Eight years ago, Tim O’Shaughnessy (MSB ’04) was frequenting The Tombs and walking campus with other ambitious undergraduate students. Now, he is co-founder and CEO of a $3 billion business.
Although the road to success hasn’t been the easiest forLivingSocial, with 2010 corporate losses estimated at $558 million, O’Shaughnessy seems driven to propel his Internet deal giant to the ranks of Groupon. He has no regrets about the professional path he’s walked so far.
“Don’t get lost in graduation,” O’Shaughnessy warned. “Don’t just do what seems ‘normal.’ You’re going to end up being a lot more successful if you work in something you like.”
This entrepreneurial philosophy guided O’Shaughnessy to help found LivingSocial, a social buying website that now counts a daily income of $1 million.
The company got its start in the D.C. area just four years after O’Shaughnessy graduated, when he and three other young entrepreneurs decided to join forces.
In 2007, the four co-founders of LivingSocial, O’Shaughnessy, Val Aleksenko, Aaron Batalion and Eddie Frederick met while working for Revolution Health, an AOL startup. Soon they began creating successful Facebook apps together.
“A lot of people remember this [period] as the era of sheep-throwing and other ridiculousness. We saw it as an opportunity,” O’Shaughnessy said.
The four decided to venture out on their own as a consulting firm, and the opportunities grew. In 2009, they purchased buyyourfriendadrink.com, a website that, as its name suggests, allowed customers to buy a friend a drink by sending them a gift certificate. With the success of their apps and new site, the group took a crucial step toward Internet success.
Out of a few Facebook apps and a quirky website, LivingSocial arrived.
O’Shaughnessy took into consideration a crucial aspect of consumerism and made it the organization’s entrepreneurial foundation.
“Consumers like saving money, finding new things to do and enjoying our city,” he said. “We keep these as the pillars of our foundation.”
Today, only a few short years after its creation, LivingSocial has more than 46 million members in 25 countries and the numbers continue to rise. Although it’s based in Washington, D.C., LivingSocial sponsors deals as far away as New Zealand and the United Arab Emirates.
The company finds its edge in the market in spanning the gap between local business and consumers, allowing people to purchase vouchers for restaurants, movie theaters and numerous activities at significantly discounted prices.
The company also organizes “Escapes,” which focus on marked-down hotel rooms, and “Adventures,” which feature local events from snow tubing to sushi making, appealing to consumers who look for more creative ways to explore their area.
“[We feature] real-world, active types of activities, the kind I did during and after college,” O’Shaughnessy said.
While consumers are the focus of LivingSocial, companies benefit from its unique business model, too. By partnering with LivingSocial, businesses — especially those that are smaller — gain a larger clientele that they could not have otherwise reached.
Although its success has proved impressive, O’Shaughnessy admits that not everything was a calculated move.
“There’s no ‘secret sauce,’” he said.
Along with their successes, there have also been hardships for the co-founders of LivingSocial, with a less than impressive second year of operation. In February 2011, The Washington Post reported that LivingSocial had revealed a loss of $558 million to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for the previous year.
Despite financial woes, charity remains another important aspect of the company’s work, according to O’Shaughnessy. When a devastating tsunami struck Japan last year, the company promised that if people made a donation through LivingSocial, the organization would donate the same amount; in a mere 24 hours, LivingSocial had raised about $2.4 million.
Through entrepreneurship, charity and innovation, what began as a few people developing Facebook apps has become a phenomenon.
For employees of the company, including many Georgetown alums, working at LivingSocial has its perks, too.
“We’ve grown so quickly, so it’s hard to get to know everyone. When everyone else is grow, grow, grow and try to make the company as big as possible, I try to keep it small,” Andrew Dolan (COL ’10), the culture manager for LivingSocial, said.
Dolan added that employees often participate in the activities offered by LivingSocial.
“An entire group of people plan these events and go on them,” he said.
Dolan remembers one LivingSocial Adventure he particularly enjoyed called “Canadian for a Night.” Participants went to an ice hockey rink in Maryland to ice skate, curl and play broomball. They also ate Canadian food called poutine (French fries and gravy).
This sense of fostering community is one of LivingSocial’s goals, according to O’Shaughnessy.
“[The local community] is where people live, and local commerce is the makeup of the community,” he said.
In recent years, some students have followed O’Shaughnessy’s footsteps to intern or work at LivingSocial. Mike McClain (SFS ’12) has been interning at the company’s Washington, D.C. office since May, working in both the product management and editorial divisions.
“In a young company, there are a lot more open doors. I was given a lot of freedom from the start,” he said, pointing out a crucial aspect of the foundation of LivingSocial.
O’Shaughnessy, McClain and Dolan all cited a large number of alums working at LivingSocial, but McClain said there is no “funnel” that helps Georgetown students find a job at the company. They send in their resumes, and sometimes they are hired. They might have connections with people who work for the company, or like Dolan, they might come across a job opportunity through a simple Google search.
“I pretty much just kind of lucked out,” Dolan said.
Already a LivingSocial subscriber, Dolan sent in his resume. He earned an interview and was offered a job about 48 hours later.
According to McClain, the company’s young employee base allows for more flexibility and communication.
“People that are above you [in rank] are pretty similar in age and interest. In spite of rank divisions, everyone is pretty much on the same page,” McClain said.
O’Shaughnessy also emphasizes the importance of a cohesive, energetic employee base.
“We need to make sure you’re having fun with what you do,” O’Shaughnessy said.
To help grow their base of young employees, LivingSocial created Hungry Academy, a five-month tech immersion program that prepares students to create software. At the end of the program, particularly skilled students could be offered a position on LivingSocial’s computer engineering team.
While many LivingSocial employees share a past at Georgetown, they come from a wide variety of backgrounds within the university. O’Shaughnessy studied marketing and operations and information management, McClain currently studies political economy and Dolan completed a double major in English and theater and performance studies.
“At the end of the day, your Georgetown experience varies tremendously from person to person, and that depends on your interests,” Dolan said.
But he added that it is the way in which many Georgetown students are similar that draws them to LivingSocial.
“You come in, work hard and see tangible results, [which is] what a lot of Hoyas want,” he said.
“[Georgetown gives us] motivation to step outside [of our] comfort zone. We learn quickly and from each other,” he said.