The real deal with Groupon

Groupon CEO Andrew Mason is in the business of bargains, and business is very good. But is Groupon's swift success sustainable, especially given competition from the likes of Google and Amazon?

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Will Groupon revolutionize how we shop, or is it just a passing fad? Lesley Stahl sits down with the company's unorthodox founder, Andrew Mason. In his first major interview since taking Groupon public, Mason tells her: "I think the big thing about Groupon is just people had never seen anything grow quite so fast." In fact, Forbes has called it the fastest growing company ever. Will that continue now that Groupon has competition from the likes of Google and Amazon?

The following script is from "Groupon" which aired on Jan. 15, 2012. Lesley Stahl is the correspondent. Shachar Bar-On, producer.

By now you have probably heard of the company called Groupon even though it started only three years ago as a side project of a quirky young Midwesterner. What he did was reinvent the coupon, turning it into a digital tool for bargain-hunting at your neighborhood stores. The company took off, almost overnight. It's global now, raking in hundreds of million of dollars a month.

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Wall Street took notice: This past November, Groupon had the biggest initial public stock offering, or IPO, of any Internet company since Google. The company's worth jumped to an unexpected $18 billion on the first day of trading. And yet Groupon is the subject of a fierce debate: Will it revolutionize how we shop in the long run or just end up a passing fad?

The answer depends in part on the 31-year-old who came up with the idea: Groupon's founder and CEO Andrew Mason.

Lesley Stahl: What is a Groupon?

Andrew Mason: A Groupon is, essentially, a voucher that's worth money that you can take into a business and use like cash. When you subscribe and you get these emails every day, it's a great way to explore your city and find out about really cool, local things to do.

The deals are at least 50 percent off. So, for example, a $40 meal for a $20 coupon, or a half-off hot air balloon ride. Groupon has 150 million subscribers who get a daily email with deal offers from local businesses.

Stahl: Is it usually for something that we don't really need?

Mason: It could be. Sometimes it's for a restaurant or a massage or a session in a sensory deprivation tank, but sometimes it's for a hardware store or dry cleaning.

The company began in 2008 at the height of the recession, when everyone was looking for a bargain and then it grew so quickly, so fast it took everyone by surprise; including Andrew Mason.

Mason: Once we started Groupon, the success was intoxicating. And it was just this rocket ship ride that you couldn't let go. But you didn't want to let go either.

Not only did Mason launch a retail revolution, he brought the company to a place where, in this economy, they hire up to 150 new employees a week.

Stahl: How many people work for Groupon?

Mason: Across all 46 countries that we're in, we have about 10,000 people.

Groupon's headquarters in Chicago is part-tech startup, part old-fashioned call center.

[Salesperson: Hi this is Sadie, calling with Groupon.]

Unlike most dot com rocket ships, Groupon looks like a real business. Where most websites rely on algorithms, Groupon relies on actual human beings.

[Salesperson: And did you want to go ahead with the 25 for 50 for the mani, pedi deal? Or...]