LivingSocial isn’t a turnaround job.

That’s the conclusion newly appointed chief executive Gautam Thakar has come to after two months at the helm. Instead, he said, the company needs to be refounded. There’s a difference.

“It may be nuanced and semantic, but for me it’s super important,” Thakar said.

In his first interview since taking over the struggling deals purveyor, Thakar described LivingSocial as a company rich in assets — talented employees, millions of customers, engaged merchants and money in the bank. What it lacks, as outsiders have long observed, is direction.

“We have tried to solve many problems for many different customers, and we have probably ended up not being as focused as we want to be,” Thakar said. “And that’s something we will spend the next couple of months trying to get closure on.”

In his first interview since taking over LivingSocial, Gautam Thakar said it needs to find direction. (Courtesy of LivingSocial)

But as LivingSocial moves beyond the explosive growth and steep decline that have shaped the seven years since it was founded, clues as to what may come next for the company, or at least how it will get there, can be found in the past of its newly installed leader.

‘Refounding’ redux

An executive headhunter recruited Thakar for the LivingSocial post from e-commerce giant eBay, where he had worked for nearly a decade and most recently served as general manager of its advertising business and chief executive of Shopping.com.

During his tenure at Shopping.com, Thakar faced a challenge not unlike the one at LivingSocial. Shopping.com had been acquired by eBay in 2005, then spent a lot of money and time trying to find a direction that would complement, and not compete with, its corporate parent.

“That lack of clarity had been really affecting the priorities of the team,” said Andre Haddad, the former chief executive of Shopping.com, who brought in Thakar to head global business. “That disorientation had really affected the team’s morale [and] the company’s performance. It led to a lot of starts and stops of different products.”

Under Haddad’s leadership, Shopping.com removed unnecessary middle managers, switched to less-expensive technology products and hired engineers to spur innovation. When he left to join a Silicon Valley start-up, he personally recommended Thakar as his successor.

“His No. 1 strength is he is a very analytical. He’s very data oriented,” Haddad said. “So he was very good at trying to be as objective as possible in assessing the opportunities and challenges.”

“He is great at inviting input,” Haddad continued. “He is great at listening, great at getting people to engage, even. He knows how to engage them one on one, how to engage them in smaller teams, how to engage them at an all-hands level.”

Tige Savage, the co-founder of District investment firm Revolution, said those skills became clear over a series of meetings with LivingSocial’s board. Not only did Thakar appear transparent and thoughtful, Savage said, he had taken on a challenging company in the past and come out on top.

“He took an asset and found the characteristics and unique things in that asset that could be polished and amplified in a way to make a differentiated business,” Savage said. “As the daily deals business continues to transform, companies like LivingSocial will have to do exactly the same thing.”

Thakar has already begun engaging with employees at LivingSocial, visiting its disparate U.S. offices to sit face to face with sale representatives and software engineers. At the company’s call center in Tucson, he listened as reps took commendations and complaints from merchants and customers.

“When you’ve gone through tough times as certainly the company has, it can damage the culture,” Thakar said. “But there are a lot of employees who are excited to make a difference.”

Passion matters

The question remains whether those employees can adapt to the next phase in LivingSocial’s history and as the company inevitably shifts directions in search of profit and sustainability. The company shed hundreds of employees under former chief executive Tim O’Shaughnessy through layoffs and divestitures.

“You want everyone who contributed to success in the first phase to contribute to success in the second,” Thakar said. “But if their passion and energy is not in that direction, you want to have conversations with those people to move them on to where they have passion and skill.”

In short, those who can’t get on board may find themselves out of work.

Thakar admits much of what he knew about the daily deals business before interviewing for the CEO job came from headlines. For those in advertising and e-commerce, it was impossible to avoid the reports of meteoric growth and rival Groupon’s massive initial public offering, as well as the stories as both companies started to sputter.

“I was actually more skeptical when things were being hyped about Groupon or LivingSocial than I was when things were being taken down,” he said. “I think the answer is in between. It mostly always is.”

Thakar discussed the job offer with his wife — coming to LivingSocial meant relocating from California with their young son — and his former colleague Haddad, among others. In July, LivingSocial announced his decision.

“I was a bit surprised in the sense that when you’ve gone through a turnaround and you’ve successfully turned the business around, it’s obviously extremely rewarding but it’s also extremely hard,” Haddad said. “I was asking him, ‘Are you sure you want to do another turnaround?’”

Then again, for Thakar, LivingSocial isn’t a turnaround job.

“A turnaround for me is typically and traditionally where something is not working in the current operations of the business. You need to make things more efficient or you need to have a plan that realizes growth,” Thakar said.

“A refounding for me is taking a platform that already exists and changing the direction, if it needs to be changed,” he added.

For LivingSocial, the change has just begun.