🥑#BustedTech: Munchery Filed for Bankruptcy.🥑

Short VC-Backed Hyper-Growth

We've previously discussed the process of an assignment for the benefit of creditors and posited that, as the private markets increasingly become the public markets, (later stage) "startups" will be more likely to file for chapter 11 than go the ABC route. Our conclusion was based primarily on three factors: (a) a number of these startups would have highly-developed and potentially valuable intellectual property and data, (b) more venture-backed companies have "venture debt" than the market generally recognizes, and (iii) parties involved, whether that's the lenders or the VCs, would want releases with respect to any failure and subsequent chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. Given continuing low — and as of this week, lower — yields and a system awash in capital looking for alternative sources of yield (read: venture capital), there's been a dearth of high profile startup failures of late. And, so, technically, we've been wrong. 

Yet, on February 28th, Munchery Inc. filed for bankruptcy in the Northern District of California (we previously noted the failure here and again here in a broader discussion of what we dubbed, “The Toys R Us Effect”). Munchery was a once-high-flying "tech" company founded in 2011 with the intent of providing freshly prepared meals to consumers. It made and fulfilled orders placed on its own app and also had a meal kit subcription business where customers received weekly kits with recipes and ingredients. Its greatest creation, however, might be its shockingly self-aware first day declaration — a piece of work that functions as a crash course for entrepreneurs on the evolution and subsequent trials and tribulations of a failing startup. 

Interestingly, the meal kit business wasn't part of the original business model. This represented the quintessential startup pivot: originally, the company's model was predicated upon co-cooking (another trend we've previously discussed) where professional chefs would leverage Munchery's kitchens (and, presumably, larger scale) to sell their products directly through Munchery's website and mobile apps. Of late, the co-cooking concept — despite some recent notable failures — has continued to gain traction. Apparently, former Uber CEO, Travis Kalanick, is very active in this space (see CloudKitchens). 

At the time, "food delivery was in its early stages." But local restaurant delivery has exploded ever since: Grub HubSeamlessDoor DashPostmatesCaviar, and Uber Eats are all over this space now. Similarly, in the meal kit space, Blue Apron inc. ($APRN)PlatedHello Fresh and SunBasket are just four of seemingly gazillions of meal kit services that time-compressed workaholics or parents can order to save time. 

As you can probably imagine, any company worth anything — especially after nearly a decade of operation and tens of millions of venture funding — will have some interesting proprietary technology. Here's the company's description of its tech (apologies in advance for length but it marks the crux of the bankruptcy filing): 

"The team’s early focus was to develop a proprietary technology platform to operate and optimize the entire process of making and delivering fresh food to customers. The technology developed and deployed by the company included: a front-end ecommerce platform, which allowed the company to post items daily and consumers to select, purchase and pay for meals through the company’s website and native apps; the production enterprise resource management (“ERP”) system, which enabled the company to develop and launch new recipes, manage the supply chain for fresh ingredients and supplies, produce the meals through batch cooking, and plate individual meals; the logistics and last-mile platform, which enabled the company to accurately and quickly pack-and-pack individual items and assemble orders using modified hand scanners, distribute orders via a hub-and-spoke system where refrigerated trucks would transport orders to specific zones and hand-off the orders to the assigned drivers; and, a driver app that assisted in managing and routing orders to arrive in the windows specified by customers. All of this was managed through a set of proprietary tracking and administrative tools used by the teams to monitor and mitigate operational issues—and connected to a customer relationship management platform. The team later developed algorithms to optimize the various aspects of the service to scale operations, increase efficiency, and improve the quality of the service. In addition, the company developed over three thousand meal recipes, including descriptions, nutritional information, and photographs. Over the life of the business, the company invested significantly in its technology capabilities, believing that the company’s ability to efficiently scale its operations leveraging technology would be a competitive advantage in the food delivery market."

All of that tech obviously required capital to develop. The company raised $120.7mm in three preferred equity financing rounds between 2013 and 2015. Investors included Menlo VenturesSherpa Capital, and E-Ventures. The company also had $11.8mm in venture debt ($8.4mm Comerica Bank and $3.4mm from TriplePoint Venture Growth BDC Corp.). 

