(This is for Groupon employees, but I’m posting it publicly since it will leak anyway)
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.
I don't think I have been this touched ever since Lassie died.
And the answer to your question is never all three :)
Locus of perception isn't really a "phrase" that is accepted, though it would merit some Cog Psych research to quantify the phenomena above.
I'm not sure whether it's my brain, or 'me' that's saying it, but this is pretty much what I tell myself every time something 'bad' happens to me. Works like a charm.
You should maybe look into getting a more compassionate brain.
Perhaps not laughing, and I don't mean he was malicious, just that I'd surely have a bit of a snicker if I had a run that was half as good as he did.
Steve Jobs cashed out when Apple fired him, but when they hired him back they also gave him large numbers of stock options , worth billions after he'd resurrected the company.
1 - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Jobs#Wealth
== Wait what? If you have to say it, it probably aint.
Some of the business people who are viewed as the most heartless and absolute assholes (by outsiders) can be incredibly loyal if you are on the inner circle and can provide you with opportunity. The nice guys can be swayed by others and give you the axe.
Business is business. Being a nice guy doesn't equate to winning in many cases.
Your comments sometimes come off as abrasive. That has no impact on whether I would recommend you or your company for security work (which I have done btw). My wife choose a doctor with a great bedside manner for a difficult operation our daughter needed. I found a world class person who specialized in the exact problem who was almost impossible to deal with and very dismissive. He handled a difficult operation brilliantly. That's what I want the personality is secondary.
 Risk of facial paralysis a possibility with bad outcome.
I don't care that he's nice. I care that he cut through the crap.
I don't care who threw the grenade at this point, Mason jumped onto it.
It's a great letter.
This is classy.
The only thing Andrew Mason's jumping on at this point is a pile of Scrooge McDuck money.
I think his point that he "made it so far" on his first try is apropos. He's done a shitload as CEO to capitalize on the opportunity and generate a ton of value (debatable whether that will be long term value) in a way that few people ever do.
To fault the guy for having a good exit letter seems a bit myopic.
I'd argue it is better to work with someone who has made mistakes before (and will be less likely to make them again) than someone who hasn't.
A willingness to admit your mistakes is more than humility, though. It's the first step towards not making those mistakes a second time.
Regardless of how relevant it is to Andrew Mason's case this is a very important point to realize. It certainly was one for me and many others I know of. Mind you, "winning" in this case doesn't only pertain to selfish, zero-sum victories; it's relevant in the boarder sense of "winning": "the art of choosing actions that steer the future toward outcomes ranked higher in your preferences" . Recently I was linked to a Cracked.com article  that I think summarizes the difference between "being a nice person" and "winning" in the boarder sense with great, harsh lucidity. Please don't let the tone dissuade you from read the following quote in full.
>Let's say that the person you love the most has just been shot. He or she is lying in the street, bleeding and screaming. A guy rushes up and says, "Step aside." He looks over your loved one's bullet wound and pulls out a pocket knife -- he's going to operate right there in the street.
>You ask, "Are you a doctor?"
>The guy says, "No."
>You say, "But you know what you're doing, right? You're an old Army medic, or ..."
>At this point the guy becomes annoyed. He tells you that he is a nice guy, he is honest, he is always on time. He tells you that he is a great son to his mother and has a rich life full of fulfilling hobbies, and he boasts that he never uses foul language.
>Confused, you say, "How does any of that fucking matter when my (wife/husband/best friend/parent) is lying here bleeding! I need somebody who knows how to operate on bullet wounds! Can you do that or not?!?"
>Now the man becomes agitated -- why are you being shallow and selfish? Do you not care about any of his other good qualities? Didn't you just hear him say that he always remembers his girlfriend's birthday? In light of all of the good things he does, does it really matter if he knows how to perform surgery?
>In that panicked moment, you will take your bloody hands and shake him by the shoulders, screaming, "Yes, I'm saying that none of that other shit matters, because in this specific situation, I just need somebody who can stop the bleeding, you crazy fucking asshole."
>So here is my terrible truth about the adult world: You are in that very situation every single day. Only you are the confused guy with the pocket knife. All of society is the bleeding gunshot victim.
