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Groupon能否解开中国这盘迷局

JP Mangalindan 2011年02月25日

Groupon这家领先的每日交易网站在美国一帆风顺,但这绝不意味着,它就能在中国一帆风顺,避免重蹈其他野心勃勃的美国互联网公司(eBay、雅虎、谷歌等)的覆辙。

    当Groupon中国公司最终得以重新上线时,它将面临来自1,700多家中国本地“团购”站点的竞争。不错,如果说将Groupon在中国面临的种种困难一言以敝之的话,那就是中文里已有一个专门的词语,来描述Groupon的商业模式。

    据知情人士称,Groupon与中国本地门户网站腾讯公司成立的合资企业Gaopeng.com本月早些时候上线后仅24小时就被关闭。据推测是因为Groupon本地员工行动过早,于是腾讯“采取紧急措施”,关闭了服务器。该迹象亦表明,这两家公司虽然是合资关系,但尚未形成其乐融融不分彼此的合作伙伴关系。

    “腾讯关闭网站的举动,显示出它欲控制该合资企业。”《南方都市报》撰文指出:“腾讯向Groupon发出了一个小小的警告:‘在中国的地盘上,你得听我的。’”

    对于Groupon这等尚处成长阶段的西方初创公司来说,中国代表着大片有待开发的潜在市场。中国现拥有4.5亿互联网用户,到2014年,这一数字将继续扩大,会占到全球互联网用户总数的42%。据《华尔街日报》(Wall Street Journal)报道,中国团购搜索引擎Tuan800.com称,到今年年底,每日交易站点交易额将超过24亿美元大关。

    “Groupon的成长压力很大。”市场研究机构Forrester的分析师苏查里塔•穆尔普罗指出,他指出亚马逊(Amazon)和eBay等网站均表示,其营业收入的一半来自美国以外的海外市场。“这些网站在任何国际市场都不必作领跑者,他们只需占有一席之地就够了。”

Groupon重走亨利•福特之路

    Groupon进入中国市场的首次商业举措,是去年5月收购CityDeal。这家德国初创公司的管理层对Groupon非常着迷,并且最终被授权负责Groupon中国的筹建工作。该公司最近从Andreesen Horowitz和数字天空科技(Digital Sky Technologies)等风险资本机构融到了9.5亿美元的资金。他们会将这笔钱用到Groupon中国,这家新成立的公司下个月即要一下子招募1,000名雇员加盟。据报道,Groupon向求职者报出的薪水高达3万美元,比中国竞争对手的4倍还多。大幅提薪清晰地表明,它要吸引中国互联网领域最杰出的人才加盟。但是,构建富有竞争力的员工团队并非如此轻而易举。

    事实上,中国本土媒体报道称,Groupon在中国迅速扩张的做法,已被证明不大行得通。Groupon中国区市场总监任鑫(Ren Xin)最近辞职离开了公司,如果说该网站发布闹剧能说明什么问题的话,那就是该公司与腾讯刚刚建立的合作关系已经开始变味了。尽管Groupon显然希望网站迅速上线并扩大规模,但腾讯看起来更喜欢缓慢地推进策略。

    如果Groupon希望在中国市场取得成功,它必须像在美国一样,建立强大的销售团队。显而易见,Groupon希望实现这一目标,至少通过招募1,000名员工,在某种程度上实现此目标。但是,如果最近发布的大学招聘启示是真的,那说明该公司可能过于看重学校文凭和咨询经验,而对本地市场知识则重视不够。

    “如果你拥有国际著名大学的硕士学位,曾在知名银行或咨询机构工作过,拥有初创公司工作经历,那你就能加入管理团队,否则的话,我们也能为你找到一个恰当的职位。”招聘启示中如此写道。

    拥有一支强大的销售团队是成功的根本保障,无论是深圳暂露头角的餐厅还是武汉超酷的新型酒吧,皆是如此。但是,Groupon中国公司的许多高级经理都是外国人或者出生于其他国家的中国侨民,因而很可能缺乏对本地市场的了解。而对本地市场了若指掌,恰恰是Groupon在世界其他地区的魅力所在。

    Groupon另外一大担忧是确保那些与其合作的中国本土公司是合法的。尽管中国政府推行非常严格的互联网内容审查制度,但对商业做法的监管却力度不够。中国没有与美国商业改进局(Better Business Bureau)等大型高效的组织近似的机构。商业改进局收集公司的交易信息,并报告欺诈活动。在中国,许多小型企业不同程度上都是非法运营。此问题于最近发展到无以复加的地步:约2,000家小企业在近100名阿里巴巴员工的帮助下,对该公司的客户进行欺诈,这一丑闻最终导致公司首席执行官卫哲和首席运营官李旭辉引咎辞职。

    当Groupon建起强大的销售团队,员工与中国当地企业建立合作关系,好戏才刚刚开场。那时Groupon才真正与团购网站开始短兵相接的战斗。Groupon即将面临为数众多的竞争对手,其中包括由红杉资本公司(Sequoia Capital)支持的美团。抛开此不说,许多竞争对手都信誓旦旦,要让Groupon在中国寸步难行。据中国媒体报道,1月中旬,拉手网(Lashou.com)、满座网(Manzuo.com)、F团(Ftuan.com)等几家本地团购网站的负责人召开紧急会议,成立防御同盟,宣称Groupon为其最大竞争对手,原因在于它不但拥有庞大的现金库,而且与腾讯的合作关系更是令之如虎添翼。他们还想方设法地瓦解Groupon为新员工提供的高薪政策,在他们此次达成的协议中,最严厉的一条就是永不雇佣前Groupon员工。

