Uber to slash spending on incentives and new hires

CEO Dara Khosrowshahi warned employees of cost-cutting measures ahead.

Mike Blake / reuters

Uber is planning on tightening the purse strings this year. In an email to employees shared with CNBC, the ride-hailing firm’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said the company would cut back on spending amidst a “seismic shift” in investor sentiment. First up on the chopping block are marketing and incentives, also known as Uber’s various perks for customers and drivers that include sign-up bonuses and ride discounts. Although Khosrowshahi didn’t mention lay-offs in the e-mail, he made clear that any new hiring at the company would be treated as "a privilege."

“We have to make sure our unit economics work before we go big. The least efficient marketing and incentive spend will be pulled back. We will treat hiring as a privilege and be deliberate about when and where we add headcount. We will be even more hardcore about costs across the board,” wrote Khosrowshahi.

The company’s quarterly earnings call last week contained both good news and bad news: Uber’s $6.9 billion in reported revenue for the first quarter of 2022 was a staggering 136 percent increase from the same period last year. It’s clear that demand is returning to pre-pandemic levels. But the company also lost $5.6 billion due to its many investments, which include overseas ride-sharing apps. Uber often buys a stake in local competitors or acquires them outright. But this strategy can backfire, as it did with Chinese ride-hailing firm Didi. Uber sold its stake in Didi last year after its value dropped by $2 billion in under a couple of weeks. It’s also looking to speed up the sale of its 29 percent stake in Russia’s ride-hailing platform Yandex.

Uber’s incentives program has boosted new driver sign-ups and ridership, but has also led to significant losses for the company. The company reported a $509 million loss last August, solely due to its heavy spending on sign-up bonuses it used to lure drivers back on the road.

The rideshare platform plans on focusing even more on Uber Eats and its new Freight program, which businesses can use to ship packages. Uber’s delivery business posted $2.5 billion in revenue for the first quarter of 2022, and currently has a record number of merchants.

“Investors are happy with Delivery’s growth coming out of the pandemic and see that we have performed better than many other pandemic winners. I must admit that was a bit of a surprise for me because I firmly believe Delivery should be growing even faster,” wrote Khosrowshahi.