Today something sad but not unexpected happened. Andrew Mason was fired as CEO of Groupon. I worked at Groupon for two years, from late 2010 to late 2012, and while the experience was a mostly positive mixed bag, Andrew was definitely one of the highlights. Even though I knew it was a matter of time, I was still sad to hear the news.
Andrew was a programmer founder and he retained a strong connection to the engineering team even after his CEO duties pulled him in other directions. By the time I started working there the company already had 3000 employees, so I didn’t get much personal interaction with him. But his personality, humor, and optimism were always clear and the entire company was imbued with those same traits. From the monkey he rented to walk around the office, to the Salesforce Balls, the “Enjoy Your Fleeting Recognition” awards, all the way to his sweet and honest firing announcement.
As Groupon grew into a global organization, more and more talented outside executives were brought in, and the company changed to go public. Among other things, this diluted the spirit that early Groupon had. I was late enough to Groupon that I didn’t know which early employees contributed what to the culture, but for the rank and file, Andrew was the face of what made Groupon fun and exciting. Starting with the billion dollar round and the questions that raised about Groupon’s investors, then the backlash about the S-1 filing, then the stock’s poor performance, the energy and enthusiasm slowly leached out.
As more bad things happened, it became clear that someone was going to have to pay. None of the outside execs was a big enough fish to fry, and compared to the other founders, Andrew had a smaller ownership stake and was the public face of the company, so he was always the obvious target. I kept hoping for the news to change for the better because I knew that if it didn’t, Andrew would go. A wise friend of mine said “I don’t care who threw the grenade at this point, Mason jumped onto it.”
People are quick to say that daily deals don’t work, that it’s a scam, a broken business model, but that’s too simplistic. Groupon is a unique source for businesses to get a ton of new customers, and with the right business model and a plan to retain those new customers, merchants can radically transform their business. Groupon was also beginning to offer businesses software tools much better than they would otherwise have access to. But there were no barriers to competition and Groupon was hit on three sides by other big competitors like Living Social, hundreds of small clone deal sites, and tech companies like Facebook and Google that started their own ad programs. Similar to the airline industry, the competitors beat each other to a pulp to the point where none of them can profitably provide the valuable service that many businesses were in need of. I’m optimistic for Groupon’s long term future, although I think they’re worse off without Andrew at the helm.
I know Andrew will go on to do great things, and I’m excited that Chicago now has two powerful tech figures on the market (hi, Harper!). I would work for Andrew again in a heartbeat and I look forward to hearing what he does next.
Thank you Andrew Mason for leading the most exciting two years of my career so far!