Uber Sells Stake to SoftBank, Valuing Ride-Hailing Giant at $48 Billion

Posted December 28, 2017 8:04 p.m. EST
Updated December 28, 2017 8:06 p.m. EST

SAN FRANCISCO — A group of Uber’s largest shareholders have agreed to sell a significant stake in the ride-hailing giant at a steep discount, according to two people familiar with the process who were not allowed to comment on it publicly.

The sale is a big step for the company as it looks to calm investors and pave the way for an initial public offering in 2019.

SoftBank Group and a consortium of investors plan to purchase a minimum of 17.5 percent of Uber at a price of about $33 a share. That puts the value of the company at about $48 billion — a notable drop from the near $70 billion valuation Uber had commanded about a year and a half ago.

“We look forward to working with the purchasers to close the overall transaction, which we expect to support our technology investments, fuel our growth, and strengthen our corporate governance,” Matt Kallman, an Uber spokesman, said in a statement.

The deal, part of a tender offer process initiated by SoftBank last month, will allow some of Uber’s earliest shareholders, including employees and venture capital firms like Benchmark and First Round, to cash out and receive what will prove to be a large payday.

But the discount is a humbling coda on a rough year for Uber, which has been rocked by a series of scandals, from claims of sexual harassment to revelations of a program meant to deceive law enforcement.

The tender offer came at a particularly bad time for the company. Last month, Uber disclosed that it had covered up a security breach that had compromised the personal data of 57 million rider and driver accounts, and SoftBank was able to talk down the price of its investment.

Travis Kalanick resigned in June as Uber’s chief executive but stayed on the company’s board of directors. Since Kalanick’s resignation, there has been a struggle for control of the company. Dara Khosrowshahi, a former travel industry executive, became Uber’s new CEO in August, and said his top priority was ending the public fights between board members and Kalanick, who had been trying to retain some control over the company he helped found.

Khosrowshahi also said he wanted to take Uber public by 2019, and investors wondered if the company could maintain its valuation as it prepared for an initial offering of shares.

While SoftBank played hardball with Uber, it promised investors it would cover the price difference for them if the final sale price came in over $33 a share, according to a clause in the documents detailing the terms of the agreement. And in a maneuver to prop up Uber’s value, SoftBank will also purchase up to $1.25 billion worth of new shares at the existing valuation of $67.5 billion.

“We have tremendous confidence in Uber’s leadership and employees and are excited to support Uber as it continues to reinvent how people and goods are transported around the world,” Rajeev Misra, chief executive of SoftBank Investment Advisers and a director at SoftBank Group Corp., said in a statement.

The deal will allow SoftBank to invest a significant amount of its “Vision Fund,” a $100 billion fund earmarked for technology-focused companies around the world. And the Uber deal will add to worries in Silicon Valley that the Japanese conglomerate can make similar demands on other investments.

The agreement with SoftBank, however, may bring much needed stability to Uber. The deal requires adding additional, independent board members and eliminates “super-voting shares,” a mechanism that gave outsize voting power and influence to a small group of directors on the board, including Kalanick.

The deal will also benefit Uber’s employees, drivers and riders, said Chris Sacca, founder and head of Lowercase Capital, a major Uber shareholder that did not sell shares in SoftBank’s tender offer.

“It locks in new rules to ensure that Uber’s old leadership regime can’t come back to power,” Sacca said. “Plus it brings in fresh capital for Dara to build Uber 2.0.”

It is unclear, however, if any company bylaws would prevent Kalanick from returning to Uber’s executive ranks.