Ridesharing pioneer Uber Inc. has been making waves on Wall Street since it first hit the road 7 years ago. Not only has Uber become a huge part of pop culture over the past decade, but the firm has also captured investors’ attention by raising unparalleled amounts of capital and growing exponentially from the LA-based limousine service it started out as.
Now that the firm has made its way to countries around the world, investors are chomping at the bit to get a piece of the company and wondering when Uber will go public. Ex-CEO and founder Travis Kalanick avoided going public during his tenure at the helm, but the company’s new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, is taking the opposite approach. Khosrowshahi has said he plans to take Uber public in 2019, which gives him just 18-36 months to address investors concerns.
At the top of many potential Uber investors’ minds are the company’s ongoing PR issues. During Kalanick’s time at the head of Uber, the company’s corporate culture and “win-at-all-costs” attitude was a major cause for concern. Not only is Uber locked in a fight with taxi operators around the world, who complain that the service is severely hurting their businesses, but the firm is also plagued by complaints from its own employees and drivers over a wide variety of issues.
Not only that, but Uber was recently hit hard by a hacking attack that compromised the payment information from 57 million people using the service. The attack was bad enough on its own, but Uber was caught trying to cover the whole thing up by paying off the hackers to keep it from getting out in the public.
These kinds of scandals should be troubling to potential investors, because they offer some insight into what to expect from management. Unfortunately for Uber, the way the company has been running so far suggests that honesty isn’t high on the firm’s list of priorities.
However, it’s worth noting that Uber’s new CEO only took the reins recently, so those issues are the product of Kalanick’s leadership. Corporate culture is a difficult thing to change and it’s unlikely to shift overnight, but it’s possible that Khosrowshahi is up to the challenge and could repair the company’s reputation in the coming year.
While scandals like those definitely aren’t selling points for Uber, the larger problem that the company faces is its financials. Investors want to make money and although Uber has been able to grow rapidly and raise record-breaking amounts of capital, the firm isn’t profitable and doesn’t look likely to turn a profit anytime soon.
Because Uber isn’t publicly traded yet and isn’t subject to the same regulatory filings as companies already on the market, the firm’s financial details are murky. However, what we do know about Uber’s finances isn’t pretty. The firm lost $2.8 billion in 2016, despite providing some $20 billion worth of rides. So far this year, Uber has lost $3.2 billion — so the needle doesn’t appear to be moving in the right direction.
The trouble is that there doesn’t appear to be much room for Uber to rake in profits when you look at the firm’s current business model. Uber drivers already complain about low pay and Uber has seen a high amount of turnover among employees who are dissatisfied with their compensation. So, taking a higher percentage of customer fares appears to be out of the question. Uber could raise its rates in order to increase its revenue, but as the firm competes largely on price, that strategy is also unlikely to be a helpful one.
The Bottom Line on Uber IPO
A lot of young, high-growth companies aren’t profitable and investors are more than willing to give them a pass, so you can’t throw Uber out all together simply because of its profitability issues. However, it’s important to understand that one of the major reasons the taxi industry is able to make money at all has been government-imposed regulations that require drivers to register for licenses, which are capped at a specific number.
Without that cap, the industry has a ton of competition that will keep prices low and cut into the profits of taxi and ride-sharing services.
As Uber’s IPO date approaches, keep an eye on the firm’s progress. A lot of whether or not Uber is a worthwhile buy will have to do with how Khosrowshahi runs the company and whether or not he can find a way to steer the firm in a profitable direction.
Right now, it’s too soon to tell whether or not you should buy Uber when it goes public, but if the IPO was tomorrow, I’d say steer clear.