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Lyft's 2018 net loss looms over its IPO filing

A hand holding a phone showing the Lyft app with a dollar sign
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Lyft has publicly filed its IPO prospectus, and word is that we should be getting the same from Uber within the next few weeks — though not this week.

By the numbers: Lyft's $911 million net loss in 2018 will be a massive hurdle to jump, given that it would appear to be the largest-ever net loss for a company entering the public markets for the first time. As of now, there is no visible path to profitability.

What they're saying: The co-founders write, "We thoughtfully balance investments in growth and profitability considerations, while deliberately leaning more towards growth (especially in these early days)."

  • "Early days" equals 11 years since the founding of its predecessor company, Zimride, and seven years since the founding of Lyft.

The state of play: Expect Lyft to emphasize focus when speaking with prospective investors. It's a ride-hail company, growing at a faster clip than is Uber, and not too distracted by large side projects like food delivery and autonomous vehicle development.

  • It's a smart message, although not entirely accurate. Lyft not only invests in other micro-mobility efforts like bike sharing and scooters, it also has major AV initiatives.
  • Plus, it's unclear that ride-hail is actually a viable business. Uber once said its ride-hail efforts were profitable in large, developed markets like North America, but it's not reaffirmed that claim lately, and Lyft has never made it. One possible reason: the massive, albeit largely anecdotal, increase in rider discount offers. Maybe ride-hail is best as a monopoly, like taxis once were.

Lyft did briefly consider a direct listing, per a source familiar, but is going for a traditional IPO because it needs the new cash. This is a financing event more than a liquidity event.

  • Lyft CEO Logan Green received a 2018 base salary of $401,500, plus nearly $42 million in stock awards. He also apparently required over $935,000 in "personal security services."

What's next: Keep eyes on Fidelity, which holds a 7.71% pre-IPO stake in Lyft. Does it buy back in at IPO, thus validating the concept of pre-IPO optionality investing? Or is it already done and just wants to harvest, thus casting doubt on the minotaur funding model.

Go deeper: Meet the startups that have raised more than $1 billion

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