Fastly, the content delivery network, files for an IPO

Fastly, the content delivery network that’s raised $219 million in financing from investors (according to Crunchbase), is ready for its close up in the public markets.

The eight-year-old company is one of several businesses that improve the download time and delivery of different websites to internet browsers and it has just filed for an IPO.

Media companies like The New York Times use Fastly to cache their homepages, media and articles on Fastly’s servers so that when somebody wants to browse the Times online, Fastly’s servers can send it directly to the browser. In some cases, Fastly serves up to 90 percent of browser requests.

E-commerce companies like Stripe and Ticketmaster are also big users of the service. They appreciate Fastly because its network of servers enable faster load times — sometimes as quickly as 20 or 30 milliseconds, according to the company.

The company raised its last round of financing roughly nine months ago, a $40 million investment that Fastly said would be the last before a public offering.

Fastly raises another $40 million before an IPO

True to its word, the company is hoping public markets have the appetite to feast on yet another “unicorn” business.

While Fastly lacks the sizzle of companies like Zoom, Pinterest or Lyft, its technology enables a huge portion of the activities in which consumers engage online, and it could be a bellwether for competitors like Cloudflare, which recently raised $150 million and was also exploring a public listing.

The company’s public filing has a placeholder amount of $100 million, but given the amount of funding the company has received, it’s far more likely to seek closer to $1 billion when it finally prices its shares.

Fastly reported revenue of roughly $145 million in 2018, compared to $105 million in 2017, and its losses declined year on year to $29 million, down from $31 million in the year-ago period. So its losses are shrinking, its revenue is growing (albeit slowly) and its cost of revenues are rising from $46 million to around $65 million over the same period.

That’s not a great number for the company, but it’s offset by the amount of money that the company’s getting from its customers. Fastly breaks out that number in its dollar-based net expansion rate figure, which grew 132 percent in 2018.

It’s an encouraging number, but as the company notes in its prospectus, it’s got an increasing number of challenges from new and legacy vendors in the content delivery network space.

The market for cloud computing platforms, particularly enterprise-grade products, “is highly fragmented, competitive and constantly evolving,” the company said in its prospectus. “With the introduction of new technologies and market entrants, we expect that the competitive environment in which we compete will remain intense going forward. Legacy CDNs, such as Akamai, Limelight, EdgeCast (part of Verizon Digital Media), Level3, and Imperva, and small business-focused CDNs, such as Cloudflare, InStart, StackPath, and, offer products that compete with ours. We also compete with cloud providers who are starting to offer compute functionality at the edge like Amazon’s CloudFront, AWS Lambda, and Google Cloud Platform.”

Latest Silicon Valley unicorn valued at $15bn and unlike others, the popular digital scrap book platform is close to making money

Pinterest, the digital pin board company, made a spectacular debut on the New York stock exchange on Thursday when its shares leapt 25% in its first few hours of trading.

The company, which allows users to pin and share pictures of favorite recipes, decorating tips and inspiring images, is used by 250 million people a month and reaches eight out of 10 moms in the US, according to its regulatory filing.

Pinterests shares were priced at $19 and began trading at $23.75, a 25% increase that valued the company at more than $15bn. They ended the day up 28%.

It is the latest in a series of huge stock sales from Silicon Valley unicorns the new generation of privately held tech giants valued at billions of dollars that are now going public.

So far many of those companies have stumbled in the stock market. Lyft, the ridesharing company, launched its share sale in late March. It too experienced a first day pop as shares soared 20%. But they have since fallen sharply and are now down close to 20%.

Unlike Lyft, however, Pinterest is close to making money. The service has avoided the controversy that has surrounded other social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and has proved increasingly popular with advertisers. The companys revenues have been growing steadily, up 60% from 2017 to 2018, while its losses have fallen, down from a net loss of $130m in 20167 to $63m in 2018.

Lyft lost $911m in 2018 and its larger rival Uber lost $1.8bn. Uber is expected to go public next month.

Pinterest was founded in 2009 by Ben Silbermann, Evan Sharp and Paul Sciarra, former employees of Google, Facebook and the venture capital firm Radius Ventures respectively. Sciarra left the company in 2012, but held on to an estimated 8% of the company.

The share sale makes billionaires of the remaining co-founders. Their share holdings have not been disclosed but Forbes recently valued Silbermann, 36, at $1.6bn and Sharp, also 36, at $1bn.

Pinterest was not the only unicorn to go public on Thursday. The videoconferencing software company Zoom made its debut on the Nasdaq exchange, living up to its name by surging 72% and valuing the company at close to $16bn.

Founded in 2011 by Eric Yuan, a former Cisco Systems engineer, the company has also been shrinking its losses. It lost just $7.5m in the year ending January 2019, down from $14m in 2017.

Startups Weekly: US companies raised $30B in Q1 2019

Let’s start this week’s newsletter with some data. Nationally, startups pulled in $30.8 billion in the first quarter of 2019, up 22 percent year-on-year, according to Crunchbase’s latest deal round-up.

A closer look at the numbers shows a big drop in angel funding and a slight decrease in mega-rounds, or financings larger than $100 million. The number of mega-rounds fell to 57 deals in Q1 and deal value was down too. With that said, mega-rounds still accounted for $16.4 billion, making Q1 2019 the second-best quarter on record for mega-rounds.

