Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 15 November 2019

Why Uber will pitch itself as the Amazon of transport

Uber sees Amazon's ascent to world’s biggest online retailer as a model

An Uber Jump electric scooter parked for rent in Paris, France. Uber is positioning itself as a transportation and logistics market-maker that can build - and then supply - new demand for everything from scooters and bicycles to freight and food delivery. Reuters
An Uber Jump electric scooter parked for rent in Paris, France. Uber is positioning itself as a transportation and logistics market-maker that can build - and then supply - new demand for everything from scooters and bicycles to freight and food delivery. Reuters

Uber and its bankers will hit the road this month with one big name on their lips as they try to entice investors with favourable comparisons to businesses that it seeks to imitate or surpass.

That name is Amazon.

Amazon was a money-losing internet bookseller attacking the brick-and-mortar fortress of Barnes & Noble at the dawn of e-commerce when it raised $54 million (Dh198m) in its 1997 initial public offering. Its ascent to world’s biggest online retailer - the everything store - is seen as a model by Uber as it pivots from its maturing but still unprofitable ride-hailing operation to position itself as a global transportation platform.

Uber wants to convince investors that it’s a transportation and logistics market-maker that can build - and then supply - new demand for everything from scooters and bicycles to freight and food delivery, said people familiar with its plans who asked not to be identified because they’re private.

The investor pitch will dwell on the unrealised opportunity ahead, with Uber casting itself as a nascent transportation provider just barely scratching the surface of a multi-trillion-dollar market, according to the people. While Uber may have a 65 per cent share of the ride-hailing market in the US, Canada, Latin America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, the company said in its IPO filing Thursday that its share of the entire global transportation market is less than 1 per cent.

“It’s wise for them to pitch themselves as a platform and make the connection to Amazon,” said Kathleen Smith, principal of the research firm Renaissance Capital. “If you can’t talk about earnings, you better have a plan to talk about a platform, because that’s the only way investors will feel comfortable with losses.”

Uber’s long-awaited roadshow for what is expected to be 2019’s biggest US IPO is expected to kick off on April 26, the people said. The San Francisco-based company is seeking to raise about $10 billion and to be valued at about $100bn, people familiar with the matter have said.

Its bankers have discussed setting the price range for the offering at $48 to $55, based on a notice to convertible debt holders and on Uber’s last valuation, the people said. Uber hasn’t decided on a price range, the people said.

No final decisions have been made and the timing and details of the presentations may change, people familiar with Uber’s plans said.

Uber, the world’s largest ride-hailing company, is working with underwriters including Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America to craft its pitch. The presentations will feature comparisons to China-based e-commerce kingpins Alibaba and Tencent, in addition to Amazon, said a person familiar with the situation.

Smaller food-delivery and logistics businesses will also be cited, the people said. Companies to be compared to the Uber Eats business might include Chicago-based GrubHub, as well as international food-delivery services such as China’s Meituan Dianping, Germany’s Delivery Hero, Amsterdam-based TakeAway.com and Just Eat in the UK, said one of the people.

Lyft, which operates in the US and Canada, will also serve as a point of comparison, the person said. But even with Lyft, as well as other companies, precise comparisons are difficult to peg because of Uber’s diverse business verticals, the person said.

Uber may also want to distance itself from Lyft, which priced its shares at $72 each in its $2.34bn IPO in March. The shares jumped 21 per cent at the opening bell in their trading debut but have sunk since then, closing at $59.90 on Friday

The bankers will also tout the public company experience of Uber’s management team, which presented its business to bank analysts last month, one of the people said. Chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi came from travel booking site Expedia in 2017. Chief financial officer Nelson Chai, a longtime banking executive who weathered the 2008 financial crisis at Bank of America, joined Uber last year.

Representatives for Uber, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America declined to comment.

On Thursday, Uber gave potential investors their first full look at the company’s financial results and operations.

Uber lost $3.04bn on an operating basis in 2018 on revenue of $11.3bn, bringing total operating losses over the past three years to more than $10 billion, according to its filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

The company reported a net income of $997 million for 2018. The profit was mainly driven by Uber’s sale of assets in Southeast Asia and Russia as well as an increase in estimated value of its stock in Didi Chuxing, China’s largest ride-hailing company, which Uber sold its Chinese business to in 2016.

Uber’s prospectus makes clear that its core ride-hailing business is leveling off. While ride-hailing revenue grew 95 per cent in 2017 from the previous year, that rate slowed to 33 per cent last year, according to the filing.

Tellingly, the word "platform" appears more than 700 times in the filing. Uber contends its larger scale will help it fend off rivals and allow it to more easily enter new transportation-related businesses around the world.

“We can rapidly launch and scale platform products and offerings by leveraging our massive network,” the company said. “Each new product adds nodes to our network and strengthens these shared capabilities, enabling us to launch and invest in additional products more efficiently.”

If that sounds a bit like Amazon’s highway to success, it’s no accident.

Uber’s losses have made it especially difficult to value, said one of the people. Comparing it to Amazon is designed to help would-be public market investors get comfortable with the losses, the person said.

Updated: April 13, 2019 02:18 PM

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