Jul 2, 2018

Scoop: The numbers behind Juul's investor appeal

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Juul, the maker of vaping devices and nicotine flavor pods that dominate college and (yes) high school campuses, is raising $1.2 billion at a valuation of around $15 billion.

Bloomberg was first with the news on Friday, and Axios has learned that it's basically a done deal that could be announced within just a week or two. We've also obtained some company financials, which helps explain the investor appeal.

The following numbers come from late last year, and word is that Juul is blasting through its 2018 projections:

  • 2017 revenue was around $245 million, with a 54/46 split between product (devices) and subscription (pods). This is up from around $60 million in 2016, and projected 2018 revenue was $940 million.
  • Gross margins are 70%
  • 2018 EBITDA projection is approximately $250 million.

Such numbers would normally make Juul a no-brainer for venture capital and growth equity types, particularly given that the San Francisco-based company hasn't yet tapped overseas markets other than Israel. But this one is complicated:

  • Ethical con: Juul contains a ton of nicotine. Specifically, each Juul pod is the nicotine equivalent of an entire pack of regular cigarettes. This can make it very addictive, and also may create cardiovascular issues for older users and brain development issues for younger ones. Moreover, there has been academic research showing that young people using e-cigs are more likely to begin smoking regular cigarettes than are those who don't use e-cigs. That research isn't specific to Juul, but Juul's design and flavoring makes it the e-cig of choice for those who aren't legally allowed to have them.
  • Ethical pro: Juul is used by some regular cigarette smokers as a cessation tool, and there is some Juul-funded research that points to its efficacy. It also has taken steps to reduce its visibility among young people, including via social media, and says it has online ordering limits to prevent black market sales to underage users.

Bottom line: As we said, this deal is getting done because the growth almost demands it. But don't be surprised if it doesn't include traditional VC or growth equity investors.

  • Some funds are knocked out because of tobacco restrictions, while others won't think the possible risks — both ethical and regulatory — are worth the reward at such a high valuation.
  • I don't have any inside info on the actual investors, but would guess there would be some non-U.S. names (particularly because of the int'l expansion plans). Also could be interesting to see if TPG becomes involved, given that Juul CEO Kevin Burns is a former TPG exec who previously helped lead portfolio company Chobani.

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 665,164 — Total deaths: 30,852 — Total recoveries: 140,225.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in cases. Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 124,665 — Total deaths: 2,191 — Total recoveries: 1,095.
  3. Federal government latest: President Trump announces new travel advisories for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, but rules out quarantine enforcement. Per the CDC, residents of those states must now "refrain from non-essential domestic travel for 14 days," with the exception of critical infrastructure industry workers.
  4. State updates: Alaska is latest state to issue a stay-at-home order — New York is trying to nearly triple its hospital capacity in less than a month and has moved its presidential primary to June 23. Some Midwestern swing voters who backed Trump's handling of the virus less than two weeks ago are balking at his call for the U.S. to be "opened up" by Easter.
  5. World updates: In Spain, over 1,400 people were confirmed dead between Thursday to Saturday.
  6. 🚀 Space updates: OneWeb filed for bankruptcy amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
  7. Hollywood: Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson have returned to U.S. after being treated for coronavirus.
  8. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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Coronavirus updates: Global death toll tops 30,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

The novel coronavirus has now killed more than 30,000 people around the world — with Italy reporting over 10,000 deaths, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: The number of deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. surpassed 2,000 on Saturday. The United States leads the world in confirmed coronavirus infections — more than 124,000 by early Sunday. The number of those recovered from the virus in the U.S. passed the 1,000-mark on Saturday evening.

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Gilead expands access to experimental coronavirus drug in emergency cases

Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Gilead Sciences CEO Daniel O’Day said in an open letter Saturday the company is expanding access to its experimental anti-coronavirus drug remdesivir to include severely ill COVID-19 patients.

The big pig picture: President Trump has called the antiviral drug "promising," but the results of six clinical trials on this investigational medicine are still being conducted, so its effectiveness the treatment of the novel coronavirus has yet to be proved. The World Health Organization is involved in the tests.

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