Lyft Touts Growth to IPO Investors as Losses Near $1 Billion

Potential investors in Lyft Inc.’s initial public offering got their first look at the company’s financials Friday, revealing a startup that’s hustling to outrun its growing losses.

Lyft’s revenue is exploding, but so is its net loss. Like many IPO candidates the San Francisco-based company has never turned a profit. The U.S. ride-hailing No. 2 lost $991 million in 2018 — up 32 percent from the year before, even as revenue for the same period doubled.

Those losses have no end in sight. Under the potential risk factors listed in its filing with the Securities and Exchanges Commission, Lyft warns that its expenses are likely to increase and that it may not be able to “achieve or maintain profitability in the future.” As executives and advisers hit the road to market shares to possible investors in the next few weeks, they’re likely to be pitching to a group that’s no stranger to money-losing tech listings.

Lyft filed with an initial offering size of $100 million, a placeholder amount used to calculate fees that will change. The company is aiming for a market valuation of $20 billion to $25 billion, a person familiar with the matter saidlast week, meaning the listing could be the biggest from a tech upstart since Snap Inc. went public two years ago — and might even top that.

Since it pivoted to ride-hailing in 2012, Lyft has built its business under an unrelenting onslaught from larger rival Uber Technologies Inc. Both companies generate enormous sums of revenue, with Lyft increasing its numbers to $2.2 billion last year from just $343 million in 2016. Market share climbed at the same time, and Lyft now holds 39 percent of the U.S. market as measured by trips, the filing shows. That could be enough to satisfy potential investors.

“Significant revenue growth is everything in an IPO,” said Barrett Daniels, head of IPOs at consultancy Deloitte LLP. “People often like to talk about losses, but they really don’t matter nearly as much.”

Uber, which is expected to sell its own shares later this year, has lost in excess of $10 billion since its founding. Despite a slowdown in growth, its revenue for 2018 was more than four times that of Lyft at $11.4 billion, and though Uber’s adjusted losses fell 15 percent from the year before, they still hit $1.8 billion.

While Uber has thrown the kitchen sink at investors by promising food and freight delivery, scooters, electric bikes and even flying cars, Lyft’s message has always been laser focused on transportation. It stuck to that plan Friday, making no mention of potential diversification and noting that Americans spend more on cars than food anyway.

At the same time, a letter from co-founders Logan Green and John Zimmer stressed that Lyft’s mission was to “redesign our cities around people, not cars,” by drawing riders into its ride-sharing vehicles where they can be “comforted by their driver’s kind words,” or find common ground on opposing political views. Lyft already offers bike and scooter-sharing schemes.

Investors are most interested in Lyft’s ability to take market share from Uber, said Matthew Kennedy, senior IPO strategist at research firm Renaissance Capital.

“Lyft is dwarfed by Uber, but it’s clearly growing and edging into Uber’s customer base,” Kennedy said.

Climbing Costs

Another number that potential investors could hone in on is Lyft’s cost of revenue, which includes items like insurance charges, tech costs, and some personnel-related compensation. For 2018 it represented 58 percent of Lyft’s total costs and expenses, which increased overall by 77 percent from the year before, the filing shows.

“We expect that cost of revenue will increase in absolute dollars in future periods and vary from period-to-period as a percentage of revenue,” the company said.

Based on the revenue figures revealed Friday and a potential market value of as much as $25 billion, Lyft’s valuation multiple could make it more expensive than tech heavyweights such as Snap, Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc., according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

By making its filing public Friday, Lyft has kicked off what could become a race to the public markets for a glut of startups that have raised billions from private investors. Uber will undoubtedly be the star of that procession when it lists later this year, with an IPO that bankers have said could value the company at $120 billion. Smaller startups like Postmates Inc. and Slack Technologies Inc. are also considering publicly listing.

The dash to market has also left bankers jostling for position underwriting the biggest IPOs, especially in the coveted lead-left slot. Lyft’s IPO is being led by JPMorgan Chase & Co.Credit Suisse Group AG and Jefferies Financial Group Inc., according to the filing. Morgan Stanley will lead Uber’s offering, people familiar with the matter have said, joined by Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

Driver Bonuses

Lyft had 30.7 million riders and 1.9 million drivers in 2018, racking up $8.1 billion in total bookings, the filing shows. Lyft is offering some of its most dedicated drivers, who are contractors, a cash bonus that they can use to buy shares in the IPO, it said in a statement. The bonuses will range from $1,000 to $10,000 for drivers in good standing.

Like many tech companies before it, from Facebook to Snap, Lyft touted its active users as a key metric for investors to consider. Lyft said it had almost 19 million active riders who took 178 million rides in the fourth quarter. That compares with 3.5 million active riders hailing 29 million rides in the first three months of 2016.

Its quarterly revenue per active rider more than doubled to $36.04 as of Dec. 31 from $15.88 since the beginning of 2016.

Lyft’s two biggest holders are Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten Inc., with 13.05 percent of Class A common stock before the offering, and General Motors Co., with 7.76 percent.

While full details weren’t disclosed in Friday’s filing, Lyft will follow in the footsteps of Facebook, Google-parent Alphabet Inc. and Snap by using a dual-class structure for its shares. Holders of the Class A stock will be entitled to one vote per share, while owners of the Class B shares will get 20 votes per share.

The structure has been criticized by regulators, who say it can give outsized power to insiders and put regular investors at a disadvantage when it comes to power over matters such as picking board members and corporate strategy.

Lyft applied to list shares on the Nasdaq Global Market under the symbol “LYFT.”