Starbucks: Can’t We All Just Get a Latte; Pinterest Valuation Not So Pint-sized; Irish Airline’s Got a Flight For You

Race to the frappucino…

Image courtesy of amenic181/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of amenic181/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Starbucks’ latest campaign called “Race Together” has little, if nothing, to do with coffee. However, CEO Howard Schultz sees it as “…an opportunity to re-examine how we can create a more empathetic and inclusive society — one conversation at a time,” and presumably one $5 drink at a time, too. The idea is to have Starbucks baristas write, not just your name on your cup, but the phrase “Race Together,” in an effort to engage its customers, frequenting its 12,000 locations, in a dialogue on the very sensitive topic of race. The idea took form back in December, when Mr. Schultz held an internal meeting following the shooting deaths of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Staten Island and Oakland, California.  Several forums and thousands of employee statements later, #RaceTogether was born, and on March 20, USA Today will join hands with Starbucks as it offers a supplement to that day’s edition offering various ways to begin dialogue and promote discussions on race. It’s just another day in the life of Starbucks and Howard Schultz, who likes it when his company practices “conscious capitalism” (yes, that is a thing and yes, there are other companies who practice it) which is basically using a company’s invaluable resources for the power of social/societal good as opposed to…dare I say it…profit.

Pin it…

Image courtesy of Mister GC./FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Mister GC./FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What would the world do without Pinterest? It’s a good thing we’ll never have to know as the social media/online bulletin company just picked up – ridiculously quickly, I might add – some $367 million. That cash is going to help fund some lofty international expansion plans, which makes perfect sense since 2014 saw Pinterest picking up 135% more international users. In fact, some 40% of Pinterest’s accounts come from beyond our cozy borders.  Some of this new funding comes from some veteran Pinterest investors, but newcomers are also joining the online bulletin board fray. It helps that Pinterest started selling ads, though, in the magical land of Pinterest, ads are elegantly referred to as promoted pins. Nothing like a little ad revenue, or rather, promoted pins to fiscally stir things up a bit. Thanks to these latest generous investor contributions, Pinterest’s valuation is now going to be in the $11 billion stratosphere. Although, if you want in, here’s your chance as the company is apparently still looking to raise about $211 million.

Bon Voyage!

Image courtesy of bplanet/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of bplanet/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Ireland’s famed budget airline, Ryanair, announced plans that it will begin to offer flights from 12-14 European cities between 12-14 U.S. cities.The company also announced that those flights could be as little as $15. No joke. Of course, that price doesn’t necessarily include an actual seat to sit in during the trans-atlantic flight, but hey, minor details. Indeed, there are many fees which will be quickly added to that attractive little fare, like meals, baggage fees, breathing…So by the time you finish selecting all those “extras,” you’ll likely be shelling out something closer to $275 per ticket. Which isn’t so bad when you consider that full budget airlines charge at least double that amount. And you’ll only have to wait 4-5 years. You see, Ryanair still needs to acquire a fleet of aircraft equipped to those make trans-atlantic flights. But like I said before, minor details.

 

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Raise Praise for Walmart ; Pinterest Tries to Double Up; Priceline’s Beamed Up Earnings

You raise me up…

Image courtesy of nongpimmy/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of             nongpimmy/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s a good day to be a Walmart employee. No, seriously. It is. The gargantuan retailer just announced it’ll be raising the salaries of some 500,000 of its hardworking employees raising to about $1.75 more than the Federal minimum wage. Full-time employees will go from an average of $12.85 an hour to about $13 per hour. Part-timers will see their paychecks go up to $10 per hour from the average $9.50 they make now. The pay-raise fun begins in April and CEO Doug McMillon says it’s all part of a master plan to improve customer service, employee morale, etc. Those are all nice and pleasant things, of course, but no doubt Walmart is really hoping it will also lead to higher sales and profit. Walmart figures higher pay will help attract and retain employees that know the value of good customer service. And if it improves its somewhat tarnished reputation for its lousy pay practices in the process then why not?  So how bad could their pay practices have been that the company is implementing this change? Well, a majority of its employees’ salaries were so low that, all together, they were eligible to receive millions – I repeat, millions – of dollars in public benefits.  This initiative will cost Walmart about $1 billion, but hey, you’re worth it.

 In the land of unicorns…

Image courtesy of vectorolie/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of vectorolie/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The next social media darling that may be headed off to the wonderful, not-so-mystical land of Silicon Valley “unicorns” is Pinterest. By “unicorns,” I am referring to billion dollar startups, a term thoughtfully coined by Cowboy Ventures founder Aileen Lee. But apparently these “unicorns” are turning out to be a bit more ubiquitous than previously thought as Pinterest is but among a larger group of “unicorns” and “decacorns” and “super-unicorns”…but I digress. Founded by CEO Ben Silbermann, Pinterest graciously allows users to “pin” images of all kinds of stuff that appeals to them on their boards, thereby bringing light and joy to the world. And now Pinterest is said to be adding a “buy” button. That ought to bring even more light and joy. Adding e-commerce into the social media start-up picture tends to prove lucrative on so many levels. Pinterest is rumored to be raising funds to the tune of $500 million. Any takers? This new round of funding would put the company in the $11 billion valuation stratosphere, nearly doubling its $5 billion valuation it had back in May.

But what does this mean for Captain Kirk?

