There was a time, not so long ago, when Uber was a financial juggernaut. An unheralded new capitalist force in tech, full of boastful pride and overflowing with venture capital.
But, alas, those days now seem almost sepia-toned. Uber's haughty tech bro persona is now less tolerable what with Uber's reputedly misogynistic office culture becoming common knowledge and one-time golden boy CEO Travis Kalanick tripping over his own bad behavior and poor decision-making with seemingly steady regularity. There's also the matter of Uber's purposefully mysterious financial situation. While there was once a certain appeal to the enigma of what Uber was doing with all those private market billions, raised eyebrows are now starting to furrow as Uber-watchers are wondering aloud if Kalanick and (what's left of) his senior team are managing Uber's money with the same lack of professionalism that they've apparently been using to govern their corporate culture.
And according to some private data that Uber has shared with Bloomberg, the answer seems to be "Yeah...kinda."
First the good news:
The ride-hailing giant more than doubled gross bookings in 2016 to $20 billion, according to financial information Uber shared with Bloomberg. Net revenue was $6.5 billion, while adjusted net losses were $2.8 billion, excluding the China business, which it sold last summer.
That's some nice growth, but "excluding the China business" when disclosing Uber's 2016 losses is like grading Napoleon on his win/loss record but not including Waterloo. Even in trying to be transparent, Uber seems incapable of not obfuscating. And to make it even sadder, it also seems like Uber forgot how to brag:
“We’re fortunate to have a healthy and growing business, giving us the room to make the changes we know are needed on management and accountability, our culture and organization, and our relationship with drivers,” Rachel Holt, who runs Uber’s U.S. ride-hailing business, wrote in an emailed statement.
"We'd like to welcome all our new customers to a company at war with itself. And thanks for riding Uber!"
But let's talk about the growth that will somehow allow Uber to halt the decay of its corporate culture. What are you seeing Bloomberg?
Uber’s business is massive and getting bigger. In the last three months of 2016, gross bookings increased 28 percent from the previous quarter to $6.9 billion.
Okay, wow, that is actually impressive. And that kind of revenue surge is the perfect tool to use in taming the flames of your cash bonfire...
The company generated $2.9 billion in revenue, a 74 percent increase from the third quarter. Losses rose 6.1 percent over the same period to $991 million.
Umm, the fuck? Uber - which makes nothing, warehouses nothing and has no real equity investment need - just blew through almost $1 billion in a single quarter? We get that Travis and his guys are borderline obsessed with the future of driverless cars because it posits a potential reality that would allow the Randian engineering wet dream that is Uber to finally do away with the one variable it cannot seem to solve for; Human beings. But if the money burn required to stay competitive in that field is $1 billion a quarter, what the fuck are we even doing here? This looks at the most simplistic level like Uber is trying to do too many things at once, and that is not a good luck for a company that many people think is already wildly overvalued and is also facing renewed competition from a company that has aligned itself with the likes of Carl Icahn and Henry Kravis.
You've got a multi-billion car service/data play there, Travis, it would be a shame if anything happened to it.
But it seems like a distinct possibility that something will happen to Uber, because - as Bloomberg discovered - their huge losses are even bigger than they want to admit:
Uber said it uses generally accepted accounting principles. Revenue includes only the portion Uber takes from fares, except in the case of its carpooling service; the company counts the entire amount of an UberPool fare as revenue. The more Uber’s business shifts to the multi-passenger service, the faster revenue grows. Non-GAAP revenue is significantly smaller. The loss statement doesn’t account for employee stock compensation, certain real-estate investments, automobile purchases and other expenses.
Travis Kalanick's plan for Uber has long included the tactic of bleeding every single dollar he can find from the private markets, letting venture money shield him from the harsh light of life as a public company. But if you are going to burn through money at this clip while using accounting tricks to make strong growth look meteoric while simultaneously yelling at drivers and protecting senior employees unfit for the scrutiny of a famous workplace, this is just not gonna work out, bro.
You can be shitty with money or shitty with people, but you can't be both. Don't blame us, those are just the rules.