More details are starting to come out about Groupon co-founder and chairman Eric Lefkofsky’s past, especially the lawsuits that seem to follow him around. This time it’s a long story in Fortune about his “checkered past.”After Lefkofsky’s first company, Brandon Apparel, went bust, it was sued by Johnson Bank (which won a default judgment of $11 million), the former owner of the company, National Football League Properties, Major League Baseball Properties and the city of Columbus, Wisc. which had lent the company money to create jobs there.
A bizarre lawsuit came along in 2008, against InnerWorkings, a public printing company founded by Lefkofsky, by a company called Sports Publishing LLC. The complaint accuses Lefkofsky of “racketeering” and “terrorist tactics” and alleges that he basically tried to drive the company to near-bankruptcy to then buy it on the cheap. The suit was later withdrawn after a countersuit.
But perhaps the most damning fact about Lefkofsky is an email found in yet another lawsuit against his dotcom company, Starbelly, which he sold at the top of the bubble to a bricks-and-mortar company that then went bankrupt. In that email, Lefkofsky wrote: “Lets start having fun… lets get funky… let’s announce everything… let’s be WILDLY positive in our forecasts… lets take this thing to the extreme… if we get wacked [sic] on the ride down-who gives a shit… THE TIME TO GET RADICAL IS NOW… WE HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE…”
Let’s be clear about a few things: there is nothing embarrassing about having a few failures in an entrepreneur’s past; the US is a litigious country and successful people get sued for no good reasons all the time; and, of course, it’s very easy to take a private email out of context and make it mean something it doesn’t.
That being said, it’s hard not to see a pattern in Lefkofsky’s entrepreneurial career: businesses that showed amazing revenue growth but much fewer profits, with Lefkofsky selling early and often. Caveat emptor.
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