clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Groupon Founder Says Groupon Is 'Like Morphine.' New CEO Says It's Just Misunderstood.

"If you use it too much, you’ll overdose and die. But take it in moderation and it can do wonders."

Getty Images
Jason Del Rey has been a business journalist for 15 years and has covered Amazon, Walmart, and the e-commerce industry for the last decade. He was a senior correspondent at Vox.

“No one at Groupon knows I’m writing this.”

When those words begin a post written by Andrew Mason, the co-founder and former CEO of Groupon, you know you’re in for a treat. He didn’t disappoint.

In a post titled “Why Root for Groupon?” that Mason published on Thursday, the ousted Groupon CEO spoke frankly on the disappointment he has felt watching Groupon’s decline; why he understands how some in Silicon Valley hope it will fail; and, ultimately, why he thinks the world is still a better place for small businesses with Groupon in it.

The post comes at a time when Groupon is not in great shape, at least in the eyes of Wall Street. Its stock has plunged below $3 a share “to Andrew Mason-level terribleness,” as Mason himself described it. Its market cap is under $2 billion, which especially hurts when you consider that it famously turned down a $6 billion acquisition offer from Google. And several members of the Amazon mafia that Groupon brought in to turns things around over the years are now gone.

“Groupon was the fastest-growing company in history,” Mason wrote. “How did we do it? By inventing a brilliant algorithm? By curing cancer? No — by sending people a daily email with stuff for half-off. If I was working my ass off to build a tech startup and I saw that come along and get huge, I’d be like, fuck that. It’s the tech startup equivalent of camping in an undetectable corner in a [first-person shooter videogame] and sniping people — it feels like cheating.”

At the same time, Mason believes that Groupon can still be powerful in a good way for a small business, especially now that he essentially runs a local small business in Detour, his San Francisco startup that offers audio walking tours.

“Groupon is powerful like morphine is powerful,” Mason said. “If you use it too much, you’ll overdose and die. But take it in moderation and it can do wonders.” He said he could have done more to help businesses avoid the former, and that Groupon should do the same.

Mason still has a financial interest in seeing Groupon succeed, as he noted clearly in the piece. He is a shareholder, having owned, as of April, at least around one million shares of Class B common stock, which come with more voting power than Class A shares, according to a regulatory filing.

He said he decided to write after reading a blog post published earlier that day by Groupon’s new CEO Rich Williams, who was promoted to that position earlier this month. Titled “Why We’ll Win in Local,” the new CEO hit readers with about 1,700 words on why everyone outside of Groupon — stock analysts, journalists and shoppers — just don’t get Groupon, and don’t understand that it’s not the same daily-deal company it once was. It’s partly their fault, Williams insinuates, but Groupon’s, too.

“We haven’t done enough to tell our story over the past few years. And we haven’t always been humble about our hits and misses.”

To hammer home the point, Williams listed three myths about Groupon, with explanations of why they are wrong, or how Groupon will try to reverse the perception. (Of course, publicizing myths about your company can often do more harm than good. Just ask Square.

Mason, for his part, has no idea if Williams will fix things.

“But I hope he does,” he wrote. “And I hope you hope so, too.”

This article originally appeared on