Groupon CEO Andrew Mason left his role with the same irreverent humor that is sprinkled throughout many of the site's daily deal descriptions.
“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,” Mason wrote Thursday in a letter to Groupon employees. “If you're wondering why…you haven't been paying attention.”
The note circulated quickly on Twitter, where people praised Mason's honesty and humor. In his letter, which he published online, Mason urged employees “to start with the customer.” His candid words and subsequent tweets seemed just as much aimed at that audience, the Groupon subscribers who sift through quirky summaries of daily deals like this one, for a dentist: “The Tooth Fairy is a burglarizing fetishist specializing in black-market ivory trade, and she must be stopped.”
But Mason's communications style never did much to improve his image among shareholders. His dismissal, coming a day after weak fourth-quarter earnings, brought to an end months of speculation about his fate at the struggling company. In an earnings call on Wednesday, global head of communications Paul Taaffe responded to a question about whether the financial results would affect Mason's role: “He's here today.”
Co-founder and chairman Eric Lefkofsky and director Ted Leonsis will serve as interim CEOs while Groupon searches for a permanent replacement. Groupon's management, along with Taaffe, must find the right balance of communicating with investors and consumers to inspire confidence in the company's future.
Taaffe declined to comment on Mason's departure. Sard Verbinnen & Co. is advising Groupon's board during the transition, while Brunswick Group is advising the company.
The other audience that cannot be neglected is merchants, some of whom have complained that partnering with daily deal sites like Groupon hurt their business.
“They think their customer is Joe Smith who buys the Groupon,” Forrester Research e-commerce analyst Sucharita Mulpuru told The New York Times. “But the customer is the merchant. They have been focusing on the wrong person.”
Mason came up with a great idea and brought a spirit of fun to Groupon, but his exit signals a step toward maturity for the company.