Depending on who you ask, Lyft may or may not be up for sale.
If you ask Lyft’s president John Zimmer, the answer is an unequivocal no.
It’s possible though that they’re both right. The truth is likely a needle threaded through the wording each side is using.
Earlier this summer, the Wall Street Journal first reported that Lyft had hired Qatalyst Partners, a Silicon Valley firm known for leading big M&A deals like the LinkedIn-Microsoft acquisition. At the time, some observers noted that Qatalyst had previously helped Lyft with fundraising, and the ride-hailing company could have hired the firm again for that purpose, rather than for a sale; It wasn’t a smoking gun.
A few weeks later, The Information first reported that General Motors, which had previously invested $500 million in a strategic partnership with Lyft, made an offer to buy the company outright but it was rebuffed by Lyft. However, it’s never been confirmed whether that offer was verbal or written or how far that process went.
One reason Lyft ‘offer’ semantics are so tricky, I’m told, is that there was an approach of some appeal to Lyft, but it was only verbal
— Dan Primack (@danprimack) August 22, 2016
What followed is either described as a “normal course of business” by Lyft or as Lyft soliciting offers by those who have reported on the proceeds.
Lyft’s Zimmer claims the company has a fiduciary duty to evaluate all offers made to the company. Part of that process, he told Business Insider, is benchmarking the offer as it has done multiple times in the past.
“That’s happened multiple times throughout our business. It’s actually more of a normal course of business than has been portrayed and of course we have to review anything that’s of legitimate interest,” Zimmer said.
As Fortune’s Dan Primack points out, Lyft went through the steps of hiring an investment bank and opening a special “data room” so potential acquirers could look at the books and do due diligence on the company.
As part of this process, Lyft (or its investment bankers) could have gone to other companies to see what they would pay as a “benchmark” to the offer they thought was coming in.
Zimmer’s argument is that this process wasn’t akin to knocking on doors frantically looking for a buyer, but a part of determining whether the unsolicited offer coming in was legitimate.
“Getting approached and then having it characterised as us wanting to sell the business and failing to do so is a large mis-characterization,” Zimmer said. ” If the company is approached, it doesn’t mean the company is looking.”
He can say that Lyft may have never hung an official “for sale” sign, but the company’s actions were akin to receiving an offer on an house and then holding an open house just to see what other bids might roll in. Whether you qualify that as proactively seeking a sale or not comes down to semantics, but Lyft is going on record saying it’s not looking for a sale to anyone.
Of course, everything is for sale if the price is right.
Lyft was last valued at $5.5 billion, and according to Recode, the company at one point in the latest discussions believed it was worth as much as $9 billion. The price that others would have been willing to pay is unclear (save for arch-rival Uber, whose CEO reportedly told investors it wouldn’t pay more than $2 billion for Lyft), but clearly nothing discussed between Lyft and the other companies resulted in a deal.
“We’re focused on being an independent business and having the largest impact on car ownership as we possibly can,” Zimmer said.”I don’t think [independence] is a requirement, but I believe right now it’s the best path.”