Transportation

Ride-hailing’s profitability promise is in its final countdown

Comment

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman (opens in a new window)

After a short hiatus, The Exchange is back. We’ll spend part of this week digging into the global venture capital scene’s Q1 performance, but today, we’re kicking off with a quick dive into Uber, Lyft, Deliveroo and DoorDash — and the ability of on-demand companies of various stripes to generate profit.

Uber is our lodestone today because it dropped a new SEC filing that includes some notes on its recent performance. And, most critically, a piece of guidance for investors concerning its ability to make money this year.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


By “make money,” we don’t mean traditional net income on a GAAP — generally accepted accounting principles — basis. We mean Uber is providing its public investors with notes on its future adjusted profitability. Real profits are still somewhere out in the uncharted future.

So let’s parse Uber’s latest, vet its profit promise, consider its rivals and their performance, and then ask ourselves if the great ride-hailing and food-delivery booms will ever make back the money they cost to scale.

Uber’s planned profits

In 2019, Lyft told investors to expect positive adjusted EBITDA by the final quarter of 2021; at the time, Uber said it would generate full-year positive adjusted EBITDA. Those are slightly different (if related) promises. Later, Uber moved up its profitability promise to Q4 2020, but that was not to be.

After Uber changed up its profitability timeline, COVID-19 came. The pandemic forced the American ride-hailing company to revert to its previous adjusted profitability promises.

Uber and Lyft took huge revenue hits as their core ride-hailing businesses dried up faster than water on a Texas sidewalk after COVID-19 lockdowns took effect. In response, Uber fell back on its Uber Eats business, while Lyft had to get by without a second business line.

Both Uber and Lyft lost gobs of money last year. But believers expected the ride-hailing market to come back, which gave them some breathing room on the stock market. That faith may be rewarded.

Today Uber dropped a new SEC filing detailing performance gains that should delight those willing to back the company during the pandemic’s darker periods (emphasis: TechCrunch):

Uber Technologies, Inc. (“Uber”) today announced that in March 2021 total company Gross Bookings reached the highest monthly level in the company’s nearly 12-year history. The company’s Mobility business posted its best month since March 2020, crossing a $30 billion annualized Gross Bookings run-rate, with average daily Gross Bookings up 9% month-over-month. The company’s Delivery business set another all-time record, crossing a $52 billion annualized Gross Bookings run-rate in March, growing more than 150% year-over-year.

As vaccination rates increase in the United States, we are observing that consumer demand for Mobility is recovering faster than driver availability, and consumer demand for Delivery continues to exceed courier availability. On April 7, Uber announced that it is increasing investments in driver incentives to improve driver availability in the near-term. We continue to believe that Uber is on track to reach quarterly Adjusted EBITDA profitability in 2021. 

To summarize: Last month was Uber’s best in history in terms of gross sales on its platform. That’s good, but not as good as you might think.

Uber Eats has scaled massively, meaning that the company’s overall revenue mix has shifted toward food delivery in the last year, but it is far less profitable than Uber’s main business. So, the company has reached a new gross bookings — total platform spend — record, but it’s made up of less profitable revenue than before.

We’re not hating. We’re merely observing!

What matters most is that final line. Uber still expects “quarterly Adjusted EBITDA profitability in 2021.” That’s good. Uber shares are up around 2% this morning on the news. Lyft shares are off 1.4% at the same time.

Why do we care about all of this? Because DoorDash went public recently, and it still loses money. Deliveroo went public recently, and it still loses money. GoPuff has yet to go public, but we presume it still loses money. Instacart has yet to go public, but we presume that it isn’t regularly profitable. And so on.

The fact that Uber has reaffirmed its profit promise is modestly good news for a host of private and public companies that stretch from direct competitor to loose comp. Sure, Uber merely sticking to its old promises is only so good. But imagine if Uber told the markets yet again that it would not reach heavily adjusted profits in yet another calendar year.

At some point, you’d have to give up hope!

So today’s Uber news is good for Uber. It’s somewhat good for Lyft, pretty good for Deliveroo and DoorDash, and probably all right for GoPuff. It’s excellent news for no one, however. What would have been great news for each of the companies we’ve listed would have been GAAP net income from Uber years ago. But we’re here instead, and Uber managing to generate Diet Coke profits by the end of 2021 is better than nothing.

The Exchange is back to the startup beat tomorrow morning!

