Uber Q3 FY2021 Earnings

In this post, I’ll share my notes on Uber Q3 FY2021 earnings and the business in general.

The last quarter saw Uber’s business continue to recover from the recent challenges, including driver shortages and lockdowns in various parts of the world. The number of Monthly Active Platform Consumers (MAPC) reached 109 million, an increase of 40% year over year. This is the highest number that Uber has seen in the last 12 months. The number of trips rose 39% as the average monthly trips per consumer was flat at 5 each. As usage increased, the company saw Gross Bookings (GB) and Revenue grow by 57% and 72% respectively (Figure 1). Adjusted EBITA, which Uber uses to measure profitability, was positive for the first time.

Specific segments (Mobility, Delivery and Freight) showed great progress in both GB and Revenue. Mobility led the way in GB growth at 67%, followed by Delivery at 50%, mainly because of the law of big numbers. In revenue growth, Mobility trailed Delivery (62% and 97% respectively), because the latter managed to raise its take rate by 410 basis points (Figure 2) while the former’s take rate took a modest hit. As the revenue continued to climb and operational optimization kicked in, Uber’s Delivery was inches away from profitability on Adjusted EBITA basis.

There is an argument to be made that Covid-19 created a golden opportunity for Uber to transform itself. The pandemic impacted its Mobility segment to great extent as lockdowns were imposed and consumers stayed at home. Not only did the company persevered, but it also pivoted successfully to grow its Delivery service. Since December 2020, the company’s total GB every month already exceeded that of February 2020. The key was in how Uber did it. While Mobility’s GB still hasn’t recovered to the pre-Covid level, Delivery has grown leaps and bounds by several folds (Figure 3). Furthermore, the two segments start to complement and support each other as one becomes a key acquisition tool for the other. Here is what Dara, the CEO, had to say on the earnings call:

So about 50% of, for example, U.S. and U.K.gross bookings come from cross-platform users. That number is closer to 45% globally and generally increasing. In the U.S. now, mobility continues to be a very significant customer acquisition tool for Eats. So now 1/4 of U.S.first-time eaters are coming from our Ride’s business, which is pretty extraordinary. For perspective, that’s more new users than we get from Google, Apple, Facebook, Instagram from all of these paid entities combined.So it’s free. We have tested that because consumers actually like this super asset that we’re building and the numbers are significant and increasing. And then on the other side, what’s interesting is that 20% of U.S. mobility first trips are coming from eaters. So now that we have a very, very big delivery business, we’re able to now cross platform into whether it’s offers or on the app or off app, we’re able to promote into our Mobility business. That number for the U.K., for example, is 40%. I’ll repeat it. 40% of U.K. first trip mobility users actually came from Eats — were Eats users, which is pretty extraordinary.

Source: Uber Q3 FY2021 Earnings Call

This synergy and ability to cross-sell is a competitive advantage over other Delivery rivals like DoorDash or Mobility nemesis (Lyft). None have this capability, especially on a global scale, like Uber does. From a consumer perspective, the extra utilities that Uber offers create a compelling reason to be a member and use the Uber app more often. According to the management team, there are 6 million members globally who already make up 1/5 of the total GB. On average on the Eat side, members’ basket size is 10% bigger than that of non-members. In Taiwan, Eat members made up more than 50% of the market’s GB and placed 3x more orders than non-members.

The increased utilization is also reflected on the driver side. A few months ago, in an article on the acquisition of Postmates and Drizly, I wrote: “Drivers have limited resources in their vehicles and time, as even the most dedicated drivers can’t drive for more than 24 hours a day. Nobody wants to drive around needlessly all day without getting paid while having to pay for vehicle expenses and gas. As a result, the more business opportunity Uber can bring to drivers, helping them better leverage their time and resources, the more drivers will sign up. When it comes to making more trips and money, do drivers care if it’s a parcel or a person that needs transporting?”. The sentiment was confirmed yesterday by Dara on the earnings call:

On the driver side, one thing that’s pretty cool is that about 1/3 of our new driver sign-ups now are driving both people and food, so to speak. And that is a higher number than our overall number. So about 25% of our drivers in the U.S. drive both people and food. That number was in the teens pre-pandemic.So it’s going up from the teens to 25% overall. And new drivers, 1/3 of them are electing to do both. So that, again, is like the iteration of our product getting better and better in terms of kind of pushing both services or offering both services, both on the demand and supply side.

