Lay Off Groupon's Andrew Mason, He Was Already Fired

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- As much as I don't want to, I could kick off tomorrow and feel like I got the most out of life. I have been lucky enough to do some cool things academically and professionally in my 37-plus years.

I have seen most of North America -- which is good enough for me -- and met all flavors of interesting people from myriad lines of work and play. Headed into year thirty-eight, I'm entering what could end up being the most exciting time.

The video we're shooting from the West Coast, packaged as TheBeach Meets TheStreet, including our start-up founder series, takes the work I'm doing as part of TheStreet's turnaround to another level.

My focus on new and perpetual start-ups -- see the growing stack of content at our YouTube playlist -- generates an incredible amount of energy.

I'm always fired up to do this job, in large part because, on a daily basis, I interact with entrepreneurs.

They're a special, inspiring breed. In some ways, they're akin to hockey players. Just all-around friendly and unassuming people. Might seem counterintuitive, but, by and large, the entrepreneurs I have talked to over the last 18 months -- some multi-millionaires, others just starting out -- are incredibly humble and down to Earth. That doesn't mean they're not confident, intense and animated. This mix of qualities is exactly what makes serial entrepreneurs as well as many people working at or closely connected with startups so fun to be around.

Two things happened Thursday that put me on the present train of thought.

Andrew Mason got fired. Groupon ( GRPN) did what it had to do and cut loose its 32-year-old co-founder.

Groupon had/has its problems. No doubt. Mason deserves a significant share of the blame. That said, it's unfortunate to watch the media and other observers pile on the guy with catcalls and wiseass shots.

Andrew Mason pioneered a category. He led the leader in the space for more than four years. He had an idea. He went for it. He did it. He made it. Big time. Maybe he got in over his head as CEO. He undoubtedly made mistakes, but that doesn't erase his incredible achievements.

Folks who try to take Mason's accomplishments away from him or label them insignificant because the daily deal space appears broken suffer from what Howard Lindzon called entrepreneur envy.

It's the same dynamic when people dog Zuckerberg at Facebook ( FB) or the people at Pandora ( P). They call it a bubble because they don't understand it. They can't feel the energy of start-up culture.

Mason could have exited Groupon without a word on Thursday with his head still held high. Instead, he penned four paragraphs and one sentence that you absolutely should do yourself the favor of reading. If you don't walk away from this whole episode liking the guy -- and even feeling bad for beating on him -- you're something other than human.

My favorite parts of Mason's farewell letter to his staff:
After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I've decided that I'd like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding -- I was fired today. If you're wondering why... you haven't been paying attention... As CEO, I am accountable.
For those who are concerned about me, please don't be -- I love Groupon, and I'm terribly proud of what we've created. I'm OK with having failed at this part of the journey.
My biggest regrets are the moments that I let a lack of data override my intuition on what's best for our customers. This leadership change gives you some breathing room to break bad habits and deliver sustainable customer happiness...
I will miss you terribly.

Don't mumble something about him being rich. That's neither here nor there. He's an emotional human. And he did everything that a better man would do in a really tough situation.

He broke the ice with self-deprecation. Don't take yourself so seriously, right?! He accepted accountability. He admitted regrets. And he showed genuine emotion. But, most importantly, he didn't follow it up with hollow bravado just to stroke his own ego and salvage pride. Ron Johnson could learn a lot from Andrew Mason.

Also on Thursday, I met with the guy who -- good Lord willing and the creek don't rise -- will be the sixth guest on TheBeach Meets TheStreet come Tuesday, April 2.

Jeff Fluhr co-founded StubHub, sold it to Ebay ( EBAY) and now leads another start-up, San Francisco-based Spreecast. Sit with Jeff for an hour as he passionately holds court on the history of StubHub and the current emergent state of Spreecast and you can't help but walk out the door even more jazzed about whatever it is you're doing.

It's a thrill to be around such positive energy. I hope, over time, we can transfer that vibe via TheBeach Meets TheStreet. Jeff, as well as Demand Media's ( DMD) Richard Rosenblatt, who joins us on Tuesday, March 19, will certainly help us move closer to that goal.

Ultimately, a better understanding of start-up culture and the people who help create it will make headlines like Lay Off Groupon's Fired CEO not seem so counter to the prevailing mood in our build 'em up, tear them down, bandwagon-jumping society.

-- Written by Rocco Pendola in Santa Monica, Calif.

Rocco Pendola is TheStreet's Director of Social Media. Pendola's daily contributions to TheStreet frequently appear on CNBC and at various top online properties, such as Forbes.

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