Uber's IPO filing dishes on frenemies, synergies and #DeleteUber

The ride-hailing company could hit a valuation as high as $91 billion. Here's all you need to know about Uber's billions and billions of dollars.

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8 min read

Uber first started as a black car service with the motto "everyone's private driver."


Uber has come a long way since its days of "Boob-er" -- the infamous nickname co-founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick gave himself because his role at the company helped him score women. 

The San Francisco-based company appears all grown up now. 

In mid-April, Uber publicly filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission for an initial public offering that could hit a valuation as high as $91 billion, which would put it among the largest US tech IPOs in history. In an update to that filing on Friday, Uber set a price range of $44 to $50 a share. The ride-hailing company plans to offer 180 million shares and seeks to raise about $9 billion in its IPO. As a private company, Uber raised $14.9 billion, giving it an estimated valuation of $76 billion.

Uber will list on the New York Stock Exchange using the ticker symbol UBER. Its IPO could come as soon as early May.

"Ten years ago, Uber was born out of a watershed moment in technology," Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi wrote in a letter included in the SEC filing. "What began as 'tap a button and get a ride' has become something much more profound."

If all goes as planned, 2019 will be a year of tech IPOs. Along with Uber, San Francisco-based companies including Airbnb, Pinterest and Slack are expected to go public. Uber's archrival, Lyft, issued its IPO at the end of March, setting its share price at $72. It had a strong stock market debut, but has faltered some since then, with its shares trading as low as $54. 

"Having the Lyft IPO take place before Uber, with Lyft trading much below the offer price, is not a positive development for Uber," said Reena Aggarwal, professor at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business. "There are questions about the future profitability of the company. However, I think investors will still want a piece of this very large IPO."

While Uber and Lyft offer the same service, hailing a ride with a smartphone app, each company has pointed potential investors to different aspects of its business. Uber has showcased itself as a global company with diverse features such as food delivery and, it hopes, flying cars. Lyft, much smaller, with services only in the US and Canada, is focusing on being a stable company that hasn't experienced the same kind of turmoil as Uber.

Khosrowshahi took over the helm at Uber in September 2017 after a deluge of scandals led to the resignation of Kalanick. In the previous six months, Uber had lost more than 200,000 angry passengers to the #DeleteUber movement. It was outed by former Uber engineer Susan Fowler, who wrote a bombshell blog post detailing a chaotic corporate culture that tolerated sexual harassment. Lawsuits poured in, more scandals mounted and the company was left leaderless for two months with a dysfunctional board of directors.

When Khosrowshahi came on, he vowed to fix Uber's moral compass and to take the company public. He's now looking to deliver on both those promises. 

In its filing, Uber spent several pages discussing how its revamped its leadership team, changed its company culture and focused on diversity and inclusion. 

"We are on a new path forward... following many challenges regarding our culture, workplace practices, and reputation," the filing reads. "It is a new day at Uber."

We combed through the 285-page document for all the interesting tidbits. Here's the breakdown:

What is Uber? Uber was founded in 2009 as a black car service called Ubercab that let passengers hire a car with a push of a button on their smartphone. The company changed its name to Uber in 2011 and morphed in 2012 into a ride-hailing service through which riders could connect with drivers through its app. Since then it's gotten into all types of transportation and services, including food delivery, self-driving cars, carpooling, on-demand scooters and bicycles, freight trucking and even the development of flying cars. 

Uber says its customers have taken more than 10 billion trips.

Uber says its customers have taken more than 10 billion trips.


The new motto. "We ignite opportunity by setting the world in motion." Get it? Because it's a transportation company.

UBER. Uber will list on the New York Stock Exchange using the ticker symbol UBER. It's estimated that, with the IPO, the company could be valued at up to $91 billion. Its market debut could come as soon as early May.

The players. Khosrowshahi is the CEO of Uber and has promoted several new people into his leadership circle, including Nelson Chai as chief financial officer, Manik Gupta as chief product officer and Barney Harford as chief operating officer. 

The money. The company reported revenue of $11.3 billion in 2018 on $49.8 billion in bookings. That's up 42 percent from 2017. The company's hallmark service, ride-hailing, generated the lion's share of its revenue, raking in $9.2 billion in 2018. 

What about losses? Uber lost $1.8 billion in 2018. While that's down from a loss of $2.6 billion in 2017, Uber said it may never make a profit. "We expect our operating expenses to increase significantly in the foreseeable future, and we may not achieve profitability," the filing says.

The board. Uber has 12 board members, including two women. Khosrowshahi, co-founders Kalanick and Garrett Camp, and early Uber CEO Ryan Graves are all on the board. Ronald Sugar, former CEO of global aerospace and defense company Northrop, has been the chairperson of the board since July 2018. The best-known board member is likely Arianna Huffington, businesswoman, author and founder of The Huffington Post.

The stockholders. While most of Uber's board of directors will see a nice payday when the company goes public, some look like they'll get really really, really rich. Kalanick has 117.5 million shares in the company, and Benchmark investor Matt Cohler has 150 million shares. By comparison, Khosrowshahi has a measly 196,000 shares.

Watch this: Uber reveals more about its flying taxi ambitions

Waymo vs. Uber, and self-driving cars. Last year, Waymo, Alphabet's self-driving car arm, sued Uber over alleged theft of trade secrets. The two companies settled, but in its S-1, Uber said it may owe Waymo another $128 million because of arbitration demands. Uber may also need to pay a licensing fee or make design changes to its autonomous driving software, but those decisions aren't final.

"Synergies." You can't have a Silicon Valley IPO with mentioning this word. Uber used it 11 times. 

Workplace culture. Uber has famously been hit with scandals over sexual harassment, bro culture and regulations. The company said in its S-1 that its "forward-leaning approach" caused "operational, compliance, and cultural challenges." That's one way to put it.

Experiments may not pay off. Uber is investing in several kinds of transportation services beyond traditional cars. They include dockless e-bikes, e-scooters, Uber Freight, and Uber Elevate. But those investments may never bear fruit, Uber warns: "We may never realize any expected benefits from them."

Sweet spot: 3 to 10 miles. The largest proportion of Uber rides -- 32% of total rides -- are between three and 10 miles. After that, most rides are less than a mile, at 21%. In all, 95% of rides are less than 30 miles.

Headcount. Uber had 22,263 employees as of December 2018. More than half of them, 11,860, are in operations and support.

Big paydays. In 2018, Khosrowshahi got $45.3 million in total compensation, including salary, bonuses and stock. COO Barney Harfard got slightly more, at $47.6 million. CFO Nelson Chai got $27.9 million.

Frenemies with Alphabet. Google's parent company, Alphabet, is a 5.2% stakeholder in Uber. Google Chief Legal Officer David Drummond used to be on Uber's board. The ride-hailing company relies heavily on Google Maps and the Google Play app marketplace. But there's also been a ton of tension. Let's not forget that massive legal battle with Waymo.

London's taxi drivers send Uber a message

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#DeleteUber packed a punch. A 2017 backlash against Uber and the resulting #DeleteUber rallying hashtag took a real toll on the company's operations: "As a result of the #DeleteUber campaign, hundreds of thousands of consumers stopped using the Uber platform within days of the campaign," Uber said. The damage has been lasting. The rate of decline continued through 2018.

Uber clocked a lot of miles. Uber drivers took passengers on a total of 1 billion trips in March 2016, 2 billion in October 2016, 5 billion in September 2017, and 10 billion in September 2018. In 2016, passengers traveled a total of 26 billion miles on Uber trips. That's less than 1 percent of an estimated total of 4.7 trillion miles by all means of personal transport in the 63 countries where Uber operates -- an important statistic for potential investors who want to know Uber's potential for growth.

Criminal element. Lawbreakers could be a problem, Uber said, pointing to a 2014 rape case where a driver in India "kidnapped and raped a female customer." (Uber fought a lawsuit filed in the US concerning the case.)

Even if Uber drivers aren't doing anything wrong, crime could hurt Uber: "In Latin America, there have been numerous and increasing reports of drivers and consumers being victimized by violent crime, such as armed robbery, violent assault, and rape, while taking or providing a trip on our platform."

And then there are worries about bribes. "We received requests from the [US Justice Department] in May 2017 and August 2017 with respect to an investigation into allegations of small payments to police in Indonesia and other potential improper payments in other countries in which we operate or have operated, including in Malaysia, China, and India," Uber said.

60,000 drivers say they're employees, not contractors. Uber warned that efforts to classify its drivers as employees -- not just today's less financially burdensome contractor status -- would hurt the company's prospects. More than 60,000 drivers today have either begun arbitration proceedings arguing they're contractors or plan to open them, Uber said.

Uber is sticking to its position: "We believe that drivers are independent contractors because, among other things, they can choose whether, when, and where to provide services on our platform, are free to provide services on our competitors' platforms."

Uber munchies. The average delivery time for Uber Eats food deliveries was about 30 minutes in 2018. The service delivers food from 220,000 restaurants to a sixth of the people who use Uber apps each month. Uber Eats is an important recruiting tool for Uber, getting new drivers into the system even if they or their cars aren't yet up to Uber requirements for shuttling passengers, Uber said. Still, the company warned, the number of drivers and restaurants on the platform could decline or fluctuate.

Uber Freight has real customers. Uber Freight, which has 36,000 carriers delivering goods from 1,000 shippers, garnered $125 million in revenue in the last quarter of 2018. Customers using the service include Anheuser-Busch InBev, Land O'Lakes and Colgate-Palmolive.

Rivals galore. Uber says it's got abundant competition besides Lyft. Other competitors for its main people-shuttling or bike- and scooter-renting businesses are OLA, Careem, Didi, Taxify, Yandex.Taxi (even though it's an Uber joint venture), Motivate, Lime, Bird and Skip.

And even more rivals. The list of competitors gets a lot longer when other Uber businesses are included. When it comes to self-driving vehicles, Uber sees competition from Waymo, Cruise Automation, Tesla, Apple, Zoox, Aptiv, May Mobility, Pronto.ai, Aurora and Nuro. And Uber Eats competes with GrubHub, DoorDash, Deliveroo, Swiggy, Postmates, Zomato, Delivery Hero, Just Eat, Takeaway.com and Amazon. And for Uber Freight, there's DHL, C.H. Robinson, Total Quality Logistics, XPO Logistics, Convoy, Echo Global Logistics, Coyote, Transfix and NEXT Trucking.

Forget dividends. Assuming Uber someday will become profitable, investors shouldn't expect a cut of the proceeds. Profits will be plowed into business development and expansion, "and we do not anticipate declaring or paying any cash dividends in the foreseeable future," Uber said. That's pretty common among tech companies.

Boob-er. This word doesn't show up in the document.

This story originally published on April 11 and is being updated continually as more information becomes available.