 As defined by Eliezer Yudkowsky in http://lesswrong.com/lw/31/what_do_we_mean_by_rationality/.
 See http://www.cracked.com/blog/6-harsh-truths-that-will-make-yo.... This may or may not be the first time this website is cited on HN.
"People of Earth:
In the last few days, I've been getting a lot of sympathy calls, and I want to start by making it clear that no one should waste a second feeling sorry for me. For 17 years, I've been getting paid to do what I love most and, in a world with real problems, I've been absurdly lucky. That said, I've been suddenly put in a very public predicament and my bosses are demanding an immediate decision."
My only previous exposure to him was the awkward/creepy death stare he gave in an earlier interview:
This letter greatly improves my impression of him. Well done.
Yes a few hundred million will make life easier but admitting you failed, up front in a letter you know will be read by everyone you can think of - it takes a certain kind of raw
But yes, good point, sarcasm was inevitable.
What I'm saying is that I have observed that the honesty someone has about how their last job ended is inversely proportional to their need to get another job. If they really need another job, people position their departure in a way that makes them the victim, if they don't care if they get another job, they are more forthcoming. It may be built into the psyche for all I know.
That said, given that it doesn't matter at all if he's seen as being fired or choosing to leave, I think it was great that he was as forthright about his tenure as he chose to be.
Do you count the full price of the deal as revenue? Or do you count only Groupon's cut of the deal as revenue? How often should they pay out the merchants? How do you account for refunds? Where do you keep the reserve pools Groupon needed to pay out all those refunds? Are the reserve pools considered an asset? Or a liability? How long do you need to hold the reserves before you can be sure there won't be any more refunds?
Management had to answer all of these questions in a matter of weeks because Groupon was growing so fast. It's not surprising they kept changing the way they accounted for things so often. The fact that you think Groupon knowingly misled investors like it's some sort of conspiracy is absurd.
"Do you count the full price of the deal as revenue?"
Gross revenue? Sure. Net revenue? Of course not.
"Or do you count only Groupon's cut of the deal as revenue?"
Yes, as net revenue. Of course. Same as any marketing/advertising company.
"How often should they pay out the merchants?"
As slowly as possible, from Groupon's perspective. What was so amazing here was they essentially built an ad network where the inventory suppliers had zero power over the scenario and accepted unfavorable payment terms. Instead of getting paid net 30, they accepted net 90 or worse.
"How do you account for refunds?"
As credits to the expense account where the original purchase was posted, just like with any other business.
"Where do you keep the reserve pools GRoupon needed to pay out all those refunds?"
You don't have to keep it anywhere because they get marked as credits to the expense account. There's no need for a pool or any other sort of artifice. Creating a pool makes sense only to cloud what's going on.
"Are the reserve pools considered an asset?"
Of course not. But why do we have a pool again?
"Or a liability?"
Groupon did a lot of brilliant things. One of the smartest was realizing that though their model was no different from any other sort of ad network, since it wasn't immediately obvious to outsiders, and since their suppliers had so little power, they could make up new accounting rules and principles to generate favorable cash flows.
I don't write this to say this was wrong. It was brilliant. I want to disagree with the idea that they HAD to do this. They could have paid out net 30 and counted refunds like any other business, but they realized they could get away with not doing this for some time, and ran with it.
One of their obvious no-nos was that they were booking the total amount of the deal as recognized revenue, instead of their fees. Also they came up with non-GAAP accepted metrics to measure their performance which were deemed dubious by outsiders.
just scroll back a bit.
His so called reporting wreaks of jealousy as he watched his former co-worker's equity skyrocket with Groupon's growth while he was left out.
If you've got issues with what he wrote, I'd be interested to see what specifically you feel he got wrong. But regardless, I think he deserves credit for digging into Groupon financials, and for calling out the lack of substance well before most people did. Jealous or not, the collapse of the daily deals space and Groupon's sickly stock price suggest that he was broadly correct at a time when most financial journalists were hyping Groupon and its stock.
Among other places:
And yes Rocky Agrawal and the Grumpy Accountants Professors and PrivCo.
