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Interview with Neal Rapoport of DealTaker

DealTaker, CouponTaker, PriceTaker

Neal Rapoport, the president of DealTaker.com, is today’s guest at ProBargainHunter. I asked Neal to talk about his beginnings, and about his site, enjoy!

Hi, I am Neal Rapoport, founder of DealTaker.com. It is a pleasure to be posting this guest blog on ProBargainHunter. While usually I’m very quiet about how DealTaker.com is run, here’s a sneak-peek at how we got to where we are, and some of the more fun aspects of running a deals site. We’re proud to be a top 10 deals website on ProBargainHunter, but we do see an upcoming slide as we’re separating out some of our features into different domains this month. The changes, and much more about DealTaker.com, are addressed in the following Q&A session

What is your educational and business background? What did you do before DealTaker.com?

My background is unique to most other deals sites. In college my major was Communications, and my goal was to be a game show host. After graduation, I found that those jobs are few & far between, and that there was money in computers, so I went to work for Microsoft for a few years, and learned all I could. Then after a few other jobs, I broke out to doing consulting on my own in a particular niche market. The money was great, but I always liked getting a bargain, and so I started DealTaker.com as just a hobby.

Dealtaker.com grew from #18 in November ‘06 to #9 in April ‘07 in ProBargainHunter ranking. What is your formula of success?

We just keep doing what works. Our goals remain steady in getting the users the best deals. Thanks to our great users, they are quite loyal, and are always happy to refer their friends. Our rank will likely go down the next few months as we separate out some of our sites into separate domains. The best formula we’ve found, is just to make the site easy to use, the content fresh, and the users happy. Nothing magical, just a lot of hard work

What are some of the biggest challenges about maintaining the site as it grows?

Well, we started with a single old gateway server in my closet running on a cable modem, and quickly outgrew that to be hosted on a shared server for a few months, then moved to our own servers.. Our biggest technical challenges are constantly adding more servers, and keeping the hackers/spammers out.

You just launched PriceTaker.com, the price comparison engine. Do you have any other planned innovations that we should know about?

While we have a policy against pre-announcing new features, I can say that we’re going to have some revolutionary new additions to our sites that will make bargain hunting, and being able to participate in our community even easier. By the end of the Summer we hope to have rolled out 3 of the planned items. Unfortunately thats about all I can say on the future development right now

At times it can be daunting with the amount of deals/sales, etc. coming down the pipe. How do you manage? Is the process manual or automated?

We have a fairly manual process for adding the deals based on a forum model. Trying to automate what’s going to be a hot deal versus one thats not hot would be pretty difficult. As to the process, we allow users to post content, and we also have a team of Moderators who help post content, and keep the forum clean by adding images/links where warranted, and parsing through to make sure that the deals are all objective. We have a strict policy against self-promotion, because that could ruin a forum.

What’s the best deal you ever got personally? Do you think you buy more stuff because you know about so many deals?

I’ve gotten so many, but my favorites are a $200 27” LCD TV (dec ’05), a Kitchenaid Artisan Mixer for $124, and loads of toys & games for practically free for my kids. Every day there’s always some great deals, or fantastic coupon that I want to take advantage of, but I’ve been spending so much time running the company, that by the time I go to our forums to buy some of the things, they’re already sold out.

Do you ever check out the other deal sites? Do you keep in touch with other deal site owners? What do you discuss?

I used to spend more time looking at the other deal sites, but I don’t too often anymore. The only time I realy end up there is if I search the internet for something and end up there in the results, or if I’m alerted to an issue by our moderators. I still talk to a few of my competitors site owners, but less and less as time goes on. As to what we discuss, sometimes its other competitors practices that we don’t agree with, or particular deals, or even giving each other tips & advice.

Financial Times reports that online sales are up 29% this year. What do you think the future holds for brick and mortar electronics stores?

I’m not the expert, but I think as the internet shopping gains more credibility that the physical electronic stores may have some difficulty. I think some stores like grocery, clothes/shoes & automotive will have a more difficult time moving to online, but other industries could see stores continue to disappear quickly as online sales grow.

