Rothschild: What students can learn from Groupon

Ben Rothschild

In what has been called the fastest growing company ever, Groupon has quickly become one of my favorite websites. Founded by Northwestern alum Andrew Mason (Music ‘03), the site has grown to be valued at $6 billion in only two years and just turned down a lucrative buyout offer from Google. Mason’s style and rise to power are unorthodox though and has made me reflect on what I think is important to gain from being at NU for four years.

Groupon is an offspring of Mason’s other internet startup, The Point, which focused on getting groups of people to support philanthropic and other causes. Visitors would pledge their support to a cause, but their donation would only be released when the cause reached some predetermined threshold. For example, there was a cause dedicated to creating a dome over Chicago, but supporters would only have to pay the amount they pledged if a total of $10 billion was pledged. This creates an incentive for people to spread the word and get people to join their cause. It was not until this model was applied to small businesses that Mason’s idea took off. At Groupon, the deals can range from restaurants to spa treatments to sky diving.

Mason’s success shows how the future belongs to those with a very different type of mind than what we are accustomed to as the typical entrepreneur or CEO. The mold is changing. Mason is very much a right-brainer. A music major at NU, he has a personality that I would probably describe as part comedian, part geek, and part awkward freshman. Sure, there will always be the successful left-brainers, the number crunchers and logisticians, but Mason’s success shows that the right-brainers are coming back with a vengeance.

What has really made Mason successful is how he has morphed two of his strongest qualities into Groupon: his creativity and quirkiness. He has created a culture where it has become “normal” for the company to rent a monkey for a few days or have a man dress up in a tutu dance around the office for a week. Some estimate there are more than 500 Groupon clones across the world today, but Groupon’s creativity and quirkiness is really what sets it apart from the rest.

Creativity isn’t a skill that is necessarily easily cultivated at NU. Instead, you obtain it by going out of your way and exerting yourself. You can pass most courses without showing any bent of creativity. However, Mason demonstrates the importance of challenging yourself to think of problems in new ways, to create solutions nobody has thought of, and to take a step back from a problem and look at the big picture.

He also embraces his quirks. Even with a business model that is very easy to replicate, Groupon has been able to distinguish itself from its many competitors. Each deal is set with a funny, quirky description. The message that college is really the time to learn about yourself sounds cliché, but it is true. It is a time to determine who you are and accept yourself. Most importantly, college is a time where you should learn to be confident in yourself.

What I’m trying to say is this: stay up all night and study for your finals, but also remember that there are broader skills you should be cultivating during your time at NU. Let’s learn to be creative and, most importantly, how to be ourselves.

Ben Rothschild is a Weinberg senior. He can be reached at [email protected]