First Person: Why Adam Schwab’s still standing in the group buying war

Adam Schwab is the head of Deals.com.au, one of the group buying companies still thriving in the market. The business – which combined with Ouffer.com last year – is turning over more than $50 million, and Schwab says it’s profitable, too.

Schwab says staying alive in the troubled group buying market hasn’t been easy, but some determination and a dedication to working alongside the troops on the ground is what keeps him on track.

I can be pretty pessimistic. But I’m more optimistic about the business than I’ve ever been, even more so than in the early days of runaway growth.

We’re a conservative company. We didn’t go overboard with acquisitions in the early days. The fundamentals of the business have been improving, and as the industry has gone on, cost of acquisitions have gone down.

We’ve been able to maintain profitability. Even as we integrated Ouffer into Deals, we’ve been able to navigate that fairly easily.

More than two-thirds of our customers come back. People tend to say a lot of group buying customers don’t come back. But if that was true, we wouldn’t have advertisers returning five, 10 or 15 times.

But there were absolutely challenges from the technology side. We went to a new platform, which had some great benefits but also some changes we needed to make. It was the tech problems that took the longest to sort out.

The cultures were similar and weren’t a problem at all. The executive team has stuck around, which makes more of an inspiration than it would have been otherwise.

It’s hard to define a culture in words. But the beauty of being in a company run by the owners has an impact. It’s much different to a large company where owners are distant shareholders. We’re the owners who are the last people to leave at night.

We never went on a hiring binge. We’ve been pretty steady at around 25, then Ouffer added about the same. We rationalised a few roles. We didn’t fire anyone, but there was some natural attrition.

In my role as managing director I’ve been involved in every part of the business. Compared to executives at some competitors, they may not know what’s happening on the ground. I get involved from everything from support, to finance to legal.

It’s hard to have a flat structure if you’re bigger. There’s a difference here, where the managers are the founders, not those who have been hired. The founder is 99% at risk, so they’re going to put that effort in.

My role is so varied I don’t spend a lot of time on any one particular thing.

You need to lead by example. If that means working at 12 at night, so be it, because ultimately, our business is about treating our customers right.

It’s pretty rare I’m not the last person to leave. But that’s almost an old-school view where I think the captain should always be with the ship.

I used to be a lawyer. There was nothing worse than seeing the managing partner leaving early and then you staying until 3am. It’s a privilege to have people work with you and for you, and to take advantage of that I’ve never thought is appropriate.

We’re constantly looking to evolve. But in terms of doing anything else, we haven’t really thought about it. We’re happy with doing what we’re doing now.

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