Uber is one of the most high-profile public tech companies. But in its public disclosure about risks to investors, it only talks about 10 or 15 risk factors. For comparison, Airbnb has around 200 such risk factors, according to an internal company document obtained by Quartz.
The flip side of this is that Uber is an innovative company—investors can probably count on investment bankers with a good data project to come up with dozens of risk factors. So, is this all just opportunity cost, or is there something else Uber’s risk assessment team is missing? Quartz asked its own data experts to advise on which risk factors Uber must be aware of—and the conclusions may surprise you.
Even if they don’t become threat, Uber’s investments also could become opportunity cost, meaning Uber would be better off spending money elsewhere. And so there are a few lists of things Uber might be missing.
Uber’s statement says that it “invests in programs to reach its vision”, like self-driving cars and the Segway-like Lime vehicle, but it also invests heavily in itself. This leaves it vulnerable to the anti-competition stipulations of competition regulations and to software piracy.
Uber might be potentially at risk of having a subsidiary traded away to a competitor (it owns around 5% of Chinese ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing), and it could have a subsidiary or other company sold to another company for perhaps a huge gain. But, equally, when Google’s Nest smart-home unit was sold to Alphabet in 2014, the pool of potential buyers included a lot of Internet companies. (It’s also in the news that the Alphabet-owned Nest just started to sell smoke alarms.)
Even more significant, could Uber itself be acquired? Uber already has investors who might want to force an IPO as soon as the CEO is fired, and as of right now, Uber’s valuation is more than $80 billion. Many analysts and major investors in major venture-capital firms are in favor of taking Uber public, as it helps them get inside the number—and it means Uber’s management can take on another step towards the stability and restraint of a private company, which Uber needs. Plus, Uber’s investors might not understand how to make money in an IPO, because Uber is only one way to make money. But Uber’s risk assessment team would be wise to remember that, even if investors begin insisting that Uber make money as an IPO becomes more likely, Uber can still test the waters with other ways to make money.
The wrong things to do
Uber likes to pitch what it’s doing as creating a new way to do business. At the same time, it has thousands of private contractors driving its drivers to work, and its customers and drivers use its business as a model of how businesses should operate.
One of the risks in running a company with thousands of employees is trying to say too much, in the public, when discussing the organization at large. And Uber has more than a few tech employees in the public spotlight, depending on whether the reports are true.
Uber’s board might want to explain why employees, contractors, drivers, passengers, and suppliers of other types of goods have been treated poorly—and when it leads to problems. Uber’s executives might want to be more forthcoming. One way to make news is to put the onus on the chief executive to be more transparent with shareholders.
Uber could be expensive to the public
There is a risk that Uber’s breakneck growth on the way to an IPO could lead to operating costs skyrocketing. Uber could have a supply-demand problem that leads to creating more cars (and drivers), but not enough riders, since there are not enough customers to meet its demand.
The more often the company gives the public reports on its financials, the more it would need to clarify what the cost-benefit is of doing things that make it expensive to get there—such as being more competitive when taking on rideshare competitors.