The bottom line is these monstrous deals represented a big chunk (29 percent) of all the dollars invested in U.S. startups in Q1. As investors move downstream and startups opt to stay private longer and longer, we’ll continue to see a greater pick up in mega rounds.

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OK, on to other news…

IPO corner

After the pink confetti was swept up off the floor, analysts and investors had a different story to tell about one of the first unicorns to make its public debut. Lyft began the week struggling to hit its IPO price, closing several days under that $72, despite opening with a 20 percent pop at $86. What’s going on? People are shorting the Lyft stock, looking to profit off the company’s sinking value. Things are looking up though; on Friday as I typed this newsletter, Lyft was trading at about $74 per share.

In other IPO, or shall I say, direct listing news, Slack has reportedly chosen the NYSE for its upcoming exit. A quick reminder why Slack has opted to go public via direct listing: The company doesn’t need any IPO cash thanks to the hundreds of millions of dollars on its balance sheet, but its longtime employees and investors need the liquidity. A direct listing allows it to go public without listing any new shares, with no lockup period and no intermediary bankers. The whole thing saves it some money and expedites the process. OK, that wasn’t as brief as I intended, moving on…

Saying goodbye to venture capital

In a story that sent the entirety of Silicon Valley into a frenzy, Forbes reported that Andreessen Horowitz was denouncing its status as a venture capital firm and would register all its employees as financial advisors. For those inclined, Crunchbase News’ Alex Wilhelm and I unpacked what this means in the latest episode of Equity; for those less inclined, here’s the TLDR: For a16z to have the freedom to make riskier bets, like buying public company stock or heaps of cryptocurrency, the title of financial advisor gives them that ability.

Femtech’s billion-dollar year

Femtech, defined as any software, diagnostics, products and services that leverage technology to improve women’s health, has attracted some $250 million in VC funding so far this year, according to PitchBook. That puts the sector on pace to secure nearly $1 billion in investment by year-end, greatly surpassing last year’s record of $650 million. For more historical context, startups in the space brought in only $62 million in 2012, $225 million in 2014 and $231 million in 2016.

The 20-Min Term Sheet

Alternative financier Clearbanc says it will invest $1 billion in 2,000 e-commerce startups in 2019. Here’s the catch: Until the companies have paid back 106 percent of Clearbanc’s investment, Clearbanc takes a percentage of their revenues every month. Clearbanc’s goal is to help companies preserve equity, favoring a revenue share model rather than the traditional VC model, which eats equity in startups in exchange for capital. I spoke to Clearbanc co-founder Michele Romanow to learn more about Clearbanc’s attempt to disrupt venture capital.

Startup capital

Extra Crunch

TechCrunch’s Megan Rose Dickey authored the be-all-end-all story on the shared-electric-scooter business. Here’s a quick passage: “The startup ecosystem had become accustomed to the ethos of begging for forgiveness, rather than asking for permission. But that’s not the case with electric scooters. These companies have found their entire businesses to be contingent on the continued approval from individual cities all over the world. That inherently creates a number of potential conflicts.” Extra Crunch subscribers can read the full story here. 

Plus, we dropped the Niantic EC-1, in which Greg Kumparak dives deep into the history of the maker Pokemon Go, contributor Sherwood Morrison looked at remote workers and nomads, who represent the next tech hub.

Unicorns are investors, too

TechCrunch has confirmed that Airbnb has invested between $150 million to $200 million in Indian hotel startup Oyo. Airbnb confirmed the existence of the deal but not the exact amount. The home-sharing giant is continuing to widen its focus beyond “unconventional” hotels as it prepares to begin selling pubic market investors on its long-term vision. Remember, this deal comes right after its big acquisition of HotelTonight.


WeWork acquired Managed by Q this week, a VC-backed startup that helps office managers and other decision-makers handle supply stocking, cleaning, IT support and other non-work related tasks in the office by simply using the Managed by Q dashboard. The company was most recently valued at $250 million, having raised a total of $128.25 million from investors such as GV,  RRE and Kapor Capital.


If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase News editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and I chat about the future of a16z, Jumia’s IPO, the Midas list and more of this week’s headlines.

Dissecting what Lyfts IPO means for Uber and the future of mobility

Extra Crunch offers members the opportunity to tune into conference calls led and moderated by the TechCrunch writers you read every day. This week, TechCrunch’s Kirsten Korosec and Kate Clark led a deep-dive discussion into Lyft’s IPO and the outlook for the business going forward.

After skyrocketing nearly 10% on its first day hitting the public markets, Lyft stock has faded back down towards its IPO price as some investors grow more concerned over the company’s path to profitability (or lack thereof) and the long-term fundamentals of the business. But Lyft’s public listing is bigger than just the latest in increasingly common unicorn IPOs. As the first public “transportation-as-a-service” company, Lyft offers the first inside glimpse into the business model and its economics, and its development may ultimately act as the canary in the coal mine for the future of transportation.

“Lyft, hasn’t just survived, they’ve grown. 18.6 million people took at least one ride in the last quarter of 2018. That’s up from 16.6 million in late-2016. That illustrates the growth that the company has had. They’ve also said that they have 39% share of the ride-sharing market in the US. That’s up from 22% in 2016.

To me, the big question is let’s say they had Uber’s share, which is 66%, would they be able to make a profit? Is that the determination? And I’m not convinced that it is, which is why all these other aspects of the transportation-as-a-service business model [micromobility, AVs, etc.] are going to be really important.”

