很难因为不上市而责怪Uber。谷歌（Google）上市也情非自愿。Facebook也是如此。但所谓的“500名股东”规定（即股东人数达到500名的非上市公司要在美国证监会（SEC）注册）迫使它们必须这样做。这种局面直到2012年《创业企业扶助法》（Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act）出台才彻底改变。上市不可避免地会带来业绩压力，还得跟来自格林威治（康涅狄格州小镇，美国对冲基金之都）的对冲基金经理进行无休止的会谈，而且这些人会觉得他们比你还了解你的公司——对Uber来说，没有理由这样做。
巴菲特当然买得起这些股份。伯克希尔-哈撒韦公司（Berkshire Hathaway）目前的市值为3700亿美元，其中包括近600亿美元现金。Uber目前的估值只有400亿美元，而且应该没有任何债务。如果以轻微溢价收购Uber51%的股份，再动用一些杠杆，巴菲特需要的现金将远少于他目前在富国银行（Wells Fargo）的投资。
1.巴菲特可以理解Uber的业务。虽然具有科技公司的种种特点，Uber实际上是一家运输服务公司，其最终目标是发展成为本地化按需物流服务供应商。实际上，汉堡王（Burger King）等公司的数据密集度可能都比Uber高。此外，如果大家还纠结于Uber的科技特性，请记住，巴菲特持有IBM公司 7.12%股份，是其最大的外部股东。
4.管理层的理性：鉴于Uber首席执行官特拉维斯•卡兰尼克的好斗倾向，以及由此在监管和公关方面惹出的麻烦，证明这一点有点儿困难。但说到底，卡兰尼克似乎已经有意识地做出了选择，那就是Uber这样的公司取得成功的唯一途径就是要大胆，就算这样做有时意味着不够体面。虽然带来了各种各样让人不快的新闻，公司业务似乎并未受到不利影响，而且巴菲特也能很轻松地摆脱媒体的攻击（请参见《Burger King to Canada》或《horribleness at Heinz》这两篇文章）。对巴菲特而言，只要能达到要求，没有人情味地计算得失似乎没什么关系。
不过，现有股东都没有获得Uber的控制权，使得他们可以呗排除在公司核心之外。这种情况不可能出现在巴菲特身上，这既是因为他拥有合法权力，也因为他有着“祖父一样的”气场。同时，Uber不愿分享信息可能是出于对信息泄露的担忧，而这种情况在仅有一位外部股东的情况下不容易发生。此外，Uber还可以通过114a终身规则来处理所有债务（请参见文章《Rule 144a for life》），进而实现信息保密。
If all goes according to plan, Uber should raise more than $5 billion in “venture capital” funding this year. It’s a record haul that reflects the ride-sharing company’s antipathy toward going public right now, despite billions of dollars in revenue, an exponential growth rate and a bull market that refuses to bear down.
And it’s hard to blame Uber for staying private. Google GOOG 0.43% didn’t want to go public when it did. Neither did Facebook FB 2.03% . But both had their hands forced by something called the 500-shareholder rule, which was subsequently eviscerated by the 2012 JOBS Act. Uber, on the other hand, has virtually no reason to make a move that inevitably leads to short-term earnings pressures and endless meetings with Greenwich hedge fund managers who think they know more about your business than you do.
Moreover, there is a good case to be made that Uber wouldn’t be a good public company. Its CEO is combative even by Silicon Valley standards, and is almost certain to rub some Wall Street analysts the wrong way. Plus, Uber’s endemic regulatory (or worse) controversies could play havoc with its stock price. Only traders with the strongest stomachs need apply.
Only trouble is that Uber must eventually provide liquidity for its shareholders (both outside investors and vested employees). These folks love a good rocket-ship ride as much as anyone, but eventually want their moon rocks. That’s probably why the San Francisco-based company has begun tacitly planning for an IPO, as evidenced by the way in which it structured its ongoing private placement of convertible notes with wealthy Goldman Sachs GS 0.80% clients.
But there is another way. Uber could remain private indefinitely by selling a control stake to Warren Buffett.
To be sure, Buffett could afford it. Berkshire Hathaway BRK.A 0.51% has a current market cap of $370 billion, including nearly $60 billion in cash. Uber currently is valued at only $40 billion, and isn’t believed to have any debt on its books. Buffett could pay a slight premium, use some leverage and walk away with a 51% stake for much less cash than he currently has tied up in Wells Fargo WFC 0.31% .
There also is a compelling case to be made that $40 billion is a “value” price, no matter how wide our collective eyes bulged when we first read it. Remember, plenty of other experienced investors are buying in at this valuation expecting asset-light Uber to be worth at least $100 billion at IPO — and many pundits called Fidelity nuts to invest at a $17 billion pre-money just six months ago (similar accusations were hurled at TPG and Google Ventures for giving it a $2 billion+ mark in the summer of 2013).
Plus, Buffett could always insist on some special warrants that allow him to increase Berkshire’s position as Uber matures and overcomes various regulatory hurdles.
More importantly, I think that Uber is a decent fit within Buffett’s investment strategy. Here are four reasons why:
1.It’s a business Buffett could understand. For all of its tech trappings, Uber is essentially a transportation company that eventually wants to expand into a localized, on-demand logistics company. In fact, a company like Burger King is probably more data-intensive. Plus, just in case the tech thing still trips you up, remember that Buffett is the largest outside shareholder in IBM IBM 0.35% , with a 7.12% stake.
2.Cash-flow rich: Uber is not some sort of SaaS business whose income statement is full of asterisks about future bookings. It’s a wildly-profitable company that generates revenue with each and every ride.
3.Moat: To be sure, Uber is in a highly-competitive market. But it is by far the best capitalized of any competitor, has first-mover advantage in most of its markets and has begun to sign all sorts of “preferred use” corporate partnerships. Plus, if you believe the long-term plan, it is the only on-demand ride company out there that currently has a large enough footprint (in terms of both geography and data) to pull off local delivery on a mass scale.
4. Management rationality: This is a tricky one, given Kalanick’s antagonistic stance and its consequences in terms of both regulation and PR. Ultimately, however, it seems that Kalanick has made a conscious choice that the only way for a company like Uber to succeed is by being brash, even if that means sometimes crossing the line of decency. While it has generated all sorts of unpleasant headlines, the business itself hasn’t seemed to suffer, and Buffett can easily shake off some media darts (see Burger King to Canada or the horribleness at Heinz). Coldly-calculating seems to be fine in Omaha, so long as the math checks out.
The one area where I could see Buffett having a real problem, however, is transparency. All sorts of existing Uber investors privately gripe about their lack of visibility into company financials and strategy, and word is that Uber wasn’t even too forthcoming when pitching its convertible note deal to Wall Street banks (Goldman wasn’t the only one approached).
But no current shareholder has company control, which can allow them to be easily excluded from the inner circle. Highly unlikely that happens with Buffett, both because of his legal rights and his grandfatherly gravitas. Moreover, one possible reason for Uber’s reticence to share information is concern over leaks — something which is much less likely when dealing with a single outside shareholder. Plus, any debt could be structured as Rule 144a for life, thus keeping underlying information private.
Remember, Uber would have all sorts of incentive to open the kimono to Buffett, because he’d be the one “saving” them from having to go public. Yes there are other theoretical buyers — Amazon AMZN 0.50% and existing Uber shareholder Google GOOG 0.43% come to kind, given their local delivery aspirations — but neither one of them is likely to give Kalanick much rope.
Today’s successful startups almost never remain private and operationally independent. But Uber has been the exception to so many other rules, why not one more? Make the call Warren. Even if it sounds ridiculous at first blush.