10 Ways to Turn Around Groupon
Groupon fired CEO Andrew Mason on Thursday afternoon.
Mason said he's leaving because he's become a distraction for the company as it continues its turnaround. I'm not sure I buy that, as people will continue to have questions about Groupon until it shows it has truly turned itself around.
(Read More: Groupon CEO Mason: I Was Fired')
But how can it turn itself around? I actually think the road map is pretty clear (and it's something that Mason has been hard at work on for the last six months if not longer in some cases).
1. Keep Daily Deals Going as Much as You Can
The company has rightly pointed out that it's gone quickly from a site that was 100 percent focused on once a day emails to customers to several other offerings. However, just like companies like Yahoo and Facebook are having to adjust their businesses for the rapid shift to mobile, they also have to keep their mature cash cow businesses going for as long as they can. And Groupon is in exactly the same boat with daily deals. That is still the biggest part of their business. They have to keep it going and actually start growing it as fast as they can.
2. Better Customization and Personalization
The running joke for some time about Groupon is how useless the daily deals are for most of us. "Why do I want to get another offer for a local mani/pedi?" would be a familiar groan from male friends of mine. Yet, this is still largely what goes on at Groupon today, despite management assurances that this is slowly changing with better technology. It's still largely a mass market email dump once a day today.
3. Whack Headcount
The company has 10,000 employees. Most of them are tied to sales and paid on commission. The company, over the last year, has persistently reeled in marketing expenses while still keeping revenue up. It's likely that there's a lot more fat to trim that a new outsider will go after — especially in Europe.
4. Fix Europe
Speaking of Europe, Groupon's got to fix it. It's a hole in the bottom of the ship that just keeps losing water. New COO Kal Raman has been given the task of fixing Europe with the North American playbook last quarter. Most (including me) expected to see him start to deliver results in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, it's just taking longer to fix. One would think that Groupon would be ideally suited to mete out bargains to Europeans going through an economic crisis. Yet, they've missed the boat to this point.
5. Make Groupon Now the Star Attraction
The future of Groupon is probably Groupon Now. I'm walking around my neighborhood and I want to know about deals available just for me instantaneously. I want a coffee and this local coffee shop will offer me a cappuccino and muffin for $2 vs. me continuing to drive and find the next Starbucks. For that to happen, I have to know an app to look for in the moment that can tell me about that particular deal and local merchants have to have a way to find me in that app. That's where a Groupon can come in with its Groupon Now product. However, that vision is still far from reality. Yet, more than 40 percent of Groupon's users are on a mobile device. The potential is there. Groupon just has to execute.
6. Buy Foursquare
Groupon's stock is in the tank these days, so it doesn't have the currency it did when it was above $20. It has cash but not an infinite amount, especially considering it's in a turnaround phase. Yet, its Groupon Now product could greatly benefit from it buying Foursquare which is just now starting to expand into the local deal space. Foursquare is private and had been rumored to be talking to Apple of late. Groupon probably worries that, if it pursued Foursquare, a bigger buyer would swoop in. But Foursquare would be a great fit.
7. Show Revenue Growth Again
Wall Street is a fickle bunch. Show hockey stick growth and everyone loves you. Show slowing growth and your stock gets crushed. But when Facebook started to show revenue growth again, Wall Street was quick to come back in the fold and the same would be true now for Groupon.
8. Articulate How You Win with Goods
There is still a lot of concern about Goods and if that business, despite its growth, will drag down earnings or require huge investment in distribution centers to compete directly with Amazon. Groupon has tried for two earnings calls now to say they wouldn't out-Amazon Amazon, but have failed to say what that means and where Goods is going. How is it distinct from Amazon or others? Where does it fit within Groupon and how does Groupon win with it?
9. Put the Control Issues Behind You
There remain lots of questions hanging over the company about proper financial controls. These simply must be put behind the company. CFO Jason Child can't do this himself. He'll need the help of the next CEO.
10. Hire a 'Wise' CEO Who Is Trusted
The next CEO must engender confidence among investors. He or she doesn't have to be old, but they must be wise. They must send a clear signal that someone talented sees the opportunity at Groupon and will "fix" Groupon to properly address that massive opportunity. This will help investors believe again in the story that they originally fell in love with.
However, with all this said, there might never be another CEO for Groupon. Andrew Mason as CEO wasn't holding this company back. He wasn't a distraction to Groupon employees from delivering.
Therefore, why did Mason leave? I think it's because, by announcing Eric Lefkofsky and Ted Leonsis as interim co-CEOs, I think Groupon put itself on the block today.
I think that announcement was code for "Hey, Google and Yahoo, would you pretty please reconsider making an offer for our company?"
Lefkofsky has shown that he wants to win and go for a big payday but he's also eminently practical. I don't think he'd care a whit about selling his company at the bottom if he thought he could get his entire investment liquid immediately. I think Brad Keywell would be in the same boat. I also think a guy like Ted Leonsis would love to just move on from the company, even if he felt he was leaving some money on the table by selling the company to Google below their prior famous $6 billion price.
If there was a serious offer out there, I think Lefkofsky and Leonsis would listen. And then the buyer could worry about the turnaround of Groupon.
—By TheStreet.com Contributor Eric Jackson
At the time of publication, Eric Jackson had position in Groupon, Apple, and Yahoo.