This blog is my campaign to free Andrew Mason from all the criticism levied against him and to crown him the Startup King of Chicago. After all, he turned the basic idea of group-buying discounts into a billion-dollar business.
Groupon is essentially a hyper-local email list, blasted out with one offer from one establishment per day. You call this a tech company? Wall Street does.
He offered these local businesses’ services at a discount to the masses with a promise of a flood of new customers -- and he delivered.
This man turned lonely mom-and-pop shops into some of the hottest spots in town.
We saw it happen all the time, here in Chicago and city by city, state by state, country by country everyone was Grouponing. I even used a Groupon to play golf in New Zealand. Using coupons became “cool” and budget shopping was “in” for the first time since the tech bubble burst.
I liked the idea so much, I built my own competing Groupon-like site called VoucherNow.com, which as you can see, was killed due to the fact it was so easy to compete in this marketplace.
Andrew Mason had the coveted "first-mover advantage" just as the worldwide economy was going into a great recession. His timing impeccable, he filled a market need as the end of 2008 went hard into 2009.
Saving money was “in” and Mason charged ahead, pushing his startup to the max, culminating with a controversial Super Bowl ad in early 2011. Does it get any bigger than that? It does. Ten-thousand employees. Forty-five countries in 16 months. Forbes called it “The Fastest Growing Company … ever."
We all know Groupon has its flaws:
• We’re sick of offers for nail salons, teeth whitening and spa massages.
• We have no interest in $15 off $30 at that dumpy hot-dog joint under the train tracks.
• We see the GRPN stock graph and the lost billions in market cap.
• We agree rejecting a reported $6 billion from Google was a mistake in hindsight.
But the next time you’re criticizing Groupon as a business and Andrew Mason for failing as a CEO, ask yourself this: When was the last time Larry Page and Sergey Brin offered you $6 billion for your startup?
Zack Price is a serial entrepreneur originally from Cleveland, OH residing in Chicago, IL where he starts companies inside the entrepreneurial playground, 1871. He's been starting businesses since age 10, including a few Startups-to-Exits. His current startup is DigitalBookNetwork.com. You can follow him @Zackonomics.