So I think we’re going to see more earners on our platform for years and years to come. And we are finally getting the right muscle in terms of promoting cross-platform usage, which is going to lead to higher utilization on our platform in terms of time of day and in terms of driver utilization, structurally, it will be an advantage over the other players. So we want to be that platform that is kind of the one-stop shop for earners that they keep coming back to for a long period of time.

Source: Uber Q3 FY2021 Earnings Call

The investment in drivers that Uber made earlier in the year, plus the recovery from Covid and the increased driver utilization, helped the company tackle the driver supply issue. Compared to January 2021, Uber has seen 75% more active drivers in Q3. The wait time dropped from 7. 5 min on average in the U.S in March 2021 down to 4.5 min in October 2021.

In addition to the true ride-hailing and food delivery services that people come to know Uber for, there are a few other developments that are very promising and potentially beneficial to Uber. First is advertising. Having a marketplace (app) that is used by millions of users enables the company to monetize that traffic. Merchants wishing to broadcast their name and generate more business ought to pay advertising dollars to Uber. From Uber side, advertising revenue which Uber reported to amount to $100 million on an annualized basis in Q3 2021 and feature 140k merchants is high margin that allows the company to “fund” other emerging verticals. Which brings me to non-food deliveries. The new verticals make up about 6-7% of Delivery’s total GB and are expected to reach double digits next year. The investments that Uber has made to scale these verticals actually dragged down the profitability of the whole Delivery segment as the core verticals are now already in the black.

Additionally, the company is expanding alcohol delivery to more states in the U.S after the acquisition of Drizly. Drizly has a business model that is already profitable. It acts as a marketplace to connect merchants and consumers, but leaves the delivery duty to merchants. That way, Drizly can simply earn revenue from monthly subscriptions and a small fee every order without having to deal with drivers and all the expenses that come with delivery. Other ventures include rapid delivery, dark grocery (tiny warehouses that hold a limited selection of grocery to facilitate rapid delivery) and Baby + Kids vertical.

One stripe that people have against Uber is the tendency to burn money every quarter. The criticism is legit as that’s been the company’s model. This quarter saw net loss balloon to $2.4 billion, $2 billion of which came from a “net headwind (pre-tax) from revaluation of Uber’s equity investments in Q3 2021”. According to Uber’s CFO – Nelson Chai, the write-down resulted mainly from the loss of value of Uber’s stakes in DidiChung and this fluctuation can continue from one quarter to the next. I have quite mixed feelings about this issue. While I appreciate that Uber has valuable assets such as this equity, the fluctuation and complication don’t provide the simplicity and certainty to investors.

Lastly, Uber revamped its pricing tiers for merchants. The new pricing system mirrors very well what DoorDash offers with two distinct differences. One is that while DoorDash includes in its take rates the credit card processing fees, it’s unclear if Uber does the same. This can be an important point as 2.5% in credit card fees can mean the world to merchants. The other difference is that Uber guarantees 5 more orders every month with its Premier tier than DoorDash’s highest tier. As these table stakes are level-set, the difference between these two impressive companies will come down to: who executes better, who can bring more business & drivers to merchants?

Overall, this, to me, is a good quarter for Uber. The company took steps to address the driver supply issue and they worked. There is a great synergy between Delivery and Mobility that seems to go from strength to strength over time. Delivery doesn’t seem to show signs of slowing down and is actually profitable at the core while still in the red with the new verticals. Once Mobility gets back to the pre-Covid level and the new investments become more mature, the outlook will be even brighter for this company.

Disclosure: I have a position on Uber.

Appendix

Figure 1 – Uber’s Q3 FY2021 Financial & Operational Highlights
Figure 2 – Uber’s Revenue and Take Rate in Q3 FY2021
Figure 3 – Uber’s Monthly GB
Figure 4 – Uber’s platform supply growth efforts showing results in the U.S

Uber’s change in segments’ names and profitability outlook

Uber announced their Q2 2020 earnings today. Overall, the business was significantly affected by Covid-19. Net loss to the company was $1.8 billion while total bookings were down 35% YoY, and net revenue slumped by 33%. There were on average 55 million monthly active customers, down from 99 million in Q2 2019. The number of trips was down 56% YoY as well.

