Over the past decade, Uber changed urban transportation, disrupted entrenched taxi industries, defied regulators the world over and beat back questions about how it was altering the nature of work.
On Friday, it was tamed by Wall Street.
The ride-hailing giant’s first day of trading on the New York Stock Exchange began with a drop of almost 7 percent from its initial public offering price of $45. Uber raised $8.1 billion and its I.P.O. valuation of $82.4 billion made it one of the most valuable companies to go public in the United States, but that was far less lofty than had been anticipated before it began pitching its shares to investors.
Its stock tumble, which was highly unusual for what are typically carefully calibrated offerings, immediately raised questions about investor appetite for other money-losing tech start-ups that are poised to list their shares. It also pointed to miscalculations by the Wall Street banks that had taken Uber public and signified a disappointment for Dara Khosrowshahi, the chief executive, who was hired partly to steer the company through a successful I.P.O.
Few firms of Uber’s stature have stumbled so badly out of the gate as a public company. Other well-known tech brands, from Facebook to Snap to Alibaba to Lyft, all rose in their initial trades. In general, tech stocks have jumped — or “popped” in Wall Street parlance — an average of 21 percent on their first day of trading over the past 24 years, according to Dealogic.
Uber and its bankers appeared to have misjudged how much the company’s stock would be embraced by investors. Last year, bankers said Uber could be valued at $120 billion upon I.P.O., which would have made it the biggest American company ever to go public on an American stock exchange. But that number declined in recent weeks amid questions about whether the deeply unprofitable company could make money. That was compounded by the performance of rival Lyft, which went public in March and quickly fell below its I.P.O. price, and which posted a massive first-quarter loss this week.
Uber’s debut was also marred by a volatile stock market. On Friday, the S&P 500 index was on track for its fifth consecutive daily decline and its worst weekly performance of the year amid worsening trade tensions between the United States and China.
For other tech companies that are now moving toward the stock market — a list that includes workplace collaboration company Slack and fitness gear maker Peloton — Uber’s I.P.O. serves as a warning that fast-growing but unprofitable firms may not necessarily be snapped up by investors as they have been in the past.
“This is going to cause some more caution in the I.P.O. market,” said Matt Kennedy, a market strategist at Renaissance Capital, which manages I.P.O. focused exchange-traded funds. “Silicon Valley’s mantra of growth at all costs just does not fly on Wall Street.”
Uber is the biggest company to emerge from an age of smartphone apps, which began just over a decade ago after Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007. While other companies have adapted their businesses to mobile devices, Uber was a mobile native from the start, letting people hail rides with the touch of a button on their smartphones.
Along the way, it changed how people move around, allowing millions of people with no taxi licenses to become drivers without taking them on as full-time employees, an arrangement known as “gig work” that has led to labor protests and lawsuits.
Founded by Garrett Camp and Travis Kalanick in 2009, Uber began as a high-end black car service for the Silicon Valley elite. The app seized upon the introduction of the iPhone, which had an accelerometer, an electronic instrument used to measure changes in velocity, and later a global positioning system, which Uber used to help both drivers and riders navigate the world around them.
The app, first called UberCab, was born of Mr. Camp’s frustration at San Francisco’s lackluster transportation options and an unreliable taxi industry. After some urging, Mr. Camp tapped Mr. Kalanick to lead the company as chief executive.
Soon, UberCab became Uber and grew rapidly across the United States. Growth truly exploded when the company introduced UberX, a low-cost option that hooked customers with bargain fares and a near-ubiquitous service that spread quickly across the world.
By 2014, Mr. Kalanick’s company had moved from noun to verb. To “Uber” somewhere meant to catch a ride, even as competitors with identical offerings popped up across multiple continents. Mr. Kalanick, known for his competitive spirit and no-holds-barred approach to capitalism, raised billions in venture capital, building a war chest to battle his rivals with subsidized, artificially lowered ride fares. By 2016, Uber’s valuation had soared well north of $60 billion.
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The company ran into trouble in 2017. After years of cutthroat business tactics and a raucous culture rife with partying, harassment and other illicit behaviors, Uber’s reputation caught up to it. Mr. Kalanick was beset by multiple personal scandals, culminating in his eventual ouster.
Since then, his successor, Dara Khosrowshahi, a former chief of the online travel marketplace Expedia, has made it his goal to clean up the troubled company. His motto has been to always “do the right thing. Period.”
Mr. Khosrowshahi’s task is difficult. Though the company has spent millions to improve its brand, Uber’s reputation remains tarnished for some users. It must also improve its relationship with drivers, some of whom went on strike around the world on Wednesday to protest what they claimed were Uber’s unfair business practices.
And then there are the losses. Uber burned through nearly $2 billion in 2018 and does not expect to become profitable in the near future as it spends on ride-hailing and to expand into new businesses, such as Uber Eats, its food delivery service, and its autonomous vehicle development.
Mr. Khosrowshahi has not fully explained how Uber plans to eventually turn a profit. But he frequently compares the company to Amazon, the e-commerce giant that lost money for years as it diversified into other businesses before using its platform to turn a profit.
“What began as ‘tap a button, get a ride,’ has become something much more profound,” Mr. Khosrowshahi said in Uber’s paperwork to go public.