Image via Getty Images / Mario Tama

Kirsten and Kate dive deeper into what the market response to Lyft means for Uber and the timeline for its impending IPO. The two also elaborate on their skepticism of ride-hailing economics and debate which innovative transportation model will ultimately drive the path to profitability for Lyft, Uber and others.

For access to the full transcription and the call audio, and for the opportunity to participate in future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

Danny Crichton: Good afternoon and good morning everyone this is Danny Crichton, executive editor of Extra Crunch. Thanks so much for joining us today with TechCrunch reporters Kate and Kirsten.

I’ll start with a quick introduction for our two writers today. We have Kate Clark, our venture capital reporter. Kate has been with us for a while now covering everything in the startup and venture world. She’s also one of the hosts of TechCrunch’s podcast Equity and also writes our Startups Weekly newsletter.

Our other writer today is Kirsten, our intrepid automotive writer covering all things Elon Musk, Tesla, and everything else in the autonomous vehicle space. Kirsten has also been with us for quite some time and also writes a newsletter that she just introduced in the last couple of weeks, around transportation. So with that, I’m going to hand off the conversation to the two of them now.

Kirsten Korosec: Thanks so much Danny. This is Kirsten Korosec here. The newsletter is in a bit of a soft launch but it is being published Fridays and we hope to have an email subscription coming sometime in the future, so just keep an eye out for that.

I should also mention I too have a podcast centered around autonomous vehicles and future transportation called The Autonocast that comes out weekly. Thanks so much for joining the call and just a reminder, we want participation. So at about the halfway point, we’ll turn and open up the line and answer questions. Let’s get started.

Before we dig into all the hot takes out there, I think it’s worth providing a primer of sorts — a general timeline of events. We all probably know Lyft of course and most of us think of 2012 as the launch date when it came to San Francisco, but really Lyft was build out of the service of Zimride. Which is the ride-sharing company that John Zimmer and Logan Green founded in 2007.

A lot of attention has been placed on Lyft in 2018 with what happened in the past year, in the run-up to the IPO. But I think it is worth noting the intense activity and growth that happened between 2014 and 2016. These are critically important years for Lyft, just a frenzy of activity in a period where the company gained ground, investors, and partners.

To showcase the amount of activity that was happening; Lyft had two separate funding rounds, one for $530 million another for $150 million, just two months apart in 2015. You might also recall in early-2016 its partnership with GM and the automakers’ $500 million dollar investment as part of the Series F $1 billion dollar fundraising effort.

That was really interesting because GM’s president at the time Dan Ammann took a seat on the board, which he has since vacated. As Lyft and GM started realizing that they were competitors. Now, Dan is the CEO of GM Cruise which is the self-driving unit of GM.

2017 and 2018 were also big years, as Lyft launched their first international market in Toronto. They made big moves on the autonomous vehicle front, which we’ll talk about today, and in micromobility. Their scooter business launched in Denver in 2018. They bought Motivate, which is the oldest and largest electric bike share company in North America. Then, we finally get to the end of 2018, and this is when Lyft confidentially files a statement with the FDC and we’re off with the races to the IPO.

The last two months or three months is when Lyft unveiled its prospectus, met with investors, priced its IPO and made its public debut. So Kate what are the nuts and bolts of the IPO and what’s happening right now?

Kate Clark: Hi everybody this is Kate. So I’m just going to mention really quickly the timeline these last couple of months in the run-up to Lyft’s highly historical IPO. So going back to December, that’s when Lyft initially filed confidentially to go public. We later find out that they are going public on the NASDAQ when they eventually unveiled their S1 in early March.

This is after Lyft had raised $5 billion in debt and equity funding at a $15 billion dollar valuation, so there are a lot of people paying attention to what was the first ever rideshare IPO. So then in early-March, we’re able to get a closer look at Lyft’s S1, which tells us that the company has $911 million in losses in 2018 and revenues of $2.2 billion. So after calculating and pulling together some data, a lot of people were quick to find out that that means Lyft has some of the largest losses ever for any IPO. But also has some of the largest revenues ever for any pre-IPO company, just following Google and Facebook in that category.

So this is a really interesting IPO for a lot of people given these sky-high losses but also these huge, huge revenues. The next we see Lyft price their IPO between $62 and $68 dollars a share. Some people were quick to say that that was maybe a little underpriced, given that this was a highly anticipated IPO with a ton of demand. So on the second day of Lyft’s roadshow, the process, they say that their IPO is oversubscribed. So demand is apparently huge, their oversubscribed, so they decide we’re going to increase the price of our shares.

Image via GettyImages / maybefalse

So Lyft then says they gonna charge a max of $72 per share and then on the day of their IPO they charge $72 per share, the next day opening at $87 per share. So we see a huge IPO pop that I don’t think was particularly surprising given that they already spoke of this demand, and we had already known that there was a lot of demand on Wall Street. Not just for Lyft but just for unicorn IPO’s of this stature, given that there are so few of these. So Lyft began trading hitting $87 per share though, if you’ve been following the news that’s not were Lyft is today.

Kirsten: Yeah so I was just about to ask — Kate give me the latest numbers, you know a lot of focus is on that opening day but things haven’t exactly sustained. So what’s happened in the past few days?

