New CEO Jim Crowley on BuyWithMe’s Mobile Expansion and the Future of Social Commerce

Jim Crowley wants to have it both ways. The new CEO of BuyWithMe, the online deals site, insists the company is based in both Boston and New York. (Yes, well, this is a sensitive topic to me this week.)

“The company exists in two spots,” Crowley says. It has about 100 employees total—roughly two-thirds of them in New York, and one-third in Boston.

BuyWithMe was founded in the Boston area in 2009 and moved its headquarters to New York last year. The company, which provides local deals for consumers in a dozen markets around the U.S., has been ramping up its efforts to compete with other group-buying sites like Groupon, LivingSocial, and Tippr. (Other Boston-area social commerce sites include Eversave, LocalGinger–which was acquired by Where—and Daily Grommet.)

Crowley, a Boston guy himself, is the former CEO of Turbine, the Westwood, MA-based online gaming company that was bought by Warner Bros. for a reported $160 million last April. Before that, he was chief operating officer at Watertown, MA-based m-Qube, the mobile software firm acquired by Verisign for $250 million in 2006. He succeeds Cheryl Rosner, who left BuyWithMe late last year.

I wondered how Crowley’s deep experience with mobile and gaming companies might translate to the ultra-competitive sector of group-buying and local marketing. “The common thread is extraordinarily rapid growth,” he says. “I have been involved in several companies that have had to grow very quickly.”

Specifically, he oversaw Turbine’s transition from a subscription-based business to a free-to-play, virtual goods model that “went to millions and millions of customers,” he says. And m-Qube was “one of the fastest growing technology companies in New England before we sold it,” he says. What’s more, it sounds like mobile devices are key to BuyWithMe’s expansion strategy. Crowley declined to give many details, but he said that for both local merchants trying to attract new customers, and consumers discovering and sharing places with friends, “there will be a move towards mobile engagement” that will “bring the group dynamic and social dynamic into play.”

And he gave a little more context: “The data is overwhelming that by 2013, mobile devices will be the primary access point for the Internet in North America. Perhaps sooner. It’s offering tremendous ways to become hyperlocal, to better personalize, and to bring experiences to their pocket. It is incumbent on BuyWithMe to understand that technology shift and take advantage,” he says.

None of this is very surprising, of course, especially given Crowley’s expertise in mobile. But I also asked for his broader perspective on group buying, given that he is a relative newcomer … Next Page »

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