News that daily social network coupon company Groupon has reportedly canceled a roadshow scheduled for next week in advance of a planned IPO, and is reevaluating plans to take the company's stock public, is not that big of a surprise. After all, CEO Andrew Mason has been hailed for being a young genius, but sooner or later one had to figure inexperience might catch up with both he and the company.
Mason founded the company in his 20s, and while the Groupon CEO has done a remarkable job of launching the company in late 2008 and growing it into a red-hot online company that has sold millions of deals all over the country, he had previously shown some inexperienced-like sensitivity whenever pushed in areas he didn't like, including Groupon's profitability.
For instance, Groupon sailed into its highly-anticipated IPO in a tech bubble 2 type of environment, prepared to lead the company into a monster IPO valuing the company at as much as $25 billion. But paperwork filed by Groupon stated that the company is profitable.
But that's because Groupon, under Mason's order, used an accounting method frowned upon on Wall Street. The company had marketing costs that weren't being booked according to the manner Wall Street wanted, and while Mason later fixed the problem and Groupon resubmitted its numbers, revealing that the company is not profitable after all, it was apparent the rub got Mason the wrong way.
And now as the tech bubble 2 has cooled on Wall Street amid market volatility due to domestic and global growth and debt concerns, Groupon has canceled the pre-IPO roadshow the company was to begin next week and the Wall Street Journal says Groupon is now reevaluating its IPO altogether.
Last year, Google offered Groupon $6 billion in a buyout bid, but Mason turned that down. He may one day wish he could get that deal back, since his latest debacle may have clipped Groupon's IPO chances and the company's valuation by billions.
The reason for Mason's sensitivity goes like this: Groupon is not as hot as it once was, facing stiff competition from LivingSocial, Amazon and even others, like Google and local and regional newspapers getting in on the daily coupon act. The company's business model is not exactly hard to replicate.
Also, Groupon is running low on cash, counting on the IPO to bolster the bank account, and tensions have reportedly been rising the company's Chicago offices, where everything was once smelling like roses fertilized with dollars.
So the story goes that Mason, on edge, fired back at critics in an internal email that was leaked to AllThingsD, a tech Web site owned by the Wall Street Journal. Not only did the leak apparently break SEC rules limiting what company executives can say before an IPO, it also revealed Mason to be more child-like than leader-like.
While we've bitten our tongues and allowed insane accusations (like in the article above) to go unchallenged publicly, it's important to me that you have the context necessary to brush this stuff off, Mason reportedly said in the memo, among other things, to thousands of company employees, according to AllThingsD. Mason was speaking in response to a newspaper article that suggested the company is running out of cash he didn't like.
Nobody ever said getting a billion dollars on Wall Street is easy, though lately it has looked that way for successful IPO including Pandora, LinkedIn, and Zynga. But apparently Mason never got that memo.
Now, one observer called Mason's company-wide email move the botch-up of the century.
Another critic penned an article for TechCrunch titled, Why Groupon is Poised for Collapse. The writer, entrepreneur Rocky Agrawal, argues to small business owners that they are taking a risk signing up to do deals with Groupon because if the company collapses -- and he makes a good case that it might -- a lot of small merchants could be left holding the bag.
Groupon could still get its IPO launched as long as the SEC doesn't get Mason for a quiet period violation, and if the company thinks the market has settled beyond current volatility to be kind at launch. But it's starting to look like Mason's lack of experience caught up with him just as he and the company were about to cross the big payola finish line.
Mason is getting snippy in a child-like manner for good reason. Like the daily deals the company sells, what's here today isn't always there tomorrow. He should have cashed in sooner. Now, it may already be too late.