Slickdeals has the audacious mission of ‘Helping Shoppers Win Everywhere’. The company describes itself as the largest and most trusted deal-sharing community on the planet, and with over 25 million users, who can argue?
Founded in 1999 by VanTrac, Slickdeals has helped members save almost $7 billion dollars to date. That’s an impressive number and the company has seen tremendous growth in the last decade. But challenges remain: how do you continue to scale to meet the often demanding (and ever-changing) needs of the customer? How do you stay relevant in a marketplace dominated by Amazon? And, perhaps most importantly, how can you integrate yourself as a daily habit for your audience?
For some answers, we turned to Greg Kim, CMO of Slickdeals, who shared his expertise on ‘going big’ even in these challenging times.
LA STARTUPS (LAS): What big problem kept you up last night? And what are you doing about it?
GREG KIM (GK): The thing that keeps me up at night is thinking about how we get from our current 25+ million shoppers to 100 million on an annual basis. This is the problem we’re currently tackling through product enhancements, expanded offerings, personalization, and marketing.
There are 3 ways that a consumer can save on a purchase at Slickdeals: 1) an item or service is on sale; 2) a coupon is available for a discount, and 3) a reward (e.g. points, cashback, etc.). Slickdeals covers all three areas and has grown quickly to become a top 100 site in the U.S. generating over 1 billion visits annually.
Based on real-time collective intelligence on our platform, the Slickdeals community is usually the first to jump on savings opportunities before the general public. Our audience helps us crowd-source and rate the deals, so we are able to curate the best items on sale each and every day.
We also launched our rewards efforts a few years ago with exclusive rebates on specific products. Sometimes an item is not on sale or there is no coupon, so we created rewards in the form of cash or gift cards. Many of our users are daily visitors and this has amplified the savings opportunities.
But to grow even bigger, we have been making significant investments in our personalization platform to better deliver the content and the experience to our users. To bring the power of Slickdeals to shoppers off of our platform, we expanded our product offering by building a Slickdeals browser extension at the end of last year. The extension shows the slick deals available and also showcases coupons for that retailer to help close the sale. By promoting the extension to our installed base, there has been strong organic uptake and we are already at 6 figure users.
We have an interesting problem to solve if we want to hit our goal 100+ million users in the U.S. We think we have the right team, strategy, community, and platform to make it happen.
LAS: What is your company providing that is unique to market?
GK: We are the independent social layer on top of the trillion-dollar commerce arena. There are other savings sites and apps, but they don’t have the scale or the social aspect or the real-time intelligence we do. We are the only social platform at scale focused on shopping deals, and given our customer obsession, we make sure the quality of our content and platform is unparalleled.
This customer obsession leads to a platform that delights our users to the tune of a 70+ Net Promoter Score (NPS) and our Daily Active User to Monthly active User is 40%+ which is rare in commerce.
For many consumers, Slickdeals is a daily habit, a place where consumers start that is not dependent on Google/Facebook. People wake up, grab a cup of coffee, and go to check Slickdeals. We like to think we provide the utility of Amazon with the addictiveness of Instagram.
One thing we encourage people to do is taking the Slickdeals Test. Pick a few deals from our frontpage and try to find that deal on the major search engines or major shopping sites. You will be hard-pressed to find them, even if you use various search terms of the retailer, brand, product name, and model number. For this reason, we resonate with shoppers. But we still have work to do.
LAS: Tell us why you are so passionate about this mission to provide deals to people?
GK: I have been a part of a lot of companies including LowerMyBills.com, People Media, Savings.com and now Slickdeals. Three of the companies revolved around the mission of saving people time and money in different ways. ‘Helping Shoppers Win Everywhere’ is a strong vision and mission that drives me and everyone at Slickdeals. We’ve saved consumers over $6.8 billion dollars and we’ve heard many testimonials of how it has positively impacted people’s lives, including things like helping a Mom save enough for her kid to go to college. That’s powerful.
LAS: What Big Hairy Audacious Goals do you have for Slickdeals moving forward?
GK: Getting to those 100 million users in our addressable market within the US alone is the Big Hairy Audacious Goal. So on top of what I mentioned earlier on expanding the product offerings and personalization, we are also going to embark on more performance marketing and brand marketing efforts to build brand awareness and drive user acquisition. We have a lot of work to do.
Of the 1+ billion visits we generated in 2019, less than 5 percent was via paid marketing. We have a significant upside in that arena which is predicated on continuing to invest in our infrastructure and drive users to register and login so we can understand the true lifetime value of our customers driven by paid acquisition. With the right insights, we can scale with confidence with the right channels and campaigns and then rinse and repeat. And given we do not have any physical inventory, we have fewer variables constraining growth in our paid user acquisition efforts.
On the brand marketing side, we have embarked on market research on both our Slickdeals user base and the US Online Shopper population to better understand their background, behaviors, interests, etc. With that foundational knowledge, we can segment the population and prioritize the segments and identify the right messages via the right channels to reach those segments.
