Keep Your Day Job

I like a cup o’ Joe as much as the next gal, but just because you know how
to make a mean double latte doesn’t prove you know a hill of beans about
investing in Web start-ups. Try telling that to Starbucks . The hip coffee roaster momentarily lost its senses during the
tulip frenzy last year by tying a bevy of risky Internet ventures around
its neck. Before the company could switch back to decaf, grumpy investors
were forcing profitless dot-coms to walk the plank, dragging Starbucks
overboard with them.


Earlier this week, Starbucks announced it would be trimming $0.07 per share
from its Q4 bottom line. The culprit was a $20 million crapshoot it took on
home furnishings Web site Living.com.
On Tuesday, the upstart’s skipper Shaun Holliday reported his company was
out of gas by the side of the road. With no more free lunches and
profitability nowhere in site, Living.com handed pink slips to nearly 300
workers, shuttered its doors, and filed for bankruptcy. Wham, bam, thank
you ma’am.


To be fair, the venture didn’t feel all that risky when Amazon.com
pocketed a 20% stake in Austin, Texas-based Living.com
this past summer. The e-tailing giant swapped equity in exchange for
allowing Living.com to act as its exclusive furniture seller. In addition,
Living.com was set to pay $150 million to Amazon over the next five years
for the privilege. Not surprisingly, these kinds of ultra-lucrative
partnership deals have sounded the death knell for a fair share of
start-ups recently.


Despite taking over a third of its total quarterly earnings off the table,
the fun doesn’t stop there. Starbucks has a $10 million finger in the pie
with idealab!’s Cooking.com. No word
on when, or if, the culinary Web property will hit the new issues market,
but its incubator sugar daddy is still wrestling with its own IPO plans.
With an underwhelming collection of plain vanilla B2C flops crowding its
portfolio, idealab! can expect to
receive a divine interVentures welcome from
apathetic institutional and retail investors.


An $8 million interest in Talk City and a $25
million stake in Kozmo.com round out
Starbucks’ fruitless hand at the venture capital business. Kozmo’s recent
troubles have been well documented of late. Last week, the
munchies-to-your-doorstep, last mile in under 30 minutes, delivery service
sent 275 workers to the bread lines and shut down two of its West coast
distribution centers in an effort to tighten the bottom line belt. With its
$150 million last-miler IPO shelved since summer, Kozmo continues to have a
question mark penciled in next to its name.


Talk City is in yesterday’s business
of outsourced chat and community. While publicly-traded, even the firm’s
underwriter can’t pump new life into this passi concept. Like another
similar flavor of the month, Talk City joins theglobe.com in the buck-o-five bin. Firing off 15% of its employees last
month, as well as a downgrade from USB Piper Jaffray a week ago, Talk City
leaves little hope to provide a return on investment for Starbucks.


The moral of this story – see title.


Any questions or comments, love letters or hate mail? As always, feel
free to forward them to [email protected].


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