It's the biggest cliche in business: "We're going to be the Uber of X."

But now, after a full decade, Uber is about to get its moment in the spotlight, when it goes public Friday. It's probably the most-anticipated and most risky initial public offering in memory: a truly transformative, yet unprofitable company, that loudly proclaims its intent to dominate virtually everything.

Speaking of memory, it's hard sometimes to remember how fast this whole thing happened.

I'm sure you know that the first CEO of Uber wasn't Dara Khosrowshahi, who will be standing at the New York Stock Exchange Friday, but people forget that its controversial Travis Kalanick, wasn't actually the first CEO either. 

That honor went to Ryan Graves, who (no joke) was an intern at Foursquare and landed the position of first CEO at Uber after he responded to a tweet that Kalanick posted on January 5, 2010. (This one.)

Graves later ceded the CEO role to Kalanick, but stayed on as senior VP of operations, and became a billionaire.

Uber's IPO will mint a lot more wealthy people, of course, and there's been a lot of speculation about what all these newly liquid millionaires will do to the crunched San Francisco housing market. 

While lots of people will cash out Friday, Uber's future plans are a lot more risky. It sees itself as the future of virtually all of transportation, to say nothing of quite a few other industries. 

But as it enters the ranks of the $30 trillion (at least, on any given day) New York Stock Exchange, Uber is also wildly unprofitable, losing at least $1 billion in the first quarter of 2019 alone.

Oh, and there's also massive publication, low barriers to entry except for cash, fights with regulators all around the world, and a nice big rush hour drivers' strike planned for Wednesday.

Plus the sneaking suspicion that it's going public just as the company's growth was slowing down.

The Wall Street Journal had a pretty comprehensive analysis of its challenges over the weekend. Subscription required, but it's good reading.

I feel like I need to mention, as a writer: I'm not buying Uber; I'm not shorting it. I don't have a dog in the fight.

But it's one of the riskiest and most interesting IPOs I think I've ever witnessed. And it will all be a lot of fun to watch.

Published on: May 6, 2019
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