Another good Salesforce on Mashable.com on how GroupOn use Salesforce Since launching in late 2008, deal-of-the-day website Groupon has emerged as one of the hottest web startups on the planet. Serving more than 250 markets worldwide and boasting more than 35 million users, Groupon is the poster child for a rapidly growing company. We spoke with Ryan Miller and Chris Bland from Groupon about how the company has managed to scale its business so quickly and with such agility. Rather than relying on its own complex internal systems infrastructure, Groupon uses tools like Salesforce.com and Amazon EC2 and S3 to keep the site powered and deals flowing.
Growing With the Cloud
One of the reasons Groupon has continued to succeed and expand over the past two and a half years is because the company has managed to keep the pace with its business. We’re all familiar with the growing pains suffered by web services like Twitter and Tumblr. Because Groupon is a web tool that also deals with actual local commerce, it’s crucial to keep the site accessible to both deal goers and local businesses. Even when Groupon still had only one market — Chicago — the company made the decision to use cloud-based services to power the business. This ended up being fortuitous, because it allowed the company to quickly expand its bandwidth and processing power at a moment’s notice; something that wouldn’t have been possible if Groupon was using its own dedicated data backend. Moreover, because Groupon chose to use established companies like Amazon and Salesforce.com, supporting the growing business was less of a concern than might otherwise be the case.
Anatomy of a Deal Workflow
Salesforce.com is often used as a CRM or sales management tool. Groupon actually uses Salesforce and itsForce.com platform to power the deals that make up the site. Salesforce was chosen not just because of the company’s experience in supporting large business types — scale is important here — but because of the types of tools that can be integrated or built-on-top of the platform. Details regarding a deal are submitted into a Salesforce powered backend. Groupon vets approve every deal that goes live on the site in various markets and its team of writers craft the descriptions of each deal. UsingChatter, Groupon employees can comment about a deal, make suggestions or changes and keep abreast of what is going on throughout the site. The editorial team crafts the descriptions for each and every deal that takes place on the site. This information is added into Salesforce and can then be published directly on the site. The advantage of this solution — aside from being one interface for employees to use — is that deal information and assets are accessible within the cloud for future access or for reference. Groupon also uses Model Metrics to help optimize its Salesforce.com system. Groupon uses Model Metrics to customize user interface features and dashboards. This can reduce the number of steps required to enter in merchant information and deal details. Salesforce’s Google Apps integration also allows Groupon to associate customer information with an account and a specific offer. Because Groupon is based in the cloud, data can be collected not just from the local web browser but also from mobile devices. According to Bland, Groupon will soon be deploying tools that will enable its agents in the field to digitally sign contracts and other documents, reducing the amount of overhead and transfer time.
Reporting and Metrics
Tracking deal performance across locations and business types is an important part of Groupon’s business. Groupon uses a number of different tracking solutions so that it can generate internal reports, as well as offer reports to business owners. Groupon uses the Vertica Analytics Platform to get real-time analysis of subscriber behavior. Vertica was chosen, in part, because it can be deployed using Amazon EC2. Groupon uses EC2 and S3 to power parts of its website and backend — finding solutions that can work with what is already in place is a key part of being able to scale quickly. Model Metrics also helps provide report generation and better analytics and measurement services.
Not Reinventing the Wheel
Groupon is an interesting company — and not just because of its meteoric growth rates. The company culture is fast-moving and agile. Part of that agility comes with the recognition that for a business to succeed and keep apace with growth, home-grown solutions aren’t always the key. While it’s certainly true that Groupon’s tools are highly customized and that it leverages various platforms like Amazon Web Services and Salesforce in its own unique way, these are still custom applications built using off-the-shelf parts. It used to be that to run a website or business like Groupon, most businesses would opt to build and maintain their own in-house systems. Sometimes, that can be the best solution. For a growing number of businesses — large and small — it’s no longer necessary to keep everything in house. The speed, redundancy, and efficiency of cloud solutions often wind up costing less — or at least costing the same — as maintaining in-house systems. Moreover, the advantages of the cloud mean that business can take place in location and device agnostic places. It also means that as long as the cloud provider is reliable — and this is an important consideration — scaling to bigger servers or taking advantage of more processing power can happen on an as-needed basis.