A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that tech entrepreneurs are the new rock stars. Andrew Mason, ousted chief executive of online deals site Groupon, may have taken the comparison to heart.
On Monday, Mr Mason, who was sacked from the company he co-founded in February, released Hardly Workin’. The album, he writes on his blog, is “of music to help people get ahead in the workplace” and “pulls some of the most important learnings from my years at the helm of one of the fastest growing businesses in history, and packages them as music”.
While Mr Mason’s effort may be post-Groupon, there is a long (and dubious) history of employees taking to song to express their love for stakeholders, customers and the company they work for.
Groupon. Getty Images
Andrew Mason should have been fired as chief executive of Groupon a long time ago. The other pair of insiders that control Groupon should also take responsibility for the disaster of the online coupon company.
Mr Mason’s departure leaves his partners Eric Lefkofsy and Brad Keywell firmly in charge, since they control a majority of the voting shares. Never was the principle of buyer beware more apposite than in Groupon’s dual voting structure.
Entrepreneurs should take a look at the video of Groupon founder Andrew Mason being interviewed at Wednesday’s Business Insider conference. It could be the last time you see him as the internet company’s chief executive. The board is due to meet later on Thursday to discuss his future, in the wake of the sharp fall in the stock since its IPO. A series of brutal leaks suggests his job is on the line.
Mr Mason evinces an odd and contradictory mixture of arrogance and humility. For example, he told Business Insider CEO Henry Blodget:
The dismal performance of Facebook’s initial public offering, after several years in which it was expected to crown the emergence on public markets of social networks, is bound to dampen the mood in Silicon Valley.
Paul Graham, who runs Y Combinator, a start-up incubator, says the effect will be what you might expect – early-stage valuations will suffer. His email to portfolio companies, obtained by Business Insider, contains this warning:
“If you haven’t raised money yet, lower your expectations for fundraising. How much should you lower them? We don’t know yet how hard it will be to raise money or what will happen to valuations for those who do. Which means it’s more important than ever to be flexible about the valuation you expect and the amount you want to raise (which, odd as it may seem, are connected). First talk to investors about whether they want to invest at all, then negotiate price.”
The latest developments at Groupon hardly improve my faith in its prospects for a sound initial public offering.
Not only has Margo Georgiadis, its chief operating officer, left after five months (having, according to the FT, “struggled in dealings with Andrew Mason”, its chief executive) but on Friday it adjusted its S1 IPO filing in a way that cut its reported revenues by more than half.
Further to my column on the bad smell emanating from Groupon’s S-1 filing for an initial public offering, more details are emerging of how Groupon has been buying growth and the past business ventures of Eric Lefkofsky, its chairman.
Fortune has an article on how Mr Lefkofsky and Brad Keywell, his business partner, have launched other businesses that have grown rapidly and then run into trouble – and have taken out money through share offerings.
Meanwhile, Sarah Lacy at TechCrunch reports on the turmoil in Groupon’s international businesses, especially in China. As Sucharita Mulpuru of Forrester Research points out, much of Groupon’s growth comes from international acquisitions.
One thing this reminds me of, however, is the value of listings requirements and public market disclosure. In a world where late-stage technology investments are increasingly made through private markets such as SecondMarket and SharesPost, there is nothing like an IPO to bring awkward details into the open.
I am struggling to believe in Groupon, which Google is reported to be considering buying for $5.3bn, making it the company’s largest acquisition. Despite Groupon having some social media trappings, and being profitable, it feels oddly old-fashioned.
Groupon amasses groups of users to take part in mass one-off discounting programmes by retailers – hence the name. In the US, where coupon-clipping is still popular, despite the power of Wal-Mart’s “every day low prices”, it grown very rapidly.