For Groupon CEO, there are more questions than answers

Speaking at a mobile conference today, Andrew Mason didn't want to talk about a lot of things, including M&A and changes in management at the company. But he did speak of grand ambitions for Groupon.

Groupon CEO Andrew Mason speaks at a conference last month in New York. Dan Farber/CNET

For Groupon Chief Executive Andrew Mason, there are a lot more questions than answers.

The young executive wasn't exactly verbose during an interview today with Fast Company's E.B. Boyd at the Mobile Loco conference in San Francisco. It was evident pretty quickly (aka after the first question) that there are a lot of things he's not really interested in chatting about right now.

He didn't want to talk about the rumor that Google was interested in buying Groupon, and he didn't want to broach the topic of possibly being acquired by someone else. That's pretty understandable, as executives typically don't talk about mergers and acquisitions.

"We never have and never will comment on any of the unsubstantiated rumors in the press," Mason said. "There's nothing I can say about that."

Mason also didn't want to address recent questions about how long he'll be at the helm of the company and if his continued tenure at the top is really the best thing for Groupon. OK, we get it. Nobody likes to talk about being forced out of the company he or she runs.

"I've said what I'm going to say about these subjects," Mason said. "I'm focused on looking forward."

Mason also didn't really want to talk about the company's string of chief operating officers and whether Groupon needs someone like an Eric Schmidt to serve as the company's No. 2.

He also largely brushed over a question about the current stock price, simply reiterating that Groupon is focused on the long term.

While it's understandable why Mason didn't want to talk about many of those topics, they are the issues that are top of mind for investors and other stakeholders in the company. Groupon, which went public a year ago, has been struggling, and doubts have emerged about the viability and future of the company.

The company's board recently discussed whether it should replace Mason as CEO, but it ultimately decided to keep him. Meanwhile, Groupon shares jumped last week on speculation that Google might again be interested in the company.

While Mason didn't address any of those questions today, what he did say was pretty ambitious.

When asked how to think of Groupon, Mason said the company considers itself as a mobile e-commerce company. It hopes to enable the same kind of revolution Amazon started for retail, but for local products, he said. Groupon wants to give all small businesses a presence online, Mason said.

Becoming the next Amazon is a pretty big ambition for a company struggling to survive. Of course, Amazon went through its own tough times, but it has since come to dominate online shopping.

Groupon, meanwhile, has faced a string of troubles since going public. Its stock has tanked, it continues to post losses, and revenue has been slowing. The company has tried to turn itself around by creating new products, including an electronic payments system for its business partners, but the new initiatives aren't showing much impact so far.

Mason noted that Groupon will work on mobile, but improving its international operation is a huge focus as well.

When asked by Boyd if conventional wisdom is wrong when it says the daily-deal business is a tough one to be successful in, Mason replied, "apparently."

The problem is, it's not actually all that apparent to Groupon's investors.

 

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