And the accounting tricks continue - even most Wall Street analysts covering the company for a living have not picked up on it - but for "Groupon Goods last fall they changed the way they account for those purchases. (Remember for Goods their "deal-share" is even smaller than their 37% or so for restaurants/spas/etc. It's under 10% for tablets, laptops etc. So when they at first sold a $2000 flat screen TV, they booked (as forced by the SEC finally) just their $200 cut. When revenue growth slowed, they (meaning likely Eric Lefkofsky instructed) Groupon to find a way to recognize the entire $2,000 sales as their revenue. And the only way (again, speaking as a CFO who knows this intimately - not boasting my opinion is better than anyone else's, just sharing the real facts, I don't own or short the stock - and the only way they could recognize the entire $2,000 example TV sold is if they "took possession of it, then re-sold it" in plain language. And one of the requirements is that Groupon has (even briefly) the "risk of loss" (that is, the TV breaks while legally/technically in their possession before shipped to the buyer). I.e., find a way that Groupon's technically not just a deal middleman on Goods and let the buyer and seller deal with each other, but be the Reseller like Amazon.
So they literally (and this is not speculation, this is in the SEC filings - not highlighted and sort of minimally mentioned, but it's there) - they literally state starting with their third quarter 2012 10Q that beginning that quarter Groupon signed a new contract retaining a 3rd party company to act on its behalf to receive the goods from the Goods merchant, then that company acting on Groupon's behalf - with a contract that says Groupon bears "all risk of loss" and then ships it to the buyer. Now that sounds awfully inefficient, and it is, because it has to be shipped twice, reducing Groupon's margins to near zero on Groupon Goods. But it takes Groupon Goods revenue from 10% of each sale to 100$ of each sale. Starting to get the picture?
So in the last 2 quarters they reported a dramatic spike in Groupon Goods revenues (no profits of course) but analysts - not knowing any better - began to upgrade the stock, saying yes the daily deals business is slowing to almost 0$ year over year, but look at Groupon Goods! Its revenue is suddenly growing like gangbusters! (I have to give hat tip here to an Accounting Seminar that used it as an example, and to PrivCo who published a Research Note detailing it, but I checked everything in the SEC filings and can say with 100$ certainty, but of course you can confirm it yourself.)
So price targets were raised, and many former bullish turned bearish analysis (like Ken Sena from Evercore) turned bullish again, and said Groupon is going to surprise all the naysayers! Groupon Goods is its true future, it's growing in triple digits in revenue now! (Because their revenue recognized went from 10$ of each sale to 100%, by having this fulfillment company acting on their behalf briefly taking possession of the goods and contract says Groupon has "all risk of loss" - even though the possession was sometimes for 10 minutes, since they just put it in a box and shipped it right away to the waiting buyer who had already pre-ordered it. No inventory, just in and right out the door.
One more fact you should know (again gotta give hat tip to PrivCo securities lawyers on their staff who pointed this out), go to the section on "Related Party Transactions" (i.e. this is where a company is doing business or hiring a company owned by a senior Officer, Director or Major Shareholder). And in that section - brief as it is - it says one of those Related Party Transactions is that they retain and have a contract with a fulfillment company founded in mid-2012 that is owned by Eric Lefkofsky and Brad Keywell (Groupon's co-founders, Board members and largest shareholders). Yes you read that right. They saw daily deals declining sharply, and decided they had to find a way to "grow Revenue" - without actually selling any more stuff. So they quickly formed this company that signed exactly the contract terms needed verbatim that would allow the accountants to deem Groupon as having taken possession and acting as a principal / reseller and not an agent and recognize the entire Goods amount purchased.
And most Wall Street analysts (Evercore's Ken Sena was on TODAY on BloombergTV still touting the Groupon Goods revenue growth as reason to buy the stock, even though daily deals fell for the first time ever year over year.) He's clueless, and he's telling his clients Buy based on Groupon Goods revenue growth spurt since last summer.
I'll let the HN crew react to above instead of just saying out loud what I think of that or what you should. Share what you think of that.
How this is supposed to be an accounting issue and not fraud is beyond me.
Sure their investor/shareholder books may seem deceptive, but it's legal and everything is there for us to see and analyze. I have done this type of analysis in MBA level accounting case studies. It's really fun when you see the whole class conclude one thing, but then later find out everyone's wrong due to misinterpreting a few assumptions.