Zooming in at a deeper level, there are two starkly different stories concerning their Ride and Delivery businesses. Ride gross bookings were down by 75%, contributing to the 66% drop in Ride revenue. Nonetheless. the segment was still the only profitable one at Uber with $50 million in adjusted EBITDA. To get a sense of how Covid-19 affected their Ride business, here is a chart that the company provided in their latest presentation

Figure 1 – Source: Uber

Even with the rise in Eats gross bookings which I will touch upon later, the gross bookings overall were down significantly after 9th March 2020. According to Uber CEO, the company saw recovery in Asia and Europe. Bookings in New Zealand and Hong Kong even exceeded the pre-Covid level at times. Of course, it doesn’t help that the situation in the US where several of their key markets are located is still dragging out.

Uber Eats

Gross bookings from Uber Eats grew by 106% in Q2 2020, resulting in 162% increase YoY in Eats net revenue. While the segment still recorded $232 million loss in EBITDA, it saw a 19% improvement to a year before. The segment now has over 500,000 partnered merchants on its platform. There are also more than 10,000 active merchants that offer grocery, convenience, prescriptions and pharmacy products. Uber reported 3 millions trips completed for Uber Connect since Mid April in 170 cities. Uber Connect allows consumers to send small packages.

Figure 2 – John Erlichman

Name change for segments

The company renamed their two main segments: Ride to Mobility and Eats to Delivery. The move signals a strategic shift in strategy. Mobility covers a lot more than just Ride. Uber doesn’t just want to provide a car ride to consumers. It wants to be associated with all kinds of mobility and transportation. There is already Uber helicopters. Uber has been trying to offer consumers public transportation options on their app as well.

With regard to Uber Delivery, I wrote about how Uber wants to move into the delivery service space with their acquisition of Postmates. Currently, there is also Uber Connect and a new service that allows delivery of groceries. Therefore, Delivery is a more apt name for the segment than just Eats.

If Uber’s ambition wasn’t clear before, it should be now.

Profitability

Personally, I think Uber’s struggle with their Mobility segment is just temporary. Once Covid-19 blows over or a vaccine is available, it will come back to what it was before, a revenue and profit machine for the company. Post Covid-19, as consumers are likely reluctant to use public transportation due to fear of being crammed in a closed space with strangers, there will be likely more demand for Uber’s ride hailing business. In fact, there is already some evidence to support the argument. Aggregate data from Hong Kong, New Zealand and Sweden markets showed some recovery on Mobility bookings compared to pre-Covid levels.

Figure 3 – Source: Uber

Additionally, even though Delivery has been highly unprofitable, Uber is pretty confident in its ability to achieve its long-term target. Here is what Uber CEO had to say on that:

Yes, Ross. As far as the debate goes, we stand firmly on the belief that pure-play delivery companies can and will be profitable. And we think it’s a pretty easy answer, but we don’t think that debate is worthwhile, so to speak. It’s only a question of when and it’s only a question of what question of when and it’s only a question of what those long-term margins will be. We have laid out a long-term margin profile of 15% of ANR and about 33% of EBITDA. We wouldn’t be doing it unless we felt confident there.

To be clear, Belgium is actually one of our smaller countries internationally, and we had said that we’re profitable in 2 of our top 5 international countries. And there are a number of other confident there. countries that that we are also profitable in, but we also wanted to make the point with investors that we’re profitable in countries that count. So it’s not just France and Belgium. It’s other countries.

But when we look from a structural basis or the margins of the business, you fast forward a couple of years now, we think we will be profitable in the vast majority of the countries in which we operate. If we’re not profitable, it’s specifically because we’re trying to achieve something strategically, whether it’s a growth target or we’re trying to expand the number of categories that we’re in, et cetera. So we land firmly on one side of the debate, and we have a lot of data internally and very very high confidence in the teams to win that debate.

Source: Uber Q2 2020 Earnings Call

Despite decimating Uber’s Mobility segment, Covid-19 has been a boost to its Delivery segment as it restricts trips outside of home. Driver incentives in Q2 2020 was only 27% of revenue, down significantly from 43% in Q2 2019. Furthermore, the grocery delivery space Uber is entering isn’t without fierce competitors. Behemoths like Amazon, Walmart or Target all invested in their grocery delivery services. When they announced the acquisition of Postmates, I wasn’t sold on their profitability in the short term. They proved me wrong when their net loss improved from $3 billion in Q1 2020 to $1.8 billion in Q2 2020. If and when Mobility segment returns to its full strength and if Uber can keep their momentum with Delivery, it will be even better for the company.

