There have been lots of articles in the news about Groupon, so I thought I’d try to uncover what’s “in print” about the Groupon organizational culture. Keep in mind that corporate culture is typically derived from the organization’s founder, or from the principles and ideals that drove the organization’s creation. Groupon’s founder and CEO is Andrew Mason.
First, this is how the Groupon website describes Mason:
Andrew Mason is the founder of Groupon as well as The Point, the collective action platform from which Groupon was born. Andrew’s mostly unremarkable existence began in Pittsburgh, PA; he moved to Chicago in 1999 to attend Northwestern University, where he lives today with his girlfriend and over 20 cats. Andrew graduated with a degree in music, the uselessness of which served as a chief inspiration to not be useless. Out of college, Andrew became a software developer by no ambition of his own, but via a series of acquaintances offering to give him money to do incrementally harder stuff on computers. Excited by the power of technology to change the world, Andrew developed Policy Tree, a policy debate visualization tool, and won a scholarship to attend the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy in 2006. In school for only 3 months, the flighty Andrew dropped out after receiving an unexpected offer to fund the idea that would become The Point. The Point, a ground-breaking approach to online collective action and fundraising, launched in November 2007. One year later, Andrew founded Groupon, leveraging the collective buying technology of The Point to make it easier (and cheaper) to experience all the great stuff in Chicago. At various points in his life, Andrew has also started businesses to deliver bagels as if they were newspapers, and sell muffins with cranberries that he found in his backyard to people living on his street. When he isn’t working, Andrew spends most of his time writing his life coach training book, Unleash the Power Within the Power Within: Self Help For Self Helpers.
Just for clarification, in a CNBC interview, an anchor asked if it is true that he has 20 cats. Mason responded, “No. Most CEOs will make stuff up about themselves to sound way smarter and cooler and people are disappointed to find out otherwise. I decided to set the bar very low and make up lies about myself that make me sound lame.”
Below are how the founder and the culture have been described in the news:
- This is how a Wall Street Journal article described the culture: Andrew Mason is described as the boyish entrepreneur. His desk is no different from the others–located in the middle of rows of white desks with a live feed to the Palo Alto satellite office. Perky, good looking and young employees look like they’ve stepped out of a J. Crew ad. The focus is on their army of savvy sales representatives. And they offer The Groupon Promise if customers are not satisfied plus they have a 24 hour hot line. Many customer care professionals are from Chicago’s improv-comedy scene. Irreverence is core to the culture–their offices had a monkey dressed in a Santa suit and a male actor strutting through the office in a tutu for a week–totally mute. There is no dress code or vacation policy. Because “surprise” is also core to the business–a surprise deal of the day–this desire to surprise is core to how people do their work. CEO Mason realizes that a company’s purpose may not initially feel altruistic, but companies in business to make money are really equally in business to make a contribution that does good for others.
- At Deals & More, they compare the cultures of Google and Groupon: “While Google likes to think of itself as quirky and nerdy, it’s got nothing on the off-kilter atmosphere created by Groupon CEO and founder Andrew Mason, who’s said he pulls pranks on his staff like hiring a man to walk around the office in a ballerina’s tutu. Google’s idea of a creative environment are lava lamps, exercise balls, and cartoon logos.”
- In an interview with Chicagomag.com, Mason is described this way: “With an untucked sartorial style and a tendency to stare at the table rather than make eye contact, the tall, wholesome 29-year-old seems more like the boy next door than the next Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos—tech superstars to whom Mason is being compared in the business press. ‘I’m just not used to talking that much about myself,’ he says. ‘It feels strange.’ He doesn’t have the CEO patter down, either. That is part of his charm.”
- In an AOL Small Business interview, Mason said: “Part of the fun of this business is sending a deal that is for something you normally don’t do, like getting a deal to go to an indoor rock-climbing facility or experience a sensory-deprivation tank, and suddenly that person is saying, ‘Well, if I’m ever going to do this now, this is the time,’ and then maybe that person becomes an avid rock climber as a result.” Mason further states, “We’re a very humble group, and we don’t take anything for granted.”
- In TechCrunch, from a Charlie Rose interview, Mason talks about the surprise element of the culture: “I think part of what makes Groupon really fun for consumers is this element of discovery, finding new things, being surprised every morning what the deal is. And we try to remain surprising and we try to do things, whether it’s the deal you’re getting or whether it’s the way we’re writing about the deal or whether it’s the brand and the culture of he company, that’s constantly surprising people, because that’s kind of the spice of life.” Mason explains, “I think the discount is this great trick that we’re playing on people, because we’re tricking them to get out of the house and live their lives, because it’s there for one day.” Mason cares about the local community stating, “For consumers, we want to reverse this trend of spending more and more time on the computer and help people rediscover their cities.”
- In Fast Company, Mason says: “The accident of my success comes from injecting creativity into normal, sterile situations.”
- In an interview in This Week In, Mason explains: “We hire great people, give them freedom to be awesome and they are a very humble group, they are all equal.”
- In a Chicago Tribune article, Mason is described as CEO and jester. The article states, “As a youngster, Andrew Mason was the creative one with an offbeat sense of humor, organizing projects for his sister and friends that included forts made out of afghans, costumes and stages for plays, and building a bike path in the woods near his Pittsburgh area home.”
- In an interview posted in Mixergy, Mason talks about failure: “When we started Groupon from the beginning, I had this paranoia. Since then I’ve kept a list that I look at every week of what are the biggest problems for the business. What are the ways it could fail? It sounds almost fatalistic but it really frames my way of thinking. I’ve found it to be useful and it’s helped us focus on the right things and anticipate problems instead of getting to have them. Knowing that no matter how great you are, you, too, can fail.”
- In an MSNBC article, it describes Mason this way: “His only dress code: no sunglasses inside — because Mason hates how rock star Bono constantly wears sunglasses. Mason has been in a few rock bands, too, often stopping his shows to hand out family photos or to lead audiences in group exercises.” He has been described as eccentric, an inspiring genus, quirky, smart, driven – but with a very weird sense of humor.