Uber Technologies Inc. shareholders and its board, led by early backer Benchmark, have discussed selling some of their shares to SoftBank Group Corp. and other potential investors, people familiar with the matter said. The talks represent a major turning point for the company. It has amassed more than 500 investors who fought to own a piece of the world’s most-valuable startup. The fact that some of the earliest backers now want to reduce their stakes suggests the scandals and other troubles this year have taken a toll. The deal could include an injection of new money into the ride-hailing startup, the people said. They asked not to be identified discussing private deliberations. It’s unclear what valuation those shares would carry or how much may be sold. Any private share sale like this would need to be approved by San Francisco-based Uber’s board.
Uber’s former Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick, who remains on the board, didn’t learn about Benchmark’s effort to sell early shares until recently, two people familiar with the matter said. Kalanick has often opposed allowing early shareholders to sell their stakes, though the board has allowed occasional exceptions.
Even though Benchmark led an investor revolt against Kalanick, at least three major shareholders said they were unaware of Benchmark’s effort to sell shares as of Friday morning, three people familiar with the matter said.
SoftBank, which recently launched a $93 billion technology fund, has no plans to invest in Uber, a person close to the Japanese company said. SoftBank has backed Uber’s primary rivals in India, Southeast Asia and China. Some of Uber’s investors would like to see the startup cut deals with overseas competitors — as it did with Didi Chuxing in China and Yandex NV in Russia. Grab, a leading ride-hailing startup in Asia, is raising as much as $2 billion from backers including SoftBank and Didi.
Further complicating the situation: One of Uber’s major late-stage investors, the Saudi Public Investment Fund, is also the largest backer of SoftBank’s new tech fund. Uber, last valued at $69 billion, has faced a string of scandals so far this year. It lost its CEO and heads of business, policy and communications, engineering, and product. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder concluded an investigation into the company’s culture that recommended replacing Uber’s 14 values and relying on a new leader to reform the company’s culture. The search continues for a new CEO, chief financial officer, chief operating officer, general counsel, and independent board chair.
Two smaller, longtime Uber investors have also started asking larger investment funds to purchase their shares, said two other people familiar with the matter. These backers are concerned that a leadership vacuum and growing competition from Lyft Inc. will dent Uber’s value.