Former DoubleClick Execs Create Groupon Competitor, But It's Not Exactly A Clone

Think there’s already too many Groupon clones?

Think again.

New York-based Group Commerce, which is coming out of stealth today, has the funding and the pedigree to be a viable contender.

Founded by former Google and DoubleClick executives David Rosenblatt, Jonty Kelt, and Andrew Glenn, has raised $8 million in capital.

Investors include: Spark Capital, Carmel Ventures, Lerer Media Ventures, and Bob Pittman, the founder of MTV Networks and now chairman of media and entertainment platforms at Clear Channel.

What’s more, it is coming out of the gate running with four major publishers added to its platform: DailyCandy, Meredith Corporation, Thrillist and The New York Times.

In an exclusive interview with eMoney, Rosenblatt and Kelt explain that unlike Groupon or LivingSocial, Group Commerce is not building its own consumer brand, and won’t be targeting deals directly at consumers. Rather, it’s banking on building a platform that other media companies can leverage.

Rosenblatt, who was the former CEO of DoubleClick, is the company’s chairman, Kelt is CEO, and Glenn is the company’s CTO. All three were at DoubleClick when it was acquired by Google for $3.1 billion

Ironically, they are now building a business that Google desperately wants to get into, but failed after an unsuccessful $6 billion bid to acquire Groupon.

Rosenblatt said:

“Of course, this is going to be a very big market, and there will be many more players than just two. Each participant will have a different approach. Google clearly has one, but we believe collectively that publishers have the strongest advantage. They have the audience and the brand loyalty, but they are missing the mechanics and industry expertise.”

The daily deals space is getting exceedingly crowded.

The market is expected to soar to as much as $3.9 billion in the next four years, and there’s roughly 200 players in the space, according to estimates by BIA/Kelsey.

Rosenblatt compared the market to the early days of online advertising when AOL and Yahoo dominated.

“In the early days of the display market, a big share of the market was dominated by two players, but overtime advertising was redistributed to where the audience was. Groupon and LivingSocial have done a great job creating a market, and they will continue to be very large, but there will be a similar redistribution in favor of publishers,” he said.

Beyond Groupon and LivingSocial, which are considered the market leaders, there’s other companies attacking several niches, ranging from furniture to baby apparel, travel and families. There’s also companies that say they offer exactly what Group Commerce is describing–a white label solution for publishers–including Seattle-based Tippr and ReachLocal, which recently acquired DealOn.

“There’s a huge number of Groupon clones,” Rosenblatt said. “The insight here is that none of those clones have established publishers, they don’t have brands or trusted relationships, or customer lists….We don’t have a b2c business, but that is the case with most of the other white label providers. They also don’t have teams and our breadth of services.”

He says the three components that you must have in order to be successful in the space are: A loyal audience; great content and deals; and a technology platform.

“The publishers we’ve worked with for many years [at DoubleClick] are in the process of transitioning to a new digital economy,” Rosenblatt said. “They have an audience and the ability to match the audience to deals that are contextually relevant. Our role is to offer the third part.”

Group Commerce is not just offering a technology platform, but also is sourcing the deals for its media partners, and finding a large audience and wide range of demographics for the merchants across publications.

Daily deals typically offer discounts at restaurants or other services for as much as 50 to 70 percent off. The customer pays for the voucher up front and then redeems it later. Typically, the merchant only gets half of that cash, while the other half goes to Groupon or another provider. For the merchant it’s a new form of advertising, replacing traditional methods, like Yellow Pages or newspaper ads.

Group Commerce would not disclose its revenue splits, but said it is paid with a portion of gross revenue of each deal, and that it’s a shared risk model. “If the deals don’t work, we don’t get paid,” Kelt said.

Kelt added that they believe their model will work because it combines the publisher’s knowledge of the audience with the merchants. For instance, DailyCandy’s audience is young and female, and a reader may be interested in an offer for a ladies night out at an upscale restaurant.

Although a potential customer does not have necessarily have to be a publisher, Kelt notes. It can be anyone with an audience, including a celebrity with a large following on Twitter.

Today, Group Commerce has 35 employees in New York, Chicago, Florida, San Francisco and Los Angeles. It’s planning to grow to 100 employees by the end of the year with the majority being sales people.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald