- Apr 2020
Qian’s comments reflected Luckin’s obsessive drive to overtake Starbucks, one of the most successful U.S. companies in China. Starbucks opened its first coffee shop in the country in 1999 and now has 4,300 of them. By the time of its initial public offering, not even two years after its founding, Luckin was more than halfway to matching the market leader.
“We have done what most people do in 15 or 20 years,” Luckin Chief Financial Officer Reinout Schakel told CNBC on the morning of the Nasdaq debut.
China consumes nine times as much tea as coffee, but Qian saw that statistic as an opportunity. According to an account in Xinhua, the official state news service, she was drinking more and more coffee during long hours at her previous job and grew interested in why coffee hadn’t caught on in China as in other countries and why its cost was so high.
Until 2017, neither Qian nor Luckin’s chairman and largest shareholder, Charles Zhengyao Lu, had much to do with coffee shops. Lu studied industrial electric automation at the University of Science and Technology in Beijing and worked for the government in the northern city of Shijiazhuang for three years before getting the business itch. He started and ran a string of companies in information technology, telecommunications and automobile services.
“Entrepreneurship is like a marathon without an end,” he said at an award ceremony for China’s biggest business names in 2016.
His most successful venture at the time was CAR Inc., a car-rental company that had U.S. financing from Hertz and Warburg Pincus, the private equity firm. It listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange in 2014, and within eight months, its stock value had nearly doubled. The boom was short-lived — the share price dropped below its initial offering price by the beginning of 2016 — but by then Lu, along with Hertz and Warburg Pincus, had sold the bulk of their stakes.
When Qian stepped up to the Nasdaq podium on May 17, 2019, Luckin had been in operation for just 20 months. Its $17 a share public offering raised another $645 million, and its underwriters included CICC, Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse.
On January 7, the company said it had more than 4,500 stores, enough to overtake Starbucks in China.
Howard Penney, an analyst for the online financial program Hedgeye Risk Management, summed up the optimism surrounding the company’s story line. On Jan. 15, he said that Starbucks would never be able to compete with Luckin in China, and might as well try to acquire it. Penney called Luckin “the most digitally savvy company in the world.”
Two days later, Luckin’s stock hit its all-time high, just above $51 a share, pushing its market value past $12 billion.
“China is to stock fraud,” he likes to say, “as Silicon Valley is to technology.”