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Groupon: The deal is on

Groupon has filed an initial public offering for an estimated $750 million. So I guess that could be redeemed for $1.5 billion in stock?

I'm kidding, of course, because the collective-buying service's revenues are no joke, according to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. In Groupon's short 30-month lifespan, the website increased its revenue from $3.3 million in the second quarter of 2009 to $644.7 million in the first quarter of 2011.

Some other meteoric-growth stats:

• Groupon expanded from five North American markets in June 2009 to 175 North American markets and 43 foreign countries as of March 31, 2011.

• In that same time frame, Groupon grew its subscriber base from 152,203 to 83.1 million people.

• Groupon's merchant partner roster increased from 212 in the second quarter of 2009 to 56,781 in the first quarter of 2011.

• The company went from selling 116,231 Groupons in the second quarter of 2009 to 28.1 million Groupons in the first quarter of 2011.

• Groupon expanded from 37 employees as of June 30, 2009, to 7,107 staffers as of March 31.

In his letter to potential stockholders, chief executive Andrew Mason showed the same blend of chutzpah and quirky leadership that led him to turn down a $6 billion acquisition offer from Google. He explained that Groupon still has not turned a profit and probably won't any time soon, as it trades losses in the near term for growth.

"We spend a lot of money acquiring new subscribers because we can measure the return and believe in the long-term value of the marketplace we're creating," Mason wrote. "In the past, we've made investments in growth that turned a healthy forecasted quarterly profit into a sizable loss. When we see opportunities to invest in long-term growth, expect that we will pursue them regardless of certain short-term consequences."

A telling sub-headline in the prospectus reads: "We are unusual and we like it that way."

Time will tell what a public Groupon means for restaurants that use the service. The website's net loss in fiscal 2010 was $456.3 million, and Groupon spent $263.2 million that year on marketing alone, out of a gross profit of nearly $280 million. One would think the marketing spend as a percentage of profits would probably have to change, and perhaps Group would have to change its merchant payment structure when shareholders start calling for profitability.

Stay tuned.

Contact Mark Brandau at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN

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