SoftBank says Benchmark, Menlo Ventures ready to sell some Uber stock


By Lianna B. Baker and Heather Somerville

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – A consortium led by SoftBank Group Corp (9984.T) on Tuesday launched its tender offer for shares of Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL] and the Japanese company said that some notable early Uber investors planned to sell stock.

Venture capital firms Benchmark, which owns 13 percent of Uber worth nearly $9 billion, and Menlo Ventures, another large shareholder, have indicated that they would sell a portion of the shares, according to a SoftBank spokesperson.

Shawn Carolan, managing director at Menlo Ventures and who leads the firm’s Uber investment, confirmed that the firm “is in favor of the transaction, and will be tendering some of our shares.”

How many it sells, though, depends on the final price SoftBank is willing to pay, he said.

Benchmark declined to comment.

The SoftBank investment would be a sign of support from an influential investor as the ride-services company struggles with several scandals ranging from sexual harassment allegations to federal criminal probes.

The investment, if successful, would trigger governance changes at Uber, including expanding the board from 11 to 17 members, limiting some early shareholders’ voting power and slashing the control wielded by former chief executive Travis Kalanick.

SoftBank would add the investment in Uber to several other bets in the sector, including Singapore’s Grab and India’s Ola.

It is offering to buy Uber shares from existing investors at a valuation of $48 billion, a 30 percent discount to the most recent valuation of $68.5 billion, a person familiar with the matter said earlier this week.

However, SoftBank can still increase the price to encourage more people to sell their shares.

It also would buy $1 billion of new stock at the higher, $68.5 billion valuation but only if it can accumulate at least a 13.4 percent share of Uber through the tender, another person familiar with the matter said on Tuesday. If there were not enough sellers, SoftBank could walk away from the deal.

Uber said late on Tuesday that the expected tender had launched.

The investment comes at the end of a year of controversy and change for Uber, including the announcement last week that the company covered up a major hack in 2016.

One of the people familiar with the matter said that some initial members of the SoftBank consortium, including General Atlantic, had dropped out over concerns including the price.

Still, many investors remained enthusiastic about Uber and told Reuters they were not selling. Mitchell Green of Lead Edge Capital, which invested when the company had a $40 billion valuation, has said he is eager to buy more Uber shares.

Benchmark, despite a prolonged battle with Kalanick and other investors, tweeted in August it believed Uber would be worth more than $100 billion.

Uber on Tuesday released to investors its third-quarter financial results, posting a net loss of $1.46 billion, up about 38 percent from $1.06 billion in the previous quarter and erasing earlier progress in diminishing losses, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Its net revenue, or Uber’s cut of ride fares, stood at $2 billion, up 14 percent from $1.75 billion in the previous quarter.

The Financial Times newspaper reported Uber’s financial results earlier Tuesday.

As a private company, Uber is not required to report its earnings, but has done so for about the past year in preparation for an initial public offering planned for 2019.