The bankruptcy filing illustrates what happens when investors (the board) lose faith in founders and insist upon rejiggering the business to be operationally focused. First, they bring in a new operator and relegate the founders to other positions. With new management as cover, they then cut costs. Here, the new CEO's "first action" was to RIF 30 people from company HQ. Founders generally don't like to lose control and then see friends blown out, and so here, both founders resigned shortly after the RIF. This, in turn, gives the investors more latitude to bring in skilled operators which is precisely what they did.

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Is Spotify Ultimately the Death of Music?

Spotify Made Liam Gallagher Make His Own Coffee. That's Bad. 

Source: Pexels.com

Source: Pexels.com

It’s 2018 and that means that, unless side-tracked by $1.6b litigationSpotify’s “direct listing” is imminent, marking the company’s latest foray screwing over (read: disrupting) professionals who endeavor to make money. No, we don’t have much sympathy for the bankers who will lose out on rich underwriting fees. If anything, the blown IPOs for Snapchat ($SNAP) and Blue Apron ($APRN) kinda made the direct listing alternative a fait accompli. Now the market will be watching with great interest to see how the stock does without the various IPO-related safeguards in place. 

The real professionals on the short end of Spotify's stick, however, aren’t the bankers but may just be the artists themselves. Recall this video from Liam Gallagher. Recall this chart highlighting the juxtaposition between digital and physical sales. But that's not all, there's this piece: it stands for the proposition that Spotify really ought to go f*ck itself. Indeed, "To understand the danger Spotify poses to the music industry—and to music itself—you first have to dig beneath the “user experience” and examine its algorithmic schemes. Spotify’s front page “Browse” screen presents a classic illusion of choice, a stream of genre and mood playlists, charts, new releases, and now podcasts and video. It all appears limitless, a function of the platform’s infinite supply, but in reality it is tightly controlled by Spotify’s staff and dictated by the interests of major labels, brands, and other cash-rich businesses who have gamed the system." To point, Spotify has perfected "the automation of selling out. Only it subtracts the part where artists get paid." There is so much to this piece. 

And then there is this piece - from a musician - which really puts things in perspective, as far as second order effects go. One choice quote (among many in this must read piece), “As a dad seeing my kids fall for an indistinguishable blob of well-coiffed brandoid bands and Disney graduates, I’m not at all shocked that amid their many fast-germinating aesthetic and creative ambitions, my own offspring have never seriously taken it into their heads to pick up an instrument or start a band. The craft of music has entirely succumbed to its marketed spectacle.” 

Against this backdrop, the distressed state of Gibson Brands Inc. and Guitar Center Inc.makes more sense. Here is Gibson Brands:

Given these disturbing downward trends, it's no wonder that Jefferies is working with the company to address the company's balance sheet and that Alvarez & Marsal LLC is helping streamline costs on the operational side. Indeed, last quarter the company negotiated some amendments (EBITDA, for one) with its lender, GSO, and even more recently negotiated, per reports, an extension of time to report financials to GSO. We can't wait to get our hands on those.

Guitar Center Inc., meanwhile, reported pre-holiday YOY increases in top and bottom line numbers, including a 1.3% increase in same store sales. Which surprised basically everyone. They have yet to release holiday numbers. They did, however, get a nice downgrade leading into Christmas. And there are debt exchanges to come in '18 for the company to manage an over-levered balance sheet unsustained by recent revenues.

Remember, Spotify did all of this with the help of $1b in venture debt (and NYC taxpayer subsidies, but we digress). Which, unless something has changed, is a ticking timebomb getting more expensive with each quarter the company fails to go public. 

Lest anyone fail to appreciate the growth trajectory of Spotify, there's the chart below to put it in perspective. 

One last note here. A few weeks ago Josh Brown wrote a piece entitled, "Just own the damn robots." If you haven't read it, we recommend that you do. The upshot of it is that the massive stock moves of the FANG stocks and other tech stocks are rooted in people's fear of being automated out of relevance. 

