Exclusive: Lyft close to selecting IPO adviser - sources

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Lyft Inc is close to hiring an initial public offering (IPO) advisory firm, in the first concrete step by the second biggest U.S. ride service company to become publicly listed, according to people familiar with the matter.

Lyft’s IPO preparations come as its larger competitor, Uber Technologies Inc, is attempting to recover from a range of scandals. In August, Uber’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi set a new tentative timeline for Uber’s IPO of between 18 and 36 months.

An IPO would offer Lyft access to capital beyond its traditional route of private investments. The San Francisco-based company has been in discussions this month with Google owner Alphabet Inc GOOGL.O about securing an investment, Reuters has reported.

The IPO advisory firm will help Lyft’s management select underwriters and plan the offering, which could come as early as next year, the sources said this week, asking not to be identified because the deliberations are confidential. The timing of the plans could still change, the sources added.

The ride-hailing company has already finished the interviews for picking the IPO advisory firm and is expected to make a decision shortly, the sources said. IPO advisory firms work independently from the investment banks and do not sell shares in an IPO.

Lyft declined to comment.

Top investment banks face a dilemma with regards to whether they should be underwriters on Lyft's IPO, since many of them, such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc GS.N and Morgan Stanley MS.N, are already lenders to its chief rival Uber. A bank that aligns itself with Lyft could potentially find itself shut out from a much larger IPO by Uber down the road.

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Like Uber, Lyft offers a mobile app that enables passengers to request rides on their smartphones. It was founded in 2012 by technology entrepreneurs John Zimmer and Logan Green, three years after Uber.

Lyft was valued at $7.5 billion in its latest funding round in April, when it raised $600 million in fresh funding from investors such as private equity firm KKR & Co LP KKR.N. This $7.5 billion valuation was up from $5.5 billion more than a year earlier, in a fundraising round in which General Motors Co GM.N participated.

Uber, which was valued at $68 billion in its last funding round, is the largest private company backed by venture capitalists in the world.

Uber and Lyft have been losing money as they compete at all costs to grow their user base with low fares for customers and incentives for drivers.

Both IPOs would test investor tolerance for a lack of profitability when it comes to iconic technology unicorns. Many such companies have chosen to remain private because of concerns that an IPO would assign them a lower valuation than their latest fundraising round.

An illuminated sign appears in a Lyft ride-hailing car in Los Angeles, California, U.S. September 21, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

Snapchat owner Snap Inc's SNAP.N $3.4 billion IPO earlier this year was the largest by a U.S. technology company in three years, although its shares have since underperformed, as its quarterly earnings have fallen short of analyst expectations.

Lyft said last month it was available in 40 states and reached 94 percent of the U.S. population. Unlike Uber, its service is so far only available in the United States.

Lyft formed a self-driving car division over the summer and has announced partnerships with companies such as Ford Motor Co F.N.

Uber has also continued to expand, despite a series of setbacks, including allegations of sexual harassment from a former employee, a video that was released of co-founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick harshly berating a driver, a lawsuit from Alphabet’s self-driving car unit accusing Uber of stealing intellectual property, and a succession of executive departures.

Reporting by Liana B. Baker in San Francisco; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman