Lyft just passed Uber in the race to go public.
The company filed paperwork on Friday to raise as much as $100 million in its public offering. That placeholder amount could change, depending on investor demand.
It will list on the Nasdaq under the stock ticker “LYFT.”
After years of investors waiting for the long list of startups with billion-dollar valuations to come to Wall Street, 2019 is shaping up to bring a stampede of so-called unicorns. Uber, Airbnb, Slack, Pinterest and Postmates are all expected to go public this year.
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Lyft’s public market debut could prove to be a bellwether for how these companies will be received by investors. In particular, Lyft will almost certainly be viewed as a proxy for what to expect from its chief rival Uber, a much larger business. Like Uber, Lyft is bleeding money. Lyft’s net loss climbed to $911 million in 2018 from $688 million a year earlier. Uber, by comparison, lost $1.8 billion last year, according to financials released by the company last month.
In its list of risk factors, Lyft warned that “we have incurred net losses each year since our inception and we may not be able to achieve or maintain profitability in the future.”
As is often the case with tech companies going public, investors will have to weigh a history of losing money against the allure of a fast-growing business. Lyft hit $2.2 billion in revenue in 2018, double the previous year.
For years, Lyft has been viewed as the friendlier alternative to Uber. Lyft, which was launched in 2012 by co-founders Logan Green and John Zimmer, often marked its cars in the early days with furry pink mustaches. Lyft passengers were encouraged to sit in the front and even fist bump their drivers.
Uber, on the other hand, launched in 2009 as a black car service. As that company’s former CEO Travis Kalanick once proudly stated, Uber’s original premise was to let him and his friends “roll around San Francisco like ballers.”
Uber bulldozed ahead of Lyft and other rivals through a mix of aggressive fundraising, dirty tricks and a take-no-prisoners attitude toward expansion in the US and abroad. The company seemed all but unstoppable. Then in 2017, Uber was upended by damning headlines about its workplace culture and by customer boycotts. It also saw an exodus of executives, including Kalanick.
While Uber did damage control, Lyft raised more money, expanded to dozens more cities and gained market share against its rival. According to its filing, Lyft’s share of the U.S. ridehailing market spiked from 22% at the end of 2016 to 39% in December 2018.
Now it’s on the cusp of beating Uber to the public market.
“We’re like cutthroat missionaries,” Green told CNN Business in an interview last year. “I think people see the missionary aspect, or see that we care about taking care of people, and assume it means we’ll be soft when it comes to competing.”
Green and Logan have a small stake in their own company, but Lyft is choosing to use a dual class structure that will give them more votes per share. The effect, according to Lyft’s filing, is “concentrating voting power with our co-founders,” potentially at the expense of new shareholders having a say in how the company is run.
For all the differences in how their brands are perceived, the two companies must contend with many of the same problems. Like Uber, Lyft faces a long road to profitability and an uncertain regulatory landscape in various markets. Like Uber, Lyft also grapples with the threat of passengers being sexually assaulted by drivers.
If that’s not enough, both companies also have overlapping private investors, including Fidelity and Alphabet, the parent company of Google. The latter invested in Lyft through CapitalG, its growth equity investment arm, and in Uber through a different venture arm called Google Ventures, later rebranded as GV.
To achieve that goal, Lyft and Uber are betting on self-driving cars, electric scooters and bikes. Uber has gone a step further by investing in flying cars.
There’s no guarantee these lofty bets pan out. “The autonomous vehicle industry may not continue to develop,” Lyft notes in its risk factors, “or autonomous vehicles may not be adopted by the market, which could adversely affect our prospects.”