Bargain website Groupon releases US float plans

Groupon, the internet marketing sensation which emails 83 million people around the world with a "deal of the day" coupon, launched its plan to float on the stock market in the US last night by claiming it was "better positioned than any company in history to reshape local commerce".

The lofty rhetoric from the company's 30-year-old founder, Andrew Mason, more than matched the anticipation which accompanied the build-up to the announcement, as investors have clamoured for access to fast-growing social media ventures.

Mr Mason founded Groupon just 30 months ago but – as the flotation prospectus revealed – it brought in revenues of $645m in the first quarter of this year, almost as much as it brought it for the whole of 2010. Local retailers, restaurants and other merchants offer deeply-discounted deals to Groupon subscribers in the hope of winning new regular customers, and since the first-ever Groupon deal for pizza at the restaurant below its Chicago offices in October 2008, the company has sold 70 million coupons.

In an unusual cover letter to potential shareholders, Mr Mason sought to put a human face on the marketing juggernaut, and to claim that Groupon would be no ordinary investment.

"We are unusual and we like it that way," he said. "We want the time people spend with Groupon to be memorable. Life is too short to be a boring company. We seek to create experiences for our customers that make today different enough from yesterday to justify getting out of bed. Expect us to make ambitious bets on our future that distract us from our current business. Some bets we'll get right, and others we'll get wrong, but we think it's the only way to continuously build disruptive products."

Groupon started life as a social media project aimed at bringing together groups of people to do philanthropic works, but when that did not take off, it changed course to concentrate on more commercial ideas.

The flotation document filed last night with regulators set out publicly for the first time the details of Groupon's finances. Its losses last year were $456.3m, and it lost a further $146.5m in the first three months of 2011 as it has expanded dramatically around the world. It now employs more than 7,100 staff, half of them in sales to liaise with local merchants in 43 countries.

What the document does not set out is what the company might eventually be worth. It said that it would sell up to $750m of shares, but gave no indication what proportion of the company that might be. Recent internet stock flotations, such as the debuts of LinkedIn and Russian search engine Yandex, have been characterised by frenzied demand from investors, so much so that companies have repeatedly increased the sale price of the shares before settling on a final price.

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