Uber CEO Says Public Offering ‘Years Away’ as Company Matures

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  • Kalanick says he hasn't sold any Uber shares he owns
  • Uber believes Google is farthest along in driverless cars

Don’t expect Uber Technologies Inc. to go public soon, even though board member Bill Gurley and Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg might advise otherwise.

“Give us a few years, give us a little time and when the time is right, something like that will happen,” Uber Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick said during a talk Tuesday at the Wall Street Journal’s technology conference in Laguna Beach, California.

Travis Kalanick
Travis Kalanick
Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Gurley’s Benchmark fund and investors including Google Ventures, Baidu Inc. and TPG have poured billions of dollars into the car-booking app company, pumping its valuation up to more than $50 billion. Kalanick, 39, expressed confidence in the company’s financial future and refrained from issuing defensive barbs against critics or competitors, as he has done in past public appearances.

Kalanick did talk about competition from Didi Kuaidi in China and touched on the future of driverless cars, including their use for taxis.

Kalanick’s mother, celebrating her 70th birthday, and father were at the event. Both parents stood by their son in the crowd at the conference. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, also a star on Shark Tank, ABC Television Network’s reality show about pitching startups, came by to say hello and offer help and advice.

In his speech, Kalanick reminded the audience that the ride-hailing company he founded in San Francisco is a little more than five years old, perhaps too young for “the prom.”

“We’re like eighth graders, we’re in junior high and someone is telling us that we need to go to the prom, and it’s just a little early,” Kalanick said. “Let us get into high school before we start talking about these sorts of things.”

A few hours earlier at the same conference, Gurley said startups needed to prioritize going public.

“We’ve got to go back to looking at the IPO as the objective,” Gurley said.

Venture capitalists pumped $48.3 billion into U.S. startups last year, according to data from the National Venture Capital Association and PricewaterhouseCoopers. That’s the most since investors piled $105 billion into closely held companies in 2000. The 2014 total was up 61 percent from $30 billion in 2013 and more than double the $20.4 billion invested in 2009.

Gurley, who didn’t call on Uber specifically to go public, has become an advocate for restraint in funding Silicon Valley startups.

Kalanick said his views aren’t always completely in line with Gurley’s.

“When it comes to Bill Gurley, I actually respect a lot of his perspective,” Kalanick said. “It doesn’t mean in the board meetings we agree on everything, but that’s okay. That’s how you get to the right perspective. “We’re just not ready for that kind of event.”

Gurley said by e-mail that he agrees with Kalanick that Uber is relatively young for an IPO.

Kalanick also pointed to Zuckerberg’s support for selling shares to the public, after Facebook did its IPO in 2012.

Zuckerberg “became a huge proponent of going public and I’m not sure. Like, like, is this misery enjoys company? Or is there something else going on? He’s a big proponent -- like Bill Gurley,” Kalanick said. “It’s okay, I don’t mind it.”

Kalanick acknowledged that staying closely held means employees may seek ways to sell some of their equity. For his part, he said, “Personally, I haven’t sold a share.”

Only 10 to 15 of the company’s employees have been with Uber for more than four years, Kalanick said.

‘Competition in China Works Different’

Uber represents 30 to 35 percent of the ride-hailing market in China, Kalanick said on stage at the conference. He confirmed that Uber plans to spend $1 billion a year in China and that the company has already spent hundreds of millions there. At least five of Uber’s top ten busiest cities are in China.

He said he didn’t understand why Uber’s competitor in China, Didi Kuaidi, invested money in Uber’s biggest American competitor, Lyft Inc.

“With this move, I still don’t understand it. I don’t understand what the upside is for Didi,” Kalanick said.

He also acknowledged that Didi Kuaidi investor Tencent Holdings Ltd. has created some impediments to Uber’s business in China, like blocking the service on its popular messaging application WeChat.

“Competition in China works different and that’s just a fact,” Kalanick said. “We play by different rules but that’s okay.”

Driverless Cars

Kalanick said he believed that driverless cars were inevitable, but may take five, 10 or 15 years to become widespread. He cited weather and safety as two hurdles for the vehicles.

Google is already the farthest along with the technology by Uber’s assessment, Kalanick said. “Does Uber want to be part of the future, or do we want to resist the future like maybe the taxi industry before that?”

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