In early 2018, urban transportation upstarts Uber, Lyft, Jump and Lime all considered the possibility of buying or merging with New York–based Motivate. The potential suitors saw blemishes in the bike-rental firm: outdated technology, persistent losses and a business that relied significantly on sponsors, and not just paying customers, according to people familiar with the discussions at the companies.
Lyft went ahead with the deal anyway. It characterized its $250 million purchase of Motivate in July as a way to “accelerate our collaboration with cities.” Since the deal closed in November, Lyft has doubled down, pledging capital-intensive expansions in some cities while investing in an overhaul that will power its bikes with electric motors. As the company prepares to go public Friday, one question is whether the Motivate acquisition will prove prudent, or exacerbate already-heavy losses from Lyft’s ride-hailing business. New details of Motivate’s financial performance spotlight the depth of those challenges.