Bull case for Uber

Uber is now a household name. Years of hype and fast growth around the world while it was still a unicorn startup have made the brand very popular among consumers. It is a competitive advantage that poses challenges to any company that wants to enter the space. Plus, Uber’s global footprint gives it a leg up to those restricted to only one market. Even though a bigger footprint comes with a higher level of risk exposure, it does allow cross-market subsidies and more learning of consumers’ behavior. Uber has been conducting small tests in other markets before bringing new features to a bigger audience. In a business where consumer insight is so valuable, transfer of learning from one market to another is a luxury. To have the same luxury, Uber’s competitors would need to invest in multiple markets and be willing to take the same level of higher risks like Uber does.

Uber competes not only for consumers, but also for drivers. The company’s list of services available to drivers makes it a more attractive option than competitors. In my previous post, I wrote:

Furthermore, it can be a boon to drivers as well. To facilitate all the delivery services it wants, Uber needs drivers. Drivers have limited resources in the number of hours in a day and just one vehicle to drive. Hence, they will prefer working with a partner who can help them maximize revenue as much as possible. With a variety of delivery opportunities, Uber can sell drivers on that promise. In the future where Uber does indeed become an on-demand delivery platform, if a driver is without a Ride customer, he or she can either deliver food, grocery or basically an item ordered by another customer. Minimizing dead time and maximizing income can be an attractive value proposition to drivers.

To compete for drivers with Uber, any new rival would need to offer the same earning opportunities, in the form of either different services or a huge incentive. And that would require a lot of capital and years of investment.

With a variety of services thrown at consumers, Uber wants to establish a connection and relationship with users by being front and center in their lives, whether it’s ordering a ride, wanting to get some food from a restaurant, looking up a public transportation schedule, sending stuff to loved ones or fetching groceries. Once a connection is established, it will be a massive challenge for its competitors to overcome.

All Uber has been doing is to build its innovation stack. The more layers of the stack there are, the bigger their competitive moat is. However, execution is key, especially when it keeps moving the goal post in terms of profitability timeline and amid cash flow pressure.

I’ll take Heartland B-Cycle over E-Scooters

E-scooters have been taking over for the past couple of years. Brands such as Lime or Bird have received millions of dollars in funding and expanded to countries all over the world. Names like Lyft also ventured into this area. In big cities and even smaller ones such as Omaha, folks, mostly younger ones, can be seen riding scooters pleasurably.

Personally, I; however, prefer riding the rentable bikes from Heartland B-cycle. They are bikes available for rent for $10/month or $80/year at stations throughout an area of Omaha. Riders can use the bikes for one hour before having to return them to a station to avoid additional charges. There are a few reasons that can explain my preference for the rentable bikes.

Cost

My last ride with Lime was 0.7 mile long and it cost me $2.45. With $10/month, I can have unlimited rides with B-Cycle

Health issues

There is virtually no health benefit that can be gained from e-scooter. You hop on the scooter, turn it on and go. With B-Cycle, at least it’s going to be a nice cardio workout.

Maintenance

Already in Omaha have I seen many e-scooters left carelessly everywhere downtown. Folks have no regard in where they should leave the devices after use. On the other hand, you have to return B-cycle to its stations, unless you want to pay a significant fee afterwards.

According to Quartz, an e-scooter’s lifespan is 28 days. The Information reported that two of Lime’s models can last a bit longer, up to 17 weeks. In addition to expensive marketing and promotions, e-scooter companies burn a lot of cash in maintenance their fleet. Each Bird scooter costs $550. Imagine having to replace hundreds of them every 3 months. Bird has raised $415 million to date with the latest round announced just 5 months ago, but it is said to have around $100 million left in the bank and to have reduced its fleet.

The unit economics for e-scooters doesn’t look very appealing and there is no clear path to profitability. I do think more good would be done from having all that money invested in public transportation or alternative such as B-Cycle.

Some may argue that e-scooters are more flexible and can get riders to more places. Nonetheless, within 2-3 miles, a well-planned network of B-Cycle can get us into walking distance to anywhere. For a reasonably long distance, it would be much more expensive to ride e-scooters. And for a long distance, it’d be best to use other alternatives such as buses, cars or services like Uber of Lyft.

For your imagination, take a look at what Germany has for bikers