Groupon's Andrew Mason: I need to get my teeth cleaned

New Groupon Now service is designed to get people to do more impulsive commerce, including bowling and dental hygiene.

Rafe Needleman
Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
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Groupon CEO Andrew Mason is interviewed by Kara Swisher today at D9. Asa Mathat/All Things Digital

PALOS VERDES, Calif.--Groupon CEO Andrew Mason kicked off his interview with Kara Swisher here at D9 with this bombshell about his company's upcoming IPO: "The news is that we have nothing to announce."

Mason's gambit to dodge the question didn't work. "Why do you want to become a public company?" Swisher asked.

"I run a business..." Mason dogmatically droned, "and shareholders want money."

The 8,000-person company (up from about 1,500 a year ago) is about one-half local salespeople. Groupon, as industry watchers well know, doesn't "scale" in the same way other Internet companies do. It can't grow by itself; it needs feet on the ground.

That hasn't stopped competitors from "cloning" the Groupon model. Mason said the clones popped up in part because of Groupon's initial model of covering one deal a day. That left a lot of deals seeking distribution, an entre that competitors took advantage of. The company launched personalized deals in part to be able to serve more business customers.

The third iteration of Groupon is the recently-launched new "Groupon Now" product, which delivers multiple dining deals to users. All these expansions are designed to increase the number of businesses that Groupon can handle in each region. The Groupon Now product is also designed to make Groupon "more a part of peoples' lives."

With Groupon Now, a mobile app asks, "What do you want to do?" and gives users deals that answer that question, like "have lunch." The activities will vary by day, which could encourage people to do more different, impulsive activities. Mason gave these examples: "Go bowling, or, get your teeth cleaned."

"I haven't gotten my teeth cleaned in six years!" Mason added.

Groupon Now is also a self-service business, so local store owners can more easily create their own coupons and deals to coincide with the precise times that they want additional business.

The company is partnering with other businesses, like the concert ticket service LiveNation, to offer additional services. Groupon also just announced a partnership with Expedia for travel deals.

As to Google's entry into Groupon's market, Mason said Google does bring innovation. "I'm glad to see them participate." He refused to answer Swisher's question, "Why didn't you sell to Google?" But he did laugh when she asked, "Why didn't you sell to Yahoo?"

Groupon is expanding aggressively internationally, "because we can," Mason says. And, "we attract great entrepreneurs in other countries."

Swisher asked about Superbowl commercials. "The same ones are not coming back," Mason reassured, referring the bad-for-business ads that made fun of Tibet. He said he doesn't know if the company will do new Superbowl ads in the future. "It was a mistake," he said.