Uber, the money-losing ridehailing platform which by its own admission claims it has “incurred significant losses since inception” and “may not achieve profitability,” has overcome a lot on the road to its initial public offering. Its entire business model however—which involves cost-cutting by arguably misclassifying the overwhelming majority of its workforce—is precarious, and any number of obstacles could easily send its soon-to-be-public stock on the same downward trajectory as its chief competitor.
What might those hurdles be for a company which had “an accumulated deficit of $7.9 billion” as of last New Year’s Eve? Take it away, Uber.
Our business would be adversely affected if Drivers were classified as employees instead of independent contractors. The independent contractor status of Drivers is currently being challenged in courts and by government agencies in the United States and abroad. We are involved in numerous legal proceedings globally, including putative class and collective class action lawsuits, demands for arbitration, charges and claims before administrative agencies, and investigations or audits by labour, social security, and tax authorities that claim that Drivers should be treated as our employees (or as workers or quasi-employees where those statuses exist), rather than as independent contractors [...] Furthermore, the costs associated with defending, settling, or resolving pending and future lawsuits (including demands for arbitration) relating to the independent contractor status of Drivers could be material to our business.
Good thing that last part isn’t happening on a massive scale anywh— oh.
Changes to foreign, state, and local laws governing the definition or classification of independent contractors, or judicial decisions regarding independent contractor classification, could require classification of Drivers as employees (or workers or quasi-employees where those statuses exist). Examples of recent judicial decisions relating to independent contractor classification include the California Supreme Court’s recent decision in Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court
...a case which was ruled unfavourable to businesses like Uber’s.
Our success in a given geographic market significantly depends on our ability to maintain or increase our network scale and liquidity in that geographic market by attracting Drivers, consumers, restaurants, shippers, and carriers to our platform [...] If our service quality diminishes or our competitors’ products achieve greater market adoption, our competitors may be able to grow at a quicker rate than we do and may diminish our network effect.
Can’t see any reason consumers would be unhappy with the quality or safety of the service, or would have moral objections to using it.
[A] backlash against us in response to accusations that we intended to profit from a protest against an executive order banning certain refugees and immigrants from entering the United States spurred #DeleteUber, a social media campaign that encouraged platform users to delete our app and cease use of our platform. As a result of the #DeleteUber campaign, hundreds of thousands of consumers stopped using the Uber platform within days of the campaign.
Oh right, that. Wait, hundreds of thousands, you say?!
The number of Drivers and restaurants on our platform could decline or fluctuate as a result of a number of factors, including Drivers ceasing to provide their services through our platform, passage or enforcement of local laws limiting our products and offerings
In America, the state of New York recently imposed a driver cap and minimum wage requirements. California drivers went out on strike to achieve the same goals. Connecticut is leaning towards passing similar legislation.
Continued Driver dissatisfaction may also result in a decline in our number of platform users, which would reduce our network liquidity, and which in turn may cause a further decline in platform usage.
Conducting our business internationally, particularly in countries in which we have limited experience, subjects us to risks that we do not face to the same degree in the United States. These risks include [...] difficulties in managing, growing, and staffing international operations, including in countries in which foreign employees may become part of labour unions, employee representative bodies, or collective bargaining agreements, and challenges relating to work stoppages or slowdowns
Our focus on aggressive growth and intense competition, and our prior failure to prioritise compliance, has led to increased regulatory scrutiny globally.
Although we administer certain qualification processes for users of the platform, including background checks on Drivers through third-party service providers, these qualification processes and background checks may not expose all potentially relevant information and are limited in certain jurisdictions according to national and local laws, and our third-party service providers may fail to conduct such background checks adequately or disclose information that could be relevant to a determination of eligibility [...] There have been numerous incidents and allegations worldwide of Drivers, or individuals impersonating Drivers, sexually assaulting, abusing, and kidnapping consumers, or otherwise engaging in criminal activity while using our platform
15% of our Ridesharing Gross Bookings from trips that either started or were completed at an airport [...] Certain airports currently regulate ridesharing within airport boundaries, including by mandating that ridesharing service providers obtain airport-specific licenses, and some airports, particularly those outside the United States, have banned ridesharing operations altogether. [...] Additional bans on our airport operations, or any permitting requirements or instances of non-compliance by Drivers, would significantly disrupt our operations.
Seems like a smart bet that they’ll just stop.
If we fail to develop and successfully commercialise autonomous vehicle technologies or fail to develop such technologies before our competitors, or if such technologies fail to perform as expected, are inferior to those of our competitors, or are perceived as less safe than those of our competitors or non-autonomous vehicles, our financial performance and prospects would be adversely impacted.
An autonomous Uber vehicle struck and killed a woman in the US state of Arizona last summer.
Consumer preferences tend to shift to lower-cost alternatives during recessionary periods and other periods in which disposable income is adversely affected. In such circumstances, consumers may choose to use one of our lower price-point products, such as UberPOOL, over a higher Gross Bookings per Trip offering, may choose to forego our offerings for lower-cost personal vehicle or public transportation alternatives, or may reduce total miles travelled as economic activity decreases. Such a shift in consumer behaviour may reduce our network liquidity and may harm our business
Economists are predicting another recession very soon.
If we experience security or data privacy breaches or other unauthorised or improper access to, use of, or destruction of our proprietary or confidential data, employee data, or platform user data, we may face loss of revenue, harm to our brand, business disruption, and significant liabilities.
Our business is substantially dependent on operations outside the United States, including those in markets in which we have limited experience...
They may not be entirely competent.
We may not be able to manage our growth effectively, which could damage our reputation and negatively affect our operating results.
Even their successes are likely to become screw-ups.
In 2019, we plan to release a transparency report, which will provide the public with data related to reports of sexual assaults and other safety incidents claimed to have occurred on our platform in the United States. The public responses to this transparency report or similar public reporting of safety incidents claimed to have occurred on our platform, which may include disclosure of reports provided to regulators, may result in negative media coverage and increased regulatory scrutiny and could adversely affect our reputation with platform users.
It’s going to get worse.
We will require additional capital to support the growth of our business, and this capital might not be available on reasonable terms or at all.
Uber would like your investment money anyway.
Featured image: Justin Sullivan (Getty)