Groupon’s Suneel Gupta Talks About What He’s Learned From the Company’s Failures

By Cameron Scott 

groupon, social networks, social shopping, failconSpeaking at FailCon in San Francisco this morning, Suneel Gupta, the VP of product development at Groupon, listed some of Groupon’s failures and suggested how the company could have done better.

Gupta admitted that the company’s lackluster stock price leaves Groupon staffers “discouraged,” but, he said, “having a mission that’s focused is super important.”

“If you look at the environment at Groupon a year ago when we were about to go public and now, it’s actually not that different,” he said. The features Groupon has been rolling out, which include rewards, “are all that stuff we’ve been committed to doing a long time,” he said.

Gupta pointed to early miscalculations that may have dinged Groupon from its launch. The company, he said, violated Jason Fried‘s take on a minimum viable product for launch, which is “half, not half ass,” Gupta said. Groupon tried to deliver on too many ideas and executed each sketchily, he suggested, rather than concentrating on delivering well on one or two ideas.

“When we thought about a minimum viable product, we thought about quality,” he confessed.

Groupon tested reactions to its product among users but not among small business owners, Gupta admitted. Merchants aren’t interested in the technical aspect of Groupon, which fell in the tech company’s blind spot. After confronting dissatisfaction among merchants, the company has a better idea of what businesses want.

“We’ve pivoted to rewards, to try to get people to be loyal to businesses instead of loyal to Groupon. There’s nothing a merchant loves more than having more regulars,” Gupta said.

Even in its early user testing, Gupta said, the company may have listened to the wrong feedback. A user’s stated opinion about a site or feature can be less useful than information about how s/he interacts with it, he said. He showed a user experience test video in which a woman says she likes one interface better even as she’s able to navigate the other version more quickly and easily.

Perhaps that data could also have alerted the company to focus on tidying up its user experience earlier than it did. Groupon finally cleaned up it’s code to deliver a faster, more reliable user interaction in 2010, Gupta said, when CEO Andrew Mason told the product team they put their launch calendar on hold and fix existing problems.

“With a slower performing site, the impact on conversion and customer satisfaction are huge. If we had to go back and do it all over again, we’d do that from the very beginning, getting stuff out but leaving time to go back and refactor,” Gupta said.