The group-buying site is barely 18 months old and already worth more than the economies of some small countries.
Andrew Mason of Groupon
The social group-buying siteGroupon – which just in December closed a $30 million round at a $250 million valuation – is raising more money at an eye-popping valuation of between $1.2 billion and $1.35 billion, TechCrunch's Michael Arrington reports.
The lead investor reportedly is Digital Sky Technologies, a Russian Internet holding company that has a 3.5 percent stake in Facebook. A spokesman for DST told Inc.com he had no comment, and referred queries to Groupon. (Also today, Chinese Internet conglomerate Tencent Holdings said it will acquire a 10.26 percent slice of DST. Price tag: $300 million.)
The barely 18-month-old Groupon's runaway success suggests if you've got an Internet-based idea that failed in the pre-2001 era, it may be time to dust it off and try it again. Seriously.
After all, Groupon, which launched in November 2008, isn't a radically new idea. Remember Mobshop? The group-buying site was an analysts' darling once upon a time. It raised $51 million from Mayfield Fund and Netscape founder Marc Andreessen before shutting its doors in 2001. The company's announcement came after its fiercest competitor Mercata – majority owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's Vulcan Ventures fund – also went belly up, cancelling a $100 million stock offering.
Andreessen e-mailed Private Equity Hub: "I don't know much about Groupon, but the other major difference is: 1999 versus 2010. 100x+ the number of Internet users times 100x+ bandwidth per user times 100x+ users more comfortable using the Internet for ecommerce and many other things in their lives = a massively larger market for Groupon than Mobshop. I.e., you wonder about whether Groupon is Mobshop; I wonder how many concepts that didn't work between 1996 and 2000 will work now. I think lots."
Don't have your own idea whose time has (you hope) come? You wouldn't be the first person to imitate Groupon. There are dozens of Mini-Mes – and Vinicius Vacanti, founder of Yipit, a local deals aggregator in New York City, thinks there will be hundreds of them. They're unlikely to reach Groupon's size, but Vacanti toldSilicon Alley Insider the companies are super-cheap to run and have virtually no barriers to entry.
Yipit hopes to differentiate itself by capitalizing on the fact that all deals do not appeal to all people – and that there are now an awful lot of deal e-mails clogging inboxes. The company sorts through some 60 plus deal services to put together its own daily offer, based on preferences users have specified and how good a deal is in comparison to recent similar ones.
That's a lesson that Groupon, which is based in Chicago, is learning all too well. A quick search on search this morning brought up disgruntled tweets within minutes of the news that the company had scored big. A sample: "Okay Cincy Groupon, can you start offering things inside the 275 loop again?" and "Dear Groupon. You have been disappointing lately. Even your side deals are unappealing as of recent. Get it together."
Inc. contributing editor COURTNEY RUBIN was for five years a London-based staff writer for People magazine. Rubin, a former senior writer for Washingtonian magazine, has written for the New York Times magazine, Time, Marie Claire, and other publications. She is the author of The Weight-Loss Diaries.