INNOVATION: Why Groupon is a Perfectly Chicago Company

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Filed under: FinCom

INNOVATION: Why Groupon is a Perfectly Chicago Company

It’s hard not to read about Groupon, currently the most mediafied of Chicago companies. It’s got a What’s Hot tab on TechCrunch. It’s national burger weekend deals made Crain’s and other media, and it’s one of several pre-IPO companies cited as examples of a new tech bubble. Groupon brings a lot of tech start-up luster to Chicago.

All that attention–along with discussing innovation at last week’s MIT Enterprise Forum Chicago Whiteboard Challenge and reading Malcom Gladwell’s May 16 New Yorker piece on the story of creativity and innovation at Apple Computer and Xerox PARC–got me thinking about Groupon and its Chicago location.

Chicago is not technology like Silicon Valley or Boston. There is not the mass of high tech here out there. The mass of innovation in Chicago spans a much wider range of industries, as shown by winners of the Chicago Innovation Awards, now in their 10th year.

Chicago is manufacturing (food, healthcare, drugs), finance (economic thought and trading products), and media-entertainment (Oprah and improvisational comedy).

And retailing.

It’s retailing and advertising that I think of when I think of Groupon.

Like Chicago retailer innovators Sears, Wards, and Spiegel, Groupon is a retail sales organization. Like the old catalogs of those retailers, Groupon relies on a clever copywriting style for its pitches (not without its critics). It also relies on a savvy sales force (akin to buyers) to source and sell local deals. It’s a direct-response sales organization using email rather than postal mail.

Where else would Groupon be? Not the technology garages of Silicon Valley but the old Wards warehouse in Chicago. As Gladwell suggests with innovation, the new Chicago spirit of progress is a new incarnation of the old.