Here is Lefkofsky's statment: On behalf of the entire Groupon Board, I want to thank Andrew for his leadership, his creativity and his deep loyalty to Groupon. As a founder, Andrew helped invent the daily deals space, leading Groupon to become one of the fastest growing companies in history. Groupon will continue to invest in growth, and we are confident that with our deep management team and market-leading position, the company is well positioned for the future.
Nothing against the guy (I have no experience with him) but that deal just smelled rotten. So I'm not convinced that these two people are going to be particularly effective replacements/stand-ins.
See Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Lefkofsky
So, in a way, they took money that could have been used to grow/invest in Groupon away. So this is not your normal "diversifying the portfolio" move.
I'm not sure you can make a judgement about 2 CEO systems from BBRY.
lack of data that overrides intuition? If it was a pile of data I could understand, but lack? That's when intuition come handy no?
Otoh Meg Whitman has said something like "if you can't measure it you can't manage it".
Wow, that's actually kinda a perfect analogy. I totally understand.
Furthermore, it's completely untrue. Many things that must be managed are incompletely measurable, and almost everything in knowledge work falls into that category. See Robert Austin's excellent "Measuring and Managing Performance in Organizations" for a scientific exploration of the topic. (It's a more accessible version of his Ph.D. thesis.) His insights are applicable to more than just performance measurement.
Self-deprecating though it may be, I'm sure there are a multitude of factors that he's taking the fall for. CEO's are responsible of course, and he's taking this hit as gracefully as anyone could, but there's no way he could shoulder all of this on his own.
As morbid as it sounds, it is refreshing to see such a painfully honest email. I wish Groupon and Andy the best.
He's not a hero for writing this letter, he as to be treated with circonspection, and at best given a second chance under close watch.
(Though cynical-me wonders how much of it is heartfelt and honest, and how much of it is carefully engineered spin - crafted and chosen by a team of psychologists/marketers. About the only admirable thing about Groupon, at least to me, is their magnificent use of language to persuade and influence both buyers and sellers of Groupon deals.)
This is what Andrew Mason was like. He was one of the high points of working at Groupon.
Assumes he wrote the statement and wasn't helped by PR people of course. In that case he gets credit for at least listening to those more experienced than he is.
Can't tell without seeing his reaction in other situations that are similar of course.
Is execution done on Cawdor? Are not
Those in commission yet return'd?
They are not yet come back. But I have spoke
With one that saw him die; who did report
That very frankly he confessed his treasons,
Implor'd your Highness' pardon, and set forth
A deep repentance. Nothing in his life
Became him like the leaving it.
Macbeth Act 1, scene 4, 1–8
Best of luck to them as they try to turn things around.
For one, look at what he isn't saying. But start with what we know.
He is being fired. That means he isn't leaving by choice, and most likely doesn't want to be leaving at all.
He is the CEO, and the CEO takes responsibility for the company's failures. Them's the rules of the game, for any leadership role. He is saying no more than that.
In particular, he never says he was wrong. He says he failed to continue being the successful CEO of this particular company. In fact, he somewhat obscurely implied that his intuition was right when what the company did turned out to be wrong. Why do you think the company did those things then? Did he tell it to, or did he lose the battle?
This letter was not written to us. It was written to the people at his company. People who are important to him. Which means it probably wasn't written for us either. The speculation that this is wholly a calculated move seem BS to me.
All that is just pointing out the known facts and suggesting likely deductions. More speculatively, I'd like to share my interpretation of the tone of the letter:
He's pissed. He's pissed but doesn't want to show it. He is staying well in control, writing a decent letter that puts something of himself into it but not too much, not enough to lose face or stir up conflict that could only harm the ones left behind. He's trying to bow out gracefully without capitulating, and I think he did a decent job of it. But this is no "wow, this guy is awesome, I bet he's learned some great lessons and I'd be stoked at the chance to work with him" letter. It's adequate, mainly admirable for hitting just the right level of adequacy when you know the guy probably wants to scream and rip someone or something's head off. He just got fired, dammit!
Here's the video: http://blip.tv/mixergy/mixergy-groupon-andrew-mason-3852853
And transcript: http://mixergy.com/andrew-mason-groupon-interview/
The site's security certificate is not trusted!
