A company’s “success” is no longer contingent on it actually turning a profit. Some of the most famous companies across the tech and lifestyle sectors — like Uber and Peloton — have yet to break even, and many are actually losing millions every quarter. What’s keeping them in business is their potential for growth and investors who believe that this potential is more valuable than a high-profit margin — even though they are still losing money.
Last updated: Nov. 13, 2020
Airbnb was founded in 2008 and has raised a total of $4.4 billion in funding, according to Crunchbase. The company has reached unicorn status with a valuation above $1 billion, and it’s been widely reported that it will go public this year. However, although it has reached profitability in the past, Airbnb currently operates at a loss.
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Why Airbnb Isn't Profitable
The vacation rental company’s operating losses more than doubled in the first quarter of 2019 compared to the previous year, with a whopping $306 million in losses, The Information reported. The increase in losses was due in part to increased investment in sales and marketing. The company had also been spending more on product development, and operations and support.
Airbnb is expected to go public in 2020, even though it has swung from profitable to losing money. People close to the company told Bloomberg that Airbnb had a $322 million net loss for the first nine months of 2019, down from a $200 million profit the previous year.
Everyone can be an at-home chef thanks to Blue Apron, the grocery delivery and recipe service established in 2012. The company went public in 2017 with a valuation of $1.9 billion — but its value has been falling ever since. Blue Apron reported net losses of $26.2 million in the third quarter of 2019.
Why Blue Apron Isn't Profitable
Blue Apron’s marketing costs continue to rise as it struggles to attract new customers — while also struggling to retain the customers it already has, PitchBook reported. Plus, it’s expensive to pay for all the food and shipping costs associated with a meal-delivery service. In addition, Blue Apron has had to deal with an increasingly competitive space as more and more meal-delivery services have become available in recent years. Despite conducting hundreds of layoffs in 2017, the company has not been able to reach profitability.
With its stock prices steadily declining, it’s possible that Blue Apron may not survive long enough to ever turn a profit.
Direct-to-consumer mattress brand Casper was established in 2013 and has raised $339.7 million in funding since then, with investors that include Leonardo DiCaprio, Ashton Kutcher and 50 Cent. The company went public on Feb. 5 with a valuation of $476 million, according to Crunchbase. Casper stated in its filing that it won’t be profitable any time soon, Forbes reported.
Why Casper Isn't Profitable
Casper now sells products in seven countries and considers itself the “pioneer of the sleep economy,” which it believes is worth $432 billion globally. Although Casper sees lots of earning potential, it’s still in the hole financially. Its IPO filing revealed net losses of $73.4 million in 2017, $92.1 million in 2018 and $67.4 million in the first nine months of 2019, Forbes reported.
“We have a history of losses and expect to have operating losses and negative cash flow as we continue to expand our business,” the company wrote in its S-1 filing, according to Forbes.
Casper’s largest expense is marketing, which it spends nearly one-third of its revenue on — the company spent $420 million on marketing and advertising from 2016 through the first nine months of 2019. It’s also spending money to expand its brick-and-mortar retail locations.
File-sharing, collaboration and storage platform Dropbox was founded in 2007 and went public in March 2018. Its valuation at the time of its IPO was $9.2 billion, Crunchbase reported. As of September 2019, the company had reported quarterly losses of $17 million.
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Why Dropbox Isn't Profitable
Dropbox isn’t profitable yet — largely due to the marketing expenses needed to drive growth — but it could be soon. Industry analysts predict that 2020 will be the final year the company posts a loss before turning a profit of $35 million in 2021, Simply Wall St. reported.
Lime launched in 2017 to cash in on the electric scooter craze and has grown rapidly since then. It has launched in 120 markets around the world and hit more than 100 million rides in September 2019, CNBC reported. Lime was valued at $2.4 billion as of late 2019, and it has raised over $700 million in funding. Although Lime is not currently profitable, the company plans to turn the corner in 2020.
Why Lime Isn't Profitable
Lime’s expenses include the expansion and maintenance of its scooters, plus advertising — it launched its first U.S. ad campaign in Los Angeles late last year. However, Lime plans to be “EBIT positive” at some point in 2020, CNBC reported.
As far as how it will do this, Lime has already started trimming back expenses. In January, the company announced that it would be laying off about 100 employees and exiting 12 markets.
Ride-sharing app Lyft was founded in 2012 and became a publicly-traded company in March 2019. With a valuation of $24 billion at its IPO, stocks opened at $72 a share. The stock value has dropped significantly since then, with the current value hovering around $45.
Why Lyft Isn't Profitable
Lyft’s operating costs — including operations and support, research and development, sales and marketing, and administrative costs — have consistently eclipsed its gross profit. In 2018, for example, its operating costs were nearly double its gross profit, amounting to a net loss of $911.3 million inclusive of income taxes, Crunchbase reported.
Although Lyft hasn’t turned a profit yet, its chief executive Logan Green told The New York Times that it could be profitable by late 2021.
“We crushed revenue expectations,” Brian Roberts, Lyft’s chief financial officer, told The Times. “We have put out a firm date to achieve profitability. I think that is unique.”
Peloton went public in 2019, seven years after its founding. It was valued at $8.1 billion at the time of its IPO.
Although Peloton’s CEO John Foley has repeatedly stated that his fitness company is profitable, the numbers revealed in its IPO filing tell a different story.
Why Peloton Isn't Profitable
When luxury exercise bike maker Peloton filed to go public in August 2019, it was revealed that the company had lost $450 million over the past three years and has never made a profit, CBS News reported.
“We have incurred operating losses each year since our inception in 2012 … and we expect to continue to incur net losses for the foreseeable future,” the company stated in the filing.
Revenues have been increasing, but the company has been burning through cash at a faster rate. Although Peloton expects to be profitable by 2023, some experts are unsure that this will be the case.
“Peloton’s business is getting less efficient as it grows — indicating that it lacks a scalable business model,” wrote Forbes contributor Peter Cohan. “Rather than making itself efficient before pouring gasoline — in the form of private capital — to grow quickly, Peloton decided to delay worrying about making its business more efficient with scale. Therefore, in order for Peloton to make money, it will need to re-engineer its business model.”
Pinterest went public in April 2019 — a decade after the digital pinboard company was first founded. Its valuation at the time of its IPO was $12.7 billion, according to Crunchbase.
Despite its popularity — with more than 250 million users around the world — and unicorn status, the company reported a net loss of $124.7 million in the third quarter of 2019, which was 561% greater than its net loss over the same quarter the previous year.
Why Pinterest Isn't Profitable
Pinterest has yet to bring in enough revenue to outweigh its costs, which include research and development, and sales and marketing. However, the company shared in its IPO filing that it’s “in the early stages of building an advertising product suite that fully taps the value of [the] alignment between Pinners and advertisers […] We believe it will be a competitive advantage over the long term.”
Although Pinterest hasn’t turned a profit yet, some analysts predict that it will eventually be more profitable than Twitter with its push for increased ad revenue.
If you work in an office setting, chances are you’ve used Slack to message your co-worker. The business communications platform was founded in 2009 and went public in June 2019. It was valued at $23 billion at the time, but its value has dipped since then.
In the third quarter of the 2020 fiscal year, Slack reported operating losses of $95 million — 56% of its total revenue.
Why Slack Isn't Profitable
As with many of the other companies on this list, Slack’s biggest obstacle to profitability is its operating costs. High sales and marketing costs accounted for a large portion of its total operating expenses in fiscal year 2019. However, some experts believe the company is on the path to profitability.
“The company is a classic tech company with scalability,” Jay Ritter, an IPO expert and professor at the University of Florida, told Reuters. “There is the potential for profitability in the next few years, with rapidly growing profits after that.”
