They Take their Fun Very Seriously at TeamBuy
An Interview with TeamBuy's CEO
06 Apr, 2012 12:38
“Some people may view [TeamBuy] as a tech company, and others may view [TeamBuy] as a new-age advertising company.” Regardless, TeamBuy has asserted itself as Canada’s founding online daily deal or team-buying website. TeamBuy “offer[s] very large discounts on local businesses by guaranteeing them a minimum amount of customers.”
TeamBuy’s CEO, Ghassan Halazon, graduated from the Desautels Faculty of Management in 2006 with a double concentration in Finance and Entrepreneurship. Immediately after completing his Bachelor of Commerce degree, Halazon went on to complete his MBA at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. He was then hired as an Investment Banking Associate at Citigroup, but soon found it was not for him, and instead chose to follow his entrepreneurial spirit and pursue TeamBuy.
“Contrary to popular belief, group buying in general, has been around for many years and in fact has been quite popular in Asia. People meet up on services like Craigslist and physically go to stores to basically demand these discounts based on volume.” While working at Citigroup, Halazon became excited by the huge online market potential afforded by the concept of team buying and so he flew to Toronto to meet two strangers with a shared interest in ‘social-buying.’ The sparks flew, as the three men found they “had a very similar way of looking at things, and [their] visions were aligned.”
Halazon felt that “the timing was right, [as] Canada was a country that is very similar to the U.S.—where this idea was taking off—with regards to consumers’ comfort levels with social media and e-commerce.” After thorough market analysis, the team worked hard to develop the website and the infrastructure of the company; however, it was vital that they come up with a brilliant marketing plan for launching the site.
They eventually decided to centre their entire launch around an appearance on CBC’s Dragon’s Den in front of over 2 million viewers across the country. They “view[ed] Dragon’s Den as a serious opportunity to raise capital, but more importantly, we viewed it as a great PR start to get the word out” about TeamBuy. On the show, they accepted an offer from Jim Treliving of $150,000 for 35% of the company. In the end, TeamBuy “outgrew” the offer and did not accept Treliving’s capital.
TeamBuy speculated that their Dragon’s Den appearance had the potential to bring thousands of unique users to the site in a very short timeframe. They were warned to ensure that their website could withstand the heavy traffic that would follow immediately after the show. Halazon and his partners sat down with the tech team to decide “What’s a cool way to make sure that we still capture enough members in terms of them subscribing to TeamBuy if the site has problems or if it actually crashes?” Their solution was developing a new concept they coined “punishment as reward.” If the website were to crash on the day of the launch, the tech team would be at fault; TeamBuy decided to share this information with consumers. “If you came to the site and it was having trouble, you were re-routed to another page that had jail mug shots of our tech team.” At the top of the page it said “our tech team has failed on our big day, sign up here to get the punishment video in your e-mail.” Their punishment as reward policy lives on, and in fact, one employee had their legs waxed for messing up a graphic and insulting a client. Halazon says that now “when [they] do mess up, [their] users love [them] for it, because they know that something fun is coming in their e-mail.”
From weekly bring-your-pet-to-work days to office-wide pie-eating contests, TeamBuy has leveraged its unique corporate culture to attract the talent that has helped them develop into one of Canada’s fastest growing start-ups. TeamBuy has adopted “Friday hug days,” where employees hug each other before leaving for the weekend. Halazon refers to their strategy as “winning the culture war,” as they will never be the best at technology or the most experienced. Where they do win is in “making people feel something.” The leg waxing and the “Friday hug days” may not be quantifiable in terms of revenue, but a lot of extraordinary talent is “coming through the door, because they want to work at TeamBuy.”
Today, TeamBuy has over 1 million users and has worked with thousands of reputable merchants across the country in 20 different cities. The company has raised over $10million in venture capital and currently has a $30million gross revenue run rate. They are now 120 employees strong and have generated over $100,000,000 in savings for its members.
When asked if he had any advice for hopeful entrepreneurs, Halazon stated “Taking on that risk is half the battle.” Although these risks need to be carefully planned and calculated, “if enough time is spent identifying an opportunity . . . from that point on, it’s a function of execution and general hard work.” Halazon poses the question “What’s the worst that could happen?” and his answer to that is “the worst thing that could happen is that you learn a ton, you meet a lot of people in an area that you’re interested in, and effectively you’re still your same self.”
All their offers can be found at their website: http://www.teambuy.ca/.