Investing in a Unicorn: The Case of Luckin Coffee Gone Rogue
Luckin Coffee Inc. (Luckin), an emerging growth firm that aimed to become the market leader in the coffee industry in China, had quickly grabbed market share by using freebies and discounts to entice cost-conscious Chinese consumers to try its products. Luckin sold its coffee and snacks through a proprietary mobile app, and customers either picked up their orders from strategically located stores or had them delivered. By the end of 2019, Luckin had served 40 million customers from its 4,500 stores. While the path to Luckin's goal was clear, investigations revealed that key executives and board members had allegedly defrauded investors by distorting revenue and expense figures and engaging in related-party transactions that channeled resources out of the company. The accounting scandal led to further investigations, penalties from Chinese regulators, and a drop in the company's share price and valuation, which went from $12 billion to below $1 billion within 11 months of listing. By August 2020, the company had been delisted from the Nasdaq exchange, its board composition had been changed, and it had been placed under the supervision of "light touch" provisional liquidators in the Cayman Islands. Was there a chance that Luckin could survive the scandal and its investors could recoup their funds? What could the company do to restore investor confidence and regain its path to becoming the market leader in the Chinese coffee industry? What were the implications of the accounting scandal to current and future listings on US stock exchanges? Andrea Santiago is affiliated with iACADEMY.