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Hey Groupon. It’s me, Chicago. We need to talk.
Do you remember how good we used to be together? Do you remember that December, five years ago? I remember. The Wall Street Journal called you “the hottest internet start-up in the country.”
That’s when I fell in love with you. You were so damn sexy that year.
Can you blame me? Back then, Andrew Mason was the talk of the business world–only 30 years old and already the CEO at Groupon. He created more than 350 jobs right here at home. This wasn’t some crusty old man, either. Compared to other business executives, he was barely drinking age. Your corporate events must have had bouncy castles and pony rides. Did you let the employees choose the theme or did the executives pick out the spaceship balloons?
You had tons of suitors in 2010. Investors love a company that creates jobs, and they were quick to fall in love with you. We all thought you had your life figured out. If you could create hundreds of jobs around an industry you made up in a drunken haze, what could you do with the support of a larger company? What could you do in a place like California, where people throw money at startups like Chicago throws money at police brutality cases?
God, I was so proud of you. You basically invented the term “daily deals.” That’s why I sent you some of my best-smelling young talent. If I showered you with support, maybe you’d stay right here in the city. That was my thought, but maybe I shouldn’t have been so free with my workers.
You didn’t just fall for me, you fell for yourself too. A little bit of press can make a fledgling company look like pure gold. That’s why you turned down $6 Billion from Google, right?
No, I didn’t forget about that little buyout offer. Did you? Is that why you decided to open yourself up on the public market in the autumn of 2011?
I get it. You had to do something after you spat in Google’s face. $6 Billion for god’s sake. They’d have locked you up if you didn’t try to capitalize on yourself after a power play like that. What I didn’t understand back then was why you decided to get rid of our hero. That sexy, young CEO conjured you from nothing. He was your creator. He gave you life. I mean, he was also an incredibly under-experienced executive with major financial missteps, but you aren’t Nietzsche. You couldn’t just declare that God is dead.
Except you did.
That year, you bought yourself a fancy, new Halloween costume and dressed yourself as “mid-80s Apple”. You fired the founder of your company and figured everything would turn out hunky dory. Did you forget what happened to that company when they got rid of Steve Jobs? They suffered for years before crawling back to him. Only after his triumphant return did angels descend from heaven to raise the company to the right hand of the almighty dollar.
That would have been a great time to create a new reputation, to double down on your sense of humor or your commitment to excellence. Instead, you replaced Andrew Mason and shifted into growth mode. You lost your voice and your personality, then you wondered why everybody thought of you as just another daily deal site. It didn’t take long before you announced layoffs. Your stock fell to a fraction of its former value, and you fell back on what you knew best. Last month, you replaced another CEO.
When we first met, I could smell your intoxicating personality on every page. People shared your posts. You’d have fun with the stuff you’d sell. The copy didn’t read as corporate, it read like it was written by a person with a soul. Did that all come from Mason, the entrepreneurial god that bestowed upon us the original concept for your site?
Listen to this. It’s something you wrote back in December, 2010:
“Without online stores, people would be forced to hunt and gather their gifts while risking injury from roving packs of holiday-shopping velociraptors.”
It’s good copy. I mean, don’t let it go to your head. It’s no Cards Against Humanity writing, but it’s got heart. Nowadays, your pages read like Amazon ate Living Social and crapped out Gilt City. Remember what we talked about, how you lost your personality when you got rid of that email wizard, Andrew Mason? This is the result.
When you launched, you showed up with your cute little platform and started flirting with all the right words. You’d send one email a day. I looked forward to hearing from you. You told me to invite my friends because you wanted to meet them too. Chicago was in a recession, and everyone needed a break. That’s where you came in.
Where else could I go to find 75% off a massage? There’s a guy in the alley out back who offers, but I’d really prefer to go somewhere with a receptionist. You gave me that option.
What have you got for me now? A city can only stand so many manicures, and your cheap “Groupon Goods” look like you did your Christmas shopping at a truck stop in Michigan. You’ve been trying to grow without creating any real value, and that’s like using coupons on your first date. You look cheap, Groupon, and you ruined your reputation.
Here’s one piece of advice for your next relationship: if you don’t form a personality soon, you’re going to die alone. An off-brand Ebeneezer Scrooge haunted by the ghosts of the startup that could have been. This isn’t the end. It’s an opportunity for you to glance in your half-priced mirror and ask yourself: Are you happy with what you’ve become?
Think about it, Groupon. As for you and I, we’re done.
Your kids are going to hate technology. Like a legion of little Ray Bradburys, the next generation will abhor the constant, ongoing connection you share with electronics. Your kids will see you pull out your phone at the dinner table and they’re going to hate you for it. They’re going to wonder why you spend so much time sitting behind a computer screen during the day and why you go home and do the exact same thing at night. Your kids will see the same behavior in everyone around them, and they’re going to rebel against it.
We are the first generation to cut our cable cords. Huge cable companies hold meetings about how to survive in a world where fewer and fewer consumers pay for cable subscriptions. What was once a ubiquitous part of every American household now struggles to survive. The Leitchman Research Group shows that the largest of these organizations “…lost about 1,195,000 video subscribers in 2014 — compared to a loss of about 1,695,000 subscribers in 2013.” Why would we want someone to curate our entertainment based on availability and scheduling when we could binge on the newest season of Orange is the New Black right now?
Our generation already knows the answer. We stopped paying for cable years ago. We choose when to be entertained and who is going to do the entertaining. With the availability of on-demand media, we sent cable companies staggering backwards. The same companies that once showered in our monthly payments are now clutching their guts, wondering how they could have become so bloated on overpriced subscription and installation fees.
While our generation fights the cable-beast, the next generation will wonder why we’ve entered the arena at all. There have been naturalist movements in the past. Walden inspired tons of people to live deliberately, celebrating the natural world the same way you and I celebrate new seasons of True Detective. Kids are reading Walden right now. They’re taking in Bradbury’s stories too. They’re reading, and they’re watching. They’re watching the way we interact with our phones. They’re watching the way we interact with each other. Before long, they’re going to come to an inevitable conclusion: technology isn’t cool anymore.
Personal fulfillment doesn’t come from a store. It comes from a rugged, off-the-grid lifestyle. The next generation–and some of us–will look around and evaluate the tech-obsessed world. They’ll see that their friends on social media, the ones who spend their every moment checking news feeds and photo blogs, are never the ones who seem the most fulfilled. They’ll see that the ones who seem to have caught up on the impossible stream of never-ending content have nothing to show for it. They’ll see the emptiness that comes from an addiction to techno-urges.
When the kids find out that tech doesn’t provide happiness, they’re going to react. The next hipster movement isn’t going to be a contact lens that tracks advertisements as you walk down the sidewalk. It’s going to be a peaceful escape away from the world. It’s going to be a drive to live deliberately. It’s going to be deep and satisfying. Sturdy and spartan-like. An adventure. The next big thing is going to be a personal pursuit, specifically tailored to the one who steps away from the computer.
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. —Henry David Thoreau