In that vein, maybe Spotify's imminent listing is the BEST thing that could possibly happen to creatives. Get a significant part of the company out of Daniel Ek's hands, out of the hands of the venture debt holders (assuming they have an equity kicker), and the venture capitalists. Get it in the hands of the artists themselves. Perhaps that way they can have SOME manner of control over their own commoditization. 

Amazon's Disruptive Force...

...Is Industry & Asset-Class Agnostic

Scott Galloway likes to say that Amazon simply needs to make a simple product announcement and the market capitalization of an entire sector - of dozens of companies - can take a collective multi-billion dollar hit. On a seemingly weekly basis, his point plays out. Upon the announcement of the Whole Foods transaction, all of the major grocers got trounced. Upon news of Amazon building out its delivery infrastructure, United Parcel Service Inc. ($UPS) and FedEx Corporation ($FDX) got hammered. Upon news that Amazon was getting into meal kits, Blue Apron's ($APRN) stock plummeted. This week it was the pharma companies that got battered on the news that Amazon has been approved for wholesale pharmacy licenses in at least 12 states. It was a bloodbath. CVS Health ($CVS) ⬇️ . Walgreens Boots Alliance ($NAS) ⬇️ . Cardinal Health ($CAH) ⬇️ . Amerisource Bergen ($ABC) ⬇️ . Boom. (PETITION NOTE: obviously impervious - for now - are the ad duopolists, Alphabet Inc. ($GOOGL) and Facebook Inc. ($FB), both of which, despite news that Amazon did $1.12b in ad revenue this quarter, had massive bumps on Friday).* Luckily there isn't an ETF tracking doorman and home security services because if there were, that, too, would be down this week

What Galloway has never noted - to our knowledge, anyway - is the effect that Amazon's announcements have on the leveraged loan and bond markets. Remember that Sycamore Partners' purchase of Staples from earlier this year? You know...that measly $6.9b leveraged buyout? Yeah, well, that buyout was financed on the back of $1b of 8.5% unsecured notes (issued at par) and a $2.9b term loan.Ah...leverage. Anyway, investors who expected that the value of that paper would remain at par for longer than, say, 2 months, received an unpleasant surprise this week when Amazon announced its "Business Prime Shipping" segment. According to LCD News, the term loan and the notes traded down "sharply" on the news - each dropping several points. Looks like the "Amazon Effect" is biting investors in a variety of asset classes.

One last point: this is awesome. Maybe the future of malls really is inversely correlated to the future of (livable) warehouses. 

*Nevermind that Amazon's operating income declined 40% due to a 35% rise in operating expenses. Why, you ask, are operating expenses up? How else could Amazon be poised to have half of e-commerce sales this year?
 

How Many Companies Will Amazon Bankrupt?

Grocery (Short EVERYTHING). So much to unpack in grocery world this past week so here is a brief summary for you: WholeFoods ($WFN) CEO John Mackey called Jana Partners greedy bastardsfood deflation trends continued albeit at a markedly slower rate which means that someone wickedly smart may just be timing grocery at a time when it starts benefiting from inflation (imagine that); a Nomura Instinet analyst said - on Thursday - that Amazon ($AMZN) will next disrupt the grocery space (weeks after Scott Galloway predicted something big in grocery); Wegman's announced same day delivery via partnership with InstacartKroger ($KR) announced its numbers won't meet guidance and the stock, already down 14% on the year, dipped another 20% (only to fall more a day later on this...); Amazon dropped an atomic bomb on everyone and initiated a $13.7b play for Wholefoods making those greedy bastards pretty damn happy bastards (and sending stocks of everyone else - including Kroger - into even more of a tailspin); people then got busy questioning the viability of Instacart (the goodwill from the Wegman's news instantly evaporated) and BlueApron and Hello Fresh and Costco ($COST) and, well, we could go on and on but suffice it to say that if the food-oriented company was private it will likely stay private longer and if its public then its stock got decimated (including big boxes like Target ($TGT) and Walmart ($WMT)). And we were really beginning to warm to the "How to Beat Amazon" think pieces that have been making the rounds. The real question is: how many bankruptcies in 2018 will mention Amazon as one of the reasons why...?