China’s Boldest Groupon Clone to Launch Open Group Buying Platform: a World First?



Tuanbao CEO Ren Chunlei

Innovation isn’t something you would normally expect fron Tuanbao, China’s most blatant Groupon clone. After all, Tuanbao CEO Ren Chunlei not only snapped up the domain name before Groupon could, he designed his site to look almost exactly the same. It allowed the company to expand with some initial success, but it certainly wasn’t what anyone could call creative.

But that was a long time ago, and China’s group buying sites have had a devastating year. The last time we heard from Ren Chunlei, Tuanbao was on the verge of bankruptcy and Ren himself was already planning a new startup. But six months later, Tuanbao is still around, and Ren remains at the helm. What’s more, according to Sina Tech, Ren has unveiled a bold new vision for the company: an open group buy platform where companies and even individual users can submit deals.

At present, Tuanbao is basically an advertising platform with only free deals listed, because the company still owes money and can’t get any credit. Under the new system, free listings will remain an option, but vendors will be able to choose whether they want to list a free deal or a more traditional paid one. At the same time, designated power users will have the freedom to speak with vendors on their own and arrange deals, which they can then earn commissions on. In addition to setting up deals, there will also be users who get paid to draft and design deals listings, and users who are paid to help promote deals. Tuanbao will no longer arrange deals directly with vendors; it will simply take a 10 percent cut of the commissions paid by vendors to these various types of power users.

I’m not aware of any other group buy site that operates quite like this; it is possible that Tuanbao could be the world’s first open-platform group buy site. But it’s also true that many of these ideas are somewhat familiar. Alibaba’s Juhuasuan is an open platform of sorts, allowing vendors (but not users) to list deals. And Taobao’s “Taobaoke” and Vancl’s “experts” are extant examples of the kind of user-created promotional system Tuanbao seems to be going for. Even so, though, it’s clear that Tuanbao will be breaking some new ground here.

The question that remains unanswered — the new version of the site hasn’t yet launched — is whether or not the users’ compensation will be significant enough to inspire anyone to get that involved. Ren Chunlei hopes the site will be something like an entrepreneurial platform that will allow users to establish their own daily deals and marketing businesses through Tuanbao’s platform.

Amazingly, despite the very ugly fallout with his last set of investors, Ren has apparently secured more funding that he says will be sufficient to operate the new site for one to two years, so we should get to see for ourselves whether users buy into Ren’s new idea, or whether it all just falls apart again. Either way, with Ren Chunlei at the helm, it’s not likely to be boring. If Tuanbao wasn’t on your map before, put it there now, because this could get interesting.

[via Sina Tech]

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