Ouch: Universal Music Group sold back valuable Uber shares

June 4, 2014, 8:33 PM UTC

Last week Universal Music Group executives were likely celebrating their investment savvy: The company made $500 million when Apple (AAPL) purchased Beats, according to Billboard. It was the first piece of good news after a string of deals that has failed to produce exciting returns. Universal backed MOG, a music streaming service that never took off and sold for just $14 million to Beats. Universal also backed Amp’d Mobile, a mobile service reseller that raised $374 million in venture backing, only to file for bankruptcy.

But this week, Universal execs were likely disappointed by news of a $17 billion round of funding for Uber, the fast-growing black car startup. Universal owned shares in Uber, but sold them long before the startup’s valuation hit current levels.

Universal got its hands on Uber shares through its investment in Uber.com, a social network and blogging platform that shut down in 2008. The $7.6 million that Uber.com burned through isn’t too bad of a loss in venture capital terms. But Uber.com held a very valuable asset: its domain.

Around 2010, Universal sold the domain to Uber Technologies, the parent company of the now-infamous black car startup. Since Uber was brand-new, it used equity to buy the domain. Four years later, Uber is worth a reported $17 billion.

But Universal can’t celebrate alongside the company’s many paper-rich shareholders.

Sometime along the way, Universal cashed out its shares, selling them back to the company for a nominal profit. If Universal had held onto its shares, they would now be worth more than $100 million, according to a person familiar with the situation. As Fortune has written before, Uber is looking increasingly like the new Facebook for investors. At its $17 billion valuation, early investments in Uber are worth around 2,000x their value from just four years ago. For Universal, that would have been enough to cover up a few of its past black eyes.

Universal was not able to comment by press time. Uber didn’t respond to an inquiry for comment