Why I’m not winking back (on groupon)

originally published here.

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I went to a solid meetup last night to hear a woman I admire speak about building companies (and really to ask her about the angels that participated in her last round). I enjoyed her talk and q&a but woke up this morning with a bad taste in my mouth.

I was walking to grab some coffee and listening to a novel on Audible when I heard a phrase that brought my mood into focus:

“…winking at me as if I was in on the joke, which I wasn’t.”

One of the women I spoke with at the event decided to make a negative remark (or joke?) about Groupon casually in conversation. I don’t even remember what it was — something about the technology being weak, or nobody wanting to work there.

Unfortunately, I’d already been ‘credentialed’ by another person in the circle and she spoke up, so I was forced to acknowledge that I had worked there for 2.5 years and largely found my direction there. It was one of those winking ‘we all agree’ statements/jokes that regurgitates an empty popular opinion, and tightly coupled with similar criticism of a couple of SF-based companies. I like to challenge these sorts of things with my friends and usually prefer to ignore it in polite conversation (unless I’ve had 2 drinks). I offered a brief defense and left the conversation; it’s been awhile since I had to entertain the relentless ‘helpful’ advice I got about the company in 2012/13 after our splashy magazine-cover days were behind us so I was a bit surprised.

So, anyway, here’s a short list of reasons that I think it’s stupid to regurgitate techcrunch uncritically. I like to think I would stand by these even if I weren’t quite personally invested in this case.

 

  • “Boring” and “unfashionable” is a state where every company will spend at least some time.

If you support entrepreneurs or want to be one, get used to it. In fact, pray for it — you want to achieve the state where your systems are humming. The downside is that you will lose talent to other places that are sexier. The upside is that not every talented person needs constant external validation that their company and mission are worthwhile.

I would argue, actually, that folks that haven’t been along for the ride from fashionable to unfashionable are less prepared for the pain of trying to define their own vision.

Improving marketing efficacy for small business globally is not even close to over or uninteresting.

  • Sales and Marketing are skills you need in building technology businesses. Some technology companies are good places to learn these skills quickly.

Yes. I started to write a lot more about this, and specifically what a fantastic microcosm our sales structures were for discovering how unintuitive managing a sales team can be for a lot of people that otherwise look like archetypes of future founders (all the credentials), but I realized I sound a little mean. Suffice to say, building/editing teams of good salespeople and working with marketing to find the right balance can be heart-wrenching work.

Selling and marketing are skills, the only way you get them is by jumping in and doing it. It’s cool to learn at a place that’s well-resourced to help you make discoveries quickly.

  • Big companies create multiple narratives and opportunities for pockets of magic.

What

  • freelance tech reporters trying to get pageviews so they have $ to eat
  • vocal ‘consultants’ trying to get contracts with the company and
  • my parents’ neighbors

think about the company has little to do with the talent of the various teams.

It didn’t actually make working better for people that weren’t paid on commission (most of the company) when everyone loved us and cheered us. It also didn’t make us worse when they hated us. Weak direct managers and exciting offers elsewhere are more responsible for people leaving...like at every company.

From the beginning, humble, talented people worked for Groupon. I was fortunate to work for and with a bunch of them (too many to link to here right now). Many still work there today.

From the beginning, there were many people in the company deeply committed to causes and a culture of performance tempered by generosity; the point was basically a social activism concept. They’re still (literally today) doing great things with some of their money.

People that are unhappy with their experiences deserve to be confident about their narrative as much as I do mine and I’m not saying there weren’t and aren’t things I would change there. Though to be fair — I’m also the type to propose changes to stuff I finished an hour ago. But please don’t expect me to cosign your winking/’clever’ “Oh, then YOU know even better than everyone else!” statement after you make a dig at thousands of peoples’ work. At any given time there are great battles, successes and failures happening inside a company like Groupon and that’s a damn cool thing. When I started my professional career it didn’t even exist.

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Kathleen MeilComment