On March 1 Lyft released its prospectus for its upcoming initial public offering. The rideshare company, which has given over one billion rides and claims over 18 million active riders, actually filed for its IPO in December. However, the newly-released prospectus or S1 form for the SEC includes detailed accounting of Lyft’s performance, including a reported $911 million annual loss in 2018.

Most of the coverage remarked that with the release of the prospectus, Lyft has “beaten” its bigger rival, fellow “unicorn” Uber, to market. (Forbes.com requested comment from Lyft on the filing but received no response.) For Lyft, such headlines may be part of the problem. The constant comparison of Lyft to Uber is reminiscent of the old positioning of #2 Avis to then-leader Hertz in the rental car market. It begs the question of just how Lyft will continue to differentiate its service from Uber. When the press calls the company the “Uber alternative”, a “kinder, gentler Uber,” or simply claims that Lyft’s positioning is simply “We’re not Uber,” it may make it difficult for Lyft to differentiate its service from its larger rival.
Nonetheless, there are a number of surprises in the documents Lyft filed with the SEC.  For example, how many of us knew Lyft began as Zimride back in 2007, as a college carpooling service? More relevantly, an eye-opening number Lyft puts in the prospectus is that the rideshare giant claims 39% US marketshare as of December 2018. This nearly doubles the 22% of the market it claimed in December 2017. Other estimates differ. According to market research firm Second Measure, as of September 2018, Lyft had 29 percent of the market, compared with Uber’s 69 percent. Another interesting number; as of the last quarter of 2018, Lyft had over 1.1million drivers operating in over 350 US and Canadian cities, although of course many are part-time or only driving temporarily. (At this time Lyft operates only in North America, while Uber operates in Europe, Latin America and India.) And like Uber, Lyft is also expanding into bicycles, electric scooters and other forms of transportation. Verge claims that “Lyft has been aggressively courting riders by heavily discounting its fares in the run-up to its IPO.” Having recently enjoyed a 10% discount on rides in February, gotten a promo for 50% off my next “Lux” ride, and paid just $27 (plus tip) to go the 20 miles from my house to LAX (often $70 in a taxi) this claim seems to have the ring of authenticity. But such promotions may have helped move the needle in Lyft’s direction, raising its market share. It all led to Lyft reaching $2.2 billion in revenue for 2018, but with a number potential investors may find hard to swallow—a $911 million loss.  The nearly one-billion dollar loss is 30% greater than the $682.8 million lost in 2016, and the $688.3 million in red ink from 2017. Lyft portrays the spending as part of its investment. Lyft claims they have built “a scaled network of drivers and riders, brought together by our robust technology.” Despite the losses, estimates are that Lyft may raise between $20 and $25 billion from its IPO, compared to estimates of $100 billion for its larger rival Uber. The company even plans to give some of its most active drivers bonuses of up to $10,000 so they can buy into the upcoming IPO. The unicorn class of 2019 promises some eye-popping IPOs, of which Lyft will be among the first to launch. But as the roadshow and dog and pony show kick off, what form Lyft’s path to profitability will take is no doubt a question many potential investors are already asking themselves.


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