“Sign up with Groupon if you’re going bankrupt”

I wrote a column a few months ago where I suggested that any economy that reckons Groupon is worth $5 billion is about to go pop. In the few weeks since I wrote that, its valuation has skyrocketed past $30 billion (those are American billions, but still…) Most of the reporting of Groupon so far has concentrated on its explosive growth, but a few sites have been looking beyond the attractive numbers – and they don’t like what they see.

This Techcrunch post, Why Groupon is Poised For Collapse, is fascinating.

In many cases, running a Groupon can be a terrible financial decision for merchants. Groupon’s financials also raise questions about its ongoing viability. Buying Groupon stock could be as bad a deal for investors as running a Groupon offer is for merchants.

The author argues that the shakier the business, the more useful Groupon becomes.

Assume that you’re a business that is unscrupulous and you’re looking to make a quick buck. You could create a wildly generous deal that would sell like crazy. In about 30 days, you’ll have 2/3 of your share of the deal. Then you shut down operations.

It also works for businesses that are just having a tough time. As critical as I am of Groupon, the slam dunk case is to sign up with Groupon if you’re going bankrupt. I strongly encourage every business that is about to go under to call Groupon. (Don’t tell them Rocky sent you.) It makes total financial sense—as a Hail Mary play. If you’re lucky, the upfront cash will be enough to help you stay afloat. If not, well, you were already going out of business. It may be your best option. In the short term, you’re actually helping Groupon because they’re being valued on revenue and no one is taking into account risk.

As one commenter puts it:

The fact is they’re hemorrhaging money despite the fact they’re taking 50%+ plus from every single transaction. Their fixed costs should be minimal, so if they can’t make money in the early stage, just wait till their ponzi scheme runs out of new businesses to suck the life out of.

I can’t remember who posted it, but I read a comment a week or so ago that nailed the current bubble: for fear of missing the next Google, people are valuing everything on the assumption that it’s the next Google.