Friday, November 20, 2015

"LivingSocial Offers a Cautionary Tale to Today’s Unicorns"

I had forgotten about this one.
But the one we are most interested in is WeWork, a couple links after the jump.

From the New York Times:
The first thing you see when walking into the headquarters of LivingSocial is row upon row of mostly empty desks, broken up by small street signs that employees once needed to find one another when the office teemed with people.

One row, “BYFAD Lane,” was named after a start-up, BuyYourFriendADrink, which LivingSocial acquired to get into the daily deals business. Other signs, such as “Sky Diving Street,” were named for some of the hottest discount coupons that the company once provided. On a recent visit, some desks were piled high with boxes of employee belongings, the detritus left behind after a round of layoffs that eliminated one-fifth of the work force. In one refrigerator, the milk was six months old.
The street signs are “anecdotes from our past,” said Mike Santore, who was director of content strategy at LivingSocial, referring to a time when it was nearly impossible to find a quiet desk to work. Now, he said, the signs “don’t mean anything, really.” Mr. Santore left the company this month.

The technology industry’s boom over the last few years has been defined by the rise of “unicorns,” the private companies that investors have valued at $1 billion or more. Before the term came into vogue, LivingSocial was among the biggest unicorns of its day. It now offers a glimpse of what some of today’s unicorns might look like several years down the road if things go awry.

Just four years ago, LivingSocial and its larger rival Groupon grew rapidly on a simple pitch: The companies would match customers to local businesses with a daily deal in users’ inboxes, like half off at a local deli or a two-for-one massage promotion. LivingSocial and Groupon would take a cut of each transaction.

Venture capitalists anointed daily deals as the way that the Internet would invade local business, and by late 2011 LivingSocial had raised more than $800 million and reached a valuation of $4.5 billion, according to data from the research firm VC Experts. The company counted Amazon and the mutual fund giant T. Rowe Price among its investors. LivingSocial spent heavily, blanketing the airwaves with TV ad campaigns. Riding a wave of momentum, the company explored going public.

Today, LivingSocial is more unicorpse than unicorn. The company never filed for an initial public offering and consumer fervor for daily deals has cooled. T. Rowe Price has written down its stake in LivingSocial to nearly zero, data from Morningstar shows. The company’s work force has shrunk to around 800 employees from 4,500 at its peak in 2011. (Groupon, which did go public, is trading at more than 85 percent below its I.P.O. price.)

LivingSocial is now struggling to evolve its business by focusing on “new experiences,” such as a coupon-free program that puts cash back on customers’ credit cards when they dine at certain restaurants. The company is grappling with employee retention. It has also been selling nearly all of the foreign companies it bought and closing offices it opened during its boom days....MUCH MORE
On WeWork:

Oct. 10, 2015
How To Convince Investors Your Startup Is Worth $10 Billion
Dec. 16, 2014 
WeWork Worth $5Bil., Weally