Lyft plans to raise more than $2 billion in its IPO

Company expects to raise as much as $2.1 billion

Lyft/CNN

(CNN) - Lyft has set a price range for its initial public offering, which could value the company at about $20 billion.

Lyft predicted investors would buy the stock for between $62 and $68 a share. The company expects to raise as much as $2.1 billion through the sale of stock.

The company won't sell all of its shares to the public through the offering. Lyft's co-founders — CEO Logan Green and president John Zimmer — will hold just less than half the votes among shareholders. But they'll be given a special issue of stock that grants them 20 votes for each of their shares.

A number of the regular shares will go to employees of the company, and some will be made available to its front-line drivers. Drivers will be getting bonuses of up to $10,000 if they have completed 20,000 rides and $1,000 if the have contributed between 10,000 and 20,000 rides by the end of last month. And they will be allowed to take that bonus in shares of the company at the eventual IPO price.

The price range in the filing values the company at between $21 billion and $23 billion. That's far more than its current $15 billion valuation, which is based on private investment in the company. Lyft has collected about $5.2 billion in total private equity investment to date.

"I hate to use this term, but I think its going to be a heavy lift to justify that valuation," said Kathleen Smith, manager of IPO ETFs at Renaissance Capital.

Revenue for Lyft has been growing rapidly, rising 528% between 2016 and 2018. But losses have been climbing as well, reaching $911.3 million in 2018.

Tech investors are used to seeing companies lose money, sometimes for years after they go public. Investors would be mostly betting on Lyft's prospects for future growth, especially if they are disrupting an existing business. For example Amazon, which went public in 1997, didn't report its first profit until the end of 2001. It is now consistently profitable and among the most valuable companies in the world.

But Smith said the growing losses and Lyft's secondary position in the market compared with Uber makes it difficult to forecast when it will be profitable. She said Lyft is now losing about $11.50 for every $100 of customer billings, twice the rate of losses at Uber.

"The venture capitalists have been subsidizing this business. Now they want the public investors to do it," she said.

Lyft and rival Uber are disrupting the way people move around. Many experts believe that people in the future will be far less likely to actually own cars. Established automakers are themselves looking forward to the day when they are in the business of selling rides to customers rather than selling them cars.

The economics of Lyft's business could change radically in future years when self-driving cars become a reality and accepted by the public.

But before then Lyft needs the cash that the IPO will generate. The company's cash and cash equivalents fell 53% to just $518 million during the course of 2018.

Its shares will list on the Nasdaq under the stock ticker "LYFT."

Its competitor Uber expects to go public later this year, but it has not given the same amount of detail about its sales plans. But since Uber is a much larger business, it is expected to raise far more than Lyft from its IPO.

Airbnb, Slack, Pinterest and Postmates are also all expected to go public this year. By going first with its public offering, Lyft could help to be a signal to investors about the strength of this year's market for tech IPOs. All are considered "unicorns" or start-up private companies worth more than $1 billion.

"The unicorns of today have been staying private for much longer than the norm because of the availability of capital from sovereign wealth funds and big companies like Fidelity," said John Mullins, an associate professor of management practice in entrepreneurship at London Business School. "But at some point, you have to go public. Investors want a return. That's why we're seeing this rash of impending IPOs."

Lyft's debut will have an impact on those other IPOs, said Mullins.

"The Lyft IPO will be important not just on the day of offering but in the months following to see how it does," he said. "The IPO window is fragile. It opens and closes quickly."

- CNN Business' Paul La Monica contributed to this report

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