University of Michigan — famous alumni notes

It always strikes me that the University of Michigan does a great job of promoting more distant famous alumni, but not always the more recent famous alumni. (I was an undergraduate there, so I’m interested in this.)

Advertising / Google

One thing that most people don’t know is that the two largest online advertising companies were both founded by University of Michigan graduates. And not only that, they were both UofM College of Engineering students! Who am I speaking of?

Larry Page — CEO/co-founder, Google

Kevin O’Connor — co-founder/ex-CEO, Doubleclick

And of course, Doubleclick was purchased by Google for ~$3billion back in 2008. I’m curious how much the two of them spoke during/after the negotiations about their common history back in Ann Arbor!

Groupon — a story

I’m not a big fan of Groupon… at all. I signed up in London for a while, but the offers were crap, and it took me ages to get off of all their different lists they had added me to. It’s not the daily deal format I hate; I like Keynoir which is a similar site here in London because they tend to have offers that I actually want to buy.

Another reason I don’t like Groupon is the way they run their business. Despite the fact they’re still not profitable, the founders got massive cash payments last year. So while Groupon was raising close to $1billion to keep the business going (because it wasn’t profitable), the founders were taking hundreds of millions of dollars of the funding investors were giving them. This is just WRONG, even if the investors were greedy enough for a part of Groupon that they didn’t argue. If you haven’t built a business to profitability, you should be able to cash out anything more than a token amount… ever.

I recently learned that one of the founders of Groupon (Eric Lefkofsky) was behind one of the worst student activism campaigns ever at the University of Michigan: trying to adopt a cute, cuddly mascot for the Michigan Wolverine sports teams. Michigan had previously toyed with mascots; back in the 1920’s the University brought a live wolverine in a cage to football games. But since wolverines are actually mean, vicious creatures, that only lasted a year or two.

But in the late 1980’s Eric Lefkofsky was part of a trio of students that came close to adopting “Willy the Wolverine” as a University mascot. Luckily they managed to piss the University off by infringing on official trademarks and doing similar stupid stuff that after they graduated the effort lost momentum. But this was the final nail in the Groupon coffin for me; even if they grow into the biggest company on earth, I’ll never have respect for them.

(If you want to learn more about the Michigan mascot (that rarely existed), check out the Alumni Association story “The Wolverine that wasn’t.”)

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