you could say that my love for discovering and exploring new places is really what brought me to Foursquare.

Did you always know you wanted to work in technology?

Funny enough, I had an obscure childhood dream of becoming an artist at Pixar. In college, I studied advertising and digital art, and realized I could pivot my love for traditional drawing & painting into a career in digital art & creative direction. Fast forward to today, while I’m not necessary in the role I had envisioned, I ultimately feel that I have ended up where I was meant to be all along – in a role that allows me to channel my curiosity, express my creativity and leverage my analytical skills in the always interesting and ever-changing world of technology. So to answer the question, I didn’t always know, but I do believe it was meant to be.

Since starting at Foursquare, how has your career grown or changed?

Through my journey with Foursquare, I’ve discovered a career path that truly brings me joy and fulfillment. I am constantly learning, and that’s what keeps it exciting. It’s hard to imagine that prior to coming to Foursquare, working with data was uncharted territory for me. Now, with data analysis being such an integral part of my role, I can’t imagine doing anything else, and I know my skills as a data storyteller will continue to grow with the support of the entire Foursquare community. 

After starting as an individual contributor, it has been amazing to see the growth of the insights practice, which has led to a number of new hires I am excited to mentor. I’m grateful to Foursquare for giving me the opportunity to continuously grow in this role, and entrusting me to lead and grow this aspect of our business. It’s been a highly rewarding experience! 

What sets Foursquare apart as an employer?

I feel very fortunate to work with an incredibly talented group of individuals at Foursquare, each of whom brings something unique and valuable to the table. I am constantly learning from my peers and feel encouraged and empowered, reflecting Foursquare’s guiding principle of “owners over occupation.” This principle is further upheld by managers who trust me to execute my work and explore new ideas, but are always available to offer guidance and support. 

Why is diversity, inclusion and equity (DE&I) important to you, and how do you think Foursquare’s culture embodies these values?

I am always eager to learn, and the best way to do so is to build strong relationships with individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds who can offer unique perspectives. Foursquare does an excellent job of diversifying the team and creates a highly collaborative environment that is fertile for personal growth and productive communication. Foursquare’s culture allows me to be a part of something bigger than myself, working together toward goals which cannot be achieved alone. 

What’s the most exciting thing you’re working on right now?

There are a couple of projects in the works that I’m really excited about at the moment. One being our research around post-pandemic ‘return to office’ culture and foot traffic trends. I have some theories about what’s motivating people to voluntarily return to offices, and how office visitation is impacting foot traffic to nearby businesses. It’s been really exciting to see our data already proving some of those theories to be true!

What do you see as the greatest challenges facing businesses today? What role can Foursquare play in addressing those challenges?

The current state of our economy is inevitably going to impact all businesses, big and small. This instability will especially influence the behavior of everyday consumers, which we’ve already begun to see in shifting foot traffic patterns over the past several months. During these uncertain times, it’s more important than ever for businesses to leverage big data which allows them to make effective strategic decisions. Foursquare’s solutions can play a major role in navigating economic recession, allowing businesses to serve their customers in creative ways. 

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

“There will never be a perfect time.” While not necessarily advice, this ethos applies both personally and professionally, serving as a reminder to maintain a healthy perspective and motivation to take productive action. If you wait for permission, or the “perfect moment,” you could be waiting a long time. When it comes to professional development, I think it’s super important to have an opportunistic outlook, take on the big projects and figure it out as you go, because there’s no such thing as the “perfect time” for anything, so don’t allow perfect to be the enemy of growth. 

What do you like to do in your spare time?

These days, most of my free time has been put toward planning a destination wedding in Mexico City early next year. But more broadly, I love to travel and explore! I live for the rush of new experiences and exploring new territory for the first time. As mentioned, I’m also a huge fan of Foursquare’s City Guide app, largely due to my love for curating personal lists of highly rated restaurants & bars I want to check out, whether at home in NYC or during my travels. City Guide has led me to some really awesome places I would’ve likely never stumbled upon.

What local hidden gem would you recommend to people?

Too many to count! But my favorite neighborhood spot is Little Canal. By day, it’s a cute corner coffee shop in the Lower East Side, and by night it’s a dimly lit and cozy bar with an awesome happy hour menu. Another favorite hidden gem is Damascus Bakery in Brooklyn Heights – incredible middle eastern food. When the weather allows for it, I love to stop in for an assortment of treats and head over to Brooklyn Bridge Park (Pier 6) for a scenic picnic. Nothing beats that NYC skyline view!