Groupon Founder Andrew Mason 'Just Wanted to Work on Cool Stuff'

Andrew Mason tells ABC News about his path to success and why it wasn't easy.

December 8, 2010, 6:26 PM

Dec. 9, 2010— -- The founder of the wildly popular Internet discount site Groupon may be at the top of his game, but instead of kicking back and enjoying the ride, he's waiting for the other shoe to drop.

He may be waiting for a long time.

An idea that started as a "little nugget" has grown into a full-blown Internet sensation with consumers worldwide signing up to receive huge discounts en masse at popular retailers.

"I never wanted to be in this position. I just wanted to work on cool stuff," Groupon founder Andrew Mason told ABC News.

"I guess my advice would be if anyone is weirdly, for whatever strange reason, is jealous of me, then you're off on the wrong track already," he said. "Stop thinking about where you're going to end up and just think about the path and get satisfaction out of that."

Both self-deprecating and introspective, Mason, 30, said he dreamed as a teenager of working at a Toys 'R' Us.

"That seemed like the dream job, but I got that job when I was 15 and did it for all of a week," he said, adding that he also delivered hot bagels to people's doorsteps every Saturday morning.

He also had aspirations to make it in the music industry and as a software engineer. He tried going to graduate school, but then dropped out to start his own Internet company.

What he came up with was the website, the Point, in which users can campaign to get people to donate money or some other activity as a group. Once a certain number of people agree -- known as the "tipping point" -- the activity goes forward.

"When I first had the idea for the Point, which was the site that spawned Groupon, it was after needing to pay a $175 cell phone cancellation fee. And just feeling like I've been a customer of these guys for three years, this doesn't seem fair," Mason said. "And I had so many friends who had the same type of experience, so the Internet seems like a great way to get people to come together and take some action against policies like this."

As he developed the Point, the idea for Groupon began to grow.

"It was actually a completely irrational stubbornness that kept us going until we eventually dug enough to find that one little nugget bit of gold," he said, "that seed that sprouted into becoming Groupon."

Groupon Planning to Stay Independent Despite Buyout Rumors

Groupon, headquartered in Chicago, was launched in November 2008 and now offers a "daily deal" in more than 300 markets in 35 countries.

Enthusiastic subscribers log on to find what kind of deep discount is being offered that day -- up to 50 to 90 percent off at restaurants, spas and retailers -- and sign up to receive it. When enough Groupon members commit to that day's deal -- again known as the "tipping point" -- the discount is made available for purchase.

The business has become such a huge hit that rumors of buyouts and ongoing negotiations have abounded. But Groupon confirmed to ABC News that it is planning to stay independent.

Mason said he has been inspired by all the stories he read online about how his site has brought people together, whether it be reunited spouses or business owners telling him that the exposure led to more customers and allowed them to hire more employees and open new locations.

"So in a lot of ways we're doing far more good with Groupon than we ever did trying to take a more direct approach to social activism," he said.

He said one of the lessons he's taken away from the success of his company is that people will take responsibility to do the right thing when given the opportunity.

"The lesson that we kind of learned is that sometimes you make the best decisions when you think nobody is watching and we try to make sure that mentality is pervasive in everything that we do," he said. "That we maintain that we're a company that has a personality in the same way that people have a personality."

And yet, Mason remains wary of his success and cognizant that it could vanish at any time.

"Actually, none of it's been easy," he said. "Once you actually develop the mentality that you need to be successful, part of that mentality is being constantly afraid and paranoid about failures so that you can be on the lookout for avoiding those things -- making the path to success just completely depressing because all you're thinking about is the ways you're about to screw up."

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