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Groupon fires founder, CEO Andrew Mason

Groupon, the struggling online daily deals pioneer, announced Thursday that it has ousted CEO Andrew Mason.

Executive Chairman Eric Lefkofsky and Vice Chairman Ted Leonsis were appointed to the newly created “Office of the Chief Executive” until a replacement is found.

The announcement was made after the market closed Thursday. Groupon shares shot up to $4.90 in after-hours trade, from a close of $4.53 on the Nasdaq.

In a cheeky email to employees, Mason wrote, "After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I've decided that I'd like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding -- I was fired today. If you're wondering why ... you haven't been paying attention."

(Mason tweeted the email from his account. Read the full text below.)

The announcement came one day after Groupon announced a disappointing fourth quarter, prompting its stock to slide 24 percent. The fourth quarter net loss attributable to common stockholders was $81.1 million.

"On behalf of the entire Groupon Board, I want to thank Andrew for his leadership, his creativity and his deep loyalty to Groupon. As a founder, Andrew helped invent the daily deals space, leading Groupon to become one of the fastest growing companies in history," Lefkofsky said.

Rumors that Mason, 33, wasn't long for this post have been buzzing for some time as the company has struggled with growth and its stock has fallen below $5.

The company plans to hire a recruiting firm for the CEO search, a spokesman said.

The Groupon board met on Thursday and decided to replace Mason. No Groupon board members will be considered as CEO candidates, according to a person familiar with the board's deliberations.

Newly hired chief operating officer Kal Raman -- brought onboard to turn around the international operations -- is a possible candidate. However, the company is likely to favor an outside candidate who has e-commerce and global experience, said the person, who is familiar with Groupon's strategic thinking.

Arvind Bhatia, managing director at Sterne Agee, said after the dismal earnings that he still has a "buy" rating on Groupon stock.

Mason's email:

(This is for Groupon employees, but I'm posting it publicly since it will leak anyway)People of Groupon,After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I've decided that I'd like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding - I was fired today. If you're wondering why ... you haven't been paying attention. From controversial metrics in our S1 to our material weakness to two quarters of missing our own expectations and a stock price that's hovering around one quarter of our listing price, the events of the last year and a half speak for themselves. As CEO, I am accountable.You are doing amazing things at Groupon, and you deserve the outside world to give you a second chance. I'm getting in the way of that. A fresh CEO earns you that chance. The board is aligned behind the strategy we've shared over the last few months, and I've never seen you working together more effectively as a global company - it's time to give Groupon a relief valve from the public noise.For those who are concerned about me, please don't be - I love Groupon, and I'm terribly proud of what we've created. I'm OK with having failed at this part of the journey. If Groupon was Battletoads, it would be like I made it all the way to the Terra Tubes without dying on my first ever play through. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to take the company this far with all of you. I'll now take some time to decompress (FYI I'm looking for a good fat camp to lose my Groupon 40, if anyone has a suggestion), and then maybe I'll figure out how to channel this experience into something productive.If there's one piece of wisdom that this simple pilgrim would like to impart upon you: have the courage to start with the customer. My biggest regrets are the moments that I let a lack of data override my intuition on what's best for our customers. This leadership change gives you some breathing room to break bad habits and deliver sustainable customer happiness - don't waste the opportunity!I will miss you terribly.Love,Andrew

This story includes reporting from The Associated Press and Reuters.