If you were to give just one money saving advice to ProBargainHunter readers, what would it be?

Check DealTaker.com before you shop anywhere. ;-) But if you don’t print that, I’d say the best advice is if you see a real deal to order quickly. The best deals sell out fast. Growing up, my motto was “Buy it, you’ll like it.”; I guess that hasn’t changed too much.

Thanks for allowing me the time to write to the ProBargainHunter readers. Hopefully this provided a little insight into our features, and how we got to where we are today, and why our members stay loyal.


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26 Responses to “Interview with Neal Rapoport of DealTaker”


  1. 1 XynamaX May 17th, 2007 at 6:54 pm

    What do you mean by Self promotion?

    “We have a strict policy against self-promotion, because that could ruin a forum.”

    Just curious. It seems the larger deal-sites are very anti-competition, and anytime someone mentions another deal site, the posts are deleted. Some even threaten you with “advertising” fees if you post a link to another site. Kinda fascist if you ask me…

    If you have a good customer base, why be afraid of competition?

    -X

  2. 2 harry May 17th, 2007 at 7:41 pm

    I think they are saying it ruins it, because the “self-promoting” spammers take over. If these “deal” sites allowed anyone to post their own stores and any deal then how would anyone know which is a real deal and which was just someone wanting to sell their own stuff. It would just be filled with canadian drug deals and russian bride sites.

    As to the competitve site part, I don’t think McDonalds would let you go in there handing out Burger King flyers either.

  3. 3 Yan May 17th, 2007 at 8:14 pm

    That is a very good question. Deal sites seem to go to extreme trying to protect their “loyal” user base from going elsewhere. FatWallet for example has a filter that won’t allow a post with certain keywords.

    Ben Chui of BensBargains is even more creative. His competitive filter replaces “offending” keywords with things like “cherub” or “bacon”. Sadly this has become a part of, so to say, Ben’s culture.

  4. 4 XynamaX May 18th, 2007 at 6:06 am

    Why can’t they all just get along!@

    I can see why they want to protect their user base, but it sends the wrong message.

    The only users who really ruin a forum are those who attack others and bash deals. Self promotion is one thing, but most deal sites had to promote themselves at one time on other sites otherwise they wouldn’t have the traffic they get now…

  5. 5 Neal Rapoport May 18th, 2007 at 7:05 am

    Yan & x,
    One of my folks said they responded yesterday but I guess it didn’t get published.. so I’ll try to clear it up.

    The basic thing is that: advertising for a competitor is bad for business. It’s not too hard to understand.

    Walmart doesn’t let people hang banners for Target.

    You don’t go into McDonalds to be blasted with ads for Wendys.

    As to the members who attack others, we don’t allow that on our site, and our moderators take quick action when we see it, or are alerted by our users. As to bashing deals, it’s hard to completely stop… As long as someone can point to a better deal, rather than just saying “this deal stinks”, it only helps the consumer.

    Hope that explains it, you don’t have to agree, but that’s how we run DealTaker.com :)
    Thanks
    Neal.

  6. 6 Yan May 18th, 2007 at 1:47 pm

    Let me answer this one.

    Venus, if you think you can come up with an idea that someone hasn’t already invented — think again. The chances are extremely slim that out of several billion people no one has thought of doing it or hasn’t done it already.

    There is nothing wrong with borrowing/reusing ideas. It is not illegal, unless it is patented. Even then, I personally think software patents are nonsense and should be eliminated. In software, there is a whole community/industry built around sharing ideas, open source.

    In addition, the idea itself is worth very little in starting up a business. It is how you execute it what is important. Here is a good reading on the subject.

  7. 7 Neal Rapoport May 18th, 2007 at 1:47 pm

    Venus,
    Silly question, but I’ll bite:
    Did Mercedes, BMW, Rolls Royce, Bentley & Ferrari all steal ideas from Ford? They took an idea of a car and made what they (and hopefully for them, their customers) think is better.
    Our goal is the same… to take the basic Deal Site concept and make it better.

