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From HackerNews to Gruenderszene: heated reactions to the Groupon leak, translated Written by Marguerite Imbert on 21. February 2012

Groupon has faced a series of damaging media blows, from questioning by the SEC to posts on its “boiler room” environment on Glass Door, the site where company employees can anonymously rate their bosses. Even the more innocent of media interactions have proven awkward for the company’s image, eg Watch a Groupon millionaire go on a super-awkward reality TV date? Perhaps most damaging, in September 2011, the company faced a classaction lawsuit after employees claimed the company failed to pay up millions of dollars in overtime.
Now the massive coupon platform needs to hold fort against yet another embarrassing exposure, this time in the form of a leaked insider email, which provoked a series of implicating, indifferent, and otherwise incensed comments thereafter on various news threads, including on Y-Combinator’s HackerNews and our German affiliate Gruenderszene.
The emails encouraged other insiders to share their own stories, many of which were more shocking than the original. Whether doubtful, desperate, or downright poetic – nearly all of the interesting comments came in German, which is why we’re translating the most passionate and pertinent ones for you here (all done by our in-house linguists). No need to miss the dialogue (see all the HackerNews feedback below).

For those of you who don’t speak Deutsche, here are the top comments:

“If you want to see evidence, please ask me,” said another ex-Groupon staff member

I can put my signature under this article. This is exactly how Groupon behaves and nothing is made up or lied about. I am a former employee, who worked in outbound sales. The pressure that the Board (Philip, Thorsten etc.) passed down to the City Managers was inhumane and unrealistic. In my sales area I worked for 11 months (11 months at Groupon is a knighthood-worthy length of time). In this time 19 employees were fired and just as many hired. It’s madness and only revenue counts. Today’s order from the board; no more deals must be closed which have an offering price of less than 29.90 euros (if you want to see evidence, please ask me). In Berlin, one doesn’t know how to save the sinking ship or if one should. And everything is tried to get the last drop out of the partners and without any consideration of losses.

“Groupon has made an enemy with Berlin”

Unfortunately this is all true and nothing has improved. In fact, it’s even worse: mass firings have been going on since September and that’s why they are desperately seeking new employees. Otherwise the current pace and demand cannot be maintained. But the Groupon problem has made an enemy with Berlin – this was a mistake. Everyone that I still know in this company is looking for a new job. Even people that still publicly support the company are behind closed doors seeking a new job elsewhere. The Kununu Ratings and its experience articles are 95% accurate.

Quit the whining. Remember this?

This is nothing new. It is obvious anyway that through decreasing the work force, the profitability can be increased. How this is done does not matter for the owner.

From my point of view as a “Dream List Partner” the accusations are justified. I know this from experience. Really everything is promised, but nothing is kept, and if something goes wrong, one becomes on edge and less cooperative. Moreover, deals are published online before clients have confirmed. This results in false item descriptions and false customer expectations. This is probably due to the high realization pressure.

“Working conditions are like in medieval times”

Everything is sacrificed for growth. Humans mean nothing. Working conditions are like in medieval times. I can only say that it really is how it is described in the article. I have seen how people had to leave who are really smart. At the first wave of firing in 2010, people were simply blocked in the system and informed afterwards. Workplaces are small, narrow, with much too little space to be productive. The KPIs are the sort that you can only reach them through morally incorrect measures, and if you don’t reach them you’ll get a talking to one-on-one. In the last few years, it’s really become much worse.

“Philipp Magin is Oliver’s puppet…with a CEO bat'”

It’s all completely accurate. Daniel bullshitted in his statement and is making it all look harmless. Philipp Magin is Oliver’s puppet. Daniel has n0 idea about sales and only from time to time swings the “CEO Bat”, because Philipp ( Head of Sales) cannot get out of the city managers what Oliver demands. Ultimately, they are both Oliver’s “tools” who simply cannot do anything about it. The city managers rotate anyway and have to hire and fire the sales reps, because the five deals a week are not realistic. The deal pipeline is often empty and the poor editors and city planners have to come in on the weekends to quickly upload deals.