Kate: Yeah it’s really tough to manage expectations after an IPO. I mean, I think there has been a lot of criticism towards Lyft now and I think it’s trading below its initial share price. So as I mentioned Lyft opened at $87 per share, it priced at $72, but almost immediately they began trading below that $72 price per share. So they closed Tuesday trading at $68.96 per share. Still boasting a market cap larger than $19 billion. So they’re still significantly valued at more than they were as a private company at $15 billion but it doesn’t look good to be trading below a price per share so quickly.

However, it actually did hit its IPO price for just a minute today, so maybe let’s give it a few more hours and see where it closes. It’s possible that it will sort of jump towards that $72, but it’s still trading quite significantly below that $87.

Kirsten: With IPOs like this, and especially such a high profile one, there’s going to be a ton of attention on share price and on volatility. And so I’m wondering, in your view, what did this first week, or first few days of volatility say to you? What does it say about Lyft’s future and, well certainly, its present?

Kate: Yeah. I mean, it’s hard to say. I think a lot of people were questioning if Wall Street was going to be interested in a company like Lyft that’s extremely unprofitable at this time and has years left before it will reach profitability, if indeed it ever reaches profitability.

So at this point you got to wonder, do some of these investors that did buy Lyft right off the bat, were they really long on Lyft? Because it does look like a lot of those investors have already sold their stock and perhaps weren’t as invested in Lyft’s long-term profitability plan, which involves a lot of very iffy things, like the future of autonomous vehicles, which we’ll talk about later in this call. And there’s a lot of uncertainty there.

But with that said, it’s not uncommon for a stock to experience volatility right off the bat, and you can’t assume the future of that stock price just because of some early volatility.

And we gathered some examples of IPOs where there was some early volatility that did not determine the long term future. So Carvana, for example, which is an online used car dealer in the automotive space, and it did experience volatility at first, with the stock sliding in the first few months but ultimately trended upward.

Kate: So Carvana opened at $13.50 a share, falling below its IPO price, so it didn’t even have the IPO pop. And then in 2018, it hit an all-time high of $65 per share. Today, it’s trading around $58 per share, so that’s ultimately a positive story to be told there.

And then another example on the other side of things is Snap, which actually took four months to dip beneath its 2017 IPO price, and we all know Snap has definitely not been a success story and it’s trading well below its offer price. But then finally, Facebook, for example, dropped below its IPO price on its second day of trading and then actually had a rough first year on the stock market before the stock ultimately took off and became a very obvious success.

Kirsten: So, Kate, I’m wondering why you think that there was that initial run up on that first day. Was it excitement? Was there something material that was pushing the price up? What was the cause?

Kate: I think there was a lot of excitement and demand around this IPO because it was very much one-of-a-kind, and there were a lot of investors that it seemed were really long on the possibility of Lyft becoming this hugely profitable company. And I think a lot of that was because in the S1, although you did see these really, really big losses — quite major, just ridiculously huge losses — you did see that they were shrinking over time and that there was definitely a path in which Lyft could take where it would reach profitability, say, in the next five years.

And I think Wall Street was really paying attention to that, and they were not paying attention to some of the other metrics. Now, they’ve taken off their rose-colored glasses and they’re looking at Lyft as a public company, and it’s just a little bit different now that it’s actually completed its debut.

Kirsten: Well, so, I mean, I like to view IPOs often times, and especially in Lyft’s case, as a measure of an investors’ faith in the company’s growth prospects, because this is a company that while it does have quite a bit of revenue, it has significant losses and it’s really planning not just for the present day but for the future. It’s been called a disruptive business for a reason, and it is certainly very forward-looking. So I’m wondering if you think it was a good strategy for Lyft. They wanted to open it up to “the everyman” when they actually went to market. They did a different approach, and do you think this might have had an effect? I mean, it’s very on-brand for them to do this, but I’m wondering if you thought that means that some of the investors aren’t as disciplined.

Kate: Do you mean with the fact they were providing bonuses to their employees and drivers to actually participate in the IPO as well?

Kirsten: Absolutely. That’s actually a really good point that maybe you can elaborate on. Lyft did a little bit of a more open approach for its IPO. Typically IPOs can be closed off to only large, institutional investors. So did this set them up perhaps to have more volatility?

Kate: Yeah, Lyft provided some of their drivers up to, I think, $10,000 to, in theory, actually buy stock in the IPO. Do I think that had a high impact? I don’t know. I think there’s not enough comparison, not enough data to really make a decision or to make a hot take on whether that really was part of the volatility. I think just given the uncertain nature of Lyft’s future and their big losses, I think their volatility was pretty inevitable, and I think people paying attention to this are probably not particularly surprised by how the stock has fared in these first couple days.

And I do want to add there’s this six-month lock-up period for the venture capital funds that own Lyft and as well as their employees, so I think we’re not sure what’s going to happen when that lock-up period ends and those holders can just sell their stock right then or how that will impact the stock price, as well.

Image via TechCrunch/MRD

Kirsten: So something to keep an eye on. It reminds me a lot of a company I write a lot about, which is Tesla, and I’ve been covering them for years. And it’s one of the most volatile stocks, and their investors, they certainly have large, institutional investors, but the number of fanboys that they have with smaller investors, either prop up the share price sometimes or add to that volatility, and I’m kind of really curious to see if that happens with Lyft. If you go to a shareholder meeting at Tesla, for example, it’s filled with people who are passionate about the brand and its CEO, Elon Musk.

