Talk about a tale of two startups. Two original members of the gig economy generation, Lyft and Airbnb, reported their first-quarter updates today. Both were hit by Covid-19 but are now performing very differently. Airbnb is going from strength to strength. Its first-quarter revenue was 79% above what it was in the first quarter of 2020, while the business generated $1.2 billion in cash. All those fees add up, it seems. Lyft, on the other hand, is like a 40something who never moved out of their parent’s basement. It’s a business that is going absolutely nowhere.
While Lyft’s revenue was 44% above that of the same period a year ago, the number was below that of the same period in 2020. Riders are spending more on average than they were two years ago, but there are 16% fewer of them than there were then. As for the bottom line, Lyft executives brag about the company’s “adjusted Ebitda,” a fictional profitability metric that unhealthy companies love to spotlight. In reality, the company burned $182 million in cash in the quarter, which isn’t much of an improvement on two years ago. After a decade in business, how is it possible that Lyft doesn’t make real money?