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November 2010

Why GroupOn Matters to Google and GroogleOn Matters to You

Disclaimer: the ideas presented below are speculation and entirely my own.  These thoughts do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer.

The internet is all abuzz about Google's rumored aquisition of GroupOn.  Here's why I think it's a great idea, regardless of whether or not this rumor turns out to be true.


Google's strongest revenue generating businesses are built on three principles:

  1. Self service bidding (enabling advertisers large and small - the long-tail adds up)
  2. A fantastic user value (search results)
  3. The contextual insertion of advertiser messaging into user areas (search and display on and off Google)

Why this would work for Google

Maps is probably Google's most ubiquitous mobile/location offering.  While Google has integrated offers into their Maps/Places platform, GroupOn is subscription based and is sitting on a massive pile of email subscribers. Just think of the reach play.

But I don't think this would be exclusively about cross-pollination of their messaging, extending their respective reach.  This is going to be about a new mashup of their platforms at their core, enabling an entirely new world of location-sensitive socially-integrated incentives driving commerce.  This new hybrid solution could theoretically operate on a Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) model, attracting premium rates.

This would coincide nicely with the rumored launch of GroupOn's self-service platform.  When we combine the social mechanics, brand reputation, momentum and subscriber based of GroupOn with the ubiquity of Google Maps and Android, we arrive at a strong offering to users, advertisers and Google (revenue), all built on a self-serviceable platform.  (I say self-serviceable as I'm not sure GroupOn will entirely abandon their core of single featured offers with the launch of a self-service model, rather I see these as complimentary offerings sitting side by side.)  Whether it's a merger or an integration agreement, a GroupOn/Google Maps mashup would be a powerful entity. 

Why this would work for GroupOn

With a growing field of competitors hitting GroupOn's scene, now would be the perfect time to make use of Google's scalability expertise in both technology and sales.  Additionally, nobody has driven self service bidding quite like Google.

Why this would work for users

As early adopters, we enjoy the serendipity, group behavior and discounts of GroupOn.  The mainstream by and large knows and trusts Google.  A larger user base and solid extended platform will help us get what we want, only better.

Hey everybody, don't look at THAT

577671123_82d817195e_o Something remarkable is happening.  In this era of forced transparency we know more about our politicians, our safety and one another than we ever have before.  We know about the good, the bad and the ugly.  We actively witness the sausage being made, and watch all of this with a morbid fascination as our friends provide color commentary from the social media peanut gallery.  

As we learn our role and find our voices in the greatest hivemind in the history of mankind, we revel in the sensational.  We've become like children laughing at a classmate who's pants have split.  After all, it's fun... right?


But we are also destroying ourselves and eroding our society and those who work hardest to make it a better one.  In a web of screaming and finger pointing, there is far less tolerance for rational discussion and consideration.  Grounded solutions have no place in the immediate response of the masses.  Like it or not, we're actively proving in the Twitter's trending topics that we are driven by the tagline.  If the message isn't short enough to properly hashtag, is it meme-able?  

The Rabbi Finkelman Rule

One of my lifelong mentors was my eighth grade teacher.  He had a strict classroom policy: when he disciplined our classmate we weren't allowed to look at the student being disciplined.  After all, it's bad enough to get called out by the teacher, why does our classmate need the added embarrassment of 20 friends looking at him or laughing at him?

As a society we collectively and regularly point fingers and make demands, occassionally demeaning those trying to build solutions.  We impede progress.  We destroy rather than build.  The more that we sensationalize our world, the more polarized we become.  When it comes to social issues, we often end up putting those most invested in building the solutions we seek at the other end of the table.  This forces those with the ability to affect change to focus their energies on the defensive rather than building the solutions we need.  


I highly doubt that the TSA leadership meant to do any of us any harm.  They are doing their best to protect us.  Yet the social masses don't seem to voice their opinions with any consideration of those individuals they are blasting, focusing entirely on the negative.  Sure, the policy may be invasive, but is the sensationalist backlash really the most effective response?  Do we really think it more effective to force change as an adversary rather than as a partner?

The Brand Marketing Translation

Consider how people respond to a negative customer experience.  They don't say "That hotel should reconsider their policy" they say "Screw Hotel X and their management for how I'm being treated #HotelFail."  This response scares away brand representatives who want to help in social media and leads management to believe that people in social really are crazy.  You're not helping yourself and you're certainly aren't helping those who want to help you.


There are times where nothing short of irrational finger pointing and rage are called for.  These cases should be a rarity, not a rule.  Use your own judgement.

The professional acceptance of optimal imperfection

1151023079_677e83fa43_b I have never experienced perfection in the man made.

This post isn't about the importance of embracing failure as a means of moving forward.  There is a good reason why most big organizations temper their exposure to failure.  Their risk/reward needs just don't justify the leap into the unproven.  Nobody aims to be less than perfect.  But it's time we embraced optimal imperfection.

There is a massive chasm between optimal imperfection and failure.  Failure speaks of poor performance.  Optimal imperfection isn't about the untapped opportunities but the compromises made to deliver the best-possible solution, to make the most of the imperfect world we live in.

If life were perfect then we would have nothing to strive for.  Business innovation cannot be about finding the perfect solution because the perfect solution rarely exists.  Rather, we must focus on finding our optimal imperfection points.  We must do our best to identify the best possible compromises that will deliver on our staged objectives.  Outline the compromises you're embraced and build a gameplan for improvement.  Map your equity exchange and set expectations.  Nobody buys into a platform that fails to deliver, but not every solution need to a killer, it just needs to be good enough to meet your staged objectives and expectations.

Hallmarks of Optimal Imperfection

  • Budgets aren't front loaded, but phased with peaks and valleys to meet phased deployment needs.
  • Risk is mitigated by safe guards as best possible and limited to the rational risk-reward needs of the organization.
  • Collaboration and innovation is an objective, but silos and challenges are expected, accepted for what they are, challenged and kept in mind.  
  • Feedback is invited, expected, appreciated and considered, even if it can't be acted against.
  • Regular scheduled regroups at key intervals consider progress and feedback against vision goal based on roadmap.
  • Interim solutions are acceptable compromises.
  • Relentless optimism coupled a strong supporting environment invites both out of the box and incrementally innovative thinking.
  • Baby steps.


Living with passion in a defined space

651043585_1abc9fcdd9_o Who would you rather have on your team: the passionate, creative innovator or the systematic, structured organized thinker?  99% of the time you really need the Clark Kent, and when you go looking for the superhero you end up settling on a compromise that reeks of mediocrity.  I'd rather be a fantastic Clark Kent than a failed superman.

There's a time for out-of-the-box undefined thinking.  There is a time for endless vision.  There is a time for big picture thinking about re-inventing the industry you're in, flipping it all on it's head.  This BIG thinking will drive big change.  But this big thinking comes with real big risk.  

Real business is rarely about big change.  In real-life, creative thinkers are more often than not focused on defined objectives and instructed to leverage defined solution sets and tools to solve old problems.  We may occasionally ask the creative thinkers of different disciplines to come together but rarely do we truly look to shake things up.  We know what works acceptably well and we milk the margins of creativity to try to drive incrementally better business.  And this works.  Until it doesn't.

There's a time and a place for the wild west.  If you need radical change and have are ready to lay it all on the line, bring in the big minds.  By all means, shake it up and go for the ride.

But if you want a sustained, profitable business you probably don't need to and shouldn't be shaking it up all too often.  You need passionate change agents.  You need systematic, smart thinkers.  And as a leader, it's your job to bring them together to drive sustained, strategic innovation, discovery and ultimately, change.

Key Takeaway

Know yourself and know your business.  If you need to change, be ready for change and communicate this accordingly.  If you just want to do things a little bit better, don't go looking at multi-million dollar concepts that challenge everything.  Embrace your reality.