More TechCrunch

When I attended Automate in Chicago a few weeks back, multiple people thanked me for TechCrunch’s semi-regular robotics job report. It’s always edifying to get that feedback in person. While…

These 81 robotics companies are hiring

The top vehicle safety regulator in the U.S. has launched a formal probe into an April crash involving the all-electric VinFast VF8 SUV that claimed the lives of a family…

VinFast crash that killed family of four now under federal investigation

When putting a video portal in a public park in the middle of New York City, some inappropriate behavior will likely occur. The Portal, the vision of Lithuanian artist and…

NYC-Dublin real-time video portal reopens with some fixes to prevent inappropriate behavior

Longtime New York-based seed investor, Contour Venture Partners, is making progress on its latest flagship fund after lowering its target. The firm closed on $42 million, raised from 64 backers,…

Contour Venture Partners, an early investor in Datadog and Movable Ink, lowers the target for its fifth fund

Meta’s Oversight Board has now extended its scope to include the company’s newest platform, Instagram Threads, and has begun hearing cases from Threads.

Meta’s Oversight Board takes its first Threads case

The company says it’s refocusing and prioritizing fewer initiatives that will have the biggest impact on customers and add value to the business.

SeekOut, a recruiting startup last valued at $1.2 billion, lays off 30% of its workforce

The U.K.’s self-proclaimed “world-leading” regulations for self-driving cars are now official, after the Automated Vehicles (AV) Act received royal assent — the final rubber stamp any legislation must go through…

UK’s autonomous vehicle legislation becomes law, paving the way for first driverless cars by 2026

ChatGPT, OpenAI’s text-generating AI chatbot, has taken the world by storm. What started as a tool to hyper-charge productivity through writing essays and code with short text prompts has evolved…

ChatGPT: Everything you need to know about the AI-powered chatbot

SoLo Funds CEO Travis Holoway: “Regulators seem driven by press releases when they should be motivated by true consumer protection and empowering equitable solutions.”

Fintech lender SoLo Funds is being sued again by the government over its lending practices

Hard tech startups generate a lot of buzz, but there’s a growing cohort of companies building digital tools squarely focused on making hard tech development faster, more efficient and —…

Rollup wants to be the hardware engineer’s workhorse

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is not just about groundbreaking innovations, insightful panels, and visionary speakers — it’s also about listening to YOU, the audience, and what you feel is top of…

Disrupt Audience Choice vote closes Friday

Google says the new SDK would help Google expand on its core mission of connecting the right audience to the right content at the right time.

Google is launching a new Android feature to drive users back into their installed apps

Jolla has taken the official wraps off the first version of its personal server-based AI assistant in the making. The reborn startup is building a privacy-focused AI device — aka…

Jolla debuts privacy-focused AI hardware

OpenAI is removing one of the voices used by ChatGPT after users found that it sounded similar to Scarlett Johansson, the company announced on Monday. The voice, called Sky, is…

OpenAI to remove ChatGPT’s Scarlett Johansson-like voice

The ChatGPT mobile app’s net revenue first jumped 22% on the day of the GPT-4o launch and continued to grow in the following days.

ChatGPT’s mobile app revenue saw its biggest spike yet following GPT-4o launch

Dating app maker Bumble has acquired Geneva, an online platform built around forming real-world groups and clubs. The company said that the deal is designed to help it expand its…

Bumble buys community building app Geneva to expand further into friendships

CyberArk — one of the army of larger security companies founded out of Israel — is acquiring Venafi, a specialist in machine identity, for $1.54 billion. 

CyberArk snaps up Venafi for $1.54B to ramp up in machine-to-machine security

Founder-market fit is one of the most crucial factors in a startup’s success, and operators (someone involved in the day-to-day operations of a startup) turned founders have an almost unfair advantage…

OpenseedVC, which backs operators in Africa and Europe starting their companies, reaches first close of $10M fund

A Singapore High Court has effectively approved Pine Labs’ request to shift its operations to India.

Pine Labs gets Singapore court approval to shift base to India

The AI Safety Institute, a U.K. body that aims to assess and address risks in AI platforms, has said it will open a second location in San Francisco. 

UK opens office in San Francisco to tackle AI risk

Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons

Featured Article

I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Women in tech still face a shocking level of mistreatment at work. Melinda French Gates is one of the few working to change that.

1 day ago
I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s  broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century