Monday, June 20, 2011

Now their feelings are hurt

From Felix Salmon:
If you want a great example of the kind of mean things that people are saying about Groupon in the run-up to its IPO, you could do a lot worse than Rocky Agrawal’s TechCrunch essay entitled “Why Groupon Is Poised For Collapse”. It’s a great example of overstretch and dubious logic, with a couple of moments of brilliance and genuine insight thrown in at the same time. Groupon, of course, being in its quiet period, can’t react. Except, it just can’t help itself, and has put up a whiny post, supposedly authored by the company cat, about how unfair the whole situation is.

The fact is that when Groupon made the decision to go public, it invited exactly this kind of attention — both before the IPO and forever more. When Groupon was private, no one really knew anything about its financials, and CEO Andrew Mason could happily declare that he’d much rather talk about building miniature dollhouses. Once it’s public, however, he’ll have a fiduciary responsibility to his shareholders, and will have to answer such questions at length. Will that make him happier than answering such questions with a death-ray stare? I doubt it, to be honest. Revenues and business models and profits and forecasts are serious things, and you can’t kid around with shareholders in the same way you can with journalists.

In other words, Mason will have to go from saying nothing, which can be fun, to saying something, which almost certainly won’t be. Rather than moan about his inability to say anything in the quiet period, he should enjoy it while it lasts. From now on in, the boring financial questions are going to be unavoidable — from analysts, from journalists, from shareholders, even probably from merchants and customers who wonder whether Groupon’s profitability is a sign that they’re being ripped off.

After reading the post in question, 'whiny' is probably the first adjective that will come to your mind as well. It's easy to understand how Mason, Lefkofsky and company might feel wounded. A few months ago, between the investor buzz and love letters from the Wall Street Journal, the people at Groupon could easily assume that they had a world full of friends. Now everyone's pointing out problems in your business model and asking why your marketing techniques seem twenty years out of date.

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