Uber, Silicon Valley’s prized amoral unicorn, is presumed to be a financial titan and a sure-thing IPO in the near future. Which may be true. But one thing that’s frequently missing from the conversation about its inevitable dominance over virtually every facet of our lives is the answer to a fundamental question: Does it make money? According to internal financial documents obtained by Gawker, the answer is a resounding no. Uber has lost tens of millions of dollars since 2012, and the documents suggest that CEO Travis Kalanick’s boasts about the company’s exponential revenue growth may be overblown.
Kalanick rarely skips an opportunity to flog the company’s enormous perceived financial success or herald its meteoric course—in 2012, he told a conference audience “Whenever I have a bad day, I just look at our overall revenue graph.”
In May, the New York Times reported that Uber is in the midst of raising an extra $1.5 billion in venture capital backing—even though it doesn’t really need the money right now—bringing the startup’s paper valuation to a mammoth $50 billion. At the end of July, the Wall Street Journalreported that the company’s valuation had passed the $50 billion mark, matching Facebook as the most valuable venture-backed startup in history. Neither story mentioned how much profit, if any, the company actually books. The Journal noted only that “the company hopes to attract enough drivers and passengers that its business model becomes profitable.” The month before, an undated bonds term sheet viewed by Bloomberg showed operating losses of $415 million.
While it is de rigueur among observers of Silicon Valley’s Game of Thrones to dismiss questions of profitability as short-sighted hand-wringing, the detailed documents obtained by Gawker demonstrate conclusively for the first time that Uber has been financing its astronomic growth by taking staggering losses.
This unaudited revenue and expense breakdown for 2013 and 2014 shows that, though Uber’s net revenue has grown substantially, the company lost more than $56 million in 2013. By the first half of 2014 alone, that number had leapt to more than $160 million.
Another document, laying out quarterly profits and losses in 2012 and part of 2013, shows the same dynamic: healthy growth in revenue coupled with steadily deepening losses. In 2012, Uber’s losses totaled $20.4 million; from the first quarter of 2012 until mid-2013, quarterly losses more than doubled from $3.5 million to $8.1 million.
Mike Dempsey, an analyst at CB Insights who has written extensively on Uber, explained to Gawker that Uber classifies everything it takes in after paying out its drivers as net revenue, and then deducts its other expenses—cost of sales, operations, etc.—to come up with a final (negative) number for profits:
Net revenue would be the revenue for the company minus any discount/rebates/fees etc. So in Uber’s case, their gross revenue would be equivalent to the cost of all Uber rides—however they only get a percentage of Uber ride fares (the rest go to the drivers), thus the net revenue figure is probably somewhere in the range of 20% of all fares (Uber’s fee). In terms of profit, that would be net income or EBIT/EBITDA.
In Uber’s case, he says, “when we get to net loss, that is what the company lost in the given quarter. So yes, they are still losing money.” And lots of it: Losses ballooned from more than $3 million in the first quarter of 2012 to over $8 million in the second quarter of 2013.
As a private company, Uber has been exceedingly selective about the financial-performance details it chooses to release, even as it luxuriates in attention as Tech’s Next Big IPO. Though it has been widely rumored to be taking losses as it rapidly expands in cities around the world(and undercuts local taxi businesses), the company has never confirmed that analysis. What ithas confirmed, both through Kalanick’s public statements and unsourced press accounts that appear to have originated with Uber, is that its revenue growth has been exponential.
These numbers are interesting on their own for a company that stays silent on its books unless Kalanick feels like boasting. But we can also now take a more educated look at those boasts. Late last year, Business Insider editor Henry Blodget relayed a feverishly dreamy outlook for Uber, predicting $2 billion in revenue by the end of 2015 “based on what I am hearing about the company’s financial performance.”
But in order to hit that much-hyped $2 billion mark, according to the revenue data we’ve obtained, Uber’s growth would have to accelerate rapidly. In the chart below, the modestly curved blue line represents Uber’s actual revenue growth through the middle of last year. The gray line is an extrapolation of that growth rate. And the near-vertical red line is the story Uber—or someone speaking on its behalf—sold to Business Insider.
We can also reexamine Kalanick’s headline-grabbing claim last year that Uber is “at least doubling” its revenue “every six months.” That seems doubtful when you look at the numbers. As shown in the second image above, Uber brought in roughly $32 million in Q1 and Q2 of 2013. The first image shows that Uber’s total 2013 revenue was $104 million, meaning it brought in $72 million in the second half of that year. That’s an impressive jump, but take a look at Q1 and Q2 for 2014: They add up to about $102 million for the first half of that year, meaning Uber’s revenues were more than $40 million short of doubling at that time—as it happened, almost the exact same time Kalanick made his “doubling” remark to the Wall Street Journal. (Kalanick didn’t specify whether he was talking about gross or net revenue, and there is a chance he was talking about the company’s total intake before paying out drivers rather than its net revenue. We don’t have the gross revenue figures.)
We also obtained this Uber balance sheet that shows how the company’s cash trove has ballooned, even as it takes a loss:
In Silicon Valley, after all, the boardroom mandate is to accumulate as much capital as possible, not spend it wisely. Uber did not respond to requests for comment on this data.
Do you have access to financial internals like this from your startup (or someone else’s)? We’d love to see it (especially if that startup is, say, Palantir or Snapchat). You can send me an email (PGP key is below) or use Gawker Media’s SecureDrop system.
Illustration by Jim Cooke. Additional reporting by Tommy Craggs.
Source: Seeking Alpha