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Luckin leaves bitter aftertaste, now trading below IPO price

In the first few days following Luckin Coffee’s initial public offering, the stock chart for LK looked like a roller coaster. Now it’s looking more like a freefall.

The Chinese Coffee chain successfully completed its highly anticipated offering roughly a week ago, raising over $550 million after pricing at $17 per share, the high end of its $15-$17 per share range.

Luckin was met with a warm reception from the markets, with the stock skyrocketing roughly 20% to a greater than $5 billion market cap in its first day of trading. However, concerns over the company’s lofty valuation, major cash burn and uncertain path to profitability have caused the stock to nosedive since.

Luckin has around 25% since closing its debut trading day at $20.38 per share, and 40% from its intraday peak of $25.96. As of Friday’s open, Luckin stock sat at $15.44, now well below its IPO price.

Leading into the IPO, Luckin had already been the topic of much debate. Luckin had filed for its public offering just a year and a half after its founding. And prior to its filing, Luckin had raised over $500 million in venture capital through four fundraising rounds that all occurred just within roughly one year’s time, per Pitchbook and Crunchbase data.

As Luckin’s valuation continued to level up, many questioned the sustainability of its business model and heavily discounted pricing strategy, with Luckin’s limited operating history already pointing to substantial losses and heavy cash outflows.

The concerns have followed Luckin into the public markets and it’s unclear whether the stock’s early struggles are just growing pains or a broader indication that public investors have limits to the levels of nascency and unprofitability they are willing to accept and bet capital on.

As one of the few publicly-traded early-stage growth companies, and likely the only one in the “coffee” vertical, Luckin lacks similar companies for investors to compare the stock to and also seems to lack a natural investor base – with the story a bit too foreign for typical tech sector investors and a bit too hectic for your typical food and beverage investor.

What is clear is that much is still misunderstood regarding the company’s unique history, its growth strategy, local market dynamics or otherwise. We’ll continue to keep an eye on Luckin stock to see whether the picture gets a bit brighter once investors get more comfortable with the story and as management proves its ability to execute.

For now, check out articles on Extra Crunch written by TechCrunch’s Danny Crichton and Rita Liao for deep dive primers into Luckin and all its moving parts.

Why Luckin’s ultimate target may not be Starbucks

Starbucks plans to double its store count in China to 5,000 in 2021 and Luckin, a one-year-old coffee startup, is matching up by aiming to reach 4,500 by the end of this year. Luckin’s upsized $651 million flotation has brought American investors’ attention to this potential Starbucks rival in China, where the Seattle giant controlled over half of the coffee market as late as 2017. But as soon as you make your first purchase with Luckin, you realize its ultimate goal may not be to topple Starbucks.

To get your caffeine intake from Luckin, the ordering process happens entirely on its app. First, you will decide how you want to fetch the drink: have it delivered within 30 minutes, pick it up at a nearby Luckin kiosk, or sit back and sip at one of its full-on cafes, or what it calls ‘relax stores.’

Say you’re tied up at the desk, you can input your location to check if you’re within Luckin’s delivery radius. Luckin has essentially built a vast coffee delivery network through its partnership with one of China’s biggest courier services SF Express, which dispatch staff to ferry the drinks on scoot fleets.luckin You then place the order, choosing from a range of drinks and customizing it — hot or cold, the amount of sugar and portions of creamer, the type of syrup flavor and the likes. When you get to the end, Luckin will ask you to pay via its app. If you’re a first-time user, you get a ‘first order free’ voucher, a common strategy for many Chinese consumer-facing apps to lure new users.

Zero raises $20 million from NEA and others for a credit card that works like debit

Just ahead of the launch of the Apple Card, a startup that has its own take on modernizing the credit card industry, Zero, is announcing the close of its $20 million Series A. The new round of funding was led by New Enterprise Associates (NEA), and brings Zero’s total raised to date to $35 million, including both equity and debt funding.

Other investors in the round include SignalFire, Eniac Ventures, Nyca Partners, and some unnamed school endowments. Zero had previously announced an $8.5 million raise in fall 2017, led by Eniac, and had raised $7 million in venture debt from Silicon Valley Bank.

Zero has a clever idea that targets millennials’ hesitance to sign up for credit cards.

Today, only 33 percent of millennials have a major credit card, a Bankrate survey found — largely because they’re wary of falling into the vicious debt cycle. Instead, this younger demographic often only carries a debit card. But that also means they’re missing out on credit card benefits — like points, rewards, and cash back.