And Lyft and possibly Uber, if they end up finally going through with their IPO, you can see that potentially happening because people feel very strongly about the brand and also the service it provides. So I’m curious to see how this all sort of shakes out. And I tend to take the view that I invest personally in mutual funds and things like that. I don’t invest in any of these companies, but the long, patient view tends to be the better one, and trying to catch a falling knife, as investors have told me, is never really a good idea.

So I’m curious to see if investors sort of grow up and learn with Lyft, if they’ll become disciplined and just sort of wait it out and see them play out the growth prospects for the company in the long term. So, we’ve been talking about Lyft and I can’t not talk about Uber as a result. I’m wondering what you think this might mean for Uber. The big story initially was let’s beat Uber to IPO and I’m wondering what this means then. Is this indicative of what Uber is going to experience?

Kate: I think that question is really at the top of everyone’s mind right now, including my own. I will say that I still do think it was highly beneficial for Lyft to get out first. Because imagine if and when Uber does too experience volatility, which it probably will, if it were to have gone first, I think that would have frightened Lyft a lot more than Lyft’s volatility may or may not be frightening Uber. So, with that said, I think I’m of two minds right now with my thoughts on how this impacts Uber’s IPO. I think that if Lyft stock continues to be volatile and perhaps even falls lower than it already has. I do think that there is a chance Uber may ultimately decide to push its IPO back.

I think that for a few reasons, namely being that Uber is not in a huge rush to go public. They do have the ability to wait. They have filed to go public. So it’s likely to happen quite soon, but it may not happen in April as they are reportedly planning to do.

On the other hand, Lyft went public at like a $24 or $25 billion dollar market cap. Whereas Uber is going to debut at maybe a $120 billion dollar initial market cap. So these IPOs, although they are both ride hail IPOs and they are very similar companies in a lot of ways, they’re also very different and Uber is operating on an entirely different scale though it still is unprofitable. And has some of the same issues that, investors are probably noting about Lyft.

I think it’s either going to be that it’s maybe that they do decide to push it back or maybe that Uber is like, well we’re five times larger, six times larger. We have much larger statistics to show to investors. There’s just a chance it could go either way. I wish I had a better, more concrete answer, but I just don’t think we know yet.

Kirsten: Well I’m okay with not taking hot takes just a few days into this IPO. I think this is a good time to open it up to questions. While we wait for a question, I will do one quick follow up with you Kate. What do you think this means for Uber? Will it delay its IPO?

Kate: Right now, no, I don’t think they’re going to. But it’s like I said, it’s tough to say given that it’s only been a few days of Lyfts IPO. But no, I think you’ve got to imagine that they are ready to discuss the possibilities of Lyfts IPO and already planned ahead if there was volatility. They maybe already assumed that would happen, given that that’s not uncommon. So right now I’m going to say no, I don’t think they’re going to delay, but it’s certainly still a possibility.

Kirsten: Okay, great. I think another really interesting piece for Uber was their acquisition of Careem. This is a deal that was made right before their IPO, so it was shifting attention away from Lyft, just for a moment.

Why did Uber do this? Is this not a signal that they’re delaying their IPO? Is this just prepping for it? What are you hearing on it? I’m wondering if this might have just been a strategy to show the world investors, specifically potential shareholders, what the road ahead is going to look like. Or is it some other reason — Is it to justify their really big losses?

Image via Careem / Facebook

Kate: I think it’s the latter two things you said.  Just to give some background Uber is paying about $3.1 billion to acquire Careem, which is a Middle Eastern ride-hailing company. So basically just the Uber of the Middle East. Uber does have a history of acquiring, smaller competitors like this in different markets where it’s not active, just as a way for Uber to quickly grow essentially.

So I do think it’s a big deal to make just before going public. So I guess we don’t know if they necessarily will go public in April, but I think it was a move to present to public market investors as a prep for an IPO, to show “we just acquired this company, here’s more evidence of future growth”. Like you mentioned, it’s definitely a justification of those huge losses that we know Uber has.

Kirsten: Thanks for that. Questions?

Caller Question: Hi there, so when we talk about looking ahead and moving towards profitability — what role, if any, do you think the acquisition of a scooter or other mobility companies will have for companies like Lyft and Uber?

Kirsten: That’s a great question. I think it’s going to be a huge piece of both of their businesses. A lot of people describe this as the first ride-hailing IPO. We need to stop calling this a ride-hailing company. These are transportation-as-a-service companies and they’re making money. But generating revenue as opposed to making profit is a totally different thing. When you start talking about ridesharing, it’s a tough business. With those it’s an asset-light business, right? They don’t own the cars and then they technically don’t employ these drivers.

But at the same time, as of 2016 only something like 1% of people in the US were using rideshare. So you see this opportunity, but they’re not pushing forward. There is a ton of car ownership still that’s happening. Yes, sharing has absolutely increased, but 17 million new cars were sold in the US last year. So scooters, bike share and other businesses are going to be key to their paths to profitability because ride-sharing alone is just difficult to make a profit. It’s not difficult to generate revenue. It’s difficult to make a profit on.

And I’m wondering, talking about that road to profitability, I do think it’s worth noting how much they have grown. Lyft, hasn’t just survived, they’ve grown. 18.6 million people took at least one ride in the last quarter of 2018. That’s up from 16.6 million in late 2016, that illustrates the growth that the company has had.

They’ve also said that they have 39% share of the ride-sharing market in the US. That’s up from 22% in 2016. To me, the big question is let’s say they had Uber’s share, which is 66%, would they be able to make a profit? Is that the determination? And I’m not convinced that it is, which is why all these other aspects of the transportation-as-a-service business model are going to be really important.

