Groupon IPO surges despite Google, Facebook competition

Flush with cash, can Groupon round out its business as it competes with online heavyweights?

Groupon's initial public offering today is off to a big start.

The share price for the daily deal pioneer opened at $30, 50% above the $20 set for the Friday IPO on the Nasdaq exchange.

It appears the company will finish the day valued at some $13 billion, well above the company's projected first-day valuation of $12.7 billion.

"There's been a void in exciting internet IPOs," said Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst for ZK Research. "This has to be encouraging for other social companies thinking about going public. But, really, $13 billion in value for a one-trick pony like this is hard for me to understand."

Traders flocked to the IPO despite Groupon facing increasing competition from the likes of Google and Facebook.

Last April, Google went head-to-head with Groupon with its launching of a beta release of Google Offers, which offers savings of 50% or more for services, restaurants and attractions.

In September, Google upped the ante by buying Zagat, the famous restaurant ratings publisher. Zagat is expected to enhance Google's online maps, local business and local deals offerings.

Meanwhile, Facebook last spring unveiled its Deals on Facebook service in five American cities. Deals on Facebook offers discounts on local activities.

Groupon faced further tumult in August when revised its IPO filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in an effort to clear up financial questions. Some observers had raised questions about its accounting metrics.

Groupon did provide new figures to the SEC, though it said it stood by the calculations used for the initial filing.

Today's IPO, though, has brought nothing but good news to the Internet company.

"Groupon has had a phenomenal IPO -- better than I thought, considering the stiff competition," said Kerravala. "I think the limited number of shares they were offering created more demand. But with their competition, I can't see this being a long-term play unless they find a way to expand in other areas. And they could do that with the cash raised here.

"Over the next year they need to focus on execution," Kerravala said. Over the longer term, the cash raised today could be used to "perhaps buy Myspace for the community," he added.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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