Uber's leaked finances show the company might — just might — be able to turn a profit
One of the mysteries surrounding Uber is the question of why the company has not yet filed to go public. The app's revenues are known to be growing aggressively as it launches services in new countries and new cities. But, repeatedly, leaks of Uber's financial data have shown the company carrying huge losses.
Uber has taken $12 billion over 15 rounds of investment, and has a reported valuation of nearly $70 billion. If it were to float its stock in an IPO, it would need to raise a staggering amount for all those investors — 77 different groups, according to Crunchbase — to make a profit.
It would also need to show that its losses are diminishing over time, and that investors in Uber stock might one day own a company that makes money.
There have been several different leaks of Uber's financial data over the years, covering income from 2012 through Q4 2016. We gathered together all the numbers that have been reliably reported, focusing mainly on data from Uber's income statements. Our numbers came from Bloomberg, The Information, Valleywag, Gawker, AllThingsD, TechCrunch, The New York Times, and Naked Capitalism (find a full set of links to our raw numbers and references below).
The numbers show some patterns:
Revenue is indeed growing aggressively, if the leaks are to be believed, although growth in total business transacted on the Uber app began slowing down late last year. Gross bookings were $5.4 billion last year.
Net revenues – the cut that Uber keeps from each trip fare — also continue to grow healthily, reaching $1.7 billion in Q4 2016.
Uber's costs and expenses vastly outweigh its revenues. Uber is cheap because the company is heavily subsidising each trip.
But there is some evidence that Uber's losses are getting smaller over time. It also appears that Uber has some control over when it makes losses, and how big those losses are. That's a sign that the company may not be terminally unprofitable.
Of course, the data come with some heavy qualifications and caveats. Some financial periods are missing. The information was gathered from different leaks at different times over a period of years, and so the numbers may not accurately reflect Uber's current accounting. And the leaks also show that Uber may have changed the way it handles the accounting treatment for its business over the years, so some of our numbers may compare apples to oranges.
Uber acknowledged but did not respond to Business Insider's request for comment.
Nonetheless, when charted, the numbers show something typical for a tech startup: a rocket-ship of growing revenues coupled with equally dramatic losses — and yet, some indication that the business could make money in the future.
First, the big picture. Here are Uber's most recent gross bookings by quarter (data for Q3 2015 is missing):
Uber sold its China business to Didi Chuxing last year, so that sudden slowdown in growth might be a function of lost Chinese bookings on Uber. We simply don't know.
Uber's net revenue per quarter looks very positive. Net revenue is the cut Uber takes on each ride, which is roughly 20%.
Again, blank dates are where data are missing. BI
That's the good news. The bad news is that Uber's losses vastly exceed its net revenues. This chart shows the same revenue data (in blue) but with Uber's total losses (before taxes, interest, depreciation, etc.) plotted in red:
In Q2 2014 Uber made a profit, not shown on this chart, of $107 million. BI
That is not a good chart for Uber. It shows that the company is not only unprofitable but that its losses are sometimes greater than 100% of its revenue. The losses also do not show a pattern of declining over time. That will be fodder for those who suspect that Uber's model may be fundamentally uneconomic.
Here are Uber's total annual losses since 2012:
That's a lot of red ink. Again, no obvious sign that the scale of the bleeding is getting smaller.
But this next chart is one that looks a lot better for the company. It plots Uber's losses as a percentage of its net revenue:
Blank dates show data that were not available. BI
Clearly, Uber is still wildly unprofitable. But you could make an argument that the percentage scale of its losses is diminishing over time. It certainly looks as if Uber is able to change its spending as time goes by to become more or less unprofitable.
This is the type of evidence you'd want to demonstrate if you're making the case that in the long run Uber can become fundamentally profitable. An optimist would argue that Uber is so massive that people just aren't used to seeing losses on this scale. The revenues are huge too, and it may be that it is simply taking Uber a longer time to get its global business under control than it would take a smaller business, like Snapchat, for instance.
Of course, the cynics can find plenty here to argue that Uber is simply running its business at a loss, paying riders to get into private cars that are putting traditional taxis out of business.
Here are the raw numbers we used to create these charts
Raw numbers for 2016:
Raw numbers for 2015:
Raw numbers for 2014:
Raw numbers for 2013:
Raw numbers for 2012:
Uber's leaked finances came mainly from these sources:
Naked Capitalism, "Can Uber Ever Deliver? Part One – Understanding Uber’s Bleak Operating Economics."
The New York Times, "How Uber Lost More Than $1 Billion in the First Half of 2016."
Bloomberg, "Uber Loses at Least $1.2 Billion in First Half of 2016."
Bloomberg, "Uber's Loss Exceeds $800 Million in Third Quarter on $1.7 Billion in Net Revenue."
Bloomberg, "Uber Bonds Term Sheet Reveals $470 Million in Operating Losses."
The Information, "Uber’s Loss Decelerates, Reflecting China Exit."
The Information, "Uber’s Losses Grow, But So Do Its Profit Projections."
Valleywag, "Leaked: Uber's Internal Revenue and Ride Request Numbers"
Gawker, "Here Are the Internal Documents that Prove Uber Is a Money Loser."
AllThingsD, "Uber Filing in Delaware Shows TPG Investment at $3.5 Billion Valuation; Google Ventures Also In."