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Groupon’s Mason shares tales of early failures

GroupCEO Andrew Mastalks during fireside chNorris Center Northwestern University Wednesday May 23 2012. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Groupon CEO Andrew Mason talks during a fireside chat at the Norris Center at Northwestern University Wednesday May 23, 2012. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 3, 2012 9:02AM

Groupon CEO and founder Andrew Mason returned to his alma mater Wednesday to tell upcoming entrepreneurs how it’s done — and not done — while sharing that the company plans to continue growing in Chicago.

Mason and one of Groupon’s original investors who shared the stage said both Groupon and Northwestern University plan to expand their commitments here.

Groupon intends to continue “growing and investing” in Chicago, Mason said in a speech at Northwestern University. Groupon will continue hiring here — enough to fill another 200,000 square feet of space that Groupon will open in early July at its headquarters at 600 W. Chicago.

Though Mason didn’t provide jobs numbers, the company hires roughly eight to 10 people a week for both its Chicago and Silicon Valley operations.

Mason entertained participants in the university’s Venture Challenge, a student-run competition among students who design startup companies from scratch, with his campus memories of hosting auditions for a fake play based on “Jesus Christ Superstar” and failing to entice his peers to form a videogame playing club.

Those early experiences, as well as his Groupon ups and downs, steeled Mason to the idea that entrepreneurs should “throw yourself into the fire” and consider failures a learning experience.

Mason conceded that Groupon’s decision to go public has been “a stress test on the business.”

He said the daily deals and merchant-solutions company has had to improve its employee communications and internal workings as a result of the critical scrutiny.

Asked about Facebook’s disappointing IPO, Mason said, “Facebook is a great company and I’m a great believer in social [media]. I think what’s happening now is noise and we won’t remember it a couple years from now.”

Peter Barris, managing general partner at venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates, based in Chevy Chase, Md., and a Northwestern University board member, said the NU board has set up a committee to focus on innovation and entrepreneurship.

“We think it’s a huge opportunity for this university to establish a culture that’s more entrepreneurial than it’s been in the past,” Barris said, declining to give more details.

New Enterprise Associates invested $4.8 million in Groupon’s first formal round of outside funding.

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