Kate: I think what you pointed out is important, about Lyft and Uber both becoming transportation businesses, not ride-hailing companies and I think their long-term visions involve scooters, bikes, autonomous vehicles, all sorts of different models of transportation beyond just car sharing.

Kirsten: I hate to be wishy-washy here and say, I don’t know, but I do really think that it’s going to come down to a variety of items all coming together. It’s just not going to be enough for Lyft to scale up its ride-hailing business. And I should point out that Uber should be treated in some ways the same way, but there are some distinct differences. But it’s important for us to think of Lyft as a transportation-as-a-service business. I mean they say in their prospectus that transportation is a massive market opportunity. The hard part of course is turning that into a profit. There might be opportunity there.

So there’s this asset-light business that they have right now, which is the ride-hailing, but then they are making acquisitions in the micromobility space and that is going to become more capital intensive. And that’s going to force them to change their business. And then there’s the autonomous vehicle piece. And then finally, I actually think that one of the pieces of their S1 that has really not received much attention at all is what they’re pursuing in terms of public transportation. And they have said that they, and Uber, intend on being a piece of the public transit ecosystem.

Now that doesn’t mean that they’re going to necessarily be operating buses, but there are people that I’ve talked to in the industry who actually feel like, in Uber’s case, they want to control every mode of transportation. For Lyft, I see them seeing more of the opportunity financially with the data piece and becoming more of a platform and becoming that one-stop shop where you use an app to figure out if you want to use the scooter or a bike, or ride-hailing or buy that ticket for the L in Chicago or the Bart System.

So I really think that the public transit piece often gets ignored and cities are having so much more control now and weighing in. We see this in New York City with congestion pricing. It’s going to force Lyft and Uber to take advantage of these opportunities and use their platform in a way that perhaps accelerates faster than they had intended.

Kate: I’m very interested in the public transportation element, but I’m also very skeptical of the scooters and bikes in the future for Lyft, I think, given the unit economics, I certainly wouldn’t rely on them to be Lyft’s path to profitability. I think autonomous vehicles are a much more interesting path towards profitability. So a lot of companies, Uber, Lyft, Waymo and more are focusing on autonomous vehicles and their development, whether that be with hardware or software. How does Lyft’s strategy with autonomous vehicles differentiate from some of their competitors or does it does differentiate?

Kirsten: It does differentiate, and the funny thing is, is that so you don’t see micromobility necessarily as the oath to profitability and are interested in AVs and I write about AVs, but I see that AVs as a harder path to profitability in a way because of the nuts and bolts that it takes to develop them.

So just to weigh in really quickly on the micromobility piece and then I’ll move on to AVs; To show the opportunity but also the volatility in a real-world example for micromobility, I was in Austin for South by Southwest, I think you were there too, and you probably saw scooters everywhere, right? 18 months ago there were no scooters or bike share in the city. Then bike share came first.

Image via Flickr / Austin Transportation /

And I was talking to that mayor of Austin and one of the folks from Spin, which is a Ford owned business, and they told me something that was really remarkable that I hadn’t thought about, which was that scooters were disrupting the bike share business. So bikes share came in and then scooters came in and all of a sudden they’re pulling bikes off the streets because no one was using them or were not using them at the same level as scooters.

Lyft is going to go through these same exact growing pains and people are figuring out what works. And as you mentioned, the unit economics are an issue, the wear and tear on the scooters alone is driving up costs and driving down revenues certainly, but pretty much making it very difficult to make a profit on it.

But that’s a near term business, right? So it’s at least generating revenue right now. On the other hand, you have this other piece, which is the AV piece. Lyft is doing some really interesting things on the AV piece — they kind of have a two-prong approach.

So they basically created a ton of partnerships to use their platform. So this started a couple of years ago and companies like Aptiv,, even Waymo and nuTtonomy, which Aptiv just recently bought about a year ago and GM, and Lyft basically allows developers to use their platform and connect to their autonomous vehicle and offer these rides.

And the best example of this, if you’ve been to CES or if you have been to Las Vegas I should say more specifically, is this partnership that Lyft has with Aptiv — and Aptiv as a tier one supplier, they used to be called Delphi, they spun out, they bought nuTonomy, and they’re Aptiv now. And this is taking Aptiv automated BMW, which are on the Lyft network. If you hail a ride, you might be asked if you want a self-driving car, or “are you okay with a self-driving car?” And they have a safety driver, no humans have been pulled away from it yet. But they provided about 35,000 rides since I want to say January 2018.

Then they’re also doing Level 5, a dedicated self-driving vehicle division that launched in 2017. And here they’re basically creating an open self-driving system or open SDS. On top of that, they have partnered with Magna, an auto parts producer, to develop these self-driving systems that can be manufactured at scale.

And so you just see a rush of partnerships and sort of dual approaches and all of that costs a lot of money. And I can’t emphasize the amount of money that it costs or will cost to develop these systems and deploy them commercially. And I hear from other companies figures like $5 billion to get self-driving vehicles. So developing the full stack, doing fleet management, maintenance, all of that — that’s a lot of money. And, I’m not sure where Lyft, will get that capital, will they get it from the open market or will they have to go and ask for more capital.

Kate: So when do you think then that Lyft will be able to commercialize autonomous vehicles?

