Uber is “on track” to go public in the second half of 2019, according to CEO Dara Khosrowshahi. Speaking to CNBC, he shared his belief that Uber is in a “good position in terms of the company’s profile, in terms of profitability, and margins continue to get better”.
“I do think that we’re on track in 2019 for an IPO,” he said. “Lots of things can happen in the world, but we have a reasonable buffer as well, so I think we’re in a pretty good spot.”
Khosrowshahi said that his first priority is to “continue building a management team”, including bringing a chief financial officer onboard, and to continue to invest in the brand and get Uber to a position where it can “build a big business and, along the way, go public”.
Talk of IPO comes at a critical – or useful – point for the embattled company. Last week, the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released the preliminary findings of its investigation into the fatal accident in March involving an autonomous Uber test car and a pedestrian.
The investigators’ initial report made it clear that the accident was due to poor object recognition and system design, and the Volvo’s own emergency braking and driver assistance technologies being disengaged by Uber’s software. These problems were compounded by the safety driver not seeing the woman until it was too late while monitoring the internal Uber interface.
Uber has also been battling its own history as an aggressive market taker, with many local authorities and taxi firms still seeing the company as a cowboy on the Wild West frontier of the technology landscape.
However, under Khosrowshahi’s more moderate and subtle leadership – akin to Satya Nadella taking over from the bullish and aggressive Steve Ballmer at Microsoft – Uber has set out on the long road to reinvention.
In April, Uber’s launch of Uber Rent, its $100 million-plus acquisition of electric bike hire service JUMP, and its moves into public transport ticketing signalled that it now sees itself as an Amazon-style marketplace for sourcing and paying for all types of transport on demand.
Over time, Uber will also become a big data hub for how people use frictionless systems in cities. In April, Uber announced that it is expanding its Movement project, which measures travel times from ride-sharing data, to over a dozen new cities, including Amsterdam, Bangalore, Brisbane, Cairo, Melbourne, Mumbai, Nairobi, New Delhi, Pittsburgh, and Toronto.
In Washington DC, Uber is teaming with SharedStreets, a nonprofit programme for sharing open data on city usage. The aim is to gather data on popular curbs for ride-sharing usage in the city, in the hope that more spaces will be set aside for services such as Uber.
Reach for the sky
But Uber’s big idea for the future sees urban transport taking to the skies in pilotless, electric passenger drones. The company published a white paper on its vision in 2016, and is working towards a day when on-demand air travel is integrated with other networks via ports on roofs, or brownfield sites near transport interchanges.
Uber wants to have the technology basics in place by 2020, with commercial operations beginning in 2023, and is seeking a third city alongside Dallas and Los Angeles for the launch, to replace previous partner Dubai.
In May, Uber also announced a deal with NASA, as part of its UberAIR / Elevate strategy. The company signed a second Space Act Agreement with the space agency to “further explore concepts and technologies related to urban air mobility (UAM), to ensure a safe and efficient system for future air transportation in populated areas”.
The US’ National Aeronautics and Space Act provides NASA with the authority to enter into a wide range of Space Act Agreements (SAAs) with partners to advance NASA’s own mission and programme objectives.
The result will be Uber sharing its urban aviation plans with NASA, so the agency can see how they are going to play out using computer modelling and simulation techniques.
Uber also announced a partnership with the US Army to develop ‘stealth rotors’ in order to make air taxis quieter and less obtrusive in cities.
Internet of Business says
If the technology industry has shown one thing, it’s that money and brand still talk on Wall Street. Despite its habit of pushing aside the competition – or, Uber would say, disrupting markets that need disrupting – the promise of a big-noise IPO for a serial disruptor will be enough for most investors to forget about the company’s often shady past.
Never forget, in America an IPO is like party thrown by parents to celebrate their teenager coming of age. All those youthful indiscretions are swiftly brushed under the carpet in a shower of big money, suits, and smiles.
Let’s hope Uber behaves like a grown-up from that day on, and not a reckless teenager with a few billion dollars in the bank.