Michael Yang

Student of people and politics, culture and technology, language and life.

Entrepreneurship v0.0

I’ve decided to start this blog to track progress and keep myself honest through my first (real?) entrepreneurial venture. First, a couple of quick notes about how all of this came to be.

Midway through my junior year of college (2010-11), I moved back to Chicago after spending about 9 months (doing some version of “finding myself”) in New York and back home in Edison, New Jersey. After having slogged through two law-related internships, one for a prominent public interest nonprofit and another for the US Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn, I concluded that my original plan to “go to law school and then see what happens” probably wasn’t a good enough idea.

So I looked for something new. One of the books that I had read during my extra time at home was Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh. It struck me how exciting the entire process of building Zappos seemed – the ups and downs, moments of near destruction, relief of finally reaching a big milestone, and raw happiness of building, thinking, iterating, talking, walking, and living a thing that you owned, that was your baby, that you put your heart and soul into every day. At first, I didn’t associate this seemingly euphoric mode of existence with entrepreneurship per se, but I had some notion that technology and e-commerce constituted the right direction to go.

Groupon had just turned down a $6 billion acquisition offer from Google a few months earlier in Dec 2010 – I distinctly remember reading about it for the first time, seeing a Techcrunch article about the potential acquisition pop up on my Twitter feed a few months prior.  The article stood out because a Northwestern grad, Andrew Mason, was at the helm of this company that apparently was the next big thing (or something like that), and that struck me as at least a small victory for us Wildcats.

During my last few weeks in New York, in early and mid-March, I had been interviewing by phone with several organizations, hoping to land some sort of business internship that would help me successfully run far far away and hide from law school and all that I had been doing in the past two internships. By the time I started packing for the move back to Chicago for spring quarter at Northwestern, I had received an offer after interviewing with the asset management division of a bulge bracket investment bank (I feel dirty even admitting this out loud).

The night before my flight, I logged onto NU’s jobs and internship database to take a quick look (this had become something of a habit at the time). Lo and behold – an inaugural summer internship program at Groupon!

Too bad, I thought. I had lined up a consulting internship for the summer already, so I was (surprisingly) good on that front. Hm, I hadn’t yet accept the asset management internship though – maybe I could swing something here for the spring?

I checked the internship listing. No luck – it was explicitly a summer program, and there wasn’t any contact information listed. I went on Groupon’s website in search of someone to reach out to, but all I ended up finding was a bunch of uniquely quirky bios for the management team under the About section (which have since disappeared, interestingly enough, since the IPO – serious much?). No contact info on the listing or on the website, and no luck googling it either, so I decided to do the only thing that there was left to do.

I called customer service. Long story short, Groupon’s claims about the quality of its customer service are absolutely legit. The guy who picked up my call was at first a little confused, then told me to hold on a sec, then came back on the line and made me promise to never tell anyone that he was giving me what he was about to give me (sorry, awesome customer service dude), then he gave me the contact information of the HR lead in charge of the summer internship program.

About a week later, I interviewed with Derek, who eventually became my boss (and probably the most top-notch mentor luck/fate/God/the world could have sent me), after convincing the company to create an ad-hoc internship program for me in the spring. I pitched the idea as an opportunity for them to try out all of the stuff they had planned for the summer interns on me first, to use me as their test dummy. They were super receptive to the idea, which said volumes about the open-minded, nonconformist, startup culture at Groupon. I even offered to work for free, but they insisted on a generous hourly salary (plus SO much free swag and an unlimited supply of coffee, Diet Dr. Pepper, and La Croix for the next 5 months).

You can call this entire thing whatever you want – taking calculated risks, embracing new opportunities, being at the right place at the right time, dumb luck. But looking back, I’ve realized that my entire life (sorry to be so dramatic) changed when I decided to call Groupon customer service that day. My experience at Groupon was nothing short of revolutionary (again, my bad) – in terms of my skills, my industry experience, the people that I formed connections with, but most importantly my outlook on what it means to do something meaningful and something you love doing.

Groupon is what got me started on this path towards whatever I’m headed towards right now – entrepreneurship (see title), a real shot at successfully making it off the beaten path (hopefully), another young naive phase (hopefully not), mild disappointment (not afraid), utter failure (seriously bring it on), etc. Regardless of what it ends up being, you guys will know, since I’ll be writing about all of it right here.

Next up: The Idea.

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