Groupon, the insanely fast-growing online-deals purveyor, has a thousand employees in its Chicago home base, half of them in sales, its founder and CEO Andrew Mason, said today.
Had the company started in Silicon Valley, he might have felt pressure to automate its sales, he noted in an interview at the Stanford Accel Symposium on the university’s campus. Instead, Groupon went with the “pragmatic” decision to hire people to call on the small businesses who advertise deals through its website and email newsletters.
“It’s a hybrid human-technology company,” said Mason.
That human touch, including the quirky voice its staffers use in writing up its deals, may be on its way out. The company has a backlog of 35,000 businesses waiting to advertise on it — as long as six months in some cities — and it’s testing a self-service platform that will allow businesses to sign up for deals online without going through a salesperson.
Mason said he was concerned that the company could lose the personal touch as it grew.
“I worry about the unknown of what it means to be a bigger company,” said Mason.
To maintain the company’s culture, he said he pulls pranks like hiring a man to walk around in a ballerina outfit for a week, with no explanation.
“It’s about shocking people into feeling alive,” said Mason.
Mason frets he might be losing his own personal touch. In Groupon’s early days, he spent a lot of time answering customers’ emails. Nowadays, he forwards most emails to his head of customer service.
“I just don’t have time,” said Mason.
Displaying the wry humor that pervades Groupon’s offerings, Mason cracked, “I wonder if I just don’t care about people anymore.”