Groupon Files for $750 Million IPO

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Only hours after CEO Andrew Mason deflected questions about an initial public offering for his popular deal-of-the-day website at All Things D's D9 Conference, Groupon has filed for a $750 million IPO.

"Groupon just not filed its long-anticipated S-1 with the SEC, the first formal notice that Groupon expects to launch as a publicly traded company very soon," the Wall Street Journal's Deal Journal blog wrote about 10 minutes ago. "In its filing, Groupon didn't disclose how much money it expects to raise from its IPO, but the investor prospectus does grace the public with our first in-depth look at Groupon's finances and business details."

The S-1 shows that Groupon brought in nearly $650 million in revenue during the first three months of 2011, which is about 21 times what the site made in all of 2009. (Revenue in 2010, according to the filing, were just over $710 million.)

In an unorthodox move, the company's CEO, Andrew Mason, began the company's filing with a first-person letter to potential stockholders. It's not often you see lines paragraphs like this in an SEC filing: "I started The Point to empower the little guy and solve the world's unsolvable problems. A year later, I started Groupon to get Eric to stop bugging me to find a business model." We reproduce the letter below for your inspection, which demonstrates one of their key competencies, "We are unusual and we like it that way."

MORE ABOUT GROUPON'S IPO:

LETTER FROM ANDREW D. MASON

June 1, 2011

Dear Potential Stockholders,

        On the day of this writing, Groupon's over 7,000 employees offered more than 1,000 daily deals to 83 million subscribers across 43 countries and have sold to date over 70 million Groupons. Reaching this scale in about 30 months required a great deal of operating flexibility, dating back to Groupon's founding.

        Before Groupon, there was The Point--a website launched in November 2007 after my former employer and one of my co-founders, Eric Lefkofsky, asked me to leave graduate school so we could start a business. The Point is a social action platform that lets anyone organize a campaign asking others to give money or take action as a group, but only once a "tipping point" of people agree to participate.

        I started The Point to empower the little guy and solve the world's unsolvable problems. A year later, I started Groupon to get Eric to stop bugging me to find a business model. Groupon, which started as a side project in November 2008, applied The Point's technology to group buying. By January 2009, its popularity soaring, we had fully shifted our attention to Groupon.

        I'm writing this letter to provide some insight into how we run Groupon. While we're looking forward to being a public company, we intend to continue operating according to the long-term focused principles that have gotten us to this point. These include:

We aggressively invest in growth.

        We spend a lot of money acquiring new subscribers because we can measure the return and believe in the long-term value of the marketplace we're creating. In the past, we've made investments in growth that turned a healthy forecasted quarterly profit into a sizable loss. When we see opportunities to invest in long-term growth, expect that we will pursue them regardless of certain short-term consequences.

We are always reinventing ourselves.

        In our early days, each Groupon market featured only one deal per day. The model was built around our limitations: We had a tiny community of customers and merchants.

        As we grew, we ran into the opposite problem. Overwhelming demand from merchants, with nine-month waiting lists in some markets, left merchant demand unfilled and contributed to hundreds of Groupon clones springing up around the world. And our customer base grew so large that many of our merchants had an entirely new problem: Struggling with too many customers instead of too few.

        To adapt, we increased our investment in technology and released deal targeting, enabling us to feature different deals for different subscribers in the same market based on their personal preferences. In addition to providing a more relevant customer experience, this helped us to manage the flow of customers and opened the Groupon marketplace to more merchants, in turn diminishing a reason for clones to exist.

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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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