NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Last night, I watched the Charlie Rose interview with Groupon Founder and CEO Andrew Mason. It was the first time I've seen him speak and, aside from a bad sense of humor, I was impressed.
What grabs your attention is that these guys started a company and reportedly got a $6 billion buyout offer within two years -- in the wake of the deepest recession since the Great Depression. Tony Robbins should make them a case study to pump up his audience at future motivational seminars.
Different reports circulated this past week that Groupon does annualized gross revenues of $2 billion before splitting profits with the merchants they refer business to. That kind of growth demonstrates how -- in an era of Facebook and Twitter -- good ideas and businesses can propagate like crazy.
What's more impressive about Groupon though is it's turning down
generous buyout offer. Instead, it opted to go it alone and grow its business. Here's what Mason said about why it did that:"Here is what I can say. I think every choice we make in the company comes down to a core of this idea we have of what Groupon could be and the place it could play in the world and in the rest of the 21st century. And every choice we make is which option will it make it more possible for us to get there? " So I think whatever we decide to do with the company, the people that we hire, the deals we run, every itty-bitty choices, how do we build this company into something that transforms the way people buy from local businesses."
If the offer on the table for Groupon was $6 billion, Google was offering to pay four times what it paid for YouTube four years ago and double what it paid for DoubleClick three years ago.
We're just not used to people saying no to that kind of money.
Four years ago, Facebook turned down a reported $1 billion offer from
(YHOO). Eighteen months later,
invested $240 million in the company at a $15 billion post-money valuation. There were calls at the time that the price was completely unrealistic and showed how desperate Microsoft was to stay relevant. Yet, today, most analysts say the company would be worth $30 billion to $50 billion if it went public.
Ten years ago, entrepreneurs and their investors wanted to see their company go public. It was a sign they'd made it to the major leagues. They used their new cash to grow their businesses and their new equity to do acquisitions. After the dot-com crash, the air went out of the tech market and so did the desire of young firms to seek an IPO.
Since then, the attitude has been: If there's a possible buyout that can be done, take the money. Among Web or tech companies , the holy trinity of potential buyers are Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft - although, recently, it's really only been Google that is actively taking out promising young companies.
From Google's perspective, it makes perfect sense to pick off the most promising start-ups with their ample cash and/or stock. I can also understand young entrepreneurs' desire for liquidity. It's a long and perilous road for most start-ups. Everyone deserves the chance to cash out.
But unquestionably something has been lost by not seeing more IPOs. The big companies typically let their newly acquired assets languish, especially if the price they paid is less than $1 billion.
Despite our inherent optimism, Americans typically underestimate how large a company can grow when it solves important problems and has momentum.
It's interesting that the Chinese tech world operates very differently. Despite the fact that there are several large tech companies like Tencent,
, which could buy up many of the smaller promising Web companies, they typically don't.
And the entrepreneurs don't seem to care. Their mindset is geared to taking their companies public almost as a rite of passage and further sign of their development.
A couple of weeks ago
, I asked IDG founder Pat McGovern
why more small Chinese tech companies don't seek to sell out to larger players: He said: "The Chinese entrepreneurs are very proud of their companies and have great determination to have the company they have started succeed in the long run. They are not attracted to being acquired by a larger company which would prevent them from achieving their personal business goals."
We need more of our entrepreneurs to dream a little bigger, have a longer time-horizon, and be willing to be ridiculed for turning down the quick cash. Thankfully, with Facebook, Groupon, and some of the newer Chinese IPOs like
, there will be more success stories to tempt them.
Five years from now, it would be nice to see 10 large tech companies who could do big M&A deals, instead of just one.
At the time of publication, Jackson was long Microsoft, Dangdang, Yoku, Google and Sina.
Eric Jackson is founder and president of Ironfire Capital and the general partner and investment manager of Ironfire Capital US Fund LP and Ironfire Capital International Fund, Ltd. You can follow Jackson on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ericjackson or @ericjackson