Groupon CEO’s Bizarre Today Show Interview

Last Friday, Groupon CEO Andrew Mason made an appearance on NBC’s Today Show. He evaded questions using non sequiturs about class bullies and his middle name.

Groupon, described by Newsweek as one of the “fastest-growing companies on the web,” issues coupons for local businesses and collects half the revenue the businesses take in. The business model has caught the attention of other companies, and recent press reports claim Mr. Mason turned down a $6 billion offer from Google.

Prior to Mr. Mason’s appearance, he Tweeted: “About to do Today show and beta test a new technique for dodging questions.” When Matt Lauer asked about the rumored Google offer, Mason deflected (video is no longer available) :

Matt Lauer: “Let’s get to the elephant in the room. The reporting of late on the business pages has been that Google offered you six billion dollars for this company, and the same reporting says you turned it down. Have you turned down a deal like that lately?”

Andrew Mason: “Unfortunately, Matt, I can’t speak to that. But, we’re excited to be (giggles) to have a cool company that we’re continuing to grow.”

Lauer: “Can you at least confirm that you were in the…I’m not looking for the specific number. Will you confirm that you were in talks with Google for such a deal?”

Mason: “Let me tell you a story to answer that question, Matt.”

Lauer: “I have a feeling I’m not going to get an answer here.”

Mason: “My middle name is Divens. And when I was in fourth grade, Josh Wilson who was my friend, I was embarrassed of this middle name, and Josh Wilson made fun of me on the baseball field. And I started crying and ran after him and Mrs. Paddock pulled me aside and yelled at me and the next day on the field trip to the pool, Kristen Flaherty made fun of me. She called me, “Hey Divens,” and I tried to squirt, I tried to squirt suntan lotion on her…”

Lauer: “…This is answering my question how?”

Mason: “I’ve got eight more of those. And every time you try…”

Lauer: “You will stall any way you possibly can, right?”

The reaction to Mr. Mason’s interview was generally favorable on Twitter and around the web. He was congratulated for his “obtuse stonewalling” and “funny” interview.

I agree that Mr. Mason came off as humorous, audacious, and devilishly mischievous. Even Matt Lauer seemed to enjoy being “punked” by a master of the game.

But I can’t shake the feeling that Mr. Mason missed an opportunity.

Regardless of whether Mr. Mason sells his company, he has a vested interest in growing it. The question is whether you believe the best way to grow your company is to inspire more people and retailers to sign up with your company through a terrific interview, or whether you think you’re going to grow it by trying to develop a cult of personality.

I’ll concede that his use of non sequiturs got more people talking than if he had answered the questions more forthrightly. But he got people talking about the wrong thing. And in so doing, I’d argue that he missed an opportunity to sell his brand to millions of morning television viewers who aren’t likely to check out his product just because he’s a quirky interviewee.

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