Company / division: LeEco
Vizio Files Suit Against LeEco Over Merger Termination Fee (Jul 12, 2017)
LeEco was to have acquired TV maker Vizio, but after months of delays the deal finally fell apart earlier this year, and now Vizio is suing LeEco over non-payment of part of the termination fee the companies agreed when they made the deal. The suit also alleges that LeEco never had the means to complete the deal, using it merely as a way to bolster its perceived financial stability at a time when there were lots of reports about its cash constraints. Given that those financial problems have only worsened since the deal closed, I’m not sure Vizio is getting the money it wants anytime soon, even if it wins the case. But LeEco is just getting clobbered at this point as a result of problems entirely of its own making, all of which stem from expanding overly aggressively from what had been a reasonably strong position in the Chinese market.
LeEco Says Cash Situation Far Worse than Expected (Jun 28, 2017)
I’ve been both intrigued by and enormously skeptical of LeEco’s US market entry from the beginning, as this piece I wrote after its US launch back in October suggests. The company had been successful in China on the basis of a slow evolution from a content to a hardware company, and yet its US launch seemed to have turned that strategy almost entirely on its head without the compelling content that helped it succeed domestically. It also made many of the same mistakes as other Chinese companies attempting to expand into the US by not making enough changes to its playbook when it moved to the US. There have been reports for a few days now about an impending massive cut to the US business, and today has brought official confirmation. There’s no schadenfreude here from me given the large number of people losing their jobs, but hopefully LeEco’s story serves as a cautionary tale for other Chinese companies entering the US market. As the essay and video in the related narrative suggest, this has always been a tough task, and no Chinese company has really succeeded in building a big, successful ecosystem in the US. Even those that have done well more narrowly, such as in low-cost hardware, have taken years to get there and even then aren’t considered in the same class as leaders like Apple, Samsung, LG, or even Sony. Ironically, LeEco’s retrenchment now to serving Chinese-speaking residents of the US would have made a ton of sense as a market entry strategy last year, starting much smaller and more modestly, and slowly expanding out from that core into the broader US market. Instead, that new focus is the result of a somewhat humiliating defeat, caused in equal measures by an overly hubristic and poorly thought out market entry and financial constraints at headquarters that gave that strategy very little time to play out. This could – and should – have gone very differently.
LeEco Suspends Shares on Chinese Exchange Before Wednesday Restructuring Announcement (Apr 17, 2017)
Here’s our second LeEco story of the day, both fairly momentous (the first was news that the Vizio acquisition had fallen through). This one fits with the recent narrative of financial troubles at LeEco, and if the numbers in here are right, then things are indeed going very badly, with revenue of $15 million versus a target of $100 million in 2016 and layoffs of around a third of the US employee base planned. I’ve been skeptical of LeEco’s strategy from the beginning, and have only become more so as we’ve seen that strategy play out in the shadow of the financial troubles of the parent company. More broadly, LeEco’s struggles in the US demonstrate how different the US and China still are as markets, and how hard it is for companies to go either way across that chasm. No big Chinese company has yet been successful in the US, and Apple remains something of an exception as a US company that has done well long-term in China. LeEco was up against this from the beginning and its focus on an ecosystem play was always going to struggle without a big known brand like Vizio at the center of it here in the US.
LeEco’s Acquisition of Vizio Officially Called Off – Variety (Apr 10, 2017)
There have been several signs that this acquisition wasn’t going smoothly, starting late last year when the companies said it wouldn’t close until 2017, pushing back the original close date, and continuing recently. The official reason for the collapse of the deal is regulatory headwinds, and supposedly tighter restrictions on getting Chinese capital out of the country, though of course LeEco has recently had a tough time getting money out of China to pay salaries in the US too, and that had nothing to do with regulatory barriers, so it’s possible that the real reason is some combination of factors. At any rate, what was to have been by far LeEco’s most prominent product and brand here in the US now won’t be, and it’ll have to fall back on its other, much less well known, products instead, giving it even more of an uphill climb in penetrating the US market.
This is yet another sign that LeEco may be struggling financially because of an overly aggressive expansion into the US and into new product categories over the past year. It’s apparently struggling to meet payroll on time, and has also been struggling to close its acquisition of Vizio. It’s still somewhat baffling to me that LeEco pursued such an aggressive strategy in the US, because it’s meant not only stretching its tight finances even tighter, but also launching with quite a different set of assets from those that made it successful in China.
