At the eG8 Forum, Groupon co-founder and CEO Andrew Mason was interviewed one on one by French entrepreneur Gilles Babinet, which was a welcome change from fuzzy policy-focused big panels with big company CEOs. Next to Google and Alcatel-Lucent Groupon is very much a startup.
As per usual, Mason brought the funny. Babinet asked him for keys to his success and after hearing platitudes (but true platitudes!) like being focused on the consumer and executions, Babinet asked him for an other one, and Mason responded: “Uh… Being good looking?”
Mason also gave very impressive figures about Groupon: the company now has 7,500 employees and is active in 500 cities in 46 countries.
The thing that struck us the most, however, was the subtle ways Mason seemed to encroach on Foursquare’s turf: he said several times that what Groupon wants to do is “unlock the city for everyone.” And “unlock the city” happens to be Foursquare’s tagline. It might just be a lack of imagination or it might portend something scary for Dennis Crowley.
Interestingly, Mason got a question from the floor about Groupon’s reported partnership with Foursquare (and its competitor Loopt). The person who asked him did so in conjunction with another question, and Mason answered this question and savvily utterly ignored the first question. (The question was the last one so there was on followup.)
So Groupon seems to be dancing aroud the issue of mobile. The location-based social networks can be great partners, but they can also be competitors. Mason outlined very ambitious plans for Groupon to “capture impulse”: when you feel like doing something around where you are, Groupon wants to “capture” that buying impulse and tell you where to go (with a big discount). That certainly sounds like it could compete with Foursquare and its ilk.
At our own conference Startup2011, Foursquare investor Fred Wilson said Foursquare should have turned on its revenue model earlier and put tons of salespeople on the ground to build relationships with local merchants. He was probably thinking about Groupon.