As Groupon approaches its initial public offering, Michelle Conlin contemplates the company's rise and fall:
Groupon shows what can happen when a startup experiences steroidal growth in an unproven industry. To its defenders, the Chicago company is a victim of its success, its stumbles emblematic of a business in infancy. After all, Groupon has hordes of fans who rave about the company's deals and its liberal refund policy. But critics say the issues Groupon is facing are symptomatic of something more troubling: questionable accounting, an overvalued business model and an industry that is turning into the digital equivalent of junk mail.
What changed? First, Groupon had to become more disciplined or its roadshow would have been drowned out by people thinking the company was a Ponzi scheme. The other notable item may have been its rollout of a global enterprise planning system and other tools from the likes of Salesforce.com. … With better financial and visibility systems–actually anything other than random spreadsheets and e-mails–Groupon is able to reconcile its results and drive revenue better. There are no guarantees that Groupon will be a juggernaut–or a Google-like growth machine–but it's clear the company looks more grown up now.