August 20, 2010. Day 2, Inspire: The GROW Conference will provide inspiration for turning today's entrepreneurs into tomorrow's leaders. Speakers include founders of fast-growing companies, leading investors and influencers who will share lessons learned.
Third/fourth quarter of Day 2
2:05 PM - This is the time slot for Kara Swisher to interview Groupon CEO Andrew Mason. But instead, an explained switch-up of presentations sees the well-spoken Ellen Levy step on stage. Ellen, who is the vice president of strategic alliances for LinkedIn, begins her presentation, called "Being a Super-Connector in a Digital World." She starts by asking how many attendees use LinkedIn. 99% raise their hand.
While that right there was presentation enough, Ellen combs through some remarkable statistics about LinkedIn's growth and the maintenance of its founders' visions with the help of an expectedly professional slideshow. LinkedIn is currently gaining one new member per second, or more than three million per month, and should exceed 90,000,000 by the end of this year. Ellen explains that your LinkedIn account is an individual asset for yourself, strengthened by others' individual assets—a mutually beneficial system that truly defines the word "network." She says the key principles of LinkedIn have always remained the same: safe, trusted, and user-controlled. (Eat that, 'Zuck!)
2:31 PM - As Ellen's presentation ends, emcee Jeremy tells us all to go for a quick, 15-minute break, revealing that Andrew was slowed at customs and his taxi is on the way. But just as the back third of attendees are filing out the glass doors, Jeremy yells out: "Stop! He's here! Break cancelled!"
2:34 PM - Kara sits down with Andrew, who makes quips like, "Well, we were recently on the cover of Forbes as the 'fastest growing company ever.' Some people think that's kind of cool." The pseudo-humble Andrew dodged some of Kara's question, particularly on revenue and profits.
K: Are you profitable?
K: How profitable?
While he wouldn't disclose this, or some things—"Nothing that we've announced yet" was used a couple of times—Andrew did tell how successful his recent Gap deal was. Well over 400,000 Groupon buyers pitched in and resulted in more than $11 million in Gap sales—that's just one day, and through just one channel (Groupon). This was the company's first foray into a national deal and its success will pave the way for future national and possibly even global group deals. Kara questions Andrew on how he views the business.
Every empty restaurant, every empty spa table, is an opportunity.
Andrew says that Groupon is in 29 countries and more than 200 cities, with sales staff in half the cities. Groupon receives more than 700 requests from merchants per day to set up Groupon deals. In just two years, Groupon now has more than 2,000 employees. But Andrew says a precise launch is key; that if you're on hyper-growth, then being off your axis by two inches at launch means you're off by miles by the time you're in orbit.
The CEO denies every thinking about selling, and hasn't heavily weighed options between remaining independent or going public. He mentions he's proud to offer the first-ever advertising platform where business can advertise and pay based 100% on performance of the ad. Andrew identifies food as the most popular deal of the day, and karate was a memorably poor deal.
Finishing the interview, Kara asks Andrew to give entrepreneurs a tip.
"Be creative," he says uncreatively. The interview ends at 3:03.
Checking out blue water, lush greens, and sprawling mountain ranges on the VCC's upper-floor patio. (Photo credit: Knowlton Thomas)
3:35 PM - Dave McClure hops on stage to take audience questions, which he'll take into consideration for the next presentation: "The Business of Monetizing Fun," by himself, as well as Jason Bailey of Adknowledge and Robert Goldberg of Zynga (Farmbille, Mafia Wars).
3:43 PM - They are also joined by Jeff Clavier of SoftTech VC, who says he hates social media games as they are now, playing instead "deep and immersive" games on a "hardcore" level, i.e. World of Warcraft.
But Robert argues that's irrelevant: social gaming targets a different demographic, such as 30 to 50 year-old women. They discuss micro and macro trends, but all agree that defining and maximizing these previously untapped demographics are pivotal to the market's longevity. The panellists discuss how, two years ago, social media games were like Pong, and slowly the platform raises its capabilities, but that it's nowhere near console gaming in content quality or production value.
The hottest thing to do right now, one suggests, is have a small team of talented developers craft a game or small portfolio of games, totalling one to five million users, then selling it for 10 to 25 million dollars to a giant like Zynga. "It's easy to do right now," says Jason. They then discuss geo-tagging integration with social games, but ultimately none (except Dave) say they'd buy Foursquare for $100 million, or Gowalla for $25 million.
Dave and co. are eventually kicked off at 4:17. Can Dave ever leave the stage without the boot?
4:21 PM - The final presentation, "Open Mobile: What App Developers Should be Thinking About," begins. The discussion leader is Chris Albinson of Panorama Capital. He's joined by Paul Bernard of Nokia, Wesley Chan of Google Ventures, and Tyler Lessard of RIM—all well-positioned employees of major corporations, which made for a heavy final presentation. They were also joined by a fellow from Microsoft.
Unfortunately, because these folks are competitors, there was a lot they couldn't disclose, and a lot of PR/media-trained responses. The most interesting part ended up being the beginning, where Chris presented a rapid-fire slideshow demonstrating the tremendous growth of the Web, from 1.0 to 2.0 and to 3.0, which he says started 29 months ago, and that by 2014, 3.6 billion users will be connected to the web (we're at 1.6 billion currently).
5:02 PM - The presentation ends, and drinks begin!
6:00 PM - Cocktail reception wraps up.
8:00 PM - After party reception begins, hosted by MediaTemple at Guilt and Company, a Gastown lounge.
Midnight - Day 2 draws to an end.