The architects of the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders may have to add a new entry: Groupon Stress Disorder. That is, unless David Wachtendonk, founder of Mob Manager, manages to avert this public health crisis. Mob Manager helps merchant customers (those offering the deals--and all the headaches that may entail) of Groupon and other social buying sites to manage their deals.
Wachtendonk knows, from personal experience, that partnering with Groupon and others can be painful. Wachtendonk runs a murder mystery company that puts on shows and produces interactive experiences that the audience participates in. In June of 2010, Wachtendonk decided to try using Groupon for his business. He talked to a customer rep, and asked how many people he might expect to sign up.
About a thousand, said the rep.
"I said, 'That's cool,'--1,000 sounded like a lot," Wachtendonk recalls in an interview with Fast Company. "'How do we keep track of all these customers?'"
"We'll give you this Excel doc," said the Groupon rep. That's right--one of the hottest tech startups' best idea for managing the coming onslaught was but a lowly spreadsheet.
"I was like, 'You guys are a huge company, don't you have systems I can use?'"
Nope, said the Groupon rep, according to Wachtendonk. "Unfortunately no. We hear this every day."
Well over 1,000 people signed up for Wachtendonk's deal. "We sold 1,000 by 11 a.m." By the deal's end, 3,300 total had purchased. "Holy shit, how are we supposed to do this?" he remembers thinking. He had a skeleton staff. What if something went wrong? He couldn't provide extensive customer service for that many people. "At one point that summer, I was so stressed out from the deal, I had to sleep on the couch in the basement, because my back froze up on me, I was so worried," he says.
And how would he track these people? How would he make sure they didn't re-use vouchers? And how could he get repeat customers? He worked with some developers to rapidly set up a virtual box office that would help him manage purchases coming in from his Groupon. When it greatly alleviated the stress of the coupon-enabled rush, he began to wonder if he was on to something. "Halfway through the project I was like, 'I think this can help other people,'" he remembers.
It's almost a year later, and Wachtendonk is CEO of Mob Manager, which helps merchants cope with Groupon stress (and LivingSocial stress, and BuyWithMe stress, and all other sorts of stress). Groupon itself has taken measures to lessen the stress it causes--enabling a maximum deal count for merchants, so they don't get swamped. (Wachtendonk says that Groupon still encourages small businesses to reach a little when choosing their maximum--which Groupon naturally has an incentive to do, since it takes a percentage of the deal revenue.) Groupon has also apparently moved past its Excel-reliant days, finally offering an app to help merchants track voucher redemption.
Mob Manager offers more complete services than the Groupon merchant app. On top of processing which coupons have been redeemed, Mob Manager helps you track multiple deals with once, no matter whether the business is using Groupon, LivingSocial, or another competitor. A dashboard provides analytics, so a merchant can figure out which deal performs best. And Mob Manager also helps merchants get repeat customers. "Groupon will deliver you 1,000 customers, but what are they doing to get someone back in for the second, third visit?" Wachtendonk says. Mob Manager works with merchants to enable "digital fishbowls"--the digital equivalent of that drop-your-business-card-in-here feature at the Chinese restaurant. It provides QR codes that customers can scan to quickly upload their email in exchange for a further coupon--one that Groupon doesn't get a cut of.
Mob Manager is currently seeking funding to get to the next level, and has applied to work with Excelerate Labs, a Chicago speed-incubator of sorts. Eventually, says Wachtendonk, he'd like to have official partnerships with social buying sites: "our long-term vision is that deal sites would want to partner with us and use our API," he says.
In the end, though his murder mystery company got a real workout from his Groupon, it didn't cause the business to implode. Far from it. The Groupon was an exhausting, but rewarding experience. Wachtendonk just wants to lessen the exhaustion.
Follow Fast Company on Twitter.
Read More: Most Innovative Companies: Groupon