When Snap Inc. went public in 2017, it was valued at $24 billion — the biggest initial public offering in years, the Financial Times reported. However, years later, the company is still not profitable. Its user numbers have declined, it has few assets and its average monthly cash burn since the IPO has been $68 million. An April 2019 Financial Times analysis calculated that the company would run out of funds in three years if it did not become profitable.
Why Snap Isn't Profitable
Snap has focused on growth over profitability, according to Crunchbase. Because of this, the company has had to raise debt. It has also struggled with its cost structure.
Uber revolutionized the way people get around. The ride-sharing app was launched in 2009 and was valued at $8.1 billion when it went public in 2019. But when Uber filed its IPO, it said that it might never make a profit — despite the fact that it had 91 million users, Reuters reported.
Why Uber Isn't Profitable
Public scandals and increased competition have made it hard for Uber to attract and retain riders in recent years, and the company stated in its filing that it expected its operating expenses to “increase significantly in the foreseeable future.” Its operating costs amounted to over $3 billion in losses in 2018.
Uber’s slowing growth might make it difficult for the company to ever turn a profit, some experts believe. Revenue growth and gross bookings have been on the decline, while the net cash used in operating activities has increased exponentially.
“You can get away with these large losses when the growth rates are quite high, because many of your expenses, of course, are investments in the future,” David Wessels, adjunct professor of finance at Wharton, said in a Knowledge @ Wharton blog post. “But in this particular case, it’s just bad news when the numbers are so low.”
Established in 2002, Wayfair has become a major player in the e-commerce field. The home goods retailer went public in 2014 with a valuation of $2.4 billion. Though its shares have climbed in value since then, Wayfair has continued to lose money. The company reported a net loss of $272 million for the third quarter of 2019.
Why Wayfair Isn't Profitable
Although Wayfair’s sales went up nearly 36% year-over-year from 2018 to 2019, its losses also continued to grow. Despite increases in active customers, number of orders and the average order size, operating expenses have also been on the rise. The company has invested more in marketing, advertising, customer service and tech, Forbes reported.
On an August 2019 investor call, Wayfair CEO Michael Fleisher said he has no plans to change the way the company has been running things: “We expect to stick to this philosophy, and we will not alter our … investments to make any particular quarter more profitable,” he said.
WeWork co-founder Adam Neumann set out to change the way people work by establishing collaborative co-working spaces catering to younger workers. He also had plans to expand the brand to residential and educational spaces, too — but those plans might never come to pass after the company’s failed IPO filing in August 2019 and its aftermath.
WeWork initially sought a valuation of $47 billion, but that dropped to $10 billion within a month, Business Insider reported. By November 2019, its valuation was slashed to $5 billion, and its initial public offering has been delayed indefinitely.
Why WeWork Isn't Profitable
As of July 2019, co-working startup WeWork was losing $219,000 hourly, the Financial Times reported. The company’s disastrous attempt to go public resulted in Neumann stepping down as CEO, as the company revealed huge losses and a confusing corporate structure, CNBC reported. One of the biggest obstacles to WeWork’s profitability is its noncancelable leases and related liabilities. In the case of an economic downturn, it is feasible that the company could be paying more for its leases than its tenants are willing to pay in rent.
But the company is hoping to turn things around. On Feb. 11, WeWork announced its new target of becoming free cash flow positive by 2022; it aims to achieve free cash flow of over $1 billion in 2024, Reuters reported.
Zillow was founded in 2005 and went public in 2011. At the time of its IPO, Zillow’s valuation was $540 million with an initial share price of $20, according to Crunchbase. Now, shares are worth around $55.
Why Zillow Isn't Profitable
Zillow is a leader in the online real estate space, yet it isn’t profitable and isn’t projecting that it will be profitable any time soon, Investor Place reported. That’s because despite growth in revenue from all three of its businesses — advertising, mortgages and home flipping — only its advertising business actually makes money when you look at earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization.
“Although revenues are expected to keep roaring higher, profits aren’t expected to join the party,” Investor Place stated. “Instead, Zillow’s fiscal 2021 loss per share is estimated to be nearly the exact same as its 2019 loss per share of 60 cents.”
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