We have a long way to go and it requires us to work smart and work hard but we love solving hard problems. And who doesn’t like a good deal?
LAS: Tell us a good story about how you started – maybe one of your early struggles and how you overcame that challenge?
GK: Josh Meyers, CEO and I joined the business in conjunction with the first institutional investment from Warburg Pincus in November 2012. My high school friend from Harvard-Westlake in Los Angeles, Vishnu Menon, was Managing Director at Warburg Pincus and he led the deal. We invested in Slickdeals with the thesis that the social player in almost every vertical of the Internet is the winning or emerging business model. Slickdeals was THAT player in the trillion-dollar commerce arena.
When we joined the business, the traffic to slickdeals.net was predominantly on desktop, very little traffic on the mobile web and the company had just launched the iOS app. Given that mobile was the present and future, we had a big hill to climb to deal with the mobile migration. In a few years, the majority of traffic was mobile which monetizes relatively less than desktop. But given the mobile platform that we built, we’ve been able to keep growing our revenue at a strong and rapid pace. Fast forward to 2019 and we generated over 1 billion visits, over 70% of those visits were on mobile screens and our mobile app users visit 2 times per day on average.
LAS: What Big Piece of Advice would you give to new entrepreneurs who are looking for investment, either private investors or through VC’s?
GK: We have experienced strong growth over the years fueled by continued investment in the business and funding provided by private equity firms and strategic investors including Warburg Pincus (2012), Goldman Sachs (2018), and Hearst (2018). Like most investors, they are looking to invest in a company that has a big market opportunity, differentiated offering, the potential to be a market leader and generate a strong financial return. But a critical factor in every great company is the management and team. Investors are betting on the CEO, management, and the broader team to formulate the right strategy to win and work smart and hard to execute that strategy. Everyone knows that, but it is hard to build and retain that team in practice.
It may seem like a platitude but the team and culture are critical to the success of the organization. So an entrepreneur should focus on finding the best people that fit within their culture and it doesn’t always mean people with high pedigrees. And culture doesn’t necessarily mean offering free food and ping pong tables. Oftentimes, the best team members are those who have the grit, savvy, entrepreneurial spirit, and heart, irrespective of pedigree. They are passionate about your mission and business. As they often say in the tech world, you want to find missionaries versus mercenaries. But once you build the team, the work does not stop there. You need to maintain the culture and each organization has its own rhythm and DNA.
When I joined Slickdeals in 2012, I quickly saw that the culture of the team revolved around 3 things and tried to think of a catchy acronym. So we came up with W.T.F. So, of course, it doesn’t mean what you think it is. W.T.F. stands for Winning, Team, Fun. It’s a culture statement that not only pertains to our corporate culture but it also extends to our community of 11 million monthly active users and it also extends to our thousands of partners.
We have a longer, formal values list as well but Slickdeals is all about W.T.F. for our culture. We live it and breathe it and everyone contributes to it. That culture has helped us attract and retain our talented team. So long story short, focus on finding the right people in the right roles and working hard to maintain a winning culture.
LAS: What Big Piece of Advice would you give to new entrepreneurs out there in general?
GK: I am known for creating acronyms since it is an easy way for myself and others to remember. My latest acronym and framework for success is P.O.T.P.I.E. based on the following framework: Planning, Ownership Mentality, Team, Passion, Insights, Execution.
Bookended by Planning and Execution which are critical to strategy and operations, the other four principles are critical as well. Obviously there’s Team and Passion as I’ve discussed before but I would add finding people with an Ownership Mentality. When you act like an owner then you do whatever it takes for the team and business. What better way to give your team an ownership mentality than to actually give them ownership in the business. I have been a part of four companies that have scaled quickly and sold and I firmly believe that giving equity incentives definitely contributed to those wins. Similar to vocal proponents like Mark Cuban, I think every company should give employees equity incentives to share in the upside.
Lastly, Insights, which revolves around data and analytics, is a critical competitive advantage. A lot of people will say they have a wealth of data but what are they doing with that data. Are they tracking the right key performance indicators or KPIs? How are they interpreting that data? What actions are they taking from that data? Having the right or wrong analytical lens can lead to vastly different outcomes.
LAS: What book and/or quote inspired you the most?
GK: I love Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote around the meaning of success: “To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
This quote is etched in stone in my community and I love walking by it and reading it. These are the KPIs for my life.
I have a close second that I’ll mention which is my favorite movie quote: “We ride together. We die together. Bad Boys for Life.” from the Bad Boys trilogy. I believe in long-lasting relationships, and that’s important in business and life.
That’s how we can all get through things like COVID-19, which has upended the world. It’s challenging to navigate. But in the midst of all this craziness and future disruptions, there are things we can always do, like over-communicate and setting really clear goals for the team. Making the most out of the resources you have is always critical, for sure, but now it’s more important than ever.