Kirsten: The timeline? So depending on who you talk to, you can hear from any of these developers between five years and 30 years. I think it’s important to talk about language and how we talk about autonomous vehicles. So to be clear, there is currently not a single commercial autonomous vehicle deployment where a human being or safety driver has been pulled away from the wheel. It just doesn’t exist.

There are plenty of pilots and Waymo is probably considered the leader in that list, though it is a bit of a confusing one for me because they have so many partnerships and they’ve become competitors to some of those partnerships. The analogy I use is “Survivor,” the reality show. Everyone wants to make these alliances so they don’t get voted off the island.

And now we’re at that point where autonomous vehicle development has entered what we call the trough of disillusionment, which is heads down, “let’s get away from the hype, let’s do the hard work.” And I think we’re going to see a lot of those partnerships and headwinds really come up in the next year, 18 months. So to put a target date on Lyft, it’s really going to depend on which one of those partnerships really play out and are real. I think the one with Aptiv seems the most real to me based on what I know the company is doing and I can see them doing a lot more pilots in the next 18 months.

Does that mean commercial deployment without a human safety driver behind the wheel? I’m not sure I can see a lot more these pilots with a human safety driver expanding beyond Las Vegas. I see pilots happening absolutely in the next year to 18 months. The issue is going to be when is that human safety driver going to be pulled out and with which partner.

Kate: So should we open it up to questions again?

Caller Question: Hi, I was just wondering how we should think about the regulatory risks that might exist as these companies expand to new cities, new markets, or even the public transport use case you mentioned. Thanks.

Kirsten: The regulatory piece is an interesting one. Let’s talk about ride-hailing first. We’ve already seen the regulatory environment, in cities, push back against companies like Uber and Lyft. I think the congestion pricing model that just launched in New York City is going to be one to watch and could be something that will put pressure on, on businesses like Lyft.

Kate: I agree and just to speak, quickly on the scooters; I think the narrative around scooters has been pretty dominated by how cities have forced them out or cities push these strict regulatory barriers on them. And I think that’s still playing out very much. There are even some scooter providers that have had to pull out of cities that they worked very hard to get into in the first place. So I think that has slowed down some of the growth there. And given that Lyft has micromobility as such a key part of their road to profitability, I think that’s partially why I am a little bit skeptical of how that’s gonna play out.

Kirsten: One thing we’ve found, and something to consider for Uber as well, in the future, if any of these AV developers end up, filing for IPOs on their own — there’s been chit chat about Waymo someday doing that or GM cruise someday— the implications for all of these companies and their relationship with cities should not be ignored or undervalued.

And I think you see a bit of that playing out with the present day track we have, which is the ride-hailing scooters and bike share cities and transit agencies or the DOT of different counties finding that they are in a more powerful position than they’ve ever been before. And they are exerting that power.

And so you will see instances like Los Angeles where they have put forth a mandatory data sharing component if you want to operate in their city. This raises some privacy concerns by the way, but it also adds another cost to a company or certainly forces them to look at their business a little bit differently.

Then you start talking about AVs and where are they will operate, how they will operate, where are they will park, what type of vehicle will be allowed in the urban center. In places like Europe, there are strict emissions rules, so that’s going to go to an AV or hybrid profile. And it’s important to think about what that regulatory framework might be and acknowledge the fact that it’s really a mishmash.

There are voluntary guidelines on the federal level right now, but there were no mandates. And so it’s really left up to the cities, counties and states to decide how an AV might be deployed. It’s going to mean probably more lobbyists in DC working with federal folks to ensure that their business doesn’t get hamstrung as a result as well as more of a presence in those cities and states and counties.

But Kate, I’m wondering what is your view from a startup perspective? Do you think of Lyft as a startup anymore are they acting like a startup or are they acting like a company that could handle all of these different complicated, various challenges? I mean, we’ve got pricing pressure, regulatory pressure or you’ve got AV development, opportunities with scooters and all this other stuff. So are they acting like a company that is able to handle this?

Image via Getty Images / Jeff Swensen

Kate: That’s an interesting question. I mean, they’re definitely not a startup anymore by, by anybody’s definition. You maybe could have still used that word, if they were still private, but even then, I know many people would yell at you for using that term for a company worth $15 billion. But now it’s a public company. It’s not a startup. I don’t think they’re acting like a startup, no. I think that they are mature in the way that they’re handling all of these different, so-called paths to profitability.

But we need to wait and see. Let’s see how this year goes, let’s see how they handle all the criticism that they’re going to undoubtedly take from Wall Street or from everyone who’s either interested in buying or just taking a seat and watching how the stock favors and then we’ll know what kind of lessons they took from all those years as a private company. Then we can decide if their behavior is really that of a mature public company.

Kirsten: I do want to make one point that I think is an interesting one on Lyft’s strategy versus Uber is in terms of AVs. Let’s all put a big asterisk that says no, AVs are still a ways out. It is important to note the Lyft and Uber’s strategies for AVs are wildly different and Uber does not take this dual approach. Uber is throwing a ton of capital towards developing their own, self-driving stack and also they’ve done, some acquisitions as well.

They’ve also had quite a bit of trouble. Last year Uber had the first self-driving vehicle fatality that happened in Tempe, Arizona, which looked like it was going to derail their self-driving unit, but it did not. They’re back, testing in a very limited way, but Lyft’s is all about what they call the democratization of autonomous vehicles.