One reader adds claims that overtime is not paid for at Groupon

I can only confirm that Groupon is the biggest crooks around, just exploiting the poor employees shamelessly. The working conditions are really bad. It is very cramped, very loud, and you’re under as much pressure as a rubber ball. Especially the working hours (40 hour working week, whatever). 50 as a minimum would be nice, but it’s rather 60-70. Hours and overtime are not added on or paid for, as there are no deals in the pipeline. On Friday, you’re easily working until 12 or 1am , instead of going home for the weekend as per contract at 6pm. Sadly, Saturdays or Sundays are no exception, when you’re more than welcome to take the laptop with the programs home with you and continue your work (of course unpaid). If you don’t comply, you have to leave. It’s that easy. They easily exploit and bullshit the poor people.

“Mr. Glasner is a genius”

Mr. Glasner is a genius. He grabs the guys right by their ego and threatens them by taking their prestigious title of “Director”. And then they peddle much harder. In reference to the VV Quote, “How does it look if you were formerly at McKinsey and now you are degraded and your work experience certificate is tainted?” Well, sometimes you’re the pigeon, and sometimes you’re the monument getting shat on (this is a German idiom).

“Prestige is a great leverage…”

It hits the nail on the head. On the city management level there were and are loads of ex-consultants (McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group) who do earn a lot of money (sometimes better even than in consulting), but they have to tolerate a lot. Prestige is a great leverage against them. These people would have exit options with good compensation. I feel sorry for the planner who can only react and in busy times has to work overtime because no deal flow was happening. During the weekend, they sit unpaid in the office in Rosenstrasse because they are dependant on the job and have a feeling of responsibility.

One reader got poetic: “Only when…the last fish is caught, you will realize that you can’t eat money”

Only when the last company is sold, the last IPO worked out well, the last billion has been made, will Oli realize that you cannot buy friends.

The heat will inspire further competition

I think that the Groupon Partners will now look for fairer and more sustainable solutions like Regiondo or Gidsy.

Reaction reveals cultural differences: Comments from HackerNews

From the US perspective, reaction was also high. Given the operational sales headquarters are in Europe, the leaked email series provided an exclusive insider look into Groupon Europe. Given a different employment atmosphere as well as a less intimate involvement in the story, the comments veered toward the other end of the scale. Check out the highlights here:

Making the magic work without restrictions

I’m pretty sure that’s an accurate picture of the kind of sales operation that’s required to make the magic work…The key difference, though, is that a stockbroker Boiler-Room is usually operating at (or around) a threshold of legality since making markets in stocks is a highly regulated industry (at the very least there’s the threat of sanctions if a salesperson goes too far). On the other hand, the Groupon sales team will have no such restrictions on how they sell the dream of increased customer awareness through the magic of the internet, and their vast mailing list.

German perception of job title versus the rest of the world. Do you agree?

Titles like [director of sales] mean a lot more in Germany, where it’s much harder to find or lose a job; they also have a record that follows them around, much like your college transcript. Being a director isn’t like being one in America.

Cultural mediocrity is the risk of less aggressive company management

A certain large company (name withheld) had a practice of hiring people in between levels and “downslotting” about 75 per cent of new hires to title the level below what they were promised in hiring. It didn’t save any money but it flew a fucking plane into morale. That company abolished the slotting idiocy, but far too late, and it’s probably a contributor to the cultural mediocrity and general decline of that company over the past 3-4 years.
Will Groupon’s reputation continue to struggle. Perhaps it will obey a familiar operational divide with the US keeping separate from Europe, the latter being traditional. Oli is meant to stay involved in the company though 2012 says, one insider source and ex Groupon employee.
See our top tips for winning at Groupon straight from Alec Baldwin…