订阅

多平台阅读

微信订阅

杂志

申请纸刊赠阅

订阅每日电邮

移动应用

投资理财

梅森或欲退出Groupon

Kevin Kelleher 2011年06月09日

Groupon的IPO启动在即,然而其困难重重的财务状况、含糊其辞的募股信应该引起投资者的警惕。

Groupon founder Andrew Mason 
Groupon创始人安德鲁•梅森(Andrew Mason)

    亲爱的Groupon潜在股东,

    我写这封信的初衷,是为了向您提供有关Groupon首日公开募股(IPO)的一些看法。这家团购网站初创企业发布的发售说明书里作为前言的那封喜气洋洋、矫揉造作的“安德鲁 D. 梅森公开信”里删掉了这些观点。

    你会感觉到,在律师接手梅森的这封信并扬弃其精华之前,它最初的版本要大胆得多。梅森在信中写道:“生命苦短,我们不能打造一家无趣的公司”。然而,梅森的信本身就很无趣,并未在245页的招股说明以外提供其他任何信息。梅森天真地大谈公司理想,而归结起来,不外乎 “客户永远是对的”这类陈词滥调,毫无新意可言。

    梅森是一位善于推动公司成长的首席执行官。截至今年3月底,Groupon的营收在一年的时间内增长了15倍。Groupon是在正确时间建立的一家正确的公司,它创意十足,执行充分,必将成为未来创业企业研究的典范,对整个行业产生影响。2010年3月,Groupon的国际销售收入在营收中占比为零,通过海外扩张,一年后,这一占比增长到53%。

    但是,现在有一点开始逐渐变得清晰:Groupon的招股说明中还有其他一些模糊不清之处,有些甚至与梅森的公开信前后矛盾。

    梅森迫不及待地轻松宣称:“我们通过投资推动增长,因此我们原本的季度盈利变为明显的亏损。”他的这番豪言显然是受到谷歌公司创始人的启发。他们在谷歌2004年首度公开募股的发售说明书中包含了一份漂亮的、史诗般的“所有者手册”。(自那以后,谷歌对华尔街的态度就明显变得不是那么傲慢了。)

    然而Groupon不是谷歌公司。谷歌上市时的营业毛利达到24%。Groupon上市之际,营业损失相当于营业收入的18%。此外,Groupon的首度公开募股将使公司市值达到300亿美元,远比谷歌公司上市时高。

    Groupon出现损失是该公司自己的选择。2010年早些时候,公司是盈利的,随后它就开始大举扩张,以保持在行业内的领先。高速增长的代价是巨大的。由于巨额销售和营销成本,Groupon“烧钱”的速度比增长速度更快。这种做法在创业企业中并不常见,并且充满风险。只有支出的成本带来了营收的增长,这样做才是有效的。然而Groupon公布的数据表示,Groupon或许未能做到这一点。在波士顿等城市,Groupon的投资回报开始下降。

    这让Groupon处于一种颇为危险的境地。目前,它的总负债为5.34亿美元,仅比其总资产少700万美元。有评论人士认为Groupon已经资不抵债,或许现在下此断言还为时过早。但在通常情况下,准备上市的公司会使财务状况和资产负债表处于相对健康的一个状态。Groupon目前似乎急于进行IPO。这种态度减小了Groupon IPO的吸引力。

    由于烧钱速度太快,因此如果没有新的资本补充,到今年秋季Groupon将用完所有现金。但这也是Groupon自己的选择。今年1月,Groupon融资9.5亿美元,但其中的85%被用于从梅森和其他内部人士手中回购股票。(2009年,Groupon曾拨给梅森一笔借款用以购买一些股票,这些钱他只还了一部分。)

    Groupon这样做势必引发投资者的担心,从而影响投资者的信心。投资者没有任何投票权,所有的投票权都属于梅森和Groupon其他数名内部人士。这使Groupon面临不必要的风险。如果Groupon不从梅森等人手中回购股票,这一风险原本也可以很容易避免。

    Groupon的承销商——摩根斯坦利(Morgan Stanley),高盛(Goldman Sachs)和瑞士信贷(Credit Suisse)——对此心知肚明。这些投行在发售说明书里披露了完整的情况,尽管是用小字印刷的。但他们或许应该更进一步,建议Groupon等到财务状况好转后再进行IPO。不过,这些投行也知道,投资者正失去理性。对它们来说,这是检验投资者是否理性,是否愿意向泡沫中投资的一次试验。如果投资者参与Groupon的IPO,那么未来将会有更多类似的IPO出现。

    梅森没有在自己的公开信中谈论这些问题,相反,信里充斥着推销股票和企业发展的奇谈怪论。他在信中宣称:“我们关心我们的客户和商户。”这当然不是真话。招股说明显示,梅森等人关心的只是自己的钱袋。梅森这样说要么是非常天真,要么就是欺诈。

    我猜他这么说是属于天真。在他的信里有一种令人不安的、悲哀的语调,似乎他自己也没弄明白,自己曾一心想要改变世界,如今却沦为一家声誉日隆的优惠券网站的代言人。“我创办了The Point(这是一家社会事业型的创业公司,梅森后来将其转变成Groupon),赋予小人物以力量,以解决这个世界上尚未解决的一些问题,”他说道,似乎以为股东真会在意他的这番表白。

    事与愿违,迫于联合创始人的压力,他接受了Groupon更现实的目标:“让今天跟昨天足够不同,让起床干活物有所值。”生活本来就充满了妥协,缺少乐趣,这样的目标无疑是令人沮丧的。似乎梅森在Groupon的重重压力之下已经锐气全无,如今他已迫不及待地想要退步抽身、去从事更有意义的事业。

    如果一名首席执行官在股票发售说明书里暗示他想要抽身,股东们就该认真想想他们是否该趟这趟浑水了。

    译者:清远

    Dear Potential Groupon Shareholder,

    I'm writing this letter to provide some insight into the Groupon IPO that was omitted from the cheery, twee "Letter from Andrew D. Mason" that prefaced the prospectus filed by the group-buying startup.

