Enough With the Gloom & Doom on Groupon

In 2000-2001, I remember reading negative article after negative article on Amazon. It was burning money quickly, e-tailers were going under left and right and brick & mortar stores were re-asserting themselves. People kept a diligent death watch for it after the demise of Webvans ($1b) and others. In reality, what was going on was a rationalization of the e-commerce space, a pruning of the weak. As scale effects kicked in and they offered new services, suddenly the company swung to profitability and the rest is history. Using Google, I can't even find articles from those days. 

I have a similar feeling about Groupon. I have been amazed by the manic swings in public opinion on Groupon that we have seen over the past year. Lately, it has all been gloom and doom. The company goes public at $20/share ($2 above targeted range and trades up 30-50%. First headline I see: "Groupon gets a pop–but not the 1999 kind". Come on guys…enough with the dramatic trash talking.

I'll be the first to admit that I have no crystal ball about the future of Groupon nor an in-depth knowledge of its solvency. However, $700m will certain give them a nice runway to work things out. There are several high level factors that people seem to be ignoring about the company.

1) like all e-commerce spaces, when they rationalize, everyone suffers and, in the end, it is usually the top 2-3 companies that come out dominant. The number of daily deal sites has already dropped from 300 to 180 and continues to fall rapidly. There is scale advantage to being large in everything from online acquisition costs to logistics to call center efficiencies to branding.  These grow with time.

2) everyone wrote off Amazon around 2000 and 2001. Eventually, the company fully leveraged its economies of scale, tightened its cost structure, got to break even and then rolled out new products/services. You now have everything from Amazon stores to Amazon private labeling online service & fulfillment for other large retailers to all of its cloud infrastructure (AWS). Groupon will follow a similar path. It will grow, it will get to breakeven and it will innovate. We have not even seen the services yet that will eventually drive profitable growth for the business in the future.

3) why has no one been commenting on the incredible talent in the firm. First, if you give Eric, Brad and Andrew opportunity to iterate, they will figure out solutions. They are quintessential entrepreneurs. $700m buys a good amount of runway for them. Second, they have hired folks like senior data experts from Netflix to figure out preferential targeting and a former Amazon finance exec as CFO. There is a lot of top talent there.

4) does the world expect 10-15 of the largest, most connected venture firms in the world (as well as the two top investment banks) to allow anything to happen to this company? I think it is safe to say that Groupon is well buffered.

So, enough Groupon bashing and enough Groupon hyperbole on the other side. Let this team innovate, grow and take full advantage of the $700m they just raised. I can't guarantee that things won't end in tears here but I can say that they have a lot more going for them than the press/analysts have been willing to admit. 

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