As Uber (reportedly) squeezes Lime, scooter startups run low on juice

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

In December of 2019, this column wrote an entry detailing Uber’s micro-mobility efforts. Just six months ago — a mere two quarters — Uber’s Jump team was on the record saying that its parent company wanted to “double down on micro-mobility.” At the time, before COVID-19 and the decline in human travel, it made some sense.

Things have changed for both Uber and micro-mobility sector. Uber’s financial performance was looking up before the pandemic, with the company promising a more aggressive adjusted profitability timeline. Lime, a dockless scooter company, was also making noise about profits—or something close to them.

Both goals now seem out of reach. Bird and Lime, the best-known American scooter companies, have both cut staff this year. And The Information recently reported that Uber may invest in Lime at a dramatically lowered valuation with an option to buy the company at a later date.

As Uber already has its own micro-mobility bet (recall that it bought JUMP and thus has its own scooters in-market), why would it go through the bother of repricing Lime to maybe buy it later? The Information notes that Uber’s own micro-mobility bet is expensive. But given Lime’s own persistent losses and cash burn I couldn’t make the idea square in my head. So, this morning let’s peek at Uber’s numbers ahead of earnings and see what we can learn about its 2019 in the micro-mobility world, and if that helps us understand why it might drop up to nine figures on Lime during the smaller company’s struggles.