Lyft, the friendly, pink-mustachioed ride-hailing competitor to Uber, might just be looking for an off-ramp.

The San Francisco company, which is valued at $5.5 billion, hired Qatalyst Partners, an investment bank known for helping tech companies with mergers and acquisitions--or, sometimes, to locate and secure new funding, according to reports.

Qatalyst was founded by famed Silicon Valley dealmaker Frank Quattrone. Recently it helped negotiate the acquisition of LinkedIn by Microsoft for $26 billion. Postmates, the San Francisco-based delivery startup best known for sending bike messengers with food orders, hired Qatalyst in March. Postmates was on track to bring in $60 million in 2016, but wasn't profitable. (There's been no news of a merger, acquisition, or fundraise since Qatalyst was hired.)

The Wall Street Journal reports that Quattrone himself has been talking to companies, including large automakers, about taking stakes in Lyft. Lyft spokespeople who have been contacted by Inc. have not returned requests for comment.

At the very start of 2016, Lyft took $500 million from General Motors, in exchange for a 10 percent stake in the startup.

Lyft has in the past been considerably more avid in seeking out partnerships than its heavyweight competitor, Uber. In addition to the GM deal, it has also partnered with Chinese ride-sharing alpha-dog Didi Chuxing (formerly known as Didi Kuaidi). (Today, Chinese travelers can open the Didi app in the United States and hail a Lyft--and vice-versa.)

Didi and GM seem to be the most likely suspects for a possible acquisition. Qatalyst is one of the most active Silicon Valley deal makers: It is fourth in banks advising on U.S. acquisitions, according to data-provider Dealogic.

And, heck, it might be good timing for the founders, who have been working on Lyft for four years. For the five years prior to that, they labored on a related ride-sharing startup, Zimride, but sold off the campus-centric business to Enterprise in 2013. That's almost a decade chipping away at the ride-hailing and urban-transportation problem. Plus, both Green and Zimmer are new fathers, with kids at home under 2.

Then again, they're both still driving hard, and sharing the helm at Lyft. Last I spoke with them, last month, Green was very focused on the GM partnership, and working on the companies' concepts for the future of urban infrastructure, and how car- and ride-sharing could best be integrated into a future that also incorporates self-driving automobiles.

Zimmer explained that when motivating employees of Lyft to work hard against Uber--which has six times the funding of Lyft, and is the highest-valued private startup in the world--he focuses on the company's "humanity:" the fact that it values person-to-person interaction. It wants to be known as a company that treats its drivers well, and, therefore, provides friendlier service to riders.

At a twice-monthly team meeting, staffers share stories of great driver-passenger interactions from the past week -- say, the time one brought the other a sandwich because he texted he hadn't eaten all day.

"We share these simple--or sometimes more extreme--stories, and then say, 'our world, the way we look at cities in the future, that's a world where people are interacting, people are connecting, and people are taking care of each other,'" Zimmer says. "And that, when Lyft wins and lyft has the biggest market share, that is created."

Does that sound like someone who's willing to step back anytime soon? That could depend on what kind of price Qatalyst can obtain for its newest client. 

 

Published on: Jun 28, 2016