Business Public Venture

How Fierce Competition Shaped Uber And Lyft’s Fundraising Strategy

Years from now, in whatever books about this current period of private market largesse get written, December 6, 2018 will figure as an important date. It’s the day two ride-hailing rivals—Lyft and Uber—filed paperwork with the Securities and Exchange Commission to initiate the process of going public.

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This will come as great news for both companies’ investors who have fueled the astronomical growth supporting lofty valuations.

The Size And Sources Of Uber And Lyft’s Funding

Both companies have raised vast sums, and not for nothing. Bankers suggest that Uber could be worth over $100 billion when it goes public. And while Lyft’s $18-30 billion IPO valuation may seem paltry by comparison, even the lower half of the range would still make it one of the highest-valued tech companies to go public in recent years.

The chart below shows the breakdown of each company’s known funding to date.

Let’s unpack this a bit.

Uber

Between a few rounds of debt, a spritz of private equity, and a whole lot of VC (and corporate VC) money, Uber has raised over $15.9 billion in known venture funding. Its backers include Silicon Valley stalwarts like Sequoia Capital, Kleiner Perkins, and Benchmark, as well as corporations ranging from Microsoft 1 to ostensible competitors like Didi Chuxing 2 and GV3. Uber’s cash needs have been so large that big sovereign wealth funds from Qatar and Saudi Arabia invested directly in its offerings.

As it happens, those two government-backed funds are also among the principal limited partners of SoftBank’s nearly $100 billion Vision Fund. By leading several primary and secondary market transactions, the Vision Fund became Uber’s largest shareholder in January 2018, holding at least fifteen percent of the company. In other words, Saudi and Qatari investors get (at least) two slices of a company that could be valued at over $100 billion when it finally goes public.

Lyft

With over $4.9 billion in known capital raised, Lyft’s mountain of investor cash is impressive by any standard, except when it’s made a molehill by Uber’s own.

This being said, the company counts many high-profile backers in its investor base. Firms like Andreessen Horowitz, Founders Fund, and Mayfield Fund have all invested in Lyft. Mayfield led Lyft’s Series A round and followed on through Series C.4 The company also received some direct investment from a government-managed fund, the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan.

And with Lyft there’s more corporate overlap. Lyft also received investment from an Alphabet-backed investor, CapitalG, which led the company’s Series H round. Presumably as part of its globally-scoped corporate investment strategy, Didi Chuxing invested in Lyft’s Series E and Series F rounds.

Fierce Competition Drives Funding Strategy Sameness

Both companies got their start at around the same time. Uber was founded in March 2009 and raised its first round of funding in August. Zimride, the company that would eventually become Lyft, was officially founded in May 2007 and raised its first known round in July 2008. 5 Obviously, both companies would go on to raise much, much more.

In the chart below, we plot a running total of each company’s total capital raised (including equity and debt offerings) over time. Note that due to a combination of a linearly-scaled Y-axis and the truly huge sums involved, the relatively small sums of money raised prior to 2013 don’t show up on the chart. The important thing to take away here is the scale of Uber’s capital raise, relative to Lyft’s.

Competition pushed both companies to unveil new service models at around the same time too. The first iteration of the Lyft service we’re used to today launched in May 2012.6 Uber, which started as a black car and limo service, rolled out its Uber X platform in July 2012, opening up lower-cost rides in more basic car models like the Toyota Prius.

Organizational research by DiMaggio & Powell (1983) 7 suggest that a highly competitive market will produce organizations with similar structures and strategies. Though these competing companies may achieve varying levels of success, they will respond in similar ways to changing market conditions. We can see a version of this behavior in a log-scaled chart (where the Y-axis is based on powers of ten), which shows how Lyft and Uber ramped up their fundraising efforts at the same time (if not at the same scale).

Uber and Lyft had to raise more money, effectively in lock-step, in order to keep up with one another, or at least not totally cede ground.

Because of competition, both companies have converged on remarkably similar service models. They both offer high-end vehicles and pooled and solo rides in more everyday cars. In part to keep up with competing forms of transportation like bikes and scooters, Uber and Lyft rolled out last-mile transportation options of their own. And, finally, considering that paying drivers is one of the biggest expenses for Uber and Lyft, both companies have their own (fabulously expensive) research labs and automaker partnerships (Uber with Toyota, Lyft with General Motors), all in the interest of developing autonomous vehicles.

In other words, these companies are more similar than they are different.

The End Of The Beginning

Despite public market choppiness over the past few days, the march to Wall Street continues. Today, Bloomberg reports that Uber selected Morgan Stanley as the lead underwriter for its IPO. For its part, Lyft picked JP Morgan Chase & Co as its main underwriter back in October, according to the Wall Street Journal at the time. In other words, like being the first to a decentralized marketplace model, where individuals drive their own cars, based on the timing of those decisions it looks like Lyft is just a couple months ahead of the giant that continues to overshadow it.

Think of these filings less as an end to the story and more like the end of the beginning. It’s been roughly a decade since both of these companies got their start, a decade of bitter rivalry and ruthless (and sometimes unscrupulous) growth tactics. Once the companies go public, though, those battles will be fought in public, with ticker tape tracking what transpires.

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias


  1. a participant in Uber’s Series F round

  2. its Chinese rival, which acquired Uber China in 2016.

  3. Formerly known as Google Ventures, which is under the same corporate umbrella as Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving car unit that recently rolled out a ride-hail service

  4. Disclosure: Mayfield is an investor in Crunchbase, the parent company of Crunchbase News. Crunchbase’s investors are listed as part of its Crunchbase profile. For more about Crunchbase News’s editorial policies on disclosure, see the News team’s About page.

  5. That $300,000 round was led by FbFund, “a seed fund providing micro-seed investments for companies developing websites and applications related to Facebook.” (The Amazon Alexa Fund, the Slack Fund, and Nvidia GPU Ventures are examples of company-backed venture funds designed to kickstart a developer ecosystem.) You can find Zimride’s logo on an archived web page from the Facebook Developers site. The partner on that deal was Dave McClure, who would later co-found 500 Startups on April Fools Day 2010.

  6. Until 2012, Zimride’s booking service was only accessible through a desktop web interface. In 2012, Zimride pivoted to a mobile-first interface and launched Lyft that May as a downmarket disruptor to Uber, which at the time only had private drivers and black cars.

  7. Summary notes of the paper can be found here.