New CEO Jim Crowley on BuyWithMe’s Mobile Expansion and the Future of Social Commerce
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to the sector. He emphasized that group buying is not a new concept, and that he has been aware of it for years—remember Mercata from the dot-com days? He added that for a number of reasons, such as the emergence of online social networks, the idea has recently taken off and “created a huge disruption.”
So, given the fierce competition in group buying, what’s his reaction to last week’s reports about Groupon’s IPO plans and rumored $15 billion valuation? “I’m delighted for them, but with respect to BuyWithMe, I don’t think it impacts us at all,” he says. “We have a very exciting company that is hitting the streets very rapidly here. We’re continuing to march forward.” (BuyWithMe’s founder, Andrew Moss, told me last month that the company is “clearly co-existing with Groupon” and is “very profitable in Boston.”)
As for his goals and challenges as incoming CEO, Crowley says, “The primary focus for us is to drive the growth curve, put forward new product initiatives, and grow our merchant base and consumer base. That may involve more markets.” He adds that the company is hiring in Boston, New York, and a few other cities.
Critics, on the other hand, say the group-buying sector is inflated and unsustainable, and that there are few barriers to entry in the market. To the first point, Crowley says, “I don’t think there’s a bubble. There’s a fundamental shift in solving [the problem of] how do consumers and merchants meet and interact.” On the second point, he says, group buying is “significantly more complicated than most people think it is.”
“The barrier to entry is doing it at scale,” he says. That means having the “ability to actually produce, present, and personalize [deals] in the proper fashion” and deliver “hundreds of thousands of experiences a day.” Ultimately, he adds, the challenge involves both technology and business relationships. “And where it’s going to go will become much more complex,” he says. “You need to drive heightened personalization, and more tools for merchants.”
So what will this year hold for BuyWithMe? “We try to ensure we’re bringing value and relationships [to] people. That is a very strong focus for us,” Crowley says. The coming months will be about “how we bring better tools to both merchants and consumers. There’s a lot to be done there,” he says. “This game is very, very early.”