Andrew Mason can't catch a break.
Groupon (NASDAQ:GRPN) shares rose a couple of days ago, as reports surfaced that the board considering letting the founding CEO go. The stock rallied again when Mason responded that he would fire himself if he didn't believe that he was doing a good job.
CNBC's Herb Greenberg even tweeted this little gem yesterday: "Hoping $GRPN CEO doesn't get the boot before year-end. He's on my list of worst CEOs. All disqualified if fired/resign"
The clock's counting down on Mason, and it's not for a daily deal that's about to expire.
Is it fair?
Before you answer, let's go over a few reasons why Mason hasn't done as bad a job as you might think in steering the company.
- Reports indicate that LivingSocial -- Groupon's nearest competitor -- will lay off as many as 400 of its U.S. employees today. Is that Mason's fault?
- OpenTable (NYSE:OPEN) and Travelzoo (NASDAQ:TZOO) saw their stocks soar ahead of Groupon's IPO after embracing the flash-sale model. OpenTable turned to restaurant discounts. Travelzoo covered a range of touristy experiences. Both companies have given up on their Groupon-like initiatives. They're not alone.
- As daily deals fade -- and even Groupon has posted back-to-back quarters of sequential declines in the non-direct revenue that put it on the map -- the company has evolved. Taking advantage of its 250,000-deep list of merchants, Groupon has introduced credit card transaction services, acquired dining discount provider Savored, and will likely continue to feast on its growing Rolodex of businesses hungry for traffic.
- The one area at Groupon that is growing sequentially is direct revenue. It's now perhaps a closer fit to Overstock.com (NASDAQ:OSTK) by offering manufacturers an outlet to clear their closeouts and overstocks through its growing mailing list of bargain hunters.
Investors want answers. They'll settle for blood. It's been two years since Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) reportedly was willing to pay $6 billion for Groupon. It's been a year since Groupon went public at a $12 billion valuation. If Groupon is merely a $3 billion company today, surely it can't be a lapse in the judgment of the world's largest Internet company two years ago or investment bankers last year.
Mason is the scapegoat, but it's not right. He has done what lesser daily deals providers have failed to do in diversifying their business models.
No one applauds the founding CEO that takes a company public as its valuation is peaking, but it's hard to argue that Groupon could've done something else -- other than go back in time two years and nod at Google's offer -- to improve its fortunes today.