Zero’s idea is to offer a rewards credit card that works like debit.

The Zerocard itself is a World Mastercard, so it earns credit card cash back. But unlike a traditional credit card, it’s combined with an FDIC-backed checking account called Zero Checking. That means Zerocard and Zero Checking work together in the app, allowing cardholders to see one net number they can spend from.

That way, they won’t make the mistake of accidentally going over budget, as is often the case with traditional credit cards who then benefit from charging interest on the unpaid balance.

Zero co-founder and CEO Bryce Galen says he had always liked optimizing his personal finances, but didn’t see the value in overspending to chase rewards.

“People spend 10 to 15 percent more on average just because they’re putting it on a credit card, and not seeing where they stand all the time,” he says. “Spending 10 to 15 percent more to chase 1 to 2 percent in rewards doesn’t make sense.”

Plus, he adds, “half of all credit card points are never even redeemed.”

With Zerocard, the company does away with other credit card annoyances as well.

Zerocard doesn’t charge annual fees like many traditional credit cards do. And Zero Checking doesn’t add any additional ATM fees beyond what the ATM owner charges. It also does away with foreign transaction fees, minimum balance fees, and overdraft fees — like many of today’s challenger banks.

Meanwhile, the Zero app is built with an eye towards what makes apps great.

Galen, who led product development for Zynga’s “Words with Friends” has experience in this department, while co-founder and COO Joel Washington previously co-founded car sales marketplace Shift. The executive team, combined, has backgrounds that include time at Affirm, Apple, Capital One, Dropbox, Google, Postmates, Silicon Valley Bank, Upgrade, and Wells Fargo.

Overall, Zero’s design feels clean and simple, compared to the cluttered and dated apps from traditional banks. It has smart features, too, like a detailed transaction view that shows the vendor’s logo and location on a map to make it easier to recognize purchases.

“Zero creates an innovative debit-style experience, with an elegant design, and truly compelling rewards. It’s a fabulous banking experience,” said Hans Morris, Managing Partner of Nyca Partners and former President of Visa, Inc., in a statement. “Few people understand how complex it is to launch either a credit card or a checking account program, and I believe Zero is the first U.S. startup to launch both,” he said.

Zero launched in November 2018, but only to a small number of customers. Though officially open for business, it was functioning more like a public beta — though it didn’t call it that at the time. Meanwhile, its waitlist continued to grow.

Today, there are still 204,000 people waiting to be allowed in — something that Galen says is now going to happen.

“We haven’t launched to everyone on the waitlist yet, but we expect to within the next few weeks,” he says.

Another interesting twist on traditional credit cards is Zero’s path to card upgrades: it encourages but also rewards customers for telling their friends. By doing so, customers gain access to better-looking cards and higher cash back percentages.

Zero customers start with a “Quartz” card offering 1 percent back on purchases. When a friend they refer joins, they receive a higher-level card called “Graphite” that offers 1.5 percent back. Two friends earns you the “Magnesium” card with 2 percent back and four friends gets you the “Carbon” card with 3 percent back. The Carbon card is also solid metal, capitalizing on the millennial trend of wanting their cards to look cool. And metal cards are in particular demand.

To receive the full cash back rates, customers have to pay their balances in full by the due date, Zero says.

The company has partnered with Salt Lake City-based WebBank to issue the card, and deposits are held at Memphis-based Evolve Bank & Trust, an FDIC member. Zero makes money primarily on interchange and interest on deposits.

While some users may leave balances on the card that generate interest, Zero isn’t focused on that aspect of the business for revenue generation.

“Most companies in fintech today are launching undifferentiated debit cards as a feature or extension to their product for an additional engagement and monetization stream,” says Rick Yang, partner at NEA, as to why he invested.

“Zero is completely focused on their card programs and building a differentiated solution that actually provides a value proposition that resonates with consumers. We’ve also been fascinated by the growth of debit outpacing credit, and we think that our solution gives consumers the best of both worlds,” he adds.

Zero is currently iOS-only, but is working on an Android version which is expected to be ready in August.

DoorDash, now valued at $12.6B, shoots for the moon

More than five years ago, Sequoia partner Alfred Lin called Tony Xu, the founder of a small on-demand delivery startup called DoorDash, to say he was passing on the company’s seed round.