It turns out Vizio has been collecting extremely granular data on users of its smart TVs, and then matching its IP data with offline data about individuals and households (essentially everything short of actual names). And it’s done all this without making users properly aware that this was what it was doing. The data related to everything consumers watched on the TVs, whether the content came through Vizio’s own smart TV apps or merely through one of its inputs from another box or antenna. Something I’d forgotten was that Vizio filed an S-1 in preparation to go public back in 2015 – it never actually went public because Chinese player LeEco decided to acquire them (a deal due to close shortly). Aside from talking about how many TVs the company sells, the S-1 makes a big deal of of the “up to 100 billion viewing data points daily” it collects from 8 million TVs, and touts its InScape data services, which package up this data for advertisers, although it says this data is “anonymized”, which feels like an alternative fact at this point. The risk factors in the filing even mention possible regulatory threats to such data gathering, so it’s probably fair to say that Vizio shared more information with its potential investors about the data it was collecting than it did with end users. To settle the case, Vizio has to pay a total of $3.7m in fines to the FTC and the state of New Jersey (whose AG brought the suit with the FTC), discontinue the practice, and disclose it to consumers. I can’t wait to see how it manages that last point – imagine turning on your Vizio TV one day and seeing a message pop up about the fact that it’s been tracking your every pixel for the last several years. Assuming that’s done right, it could be the most damaging part of it this for Vizio, which made over $3 billion in revenue in its most recently reported financial years. Meanwhile, yet another headache for LeEco to manage.
Troubled LeEco lands 16.8 billion yuan lifeline after selling stakes in video, movie assets to Sunac China – South China Morning Post (Jan 13, 2017)
Despite its recent launch in the US and a strong presence at CES last week, most of the recent headlines about LeEco have been about its shaky finances rather than its products or services. It looks like it’s now solved at least its short term cash crunch by selling down some of its stakes in various subsidiaries, which should help fund its overseas expansion and particularly its aggressive entry to the US market. From my conversation with LeEco at CES, it appears the focus in the near term will be on expanding distribution channels and content relationships (with more of the latter to be announced very shortly), but until then the value proposition feels pretty thin, and without carrier partnerships all the retail distribution in the world won’t get it far in phones.
Well, Faraday Future does actually seem to have a car, which seems to be able to drive fairly quickly in a straight line, and is sometimes able to park itself automatically. That much is clear after its press event tonight at CES. But its financial situation, the eventual price and exact launch date of the car, and much else besides remain unclear. The event seems to have gone fairly well, which was in doubt after some recent stories, but it’s still far from certain that we’ll actually see a production vehicle from FF next year.
LeEco had a big launch in the US in October, which felt overwhelming but at the same time short on details – many of the products weren’t available yet, weren’t priced, or were described insufficiently to allow observers to evaluate them. In many ways, LeEco has felt like it’s mimicking other big successful ecosystems, but trying to get there very much more quickly, which has been at the root of its financial challenges. These bikes definitely set them apart from the competition, but can also be seen as yet another sign of a lack of focus and excess of ambition.
Another day, another negative story about Faraday Future. At this point, I’m wondering whether there will even be anyone left to present at FF’s CES press conference next week. Certainly, all this bad press is unhelpful both to FF itself and to its major investor, LeEco, which is making its big push into the US too.
Chinese electronics firm LeEco won’t be able to close its Vizio purchase this year – Recode (Dec 24, 2016)
LeEco is a fascinating company – it’s certainly the most aggressive major Chinese tech vendor in its expansion in the US, but a major component of that expansion and building credibility in the US is the Vizio TV brand it is acquiring. It looks like that deal won’t close until early in the New Year, which will continue to hamper LeEco. But it’s far from the company’s biggest challenge – its financials continue to be a major question mark too.
Two top Faraday Future executives just resigned – The Verge (Dec 23, 2016)
It’s hard to avoid the sense at this point that this company is in enormous trouble, along with its investor LeEco, both of which seem to have overspent in an aggressive pursuit of new product and geographic markets.
Behind the scenes at Faraday Future, an electric carmaker on the brink of collapse – The Verge (Dec 22, 2016)
A pretty damning take on Faraday Future and its current financial situation, ahead of a big launch at CES early next month. It’s hard to avoid the sense that both Faraday Future and its largest investor LeEco are struggling with the results of over-ambitious expansion plans.