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Keywell, Lefkofsky look to Groupon’s future

Groupheadquarters building 600 W. Chicago Avenue Friday August 31 2012. l John H. White~Sun-Times

Groupon headquarters building, 600 W. Chicago Avenue, Friday, August 31, 2012. l John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 11, 2012 6:17AM

Could Groupon one day become the Costco of the Internet?

“Maybe Amazon is long-term the Wal-Mart of the Web, but maybe Groupon is the Costco of the Web,” Eric Lefkofsky, Groupon co-founding investor, said Tuesday.

“I think you’ll see these great e-commerce companies like eBay and like Amazon and like Groupon, start to find their long-term niche,” Lefkofsky said as he spitballed ideas with fellow co-founding investor Brad Keywell at the Museum of Contemporary Art during Ideas Week — a symposium of sorts that Keywell started. It draws luminaries from many fields to Chicago to share knowledge.

Groupon has been under intense scrutiny from Wall Street and the media since it went public last November at $20 a share. The shares have lost 74 percent of their value, closing Tuesday at $5.27.

Keywell didn’t talk directly about Groupon, but he used proxy companies such as Facebook to ponder the state of e-commerce.

“I look at Facebook and the fact that they are just now are figuring out new ways to harness what they created for profit. They are finding ways to better target advertising . . . For a lot of socially disseminated businesses there’s a lot of potential that remains to be seen,” Keywell said.

Both men have said they have no regrets about passing on a reported $6 billion Google buyout in favor of taking Groupon public. Asked for thoughts about taking a company public in the future, Lefkofsky said, “I think I would prefer the private life more in today’s environment.”

In a short chat with the Chicago Sun-Times before taking the stage, Keywell argued that Chicago already is a destination for great technology startups, but he said the challenge is to develop an atmosphere that is forgiving of failures and encourages risk-taking.

“The question now is how quickly and how well does that ecosystem develop where entrepreneurs make money and then start new things where the media has a more forgiving view towards entrepreneurial risk-taking, where people are not vilified for having entrepreneurial failures,” Keywell said.

Contributing: Sandra Guy

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