This was, of course, before venture capital funding in food delivery startups had taken off. DoorDash, launched out of Xu’s Stanford graduate school dorm room, wasn’t worth Sequoia’s capital — yet.

Today, venture capitalists are valuing the San Francisco-based company at a whopping $12.6 billion with a $600 million Series G. New investors Darsana Capital Partners and Sands Capital participated in the deal, which nearly doubles DoorDash’s previous valuation, alongside existing backers Coatue Management, Dragoneer, DST Global, Sequoia Capital, the SoftBank Vision Fund and Temasek Capital Management.

As for Sequoia’s Alfred Lin, he realized his mistake years ago and jumped in on DoorDash’s 2014 Series A, and has participated in every subsequent round since. DoorDash, a graduate of Y Combinator’s Summer 2013 cohort, is also backed by Kleiner Perkins, CRV and Khosla Ventures, among others. In total, the company has raised $2.5 billion in VC funding, making it one of the most well-capitalized private companies in the U.S.

SoftBank, via its prolific dealmaker Jeffrey Housenbold, was responsible for making DoorDash a unicorn in early 2018. The nearly $100 billion Vision Fund led DoorDash’s $535 million Series D, valuing the business at $1.4 billion. Just three months ago, the SoftBank Vision Fund, DST Global, Coatue Management, GIC, Sequoia and Y Combinator put an additional $400 million in the fast-growing business.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – SEPTEMBER 05: DoorDash CEO Tony Xu speaks onstage during Day 1 of TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 at Moscone Center on September 5, 2018 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

Xu told TechCrunch the company’s Series F was “a reflection of superior performance over the past year.” DoorDash was currently seeing 325% growth year-over-year, he said, pointing to recent data from Second Measure showing the service had overtaken Uber Eats in the U.S., coming in second only to GrubHub.

“I think the numbers speak for themselves,” Xu said at the time. “If you just run the math on DoorDash’s course and speed, we’re on track to be number one.”

At a venture capital-focused summit hosted in April, Xu added that DoorDash was the largest delivery platform in America by “pretty wide margins,” explaining that it was, in fact, growing 4x faster than its next closest peer. In this morning’s announcement, the company added that it’s grown 60% since its late February Series F, with its annualized total sales hitting $7.5 billion in March, an increase of 280% year-over-year. 

Still, one wonders what kind of growth metrics DoorDash might be sharing to attract that kind of valuation multiple. The company has yet to disclose revenues and is not yet profitable, but has seen its price tag grow astronomically in just two years. Since March 2018, DoorDash’s valuation has skyrocketed from $1.4 billion to $4 billion with a $250 million Series E to $7.1 billion with a $350 million Series F and, finally, to nearly $13 billion with its Series G.

The $12.6 billion valuation makes DoorDash one of the 10 most valuable venture-backed companies in the U.S., surpassing Coinbase, Instacart and even Slack, according to PitchBook.

DoorDash is currently active in more than 4,000 cities in the U.S. and Canada, with hundreds of partners, including both restaurants and supermarkets (Walmart is using DoorDash for grocery deliveries). The company also operates DoorDash Drive, which allows businesses to use the DoorDash network to make their own deliveries.

These startups are locating in SF and Africa to win in global fintech

To become a global fintech player, locate your company in San Francisco and Africa.

That’s the approach of payments company Flutterwave, digital lending startup Mines, and mobile-money venture Chipper Cash—Africa-founded ventures that maintain headquarters in San Francisco and operations in Africa to tap the best of both worlds in VC, developers, clients, and the frontier of digital finance.

This arrangement wasn’t exactly coordinated across the ventures, but TechCrunch coverage picked up the trend and some common motives among these rising fintech firms.

Founded in 2016 by Nigerians Iyinoluwa Aboyeji and Olugbenga Agboola, Flutterwave has positioned itself as a global B2B payments solutions platform for companies in Africa to pay other companies on the continent and abroad.

Clients can tap its APIs and work with Flutterwave developers to customize payments applications. Existing customers include Uber,  Facebook,  Booking.com and African e-commerce unicorn Jumia.com.

The Y-Combinator backed company is headquartered in San Francisco, runs its operations center in Nigeria, and plans to add offices in South Africa and Cameroon.

Flutterwave opened an office in Uganda in June and raised a $10 million Series A round in October. The company also plugged into ledger activity in 2018, becoming a payment processing partner to the Ripple and Stellar blockchain networks.