You attempted to reach www.jottit.com, but the server presented a certificate issued by an entity that is not trusted by your computer's operating system. This may mean that the server has generated its own security credentials, which Google Chrome cannot rely on for identity information, or an attacker may be trying to intercept your communications.
You cannot proceed because the website operator has requested heightened security for this domain.
I noticed that you said you "don't understand the error" yet you wanted to bypass it. This line of thinking is exactly the problem. I don't mean that in a condescending way. Disabling the last line of defense as a matter of routine is resulting in more and more attacks, so Google wants to move the problem to where it should be - the misconfigured website.
The short version is that during a previous visit to that site, it sent an HSTS HTTP header, which is really the only protection there is against SSL stripping attacks. Basically, it tells your browser, "My site will ALWAYS be SSL (and valid SSL) - if I ever tell you otherwise, it's not me, so do not communicate."
HSTS is relatively new, so browsers are handling it a bit differently and you don't see it often. A broken SSL chain on a site that did not give you HSTS would still allow you to ignore it.
Is it typical for front-enders in Rails to not know web security / SSL?
Do we really need to be sniping?
Yep, Rails people have to understand and deal with SSL issues just like everyone else :)
If you honestly embrace startup risk and failure, you simply cannot bash this guy.
Are there more insights in this? What do you think are the intuition decisions Groupon took (that’s public) that probably wasn’t against data?
It might seem obvious in retrospect, but as a startup founder I’d love to learn in context.
One bad year and a couple missed objectives, and your boss fires you? Looks like you were dealing with somebody who doesn't invest in training his employees... you'll be much happier working for somebody else.
Groupon built this massive juggernaut on a shaky premise, which is that merchants can sell a Groupon and more than recoup the lost revenues in future business. It's debatable whether merchants will keep selling these at 25% when most lose money on it and seem to get no long term benefit. It actually seems unlikely.
Groupon also spent more to acquire users than they made off them, figuring they'd make it up later, much like they were telling merchants. That's why they included the ridiculous ACSOI metric in their prospectus.
It's likely at this point that they need to pivot, and they probably just don't think Mason is the guy to do it. Maybe they think he should have done it sooner.
The nice thing about Groupon is they're in a great position to do it. The bad thing is it's going to be tough, and what they pivot too is uncertain.
Whether the current business model is viable and how much they need to pivot if they do, that's hard to tell without walking a mile in their shoes. But if I only had to bet on one horse, I'd pick the one that has a proven record for a "very respectable accomplishment" and give him the tools he need to succeed.
If Lefkofsky thought the business was so bad, would he have taken the reigns himself?
Groupon's market cap was just under $13b at IPO I think. Now it's under $3b. Losing 75%+ of your value isn't an accomplishment in the eyes of the public market, it's a dismal failure.
Remember the original dot com bubble? Lots of startups grew to multibillion dollar valuations, some even in the public market, then flamed out. Is that a "very respectable accomplishment"?
Lefkosky took over because it's quite common for the board to lead the hunt for the new CEO. Who else would do it?
And even if you assume that Groupon was well-managed pre-IPO, rather than a Ponzi scheme that used VC capital to buy users and hype themselves into an IPO and then dump a loser of a company onto buyers from the public market, that still doesn't mean Mason's the guy to get them to the next stage. Some people are good early stage CEOs but not late. I quite suspect Mason is neither though.
Me personally, I would love to fail like this someday.
The most big wins in my life have come after big failures. This guy is set for something big in life.
He knows what he is doing.
"I let a lack of data override my intuition on what's best for our customers."
Isn't it intuition that becomes the problem when faced with a lack of data?
It's like... Gangnam style for startups!!!
Anyone confirm it's not just me?
He might be a good fit for CEO.
Can I expect the laws of physics suddenly to invert tomorrow?
To take the failure of a company on your own shoulders in spite of it being a collective group failure or a fundamental failure of the business model is a heroic act. To be so publicly fired for something that arguably no person could have prevented is not something I'd want to experience.
OTOH, it's interesting to see how bad the downvoting on HN has become lately. Point out a CEO is good and another CEO is terrible, which seems to be in broad agreement with every other commenter, and get downvoted into oblivion. What's going on, guys?