Fancy taxi app Uber just closed a new round of funding that valued the company at $18.2 billion, less than a year after being valued at $3.5 billion. Despite the company “operating in 128 cities in 37 countries around the world with hundreds of thousands of transportation providers and millions of consumers connecting to our platform,” there are a lot of people who don’t think it’s worth that much.
Dan McCrum does some back-of-the-envelope math and figures out that, using some optimistic assumptions, Uber needs 60 million users to justify an $18 billion valuation. That’s not a lot compared to other major smartphone apps, but it is a huge chunk of the global taxi-taking population. “It’s equivalent to the entire populations of San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, London, Washington DC, Paris, Toronto, Tokyo and Hong Kong combined”, he says.
The real problem with Uber, says Christopher Mims, is that it doesn’t inspire any loyalty among its drivers, which means it doesn’t have a great long-term advantage over competitors like Lyft and Flywheel. “Uber’s growth is reminiscent of Groupon, and we know what happened to them”, he says. James Ball agrees. “Uber and all its rivals are dueling one another for taxis – lowering fares and their percentage takes, even offering lunch or $500 bonuses to drivers … it’s hard to see how it’s ever going to turn into reliable monopoly profits to support this kind of valuation”. New York University finance professor Aswath Damodaran crunched some numbers and concludes that Uber is probably worth closer to $6 billion.
Ever the contrarian, Andrew Ross Sorkin thinks Uber’s valuation is too low. “If Uber were to take just half of the taxi market in the United States — and nowhere else — it would generate more than $1 billion in revenue a year”, he says. Michael Yoshikami, on the other hand, says that Uber’s valuation seems reasonable, but not if it remains just a taxi company. Uber’s future, he says, is as a logistics company like UPS or FedEx, and that could be worth a sky-high valuation.
Even if Uber doesn’t end up being the taxi and delivery monopoly it aspires to be, consumers might still benefit from the company’s existence. “What I love most about Uber – besides how well the service works – is how much it’s infuriating the entrenched taxi and limo hierarchy and forcing them to adapt or die. The consumer is the winner here”, says Josh Brown. — Shane Ferro
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