Groupon founder admits to 'bush-league mistake' before IPO

Daily deals CEO Andrew Mason defends his performance in guiding the 3-year-old company's meteoric rise, in an interview with "60 Minutes."

Groupon CEO Andrew Mason talks shop with "60 Minutes" correspondent Lesley Stahl. CBS

Groupon CEO Andrew Mason admits that his team made mistakes before the daily deals site went public late last year, but he defended his performance in guiding the startup's meteoric rise.

In an interview with Lesley Stahl aired tonight on the CBS news magazine "60 Minutes," Mason conceded that his team made a "bush-league mistake" when it misstated its revenues before going public. The Securities and Exchange Commission forced the daily deals provider to revise its filing papers after the company reported that it generated $713.4 million in revenue in 2010, while the SEC said that the figure should be $312.9 million.

"Smart people can get this stuff wrong," Mason said. "We're inventing a new industry. Like, if we were smart, evil people, we would be more cunning and subtle in our evil ways."

Shares in the 3-year-old company were up 30 percent in their first day of trading in early November, giving it a market valuation of about $16.7 billion, almost three times the buyout offer from Google it rejected in December 2010. Investor interest in the company has since cooled, and shares are now trading at $19.15, 85 cents below its IPO price, for a $12.2 billion valuation.

Mason said he didn't enjoy being the target of criticism that he couldn't publicly return owing to the company's SEC-mandated quiet period before a public offering. He apparently got around that limitation by penning a letter to his employees--that managed to leak out--that ultimately had him branded as "thin-skinned, impetuous, and childish," according to Stahl.

"I think if there's any difference between me and a traditional CEO, it's that I've been unwilling to change myself or shape my personality around what's expected," Mason said. "Am I as experienced or as mature or smart as other CEOs? No, probably not, but there's something useful about having the founder as a CEO."

That said, Mason did ask the show's producers whether he should wear a tie for the interview. He didn't, though he points out that he owns four.

Here's the interview:

 

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