A class act: Groupon’s ex-CEO Andrew Mason

Image representing Andrew Mason as depicted in...
Image via CrunchBase

Just before getting into this, full disclosure: I never really liked Groupon as a business venture. I think it has a business model that, well, kinda sucks: Very little barriers to entry so the first-mover advantage wasn’t much of a benefit. Appeals to a lot of people who are going to buy exclusively on price, so not much customer loyalty. And I now get regularly spammed by a whole bunch of local Groupon-type competitors, so that doesn’t help my disposition towards this whole category of e-coupon discounters. All that to say — I haven’t really paid much attention to Groupon, but knew from various headlines over the past several months that they were in some trouble. So it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that they just fired their founder and CEO, Andrew Mason. But when I read his last email to the troops on his way out — “This is for Groupon employees, but I’m posting it publicly since it will leak anyway”  — it touched me deeply because it sounds like he actually gets his place in the universe, he understands his current role as sacrificial lamb, and he exhibits true grace under fire and real compassion for his “tribe” (ex-tribe, I guess). Here is his exit email, verbatim:

People of Groupon,

After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I’ve decided that I’d like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding – I was fired today. If you’re wondering why… you haven’t been paying attention. From controversial metrics in our S1 to our material weakness to two quarters of missing our own expectations and a  stock price that’s hovering around one quarter of our listing price, the events of the last year and a half speak for themselves. As CEO, I am accountable.

You are doing amazing things at Groupon, and you deserve the outside world to give you a second chance. I’m getting in the way of that. A fresh CEO earns you that chance. The board is aligned behind the strategy we’ve shared over the last few months, and I’ve never seen you working together more effectively as a global company – it’s time to give Groupon a relief valve from the public noise.

For those who are concerned about me, please don’t be – I love Groupon, and I’m terribly proud of what we’ve created. I’m OK with having failed at this part of the journey. If Groupon was Battletoads, it would be like I made it all the way to the Terra Tubes without dying on my first ever play through. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to take the company this far with all of you. I’ll now take some time to decompress (FYI I’m looking for a good fat camp to lose my Groupon 40, if anyone has a suggestion), and then maybe I’ll figure out how to channel this experience into something productive.

If there’s one piece of wisdom that this simple pilgrim would like to impart upon you: have the courage to start with the customer. My biggest regrets are the moments that I let a lack of data override my intuition on what’s best for our customers. This leadership change gives you some breathing room to break bad habits and deliver sustainable customer happiness – don’t waste the opportunity!

I will miss you terribly.

Love, Andrew

Wow. Making a joke of the old excuse “taking personal time to spend with the family”, and using the words “fired”, “accountable”, and “having failed at this part”. And not just writing the words, but using them in an accurate context, starting with the pronoun “I”. Big stuff indeed from an exiting CEO, and not something you see very often at all.

I don’t really know much about Andrew Mason, and even though I didn’t think too highly of Groupon as a business, I’m starting to think quite a bit more highly of Mr. Mason. Your “exit stage left” was a class act!

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