The CEO of Groupon, Andrew Mason, is out.
This struck few people as a good business model — as John Shinal at USA Today pointed out, Mason hired 10,000 employees across the globe for a company whose business model “amounted to little more than electronic junk mail.” Groupon was in the red. I began to sense that there might be trouble when they started on the Groupon goods. “700 Variegated, Whimsical Bits of String for Only $87!” “Earrings That Look Like Crystal Balls!” “Shampoo!” “600 Yards of Plastic Tarp That We Wound Up With After a Mix-Up With One of Our Suppliers But That You Can Probably Turn Into Something Fun!”
I am only making two of those up.
But the business model was always strange. “Hey,” it said to businesses, “do you want a large number of people to use your services, a single time, for less than you would like, and then not return until we offer this promotion again? Great!”
But perhaps this marks the end of the tyranny of the Groupon. And I, for one, would be grateful.
It was like getting e-mails every day from your mother pointing out everything that was wrong with your life. Sometimes it created problems that I didn’t even realize were problems. “You seem too single,” Groupon would say. “Why don’t you join a Singles-Oriented Race? You also need to exercise more!”
It’s not an unsound approach, frankly. If decades of women’s magazines have taught us anything, it is that people are actually willing to pay you good money to tell them that their bodies are covered with unsightly hair and that if they don’t get more keratin in their systems, pronto, something ghastly will befall them.
Here are some of the Groupons from my inbox.
- You Should Be More Spontaneous. Go Skydiving!
- You Need a Haircut.
- You Should Try More Adventurous Cuisine.
- You Probably Need Glasses.
- Why Have You Not Yet Paid Someone to Cover Your Body in Sugar?
- You Need More Culture. How About the Symphony?
- Your Body Is Covered With Unsightly Hair! Do Something About That, for Just Under $100!
- Your Colon Has Not Been Attended To in Far Too Long.
- You Should Exercise More. Pay $68 to Intend to Do Yoga Nine Times.
- You’re Sure You Don’t Want to Go to the Symphony?
- What You Really Need Is an All-Inclusive Tuesday Night in a Strange Place With Large Pool but, Judging From the Pictures, No Other Amenities.
You start the day confident and primed for success, and then you look at your Groupon and come away a sniveling wreck, worrying that you are doing everything wrong.
The trouble with Groupons is that some mornings they catch you when you are still in the throes of post-prandial optimism. “Yes,” you say. “I should do yoga! I’m going to get my apartment cleaned, dang it! I deserve a massage! And it has been too long since I had a haircut!” You load up. And then you become, temporarily, a slave to the Groupon. All of these things have deadlines. Suddenly you find yourself dashing from the office in the middle of a Tuesday to get a massage from a put-upon gentleman in the back room of a hair salon before the coupon expires. It’s like having to cater to the whims of a fruit fly bent on self-improvement. It’s the same ersatz urgency that fires all those massive sales of Handbags — JUST $400 FOR A LIMITED TIME ONLY — and Bizarre Fashion Items You Could Have Lived Years Blithely Unaware Of.
I wish I could be the person Groupon wants me to be — spontaneous, well (but inexpensively) coiffed, relaxed, impeccably manicured and capable of distinguishing between wines and other wines beyond squinting into the glass and, after some awkward swishing, commenting, “So, that one’s red, right?” Someone who attends the symphony and goes to Singles Races and has white teeth and the right amount of keratin and tasteful canvas prints all over her apartment, cheek-by-jowl with the piled Turkish towels and Egyptian cotton sheets, in an apartment that is cleaned, monthly, by a reliable team of discounted, eco-friendly maids.
But this sounds exhausting. Reality bumps up disconcertingly against your Groupon dreams. When the Eco-Friendly Maids come, they ask that you “list, in order, your priorities for us to clean,” offering suggestions such as “replace the white towels with the blue towels from the linen closet” and “dust a little” and “replace the daisies in the vase on the end table with better, fresher daisies.” You squint at the form: “Restore the bathtub to its original color,” you type, after some thought. “Unearth the counter?” This is not what Groupon dreamed for you.
Perhaps the tyranny of the Groupon is almost over. I will be glad to see an end to those packed nights of people with drawn faces eating tapas before the Groupon expired, looking put-upon, while the wait staff glowered. The Groupon dream was beautiful. The Groupon reality: scrambling, constantly, and always falling short. Somewhat similar to the company itself, in fact.
But if the CEO’s resignation letter is any indication, he wasn’t able to keep up with the Groupon Ideal either. “People of Groupon,” he wrote. “After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I’ve decided that I’d like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding — I was fired today. If you’re wondering why… you haven’t been paying attention.” He went on, “(FYI I’m looking for a good fat camp to lose my Groupon 40, if anyone has a suggestion).” These are not the words of someone who wakes up at 6 to jog and have breathtaking new experiences, although he has millions of dollars with which to do this, since all those people poured their hard-earned cash into his venture in spite of its dubious model.
Maybe he should try Singles Racing.