Get Your Groove On At $250 Million Groupon

Groupon Office Tour

In the old Montgomery Ward building along the Chicago River, quirky Groupon is building something cool — and huge.

What is Groupon? The company’s Web site (and daily email blast) offers a deal per day in 30 cities across America, usually from a local company, usually offering an in-person special. The “group” twist: The deal only kicks in if a large-enough group of people sign up for it — so call your friends and make sure they buy one, too.

In Chicago today, for example, Mexican restaurant Fuego is offering $25 worth of food and drinks for $10. The minimum group of 250 buyers “tipped” at 8:06 a.m., and so far, 689 people have bought the special.

It’s a popular service, especially in Chicago, where some 250,000 people are signed up for the mailing list. (Soon it’ll have more local subscribers than the Chicago Sun-Times.) Earlier this month, 4,243 people bought a “Chicago Chocolate Tour” for $22 (worth $40 at full retail.) On Nov. 20, 9,260 people bought $10 gift certificates to Pompei, an Italian restaraurant, for $5.

As you can imagine, with a paying user base like that, the company is making money. In just over a year since launch, the Internet startup has grown to become a real, big deal, with 140 employees, 2 million subscribers, 1 million “Groupons” purchased, and plans to do more than $100 million of gross merchandise sales in 2010. Its most recent financing — $30 million with Accel partners — valued the company at $250 million, cofounder and CEO Andrew Mason confirms to us.

Groupon is growing rapidly and getting ready to move into new offices in the same building for its next phase of expansion. We toured their offices yesterday, and brought our camera.

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Groupon is based out of the old Montgomery Ward building at 600 W. Chicago Ave., about a mile west of the famous water tower that survived the Great Chicago Fire

Go up to the 8th floor and walk down this long hall

And next to a trading firm, there's Groupon's front desk

Cofounder and CEO Andrew Mason shows us the company's first stab at a logo, a woman riding a bird with a sword in the air

This logo was a joke, Andrew explains to us -- they were looking for a logo that was the least usable as possible for a business, and it seems they found it. (The pink Hello Kitty sweater was a later addition. Use your imagination for the rest.)

The 8th floor is mostly sales, finance, and editorial folks. Groupon's staff is young, and definitely one of the louder, more spirited offices we've seen.

One of the writers' offices, decorated with a Hawaiian theme because one of the writers is Hawaiian

Groupon's finance department

Groupon has been adding a city a week most of this year and plans to expand to 50 more cities in 2010

Most tech startups have video game consoles, but this one never gets used, says Mason

Groupon is getting so big it already has to move. The company is moving into this space downstairs in April, which will be able to fit 400 employees

Here's the view from the window. The tall building is the John Hancock building, about a mile east, near Lake Michigan

These are humour writers David Kibblesmith and Sam Weiner. They write the funny stuff that goes on the Groupon Web site and in their emails

Here's the closest thing to trade secrets we'll give away in this tour: The writers' whiteboard list of recurring jokes and themes

Groupon also put together this 2010 calendar full of its funny, quirky product descriptions

The Groupon Holiday card: We spent our lunch break at the legendary Civic Opera House and belted out some uplifting hymnals

That's about it for the office! Groupon shares a building with lots of companies, such as the Big 10 Network, Dyson, and Level3

The Motel Bar, downstairs, was Groupon's first offer customer: 2-for-1 pizzas

Here's Groupon's building from the Chicago River

That's it! Now check out some other cool startups we've toured...

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