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GOING PUBLIC

Groupon Files for IPO

The discount-of-the-day site filed its papers today to become a publicly traded company.

Andrew Mason, CEO and founder of Groupon

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It's official. You'll soon be able to buy a piece of the world's fastest-growing company.

Groupon filed for its IPO today after months of anticipation, speculation, and down-right rumor-mongering.

In Groupon's S-1 filing, the official document a private company submits to the Securities and Exchange Commission before going public, the company says it hopes to raise $750 million; Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse will be underwriting the deal.

In the nearly-100 page document, Andrew Mason, the company's fastidious founder and CEO, offers a bit of perspective on the company's goals and growth.

"We aggressively invest in growth...We are always reinventing ourselves...We are unusual and we like it that way," he writes, adding "Life is too short to be a boring company."

Indeed, Groupon is far from boring. The Wall Street Journal's Shira Ovide sums it up: "They're so wacky they make fun of Buddhists, stage mock tiffs with a Van Halen-lovin' shut-in named Michael, and turn down $6 billion checks from Google," she writes on the Deal Journal blog. It has also recruited 7,000 employees, offered more than 1,000 daily deals to 83 million subscribers across 43 countries, and has sold more than 70 million deals since 2008.

Groupon's revenue figures speak for themselves: In 2009, the company generated about $30 million; in 2010, the company brought in more than $700 million.

Still, there are plenty of risks worth noting (and outlined, in full, on pages 10 to 31 in the S-1). Most importantly, Groupon has not turned a profit since it launched in 2008, and it incurred losses of $389.6 million in 2010. "We may not maintain the revenue growth that we have experienced since inception," the company says. 

Groupon also faces another challenge: the hordes of 'me-too' daily-deal companies that have sprung up since 2008.

"A substantial number of group buying sites that attempt to replicate our business model have emerged around the world," the S-1 points out.  "In addition to such competitors, we expect to increasingly compete against other large internet and technology-based businesses, such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft, each of which has launched initiatives which are directly competitive to our business."

It's been a hot year for IPOs—some may say too hot. "It's not 1999, but the big Internet I.P.O. is back," DealBook wrote after LinkedIn's IPO two weeks ago. CNBC called it "IPO fever" and wondered whether or not an IPO bubble was brewing.

There's also been sharp criticism of the underwriters, who are paid to figure out the market value for the share price, but receive commission based on the price they set it at. Joe Nocera condemned the process, calling it obscene. "There is nothing wrong with a small 'pop' in the aftermath of an I.P.O.; investors, after all, don't want to buy a stock that is going to go down immediately," he wrote in The New York Times after LinkedIn's IPO. "But during the Internet bubble of the 1990s, the phenomenon of investment bankers wildly underpricing I.P.O.'s so that money could be diverted to favored investors got completely out of hand—stocks would sometimes rise 500 percent on the first day. It was obscene."

Earlier this year, for example, the stock of a Chinese Auto Distributor declined shortly declined 23 percent shortly after its IPO launched.

Pandora, the music streaming service, is also getting into the IPO fray. A new version of its S-1 filed today indicates that  company will be pricing its stock at $7 to $9 per share while rasing $141.6 mllion—small beans compared to Groupon.

The company plans to trade under the ticker symbol "GRPN." No word yet whether there will be a Groupon coupon for shares in the company.

IMAGE: The DEMO Conference via Flickr
Last updated: Jun 2, 2011




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