Kara Swisher

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Video Exclusive: Here’s Groupon’s Andrew Mason Talking About Daily Deals Site’s Stock Smack, Future Plans and IPO Regrets (Or Lack Thereof)

It’s not well known, but last year, before it went public, Groupon almost didn’t.

With pressure from former board member Howard Schultz, and also doubts about timing expressed to CEO Andrew Mason by outside investors such as Silicon Valley luminaries Marc Andreessen and Mary Meeker, the Chicago-based daily deals site pressed forward, anyway.

Since then, it has been a tough ride for Groupon and, perhaps most of all, for Mason.

Yesterday afternoon, I got on Skype to do a video interview with him about the continued swirl — much of it very negative — around the company he co-founded and leads.

“I love Groupon,” he said. “Groupon is my life.”

Not so much everyone else these days — who are starting to compare the company to Web 1.0 flameout Webvan and even, in the ultimate digital insult, Pets.com.

That’s a false comparison — those were both never profitable, and had negative cash flow, unlike the much larger Groupon.

Still, Groupon’s stock has been under pressure pretty much since the time of its IPO last year, with critics hammering on everything from whether its business plan is fundamentally flawed to its controversial accounting to the goofy nature of Mason himself.

He even got dinged for drinking a beer at a Groupon all-hands employee meeting. (I’m fine with that one, by the way.)

Groupon shares hit a new low last week, after it reported second-quarter earnings that showed better profits, but a revenue miss. Growth prospects in its core coupon business, or lack thereof, was pointed to by Wall Street investors for the continued sell-off.

One bright spot was its nine-month-old Groupon Goods, which sells a variety of products and which has grown to $200 million in annualized revenue. But the lower-margin offering makes up a smaller part of the company’s overall results, as does its impressive improvements in mobile commerce.

These two positive developments have failed to impress, though, with the stock at even lower lows today — at $4.74 a share. That’s down 82 percent since Groupon went public, making the company worth $3 billion, or about half of what Google had once offered to buy it, and a little more than double its cash on hand.

In other words, it is crunch time for Mason, who must answer to shareholders, employees and his board, and must somehow get Groupon to a better place, and fast.

Among the myriad of risks for him as he does: Everything from new management to the sale of Groupon.

That is not in the cards right now, of course. And, as usual, the affable exec talks with confidence about the company.

To his credit, in this long interview, he is also pretty candid about the struggle.

It’s well worth a watch (except for me looking like I just got off a red-eye flight, which I did).

Here’s Mason:

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