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Morgan Stanley on Track to Take Groupon Public at $15 Billion [Updated]

Like it does every morning, the daily e-mail from Groupon, the deal-a-day website, showed up in our in-box with quirky, winsome copy to promote today’s offering. “The Middle East is the cradle of civilization, and also the place where tiny chickpeas are cradled and nursed into full-grown falafels. Explore the ancient origins of deliciousness with today’s Groupon: for $15, you get $30 worth of Middle Eastern cuisine and drinks at Pyramida on the Upper East Side.” As usual, we read the first sentence, smiled, said meh to the offer, and went about our day. We like our falafel cheaper and farther downtown. But we must be in the minority because if you thought Groupon picking up “like, a billion dollars,” as their press release touted this week, seemed bubblicious, then you ain’t seen nothing yet. DealBook says that the company, which just raised $950 million at a $4.75 billion valuation, plans on going public—the news was first broken by Kate Kelly at CNBC—this spring at a “dizzying” $15 billion or more valuation. Groupon’s Andrew Mason, its charming exec with the oddball sense of humor that trickles down to its army of copy writers, is said to be meeting with bankers, including Morgan Stanley today, to discuss the offering.

With Facebook’s trillion-dollar aspirations and IPO not likely to come until 2012, this could be the most anticipated IPO since Google’s in 2004. For a little context, at the time, Google was the pipeline that helped you find what you wanted on the Internet. What does Groupon have going for it? Fast-growth, 50 million subscribers, a head start in a lucrative market, winning copy, data to sell to advertisers on what kinds of deals those subscribers like (that is, if they actually click), and relationships with local businesses that probably wouldn’t be opposed to jumping ship if it turned out Groupon wasn’t the Facebook of deal sites, especially with competitors hot on its heals.

Given Morgan Stanley’s recent stake in the company, it’s expected that the bank will be the one to take Groupon public — a feather in its cap at the time when the headlines are dominated by Goldman’s deal with Facebook. Analyst Greg Sterling told DealBook, “It’s smart to strike while the iron is hot, and they’re the most visible and fastest-growing player in their market,” adding, “To wait a year would inject a level of uncertainty for the proposition of going public.” Plus in a year, when Groupon is more of a proven concept, it might be harder to throw out numbers like $15 billion. Memo to start-ups: If Google offers you an inflated sum of $6 billion to buy your company, turn that shiz down and you’ll be more than doubling it in no time.

To give you some idea of why tech bloggers, and Wall Street investors, apparently, are swooning over Mason. Here’s a video TechCrunch tracked down of the CEO making fun of himself for getting fat.

With I.P.O., Groupon Is Said to Value Itself at $15 Billion [DealBook/NYT]
Groupon Said To Be Valued At, Like, $15 Billion [TechCrunch]
Related: Groupon Raises a Billion Without Batting an Eye

Updated: Looks like we were too credulous about the Morgan Stanley sources who leaked their possible role in the IPO to Dealbook. Spotted: Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein at Groupon’s Chicago headquarters, pitching them on the IPO. Two banks enter, one bank win. We’ll keep you posted as the story breaks.

Morgan Stanley on Track to Take Groupon Public at $15 Billion [Updated]