Next Steps For Groupon As Andrew Mason Departs

It was just a matter of “when,” but Groupon has finally relieved Andrew Mason of his CEO duties after a quarter in which Groupon widely missed its mark because of its very high expenses and serious international issues, despite growing 30 percent year over year. Vice Chair Ted Leonsis and Executive Chair Eric Lefkofsky will run the company until they find a new CEO for Groupon or perhaps, even sell it.

Groupon, of course, has been written off in some circles as a big fad that ultimately dis-served its SMB merchants– something we have never totally accepted. But the ongoing possibilities for Groupon are wide ranging.

The company isn’t currently sustainable, with its heavy sales-laden staffing (whoever said local is scaleable?) But just as #2 Living Social’s investors saw that it was more prudent to inject $110 million to keep it going for its next stage, Groupon, which is at least three times larger, is better off staying juiced for now.

It has massive merchant and consumer email lists, and a wide selection of B2B, scheduling, processing, mobile and loyalty technologies – plus a growing travel business, as well as a lower margin, Groupon Goods business. If its investors wanted to stay the course, it could certainly continue its march into Amazon-like ecommerce territory.

The elevation of Leonsis and Lefkofsky to acting co-chiefs has a lot of possibilities in itself. How about a couple of interesting, not-so-crazy scenarios? One is that Lekofsky could finally merge Groupon with his newer investment in Belly, the Groupon-like, Chicago-based loyalty play that has just celebrated its one millionth member.

More enticingly, in terms of scale, Leonsis could influence an acquisition of Groupon by American Express, which he serves as a board member. Amex has just opened up an ecommerce store as part of Amex Sync and needs to feed it.

Or Groupon could be sold to Amazon, which is investing heavily in the local deals space; or it could even be sold to Google, which had once offered $5 Billion for it. Perhaps Marissa Mayer at Yahoo will make a run for it. She was a major instigator of the Groupon negotiations as a Google exec.

As for Mason, he may not have been the ideal CEO of the relatively soul-less, deals department store that is currently Groupon. But he’s funny, and authentic, and has been a great spokesman for the “What do we do this weekend that is wild and offbeat” lifestyle that catapulted Groupon –and the deals space — into local’s biggest phenomenon ever.

Sometimes, Mason, reminds us, business isn’t merely about business. It’s about helping people live their lives. This is especially true at the local level in which Groupon has been a shining star.

Andrew Mason after his groundbreaking BIA/Kelsey Marketplaces keynote in March 2008

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