Lyft Shares Soar in Trading Debut That Bodes Well for Wave of Tech I.P.O.s to Come
SAN FRANCISCO — Lyft rose more than 21 percent as the ride-sharing company began trading on public markets Friday, a robust start for the first in a stream of stock offerings expected from high-profile technology companies this year.
The ride-hailing company’s shares opened for trading at $87.24, above the public offering price of $72. At the I.P.O. price, Lyft had a market value of over $24 billion, making it one of the most valuable American companies to go public in the last decade. At that level, it was above the valuation of other transportation companies, such as the parent of United Airlines.
The company’s skyrocketing share price underscored the depth of investor hunger for fast-growing young tech businesses, even if they are deeply unprofitable. Lyft more than doubled its revenue last year but lost nearly $1 billion. It is dueling with Uber to dominate transportation in many cities; to compete, the companies are subsidizing fees for riders and drivers. They are also spending millions of dollars on developing autonomous cars and branching out into bikes and scooters.
Investors turned a blind eye to the steep losses and heavy spending, which bodes well for a herd of coming offerings. Uber, which is also losing money, has filed paperwork to go public and is widely expected to hold the biggest I.P.O. of the past few years. Others set to join the I.P.O. bonanza are Pinterest, the digital pin board, the messaging company Slack and the home-fitness company Peloton.
Lyft’s high listing price and performance are a “reflection of the appetite” from investors, said Tom White, a senior vice president at D.A. Davidson, a wealth and asset management firm. “Right now I think investors generally are focused on growth.”
With its initial offering, Lyft leapt ahead of Uber to became the first publicly traded ride-hailing firm. Logan Green and John Zimmer, Lyft’s founders, celebrated the event in Los Angeles. Mr. Green, who grew up in Santa Monica, Calif., and has cited heavy traffic in the area as an inspiration for Lyft, and Mr. Zimmer used the occasion of the I.P.O. to announce a program called Lyft City Works, which will donate $50 million to transportation initiatives in cities where it operates.
Mr. Green said he planned to further expand Lyft into other modes of transportation, including public transit. “We want Lyft to be the first app that you open up,” he said. “The biggest investments we’re making today are broadening the portfolio of products that you can access within Lyft.”
The offering increased Mr. Green and Mr. Zimmer’s wealth, while allowing them to maintain tight control over their company. The pair hold a special class of shares that give them extra voting power, a practice common among tech founders but criticized by investor advocates.
During a nearly two-week road show, Lyft pitched itself to institutional investors as a mission-driven company focused on reshaping the transportation industry. It emphasized its do-gooder stance on encouraging car-pooling and reducing the environmental impacts of individual car ownership.
Investors’ most frequent question during the road show was what the company would look like in five years, Mr. Zimmer said. “Investors realized that ride-sharing is the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
Mr. White of D.A. Davidson said investors would not immediately expect Lyft to be profitable. “On the road show, they’ve signaled that 2019 is going to be a peak investment year,” he said. “The expectations have been set: Don’t expect huge progress toward profitability this year.”
But he added that good will would eventually evaporate. “As we get closer to 2020, there will be an expectation that we see them narrow the losses,” he said.