    As to the “sail” question, I’m pretty sure Yan meant “Sale”.

  8. 8 Yan May 18th, 2007 at 1:53 pm

    Oops, fixed the typo.

  9. 9 XynamaX May 18th, 2007 at 9:40 am

    How about this scenario; a user (who frequents 2 forums) comes on the site and says:

    “I found this deal on site XXX and wanted to share it here. YYY.com has blah’s on sale for $9.99″.

    Why shouldn’t XXX get the credit?

    Deal sites are definitely have a different business model then retailers…

    Also, if you goto Buy.com, they have links to other stores and their prices as well, so not all retailers follow that rule..

  10. 10 Yan May 18th, 2007 at 9:53 am

    Neal:

    Well, at least this was an honest answer. The problem arises when visitors come to your “public” forums and looking at the typical phpBB-styled bulletin board assume they can openly express/share their opinions. It does work like that but only to a certain extend.

    In reality, a deal site forum is a business instrument for the site owner to generate more clicks on embedded affiliate links and the owner will do anything to keep the flow going. This needs to be written in large font on the banner and added to the welcome letter. The nature of affiliate marketing is so that it cripples any open forum.

  11. 11 Neal Rapoport May 18th, 2007 at 11:02 am

    x,

    Buy.com, plain and simple, gets money with those links. They are in-fact affiliate marketers as well as a merchant.

    And Deal Sites aren’t too much unlike merchants. The goals are to keep people coming back and happy by providing what they’re looking for. If circuit city has a sale on a DVD, and Best Buy changes the price on the same DVD to match, Best Buy doesn’t put a sign next to it and say that the idea was because circuitcity posted a lower price.

    The users come to DealTaker, or other deals sites for “The Best Deal”. That a competive sites link or reference is removed doesn’t negatively affect that Deal. If the users are unhappy with the deals found at one site, they can look to places such as probargainhunter to get other links.

    Yan,
    If sites let anyone express their own opinion on anything without moderation, it would turn into a spam/bash-fest. Just like on here you can’t approve every comment. It doesn’t cripple a website, it makes it usable to the masses. As to our rules on DealTaker.com, when you’re inside the Deals forum, the rules link is bold and on top of all the deals, any user is able to read it as often as they wish.

    I don’t necessarily mean to speak for all Deals Sites, but I imagine that this is likely how most of the larger sites, and probably smaller sites see it. We all work hard and each user costs money to get with advertising, promotions, etc, so keeping them around and happy is important.

    We are working on new Terms & Conditions on our site, and will try to add the affiliate commission part in there. And yes, it’s a business, but a business built out of getting our users great deals, and that is always at the front of any business decision. :)
    Thanks again for giving me the opportunity to respond.
    Neal.

  12. 12 Mike G. May 18th, 2007 at 12:03 pm

    Yan,

    The bottom line is it’s a business. The public saves money by getting better deals, and the site owner makes money by providing a service. Deal site visitors are free to search Google for a more transparent site if they are unsatisfied with service. There is a new deal site being built every day.

    Neil makes it clear that he doesn’t accept referral links or self promotion. At that point it’s up to the user to decide if they want to participate in the forum.

    We had an insurance agent come over our house the other day to sell us a life insurance policy. We did not need to get a notice in big bold letters that the insurance company is making a profit. My only care is that I get a good coverage.

    The deals biz is ultra-competitive, and you have to fight for every user. What business, online or offline, can afford to give away free advertising to their prime competitors?

  13. 13 Venus May 18th, 2007 at 1:23 pm

    Is it true you stole most of your ideas from another well established deal site?

  14. 14 Venus May 18th, 2007 at 1:33 pm

    What exactly is an online “sail” ??

  15. 15 Yan May 18th, 2007 at 2:26 pm

    Mike & Neal,

    Back to the issue of open discussion vs. business interests. To some extent, some more – some less, deal sites rely on the community to survive. I agree that certain level of moderation is needed to keep things in order. Although things can go really bad if you overdo. The latest incident at Digg is a good example, FatWallet had its share of luck last year as well.