    You get the feeling that the original draft of Mason's letter was a lot bolder before the lawyers got to it sucked out most of its spirit. Mason wrote, "Life is too short to be a boring company." But this is boring letter, adding virtually nothing to the prospectus' 245 pages of legalese. Mason prattles on about company ideals that boil down to platitudes like "The customer's always right." This is hardly an innovative vision.

    Mason is a CEO skilled at managing growth. He built a company that saw revenue increase by a factor of 15 in the year through March. Groupon wasn't just a good idea at the right time, it was an idea exploited to full effect, in ways that will be studied by founders of other startups for years to come. Groupon's overseas expansion brought international sales from 0% of revenue in March 2010 to 53% of revenue in a year later.

    But it's starting to become clear that there are some more unsettling things inside the prospectus, things obscured by and even contradicted by the carefree tone of Mason's note.

    Mason wastes no time in blithely declaring, "we've made investments in growth that turned a healthy forecasted quarterly profit into a sizable loss." He's clearly channeling Google's (GOOG) founders, who included a saucy and epic "owner's manual" in the prospectus for its 2004 IPO. (Since then, Google's attitude toward Wall Street has grown decidedly less cocky.)

    But Groupon is no Google. Google went public with a 24% operating margin. Groupon is approaching the markets with an operating loss equal to 18% of revenue. And yet, Groupon's IPO could give the company a $30 billion value, higher than Google's when it went public.

    Groupon is losing money by choice. In early 2010, the company was profitable, then it embarked on its aggressive expansion to stay ahead of competitors. Hypergrowth is expensive. Thanks to sales and marketing costs, Groupon is spending money even faster than the insane pace that it has been bringing it in. This approach, not uncommon in startups, is risky: It works if all that spending keeps revenue growing over time. But there are already worrying signs that might not be the case; according to Groupon's own data, it's already seeing diminishing returns on its investments in established cities like Boston.

    This leaves Groupon in a fairly precarious financial position. Total liabilities are $534 million, only $7 million less than total assets. It may be premature to declare that Groupon is "effectively insolvent," as some commentators have, but companies hoping to go public normally wait until income statements and balance sheets are in a healthier state. There is something rushed about this IPO, as if the company is acting in desperation. Desperation is never the mark of an attractive IPO.

    Groupon is burning through cash so quickly that, without new financing, it will run dry come autumn. But again, the company chose to put itself in this position. The company raised $950 million in January, but 85 cents of every dollar went toward stock repurchases for Mason and other insiders. (In 2009, Groupon gave Mason a loan to buy some shares, which he repaid only in part.)

    And here is the biggest thing that should worry every potential investor. Groupon is dealing with you in bad faith. You'll have no voting rights, all voting power belongs to Mason and a few other insiders. And yet, you are expected to take on unnecessary risks -- risks that could easily have been avoided had insiders not decided to pay themselves hundreds of millions of dollars from venture financing.

    Groupon's underwriters -- Morgan Stanley (MS), Goldman Sachs (GS) and Credit Suisse (CS) -- understand this. They disclosed it all in the prospectus, albeit in fine print. They might have gone a step further and told Groupon to wait until it's finances were in better order. But they know investors are acting irrationally. For them, this IPO is an acid test to see how irrational investors are willing to be to cash in on the bubble. If you buy this stock, you are effectively voting for more IPOs as shoddy as this one.

    None of this is in Mason's letter. Instead there's all kind of odd language about selling out, bumpy rides and fire dancing. At one point, he declares, "Our customers and merchants are all we care about." Which of course is simply not true. As the rest of the prospectus shows, lining the founders' pockets is all Groupon cares about. That statement is either a testimony to Mason's colossal naivete or it is simply dishonest.

    My guess is that it's naiveté. There is an unsettling, plaintive tone to Mason's letter, as if he were trying to figure out how he went from trying to change the world to being the public face of a glorified coupon site. "I started The Point [the social cause startup that Mason later morphed into Groupon] to empower the little guy and solve the world's unsolvable problems," he says, as if shareholders would care.

    Instead, he was bulled by a cofounder into Groupon's much more modest aspiration: "To make today different enough from yesterday to justify getting out of bed." In the cheerless realm of life compromises, it doesn't get much bleaker than that. It almost sounds like Mason is chafing under the demands of Groupon, and he can't wait to get out and do something more meaningful.

    But when the CEO suggests in the stock prospectus that he wants out, it should make shareholders think hard about whether they want to get in.

 

我来点评

  最新文章

最新文章:

500强情报中心

财富专栏