There's No Bribing This Maitre d' With a Five-Spot, He's Already a Billionaire

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I'm Andrew Mason, and I'll be your host this evening.

Bloomberg Businessweek has a story on Andrew Mason, founder and CEO of Groupon. Like that's something new. But it starts with a fascinating wrinkle: apparently Mason is currently spending his evenings working the host stand at a certain Wicker Park sushi restaurant to better understand running a small business, particularly in one of Groupon's most active categories. (They don't name the restaurant but you should be able to figure it out pretty quickly from the description.) Why?

Mason built his empire by persuading retailers and restaurant owners to offer deals, but hes rethinking what a tech company can offer such businesses, and a good way to understand them is to work at one. I didnt realize how hard it was to run a small business, he says.

There is criticism in the piece that Mason is just now getting the education in everyday retail management that might have helped him handle some of Groupon's launch more smoothly. But it's also clear that he sees an opportunity for Groupon to work its way more deeply into the workings of its business clients, with technical solutions married in some way to Groupon's marketing savvy: They have a point-of-sale system that doesnt talk to their reservation system that doesnt talk to their online ordering system, Mason says. Each one of the solutions provided to them they loathe so deeply that they dont even get around to wishing that they were all integrated.

In any case, having seen plenty of the other kind, we admire any CEO who actually gets out and meets his customers and deals with people who don't care who you are, pal, we've been waiting 45 minutes for our table. If it works for him, maybe next we can require a little retail experience for candidates for office. Like mayors who own business magazines and want to ban large soft drinks.[Bloomberg Business Week]