Ridehailing company Lyft has finally formally filed to go public, according to a Friday morning S-1 filing. The document listed a placeholder $100 million figure for the offering. While the media and the ride-hailing industry has long expected both Uber and Lyft to go public, Lyft beating its larger, more globally-minded rival to the punch is notable. Lyft’s announcement is historic in that it is the first US ridehailing company to go public.
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The two firms vied to file first, albeit privately, in December of 2018. Lyft beat Uber by a day then, and, it seems likely, far more in this case. Uber is currently said to be closing a multi-billion dollar deal to acquire its MENA-focused rival Careem, reports Bloomberg. (We first covered this story in September).
Let’s explore the Lyft S-1 document, pull out its key financial results, and then remind ourselves of its competitive landscape, and venture history.
Lyft has a history of quick revenue growth and rising losses.
The company posted $343.3 million in revenue during calendar 2016. Lyft had total expenses that year of over $1 billion. The firm had posted a net loss of $682.8 million that year.
Things improved in 2017, when Lyft’s revenue shot to $1.06 billion, a huge gain from the year prior. The company’s costs rose as well, however, to $1.77 billion. Lyft posted a loss of $688.3 million in the year, about what it lost in 2016. However, as Lyft had far more revenue, its operating and net margins greatly improved in 2017.
In 2018 Lyft more than doubled again, posting $2.16 billion in revenue. The firm’s expenses and costs, however, grew sharply. Lyft’s total cost load in the last calendar year came to $3.13 billion. The firm posted a sharper net loss of $911.3 million in 2018.
Still, the company has shrunk its net margin from -199 percent in 2016, to -42 percent in 2018. Investors may cheer that decline in percent-of-revenue losses at the ridehailing category, even if the dollar volume of its net deficits rose during each of the last two years.
Lyft closed out 2018 with $517.7 million in cash and equivalents. Given that the well-known unicorn’s operations burned $280.7 million in cash last year, and its investing activities consumed $1.04 billion in 2018, this IPO is a key fundraising moment for the company.
Lyft’s revenue is predicated on far larger booking volumes. In ridehailing, booking volume represents the gross value of rides and services provided to customers; revenue is the resulting cut that the company itself, Lyft in this case, collects for itself. Lyft’s booking volume grew from $1.9 billion in 2016 to $4.6 billion in 2017 to $8.1 billion in 2018.
Something that the ridehailing companies also track is their share of bookings. That helps them, and their investors, understand what portion of gross spend they can expect to count for their own. In Lyft’s case, its “Revenue as a Percentage of Bookings” came to 18 percent in 2016, 23.1 percent in 2017, and reached 26.8 percent in 2018.
Finally on the money front, Lyft’s adjusted profit metrics are not much better than its net figures. The company’s 2017 adjusted EBITDA deficit came to $696.1 million. That figure rose to $943.5 million in 2018.
Moving to non-financial metrics, Lyft presented a series of figures regarding usage. The company closed out the final quarter of 2018 with 18.6 million “Active Riders,” up from 17.4 million in Q3 of the same year, and 12.6 million in the year-ago Q4.
As we’ve reported on (extensively), top rival Uber is also on the road to going public. In December, Uber confidentially filed preliminary paperwork on December 6th (the same day as Lyft) to list its shares on the open market in an initial public offering (IPO). But its path appears to be a longer one than Lyft’s. Last month, our EIC Alex Wilhelm examined just how aggressive a $90 billion valuation for Uber is. As he wrote at the time, “Uber is not a young company, and its famous pace of growth is now matched with infamous losses.” The two rivals have been in a heated, and very public, price war. Earlier this week, The Information reported that Lyft recently “sharply ramped up discounts for riders. And as a result, according to The Information, its market share is inching upwards. Uber reportedly plans to respond with its own discounts.
Cumulatively, Lyft has raised approximately $4.91 billion in outside capital over the course of many equity funding rounds. The company’s most recent round, a $600 million Series I round, led by Fidelity Management & Research Company, valued the company at just over $15.1 billion, post-money.
Lyft’s IPO filing marks the start of the 2019 tech IPO cycle, really, and also the start of the ridehailing industry’s march to the public markets. Lyft’s is the first, but not the last IPO of its sort this year. And if it does well, we could see more filings sooner rather than later.
Illustration: Li-Anne Dias