Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Detouring from the Business Path: Andrew Mason

Andrew Mason is not a businessman. Although he was the founder and CEO of Groupon, Mason clearly did not fit the bill of a company leader. He is now moving on to his next big idea.

Andrew Mason, founder and former CEO of Groupon

Mason graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in music. He worked on web design and at a recording studio, and has probably been referred to as a “goofball” more times than any other Chief Executive of a public company. He even released a rock album of – get this – motivational work music called Hardly Workin’. But Andrew Mason ended up as a CEO (until he was fired in 2013) because he happened to have a great idea, some luck, and some great connections.

In his article “Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention,” Csikszentmihalyi refers to the humility of many creatives, as they are typically aware of the role that luck played in their success. Andrew Mason seems like a great example of this creative type, and he particularly came to mind because of his recent remark being taken out of context. The Seattle Times ran a piece about Andrew Mason’s next creative project called Detour, a walking tour app. The reporter for the article included a soundbite from Mason:  
“Without sounding bitter, Mason looks back on Groupon as a “stupid, boring idea that just happened to resonate.” He no longer dwells on what went wrong at the company.”

Now, media outlets from across the country are talking about how Mason, Groupon’s founder, thinks it was a stupid idea. Mason himself took to his own website to discuss how his quote was mischaracterized. I believe that all he was really trying to say to the Seattle Times reporter was exactly what Csikszentmihalyi thinks many creators do: accept that luck played a role in their success. Mason’s idea itself was simple, and with powerful friends he had the resources to make it happen. Csikszentmihalyi also credits many creatives with the ability to be objective and passionate about their work at the same time. Before Mason was fired from his position at Groupon, he was known to work behind the scenes at some small businesses to better understand how they run. He had a natural curiosity for the industry and a thirst for more knowledge to better support his concept.

Mason’s next creative move is his app called Detour. While travelling abroad with his wife, Andrew Mason found it difficult to establish a substitute for tours that stick you with a big group of people schlepping around to the typical touristy hot spots. His app of unconventional audio tours is created for travelers so the travel destination can open up right in front of you. The app is location-based and verbally directs you to your next spot. Ideally, tourists will be visiting the hidden gems without even needing to use a map.

So is Andrew Mason a Big C Creative? Probably not. But he is a creative nonetheless. Creativity is (a) novel and (b) appropriate. Andrew Mason’s Detour app is something new and original – while there may be mobile tour apps in existence, his is supposed to be the only one that uses Bluetooth to connect multiple users and has a more story-telling aspect to the non-touristy locations – and it addresses a problem of mundane tours with unmotivated audio tracks that don’t go at the traveler’s pace.

With a multi-billion dollar corporation and a unique soundtrack under his belt, I'm curious to see what Andrew Mason has in store.


Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New York: Harper/Collins. – Chapter 3

Liedtke, Michael. "Groupon Founder Turns to Developing Audio-tour App." The Seattle Times. 8 Feb. 2015. Web. 10 Feb. 2015.

1 comment:

  1. Hannah, I really appreciate that you decided to highlight an entrepreneur in your article, as I feel those in business are often misconstrued as "stuffy" or "greedy". I think it's fascinating that Mason has demonstrated multiple types of creativity, from his involvement in music to his innovative business ideas. It demonstrates that he is not restricted to one domain. Rather, he thinks beyond specific domains and pursues any idea that peaks his curiosity. I think it is interesting that his business ventures do not directly relate to his background in music, and I wonder why this is the case. I am definitely interested in learning more about business professionals who are able to incorporate creativity and artistry into their work. It is unfortunate that Mason's humility proved detrimental, but I am curious to see in what ways his creativity and entrepreneurial spirit will intersect in the future.


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