HomeRun: Like Groupon, But Ridiculously Social

Daily deal sites are like catnip for web entrepreneurs hunting for good ideas. In most cases, they look and work the same. But one new Groupon competitor, San Francisco-based HomeRun, has innovated useful social features that entice people to purchase coupons such as participation rewards, user profiles and sharing, and group bargaining. Though Groupon and other sites do encourage users to share deals on Facebook and Twitter, there’s still a lot of innovation to be done around things like personalization and socialization.

HomeRun, which appears to have started publishing offers last month, is currently available only in San Francisco. It’s led by CEO Jared Kopf, a co-founder of Slide and AdRoll. Kopf, who founded HomeRun in November and has hired a team including folks from WeatherBill and the Y Combinator program, said he was too busy to talk in detail about the startup just yet. However, the site is open for registrations, so here’s what I’m seeing so far.

* HomeRun encourages users to connect their Facebook accounts and shows which of their friends are also on the site. It has built out profiles that show which members have purchased which deals. Giving the site real-world identity makes users more engaged through things like peer pressure, trusted recommendations and a stickier browsing experience.

* Some of site’s deals don’t have static prices; there’s a feature called “avalanche” that brings down the price a dollar or so at a time when more people sign up. When the deal closes, everyone pays the last and lowest price.

* HomeRun has a point system and offers cash-back credits. You accrue points for visiting the site, inviting new members, sharing and buying deals, and commenting and voting.

* Like Groupon and some of the larger sites, HomeRun doesn’t limit itself to a single daily deal. It does a good job of capitalizing on different types of users by rewarding them with special types of deals. For instance, one side feature for users with a lot of participation points is a special deal called “The Private Reserve.” Another, “Beginner’s Luck,” is for users who’ve joined within the last 30 days.

Tweaking the social algorithm to encourage impulse buying and engagement is a great start, but it’s not all you need to challenge a company like Groupon with an established base, $100 million in revenue and profitability. Not to mention folks like LivingSocial, which has raised $35 million to take on Groupon. And these sites have grown to their current stature without HomeRun’s social features.

HomeRun is incredibly young and has changed so many variables — it’s too early to say if it’s got the formula right. But so far, I like its approach, and even if all the competition copies HomeRun tomorrow I’d trust these guys to keep being creative.

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