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Inside Uber's secretive meeting with investors: Big crowds, 'softball' questions and turkey wraps

Key Points
  • Bouncers at the Mandarin Oriental checked identification, and the hundreds of attendees wore wristbands signifying that they were on the list.
  • The ride-hailing company plans to list on the New York Stock Exchange with a market cap as high as $91.5 billion valuation, making it the biggest public offering since Alibaba.
  • Investors lobbed “softball” questions about the company’s growth trajectory, according to one attendee in the room.
Monitors display Uber Technologies Inc. signage in front of Morgan Stanley headquarters in the Times Square area of New York, U.S., on Friday, April 26, 2019.
Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Potential investors at a Manhattan stop on Uber's "roadshow" were treated much like patrons of a swanky night club.

To get beyond the velvet rope at the Mandarin Oriental on Tuesday, investors had to show identification to a security guard. If they were on the list, they were given a blue wristband, then ushered up the elevator to a lunch presentation along with hundreds of other hedge fund managers and investment professionals.

The lunch venue was not revealed until hours before it started. Media was barred from the event but CNBC spoke to multiple attendees leaving the hotel near Columbus Circle.

According to investors in the room, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi and CFO Nelson Chai were asked about the growth trajectory. One hedge fund investor said the Uber team laid out a "clear path" of how to get there but didn't provide "anything new" that hasn't been discussed publicly before. The same investor said the "buzz" around the event smacked of other high-profile tech IPOs.

"I haven't seen anything like this since the Twitter IPO," said the investor, who asked not to be named because the meeting was private.

Uber released its long-awaited IPO prospectus in April, roughly two weeks after rival Lyft debuted on the Nasdaq. Uber plans to list on the New York Stock Exchange with a market cap as high as $91.5 billion valuation, making it the biggest public offering since Alibaba. According to the S-1 regulatory filing, Uber reported an operating loss of $3 billion on $11.3 billion of revenue last year.

'Softball' questions

The ride-hailing giant also reported negative free cash flow of $2.1 billion last year and has warned that it may not hit profitability soon as it continues to invest in its business. One investor said executives are positioning Uber as the "Amazon of transport."

The same investor said executives were asked "softball" questions when it came to growth. Another attendee, who also asked not to be named, highlighted potential growth in emerging markets and "Uber Pool" which allows multiple people to share the same car at a lower cost.

A separate investor that spoke to CNBC described the leadership team as "experienced and polished." Khosrowshahi took the CEO job in 2017, succeeding co-founder Travis Kalanick.

The same investor was at Lyft's Manhattan stop during its IPO roadshow. He said that unlike Lyft, Uber didn't have a "chip on their shoulder" about being the underdog. Even with Lyft gunning for the same market, the investor said Uber "can still make plenty of money."

The names of two well-known Uber investors — Google and Softbank — were highlighted, the investor said, adding to the feeling that they were far less concerned about interest from smaller investors.

Big crowds

Attendees sat shoulder to shoulder on folding chairs. The turkey wrap and fusilli pasta lunch was provided in black, to-go bags that some investors carried out with them as they walked out of the hotel toward Central Park.

One investor said it was the first IPO lunch he had been to without tables, which "even Facebook had," underscoring how crowded the event was. He added that Uber's public offering is bound to be tricky because of massive retail interest and size of IPO.

Still, he's a "believer in the story."

For some, Uber's potential for growth is being underrated. One possible investor said the ride-hailing market was still "under-penetrated" by Uber.

"They're going to kill it," the attendee told CNBC, adding that he would definitely invest. "The valuation is dope."

--- CNBC's Leslie Picker and Ritika Shah contributed reporting.