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Why It’s Easy to See SoftBank’s Hand as Uber Stands Down in Southeast Asia

March 12, 2018, 2:29 PM UTC

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An eternity ago in Uber time, about two years back, the company referred internally to its U.S. business as the “Golden Goose.” Yes, it was pouring billions into adventures like markets in China, Southeast Asia, India, and even Russia. It was serious about those. But the only sacred cow was its market-leading position in the United States.

Uber nearly blew that U.S. lead, despite having nearly driven Lyft out of business. Now, with reports in Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal that Uber will capitulate in Southeast Asia to competitor Grab, it is becoming clear Uber really will do whatever it takes to defend the U.S., its best market. (It has exited China and Russia already, but fights on in India.)

Two broad factors are at play. First, Uber, which went global unusually quickly for a Silicon Valley startup, is giving up its hopes of world domination. Call it audacious, call it arrogant. It used its prodigious fundraising abilities to attack multiple countries and regions simultaneously. But money wasn’t enough. Local know-how and an ability to work with regulators matter as much. Second, the seemingly impulsive global ambitions of Masayoshi Son’s SoftBank are coming into focus. SoftBank holds major stakes in Uber, Grab, Ola of India, and China’s Didi. No investor wants a portfolio company to bleed money competing with another portfolio company. It’s easy to see SoftBank’s hand in Uber standing down in Southeast Asia.

And of course a strong U.S. business will be enough for a 2019 Uber IPO.


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