And we can look at that as marketing speech, but I do think that it’s important to look at those words because it shows what their business model is. Their business model is partnerships, alliances, opening up the platform and casting the widest net possible. What I’m very interested to find out is which approach will end up being the winner. It’s going to be a very long game. It’s not going to be anything that’s going to be determined in the next year. I think what Lyft’s proven is that when they look like they’re down and out, they come back.

We’ll see what the better approach is. Do you do everything in-house and launch your own robo-taxi service? Or take capital partners on or do the Lyft approach, with multiple partners? Are partnerships actually too complicated? As someone who covers the startup world, do you have a thought on which one might work or not?

Kate: I have no idea which will work better and I’m sort of excited to see where this all goes, especially as Uber and Lyft are now going to be public.

That’s a good spot to end the call on.

Kirsten: Thanks so much for joining. Thanks again for being Extra Crunch subscribers, we really appreciate it. Bye everyone.

Startups Weekly: Why Lyfts $2.2B IPO wasnt crazy land or nuts

Lyft completed its long-awaited IPO this week, trading 21 percent higher Friday than its initial offering price of $72 per share. It closed its first day of trading at about $78 per share, up roughly 9 percent.

I spoke to IPO guru Brian Hamilton, the CEO of banking software company Sageworks, about Lyft’s offering to get a sense of how Wall Street views the buzzworthy tech unicorn. As I wrote earlier this week, Wall Street doesn’t seem to care about profitability, prioritizing growth instead. Lyft is definitely growing, quickly, and working hard to shrink its losses. Hamilton said the price per share was reasonable, and, given Lyft’s positive cash flows, he seemed confident the company will fare well on the Nasdaq this year.

He was especially clear about one thing: Lyft’s offering is nothing like Snap’s. “The camera company,” if you remember, had posted only $404.5 million in revenue ahead of its IPO, which valued it at $23.8 billion: “It’s not crazy land; it’s not nuts; it’s not Twitter, it’s not Snap; it’s reasonable actually, I’m surprised,” Hamilton told TechCrunch. “I’ve seen some of these tech companies go for much higher valuations [and] those companies commanded much higher sales multiples.”

Ultimately, Lyft commanded an 11x revenue multiple, on par with what we expect from Uber next month. Lyft could have priced higher given demand, though my Equity co-host Alex Wilhelm argued against that prospect on this special episode, where we discuss Lyft’s first day of trading.

Hamilton, like Alex and I, also emphasized the benefit of beating Uber to the public markets and debuting on the stock exchange at peak bull market: “The markets are hot, people want to put their money somewhere,” he said. “Even the people that have been on the fence want [Lyft stock].”

Here’s what else happened this week.

Uber is buying…

…Careem, its Middle Eastern counterpart. Uber will pay a whopping $3.1 billion to acquire the seven-year-old company. The deal had been rumored for months and is expected to close in Q1 2020, pending applicable regulatory approvals.

Airbnb’s road to IPO

Airbnb announced this week that it has checked in half-a-billion guests to its 6 million global participating properties. Damn. It’s also closing in on some of the larger hospitality industry incumbents like Hilton and Marriott. This paints a nice picture for a company that is more than ready to IPO and is surely preparing its pitch to public market investors. No word yet on when Airbnb will file, but it’s looking like it’s still several months out.

Deal of the week

I promised myself I wouldn’t write Casper and unicorn in the same sentence, but it seems inevitable at this point. The mattress startup raised a $100 million Series D this week at a valuation of $1.1 billion and became the newest entry to the unicorn club. Target — which once tried to acquire Casper — NEA, IVP and Norwest Venture Partners participated in the round. Casper has previously raised $240 million in equity funding from celebrity investors Leonardo DiCaprio and 50 Cent, as well as institutional investors, including Lerer Hippeau.

Startup capital

Restaurant manager Toast raises $250M at $2.7B valuation
Airwallex raises $100M at a valuation north of $1B
Vlocity nabs $60M Series C on $1B valuation raises $37M to take on SAP 
Boundless gets $7.8M to help immigrants navigate the green card process

Venture $$$

Jon Sakoda, a former partner at the esteemed venture capital firm NEA, has taken the wraps off his new, Cisco-backed fund, called Decibel. Sakoda can’t disclose the precise size of the fund yet, but he told TechCrunch he’s working very collaboratively with Cisco, including its corporate venture arm, Cisco Investments. Plus, 500 Startups has raised $33 million for its Middle Eastern-focused fund, 500 Falcons.

Extra Crunch

This week’s recommended read for our Extra Crunch subscribers: What’s the cost of buying users from Facebook and 13 other ad networks? Subscribe to EC here.

Podcast M&A

Spotify is making good on its promise to spend millions on podcast M&A, following its purchases of Gimlet and Anchor for $340 million. This week, the music streaming giant announced that it had acquired a small podcasting studio called Parcast, known best for true-crime and other factual serials in genres like mystery, science fiction and history.

Meet Evan Spiegel’s sister, Caroline

She spoke to TechCrunch about her first big project. Called Quinn, Caroline plans to launch a website dedicated to sexy text and audio on April 13th. She describes Quinn as “a much less gross, more fun Pornhub for women.” Read TechCrunch’s Josh Constine’s full interview with Caroline here.


If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos, Crunchbase News’ Alex Wilhelm and I chat about Wall Street’s appetite for unicorns, Casper’s big round and more. Then, in a special Equity Shot, we discuss Lyft’s first day trading on the Nasdaq.

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