Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Groupon's Andrew Mason Talks About…No, Not Exec Shakeup, But Groupon Now

Yesterday, BoomTown had a cheap Chinese lunch and a chit-chat with Groupon CEO Andrew Mason in Silicon Valley–but not about what most people want to talk to him about.

That would be the departure of the Chicago-based social buying site’s President and COO Rob Solomon and who is on the very short list of candidates the hot start-up will replace him with.

Oh, I tried to get him to ‘fess up about all that, but Mason would not bite, except on his Kung Pao Chicken.

Instead, all he wanted to talk about and show off is Groupon’s latest real-time deal innovation, which it is calling Groupon Now–and which Mason has been touting a lot of late.

“It’s deals in a time window linked to a location,” said Mason. “Until now, no one has had the assets to fix a merchant problem that was viciously subject to a chicken-and-egg situation.”

By that metaphor, Mason means real-time deals by location, rather than via emails, doled out and paid for immediately, taking advantage of perishable retail inventory.

And, of course, using the burgeoning smartphone phenom via an app with only two buttons:

“I’m Hungry” and “I’m Bored.”

Which pretty much covers most of humanity’s main complaints.

The company is rolling Groupon Now out to thousands of merchants in early April, first in Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

“Even the most popular restaurants and businesses are never completely full,” said Mason. “Groupon Now can help them even out the flow of customers.”

It’s this push and pull that Mason hopes will move “Groupon 1.0” to the next level.

More importantly, Groupon Now is the start-up’s attempt to thwart rivals hot on its heels, as well as grow into the gazillion-dollar valuations being bandied about for its possible IPO.

But all of those competitors have moved into the real-time space too, from LivingSocial Instant to offerings from OpenTable, SCVNGR to Yelp to Foursquare. And, of course, there are also big efforts coming from both Facebook and Google, whose $6 billion offer Groupon turned down.

Now, no surprise, everyone is second-guessing that decision, putting a lot of pressure on both Groupon and, especially, Mason.

Who–despite all the hype and attention he has received–still has that prenaturally calm Midwestern affect.

“It is more important that we are the ones bringing relevant deals to consumers from our merchants,” he said. “That is all that matters.”

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— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google