A Tribute to LivingSocial (née GoNabit)

LivingSocial is pulling out of the Middle East, citing unprofitable operations. The daily deals company, a giant in the US, faces stiff competition in the UAE, Egypt, and Lebanon from copycat groups who are undercutting one another to win merchants' business.

I remember when I first discovered LivingSocial, then GoNabit, a little over two years ago. I was in Paris finishing my MBA and scouring Bayt's job listings for opportunities in Lebanon, having decided that the time was ripe for settlement in the motherland. I came across GoNabit, a small start-up advertising a concept they called "assured marketing." First, they aimed to revolutionize the way businesses in the region market and advertise their products and services. Second, they wanted to make the use of credit cards mainstream, fostered through online transactions. While GoNabit's job postings--community managers, sales specialists, and copy writers--weren't really up my alley, I expressed interest in the group's mission and vision, and a few days later, I received a phone call from the CEO, Dan Stuart. We had a long, friendly chat about each other's backgrounds, education, career interests, and the Middle Eastern mentality. Dan, a Canadian, is married to a Lebanese who grew up in the Gulf, where the two met. I told him about my Lebanese-American upbringing and my understanding of the Lebanese as ultra-conservative consumers: credit cards alone would never work. (Sure enough, GoNabit later expanded to cash payment in its offices or upon delivery.)

I met up with Dan over coffee in Beirut that summer, and we struggled to brainstorm a fit for me within the group, though it wasn't readily apparent. I ended up taking a consulting role with an American firm in Abu Dhabi, but I came back to Beirut in January and passed by the GoNabit office, where I met and have remained close friends with two girls there. Thereafter, I became a frequent nabber, forking over $500 in the last year or so for money-saving deals. I had the opportunity to try food outlets that I otherwise would never have known or heard of, and best of all, my wallet didn't take a hit. Unfortunately, some of those joints--like Burger & Booze, Cristobal Colon, Roomers, and Burger Nation--have since closed their doors, but I can happily attest that my after hours--and those of whom I dragged along--became awash with new culinary adventures.

While my deal exploits grew to encompass offerings by GoNabit's competitors, like Makhsoom, goSawa, and ScoopCity, the bulk of my transactions remained with the trailblazer, even after it was bought out by LivingSocial. The deals, however, became less and less relevant to me--a self-professed foodie--and more geared toward services: gym memberships, dance academies, photography lessons, parasailing. I begged my friends at LivingSocial to focus more heavily on restaurants, as in their seminal days, but with the strict quotas set by LivingSocial's flagship in the US, that had become nigh impossible. LivingSocial Lebanon had become a puppet, rather than a puppeteer and trendsetter.

When my friend called me this morning to say it was her last day chez LivingSocial, my heart sank. In retrospect, I guess I could see it coming, sadly. Thank you for the pleasures you afforded me, my retired deal-catcher: from the cone pizzas at Kono to the chocolate-laced burger at Chocolate Lounge. You had it all.

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