Luckin Coffee’s epic run in China looks set to continue on news that the mobile, and delivery-focused coffee chain raised a fresh $150 million.
Per reports, $125 million of the total came from BlackRock. The fast-growing coffee enterprise is now worth $2.9 billion.
Luckin is a good example of the growth mindset that has become normal among many unicorns. The firm is raising money to finance quick expansion (Crunchbase News coverage here, and here). Profitability is expected to follow eventually.
Other sectors in the modern venture-backed world have followed similar models, including ride-hailing and the scooter boom. How these wagers will play out when the early growth story winds down isn’t clear, nor is how well the expansion-focused companies would handle a correction or recession. There’s enough money in the market, however, to keep many high-risk bets going for now.
That Luckin raised more money is not surprising. Nor is the speed with which it raised the new capital. Luckin has been on a fundraising tear over the last year.
Here’s a brief summary of what the firm has gotten done to-date, according to Crunchbase:
- April 2018: Seed round of unknown size.
- June 2018: $200 million Series A.
- December 2018: $200 million Series B.
- April 2019: $150 million Series B extension.
That’s a lot of capital for a single year’s worth of fundraising. Bear in mind that it’s common for a venture-backed company to work its way through a single round in about 18 months. Luckin raised much more, much more quickly.
Thus even among venture-backed companies, Luckin is in a hurry; the $150 million new round is abnormal in the abstract, but given the company’s prior fundraising pace, it’s not too shocking.
And as we know something about the cost of Luckin’s expansion, the company’s capital appetite is actually downright understandable.
Companies that raise lots of money and invest it very quickly tend to run steep deficits. And, companies that have large capital expenses can generate even steeper losses than we might expect.
The bike-sharing boom was a good example of this. The scooter explosion is similar. WeWork could be another example.
Luckin’s numbers, therefore, are pretty negative in recent quarters. According to The Information:
The coffee delivery startup estimates that it lost some $232 million in 2018, its first year of operation, on revenue of $117 million, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. The figures haven’t been reported previously.
Running a roughly -200 percent net margin (presuming that the loss figure is a GAAP-ish net figure) is stark. However, the company is building out a huge number of stores which comes at a high cost. What isn’t clear from those figures is how profitable the company may be on a per-store basis; indeed if its stores are profitable, and if so how much contribution they add to the company’s results is opaque.
However, with another $150 million in the bank, Luckin now has more than enough capital to keep growing for a few quarters. And if the now-famous unicorn managed to put up $117 million in revenue last year, it will certainly kick the hell out of that number in 2019.
Illustration: Li-Anne Dias.