Image courtesy of jscreationzs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of jscreationzs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Priceline, the company shilled by the inimitable William Shatner, beat Wall Street estimates for its fourth quarter earnings taking in almost $452 million with adjusted earnings at $10.85 per share. Well beam me up on those numbers, Scottie, because analysts only expected Priceline to score $10.05 per share. Those impressive digits were helped by growth from hotel and car rental reservations. Revenues were $1.84 billion and, once again, those analysts predicted the online travel booking service would only rake in $1.8 billion. Naturally, shares of Priceline took a joyous upswing in the news and clearly sending the message to Wall Street that the Orbitz-Expedia deal didn’t seem to have any adverse affects on the company. Well, not yet, anyway. If you’re in the market for some shares of Priceline, it’ll only set you back about $1,200.00…per share.

Is Xiaomi the Next Big Thing to Hit the Smartphone Scene?; Russia’s Ruble in the Rubble; Shake Shack Shaking Up Wall Street

Third’s the word…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Here’s a riddle for you: If Samsung is the number one smartphone maker in the world, with Apple perched at the number two spot, then who has taken third? Hint: It’s not LG. Or Nokia. Or Motorola. Or… In fact, the number three smartphone maker in the world has yet to reach our shores, even though the company’s got a $45 billion valuation and is slated to become the most valuable IPO. Ever. In case you haven’t figured it out – and it’s okay if you didn’t –  I am talking about Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi. The company which, just pulled in another $1.1 billion in funding, is number one in the mammoth Chinese market. It also happens to be the fastest growing smartphone maker and the most valuable start-up in the world right now (yes, even more so than Über and Pinterest, if you can believe it). And by fast I mean the company’s sales are up 211% in the third quarter, having taken a 5% bite out of the market share. Xiaomi, whose Mi4 smartphone coincidentally, bears a striking – make that very striking – resemblance to the iPhone, actually makes most of its money from apps and add-ons, and not from the phone itself. It also apparently has some nifty marketing strategies, though I can’t weigh in on that one. Xiaomi is currently focusing on branching out into places like Indonesia, Russia and Mexico with no immediate plans to come to the US, which clearly hasn’t been a problem for it.

Is that a recession I smell…

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Russia’s not having a very good week. News is out now that the economy there shrank for the first time in five years. The GDP fell by .5% with the Russian government saying that next year the GDP could go down by as much as 4%. How do you say “yikes” in Russian? The ruble is continuing its slide,  falling the most in two weeks, and is about 40% weaker than the dollar. It’s down by about 70% since the beginning of the year. Of course the international sanctions imposed on Russia by other countries who were not cool with its incursions into the Ukraine are being blamed. And, of course, Russia then decided to block imported food – a move that has not been good for anyone on either side of the issue. Then there’s the price of oil which keeps dropping and dropping and…well, it’s no fun to see oil numbers drop if you happen to be the largest energy exporter and well, that’s exactly what Russia is.

Yeah, it’s that good…

Image courtesy of KEKO64/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of KEKO64/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Apparently the Shake Shack is so good that Wall Street will get to partake of its delicacies in the form of a $100 million IPO that the company just filed today. Conceived by restaurateur Danny Meyer, the chain will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the aptly named ticker symbol SHAK. The company began as a single “shack” in New York City’s Madison Square Park and quickly grew to 63 locations…worldwide, with half of those operated by licensees. Shake Shack reported sales of $140 million in 2013, a scrumptious $81 million gain from the year before. Investors are awfully curious to see how Shake Shack will fare considering the mixed results the market has seen from food companies like perennial fave Chipotle to less than stellar performer Noodles & Co. If that’s not enough to whet your IPO appetite, then how about the fact that they pay an average hourly wage of $10.70 with health benefits and paid time off?

KY: Dude Where’s My Hemp? Hailing Uber

Seed project…

Image courtesy of Paul/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Paul/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Kentucky’s state agricultural department has a 250 pound stash of hemp seed that they’re itching to plant for some pilot projects they’ve got planned. The problem is the DEA is keeping it at a UPS facility and is being very uncool about releasing it. A group of Veterans who would like to take up farming would like to utilize these seeds, which makes the fact that the DEA is holding them that much more rude  – and uncool. So state officials are doing what any red-blooded American would do in a situation like this: They are suing. US Attorney General Eric Holder, Customs, the DEA and the Justice Department are the defendants. A hearing is scheduled for today because those seeds really need to be planted by June 1 in time for the hemp growing season. I’d like to see the DEA try this in Colorado.

Pin this…

Image courtesy of MR LIGHTMAN/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of MR LIGHTMAN/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Pinterest. You know it. You love it. You must be among its 30,000,000 active monthly users. The social media company just infused with some major cash –  $200 million, in case you were wondering – raising its valuation to $5 billion. If you haven’t noticed (though I’m sure you did) it now has “promoted pins” which means ads in Pinterest speak. And this next one is quite the biggie: Pinterest has apparently overtaken Twitter as the social destination for women. Which might partly explain a bit why Twitter hasn’t been living up to its hype. Some of that new money is going abroad, that is to help spread the Pinterest love all over the world, though it is already in 31 countries.

Headed in new directions….

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigital Photos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigital Photos.net

The Uber app, a ride sharing service that is ticking off the taxi industry, wants to raise several hundred million dollars and get a $10 billion valuation (just like Pinterest – only not). Even though Uber began just five years ago, the company has proven to be a massive success – doubling their reach in just six months – even as it deals with major regulatory problems courtesy of miffed taxi drivers. In fact, some Uber drives are even getting ticketed by police. But it’s going to take a lot more to thwart the app’s efforts as it is used in over 100 cities  – worldwide.  The Financial Times said the app could likely pull in a billion dollars just for 2014. Among Uber’s very prescient backers is Amazon’s very own Jeff Bezos (who seems to have sizable stakes in all the right tech companies). Right now India is their largest market now outside of the US. But as with so many other tech companies lately, people wonder if they are really worth all those billions.