    此外,还有其他一些实际问题需要考虑,比如难以计数的中国公民会产生无数网名,如何在此情况下建立有效的用户电子邮件数据库;或者在中国人仍然主要使用现金的情况下,部署在线支付系统。正是看到了Groupon前进道路上的这些困难,谷歌中国联合创始人郭去疾才会在Twitter上表示,他从Groupon身上看到的是西方人目空一切的态度,并且预测说Groupon中国最终会办不下去。

    如果Groupon果真在中国办不成功,它肯定也不是第一家遭此不幸的公司。eBay、雅虎以及谷歌等一大批西方公司纷纷艰难地撤离炙手可热的中国互联网市场,景象可谓壮观;在那一长串名字中,Groupon顶多不过是最新的一个罢了。

    译者:大海

    When Groupon China finally, officially, goes live, again, it will have some 1,700 local "tuangou" sites to compete with. Yes, if anything sums up the hurdles Groupon is facing in China, it's that the language of the country it's trying to take by storm already has a single, specific word to describe its business model.

    According to Chinese sources, Gaopeng.com, Groupon's local venture with Internet portal Tencent, went live for just 24 hours earlier this month before getting pulled down. Groupon's local staff supposedly jumped the gun, and Tencent "took emergency actions" to shut down the servers, a possible sign that two companies may be in a joint venture, but aren't exactly warm and fuzzy partners just yet.

    "Shutting down the web site shows the desire by Tencent to control this venture," wrote the Southern Metropolis, a local Chinese newspaper. "Tencent is sending Groupon a little warning: 'on Chinese turf, you listen to me.'"

    For budding Western startups like Groupon, China represents a lot of untapped potential. The country holds 450 million Internet users, a number that will grow to become 42% of all global Internet users by 2014. And according to the Wall Street Journal, the Chinese group-buying search engine Tuan800.com claims such daily deal site transactions will pass $2.4 billion in sales by the end of the year.

    "Groupon has a lot of pressure to grow," says Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuro, who points to sites like Amazon (AMZN) and eBay (EBAY), which each report that half their revenues come from outside the U.S. "They don't need to be the top player in any international market. They just need to have a presence."

Groupon as Henry Ford

    Groupon's first business move into China started with the acquisition of CityDeal last May. The German startup's management was absorbed into Groupon and eventually put in charge of its China initiative, which involves using funds from the company's recent $950 million investment, from Venture Capital firms including Andreesen Horowitz and Digital Sky Technologies (DST), towards hiring up to 1,000 employees by next month. Groupon reportedly offered to pay job candidates as much as $30,000, more than quadruple what its Chinese competitors are paying. The huge wage increase is clearly meant to attract China's brightest to the company, but building a competent staff won't be quite that easy.

    In fact, local media outlets have reported that the company's rapid expansion is proving somewhat problematic. (And here it's worth noting that all media in China is state controlled, and likely has interests besides objective reporting of the news to consider.) Groupon's marketing director for the China region, Ren Xin, resigned recently and if the site launch brouhaha is any indication, the company's newly-minted relationship with Tencent could already be souring. Whereas Groupon apparently wants to launch and expand quickly, Tencent seems to prefer a much slower approach.

    If Groupon wants to succeed on the Chinese front, it must build a formidable sales-force, like the one it has developed in the U.S. Clearly it intends to meet that goal, at least partly, by hiring those 1,000 employees, but if a recently-posted university jobs posting is legitimate, the company may be placing too much emphasis on academic credentials and consulting experience and not enough placed on knowledge of the local terrain.

    "If you hold a Masters degree from an internationally leading university, have working experience from a reputable bank/consultancy, have startup experience, you will be able to join the management team, otherwise we will also find a suitable position for you," reads the post.

    Having a strong salesforce, one that's in-the-know when it comes to that up-and-coming restaurant in Shēnzhèn or the cool new lounge in Wǔhàn, is essential, but many of the company's senior managers appear to be foreigners or ethnic Chinese who were born in other countries, thus perhaps lacking that ground-level knowledge that is part of Groupon's magic elsewhere in the world.

    Another big concern for Groupon will be ensureing that local companies are legitimate. While content censorship is strictly enforced in China, business practices aren't. Big, effective organizations like the Better Business Bureau, which gather information on a company's transactions and report fraudulent activity, do not have Chinese equivalents, says analyst Mulpuro. Many smaller businesses operate illegally in some way, an issue that most recently came to a head when Alibaba.com CEO David Wei and COO Elvis Lee resigned over controversy that some 2,000 small-business vendors had defrauded Alibaba's customers, with the help of around 100 Alibaba employees.

    Once Groupon has a sales-force in place and its staffers develop relationships with local businesses, the party will just be getting started. Groupon will then be running up against that tuangou competition. Sheer quantity of competition aside -- including Meituan, reportedly backed by Sequoia Capital – a number of competitors have vowed to make Groupon's Chinese expansion as difficult as possible. In mid-January, according to Chinese media reports, the heads of several local sites including Lashou.com, Manzuo.com, and Ftuan.com held an emergency meeting and formed a defensive alliance, declaring Groupon as their biggest rival due to its huge cash reserves and Tencent partnership. One of the harshest stipulations they agreed upon was to never hire a former Groupon employee, in an attempt to negate the high salaries Groupon is offering new hires.

    There are other practical issues to consider, like how to build an effective email database of users when so many Chinese citizens use numerous aliases, or deploy an online payment system for a country that still pays predominantly with cash. It's obstacles like these that may have led Google China co-founder Alan Guo to Twitter about what he saw as Groupon's arrogant Western attitude, and predict that the venture would likely fail.

    If Groupon did fail in China, it certainly wouldn't be the first company to do so. Groupon would just be the latest in a long line of Western companies -- like eBay, Yahoo and Google -- to make a spectacular, troubled exit from the white-hot Chinese Internet scene.

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