    I believe deals sites currently go overboard with the measures. Over protectiveness is a sign of weakness. An open/transparent policy, while may cause certain hiccups short term, will be beneficial long term. This is of course with the assumption that you are confident you are providing the best service to your users. Are you?

  16. 16 Mike G. May 18th, 2007 at 2:44 pm

    Yan,

    Your theory is correct about being transparent, but why should any site promote a competitor? Especially, since it doesn’t seem like the top deals sites need additional promotion. It would foolish for the lower tier sites to unilaterally disarm, and promote the big guys and not get anything in return. The truth is, if those sites are better, they will win in the long run anyway. That’s how the free markets work.

  17. 17 Toni May 28th, 2007 at 9:51 pm

    I have found sites like dealtaker.com so useful. I have saved money, time and am more stress free. great article! thanks

  18. 18 Venus Jul 31st, 2007 at 10:23 pm

    Neal stop using different screen names to promote your site. One minte you are Neal, next minute you are Toni. Pretty lame I must say.

  19. 19 Toni Aug 1st, 2007 at 1:05 am

    Just got an email that there was a new reply so thought i would check it out. Excuse me but, my name is not Neal and maybe I enjoy the website. What is wrong with that? Sounds like you enjoy some other site which is great too.

  20. 20 Venus Aug 1st, 2007 at 11:46 am

    Nothing wrong with liking a site. What is wrong is when people like Neal Rapoport come across as caring for the greater good of man with deals but deep down all they care about is the bottom number. Instead of saying he is in for the profit, he says he enjoys doing it. Right!!

    So you can be whoever you like “Toni” but think about it. You jumped to answer what I said earlier. Apparantly defending yourself meant a lot to you up here. The average poster would not even care (unless you are Neal Rapoport and you care about public relations hype for your site)

    At what point will you stop playing these childish games masquerading around on the internet?

    Because we can play this all day long and on many different sites.

    remember: good business models do not require false propaganda.

  21. 21 Neal Rapoport Aug 1st, 2007 at 12:48 pm

    Not sure what your beef is with me, Venus, but I am not Toni.
    As far as being in it for greater good of man, that’s a tough one, I don’t live in a bubble, so I certainly do care about others. I also enjoy what I do. Finding deals and providing a great place for others to find deals and coupons is exciting and fun for me. Maybe it isn’t something you’d enjoy, or be interested in, and that’s okay too.
    Making a profit isn’t a bad result. It is a business, there are several folks who rely on the income to support our families, I don’t ever deny that.

  22. 22 Toni Aug 1st, 2007 at 2:54 pm

    Wow– such animosity towards a perfect stranger. I happened to check the handy button, back when i posted, and it sent me an email when you replied. So that is why I “jumped” to reply as you say. I have nothing to defend so do not really know where you are coming from. Very odd and yes I am checking the box again so I will know when your next angry reply is ;)

  23. 23 Venus Aug 2nd, 2007 at 4:07 pm

    Neal,

    what more can I expect from a man that markets his wife’s breast cancer in the past to get some publicity. You are not an honest person to yourself or others.

    You copied fat wallet in their design and concept and you try so hard to be different.

    No you are not a pioneer but rather a follower. So dont try to fool others with your wannabe leadership charisma. You have none. I have nothing against you. Just don’t like greedy CEO’s acting like philanthropists .

    You cannot win this one so stop arguing your case.

  24. 24 Toni Aug 3rd, 2007 at 6:13 pm

    Hitting below the belt is always a good way to make a point.

  25. 25 Joe Aug 4th, 2007 at 9:55 am

    Well venus does have a point. I mean a lot of people feel that Dealtaker is a Fat Wallet copy cat/spin off.

    I just dont think that Neal should be presenting it as an original idea. I mean if I was an investor, I would probably look at the big sites like fatwallet.com or pricegrabber.com as potential good investments. I dont know what Neal has planned for Dealtaker.

  26. 26 Yan Aug 4th, 2007 at 12:20 pm

    This discussion has turned into a mess. I am closing it due to personal attacks and [possible] multiple screen names use

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