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Groupon’s New CEO Responds To Apocalyptic Chatter

As the headlines have been rolling in about international closures and falling revenues, Groupon CEO Rich Williams is speaking out.

Or typing out anyway, as the now embattled executive took to the Web yesterday (Nov. 19) to dispel the worries swirling around the firm and to clear up what he feels are the misunderstandings regarding Groupon in a blog post.

“Groupon is a misunderstood company,” Williams wrote. “We’re misunderstood by analysts. We’re misunderstood by media. We’re misunderstood by consumers — both those who haven’t visited our site in awhile and those who’ve never purchased from us. We haven’t done enough to tell our story over the past few years. And we haven’t always been humble about our hits and misses.”

He also noted Groupon had scaled “too far, too fast” and that in so doing took its eye off the ball in a number of clear ways.

“A lot of people have told me that I’m taking over the reins of this company in a very dark time. Plenty have said that I’m nuts to take this on,” Williams wrote. “Without question, no one is handing us the keys to local with a big red bow tied around them. And while I’m shaking things up, I assure you that I’m not crazy. So, I don’t look at this as a dark time. I look at this as a time to make things happen, faster.”

But so far what has happened hasn’t been great, though in fairness to Williams he’s only be on the job a few weeks. Weeks when Groupon’s share price has dropped to an all-time low.

So, what does the comeback trail mean? Williams laid out and dispelled what he feels are the big myths about Groupon. The first is that it is only a daily deals site still, when it is, in fact, a marketplace. He also disputed the claim that “deals are dead.”

“Second, the ‘deals are dead’ line of thinking is tired and not supported. Deals are core to who we are as a company, and we’re not running away from them — not by a long shot. Deals have helped us build the largest transactional platform of its kind in dozens of countries around the globe and a loved brand.”

He also said it’s possible to “win big” in local business, even if Groupon and others haven’t fully cracked the code on it yet.

“There are a number of big companies — Amazon, Facebook, Google — who’ve tried and died in local. Local is a hard business. As the unquestioned leader at this point, we know that better than anyone. On more than one occasion, we’ve been overly enthusiastic about the potential impact of new products, and we’ve been wrong more than once with how critical it is for us to compete in certain areas. We shouldn’t run from those failures or apologize for them. None of them bet the future of the company.”

“We are pioneering, we are growing, and we are the market leader, which means we know that not every test will come out beaming rainbows and unicorns,” Williams wrote.

But the big takeaway: Groupon isn’t going anywhere, as evidenced by its growing revenue, billings and customer base.

“The vast majority of our deals (82 percent as of the last report) are breakeven or better on the deal itself (i.e., no overspend or cross-sell required). That is simply unheard of in high volume small business advertising and customer acquisition. But let’s be clear: We still have to improve here.”

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