After years of anticipation, Uber Technologies (NYSE:UBER) is finally a publicly traded company. Shares of the ridesharing giant began trading at 11:52 a.m. EDT on Friday, but it wasn't the debut of Uber backers' dreams.

Shares were priced at $45, toward the low end of the $44-$50 range the company had previously specified; the stock opened at just $42 and slipped as low as $41.06. Shares began to climb higher from there, but were still trading down slightly as of this writing. The result was a notable contrast from other high-flying IPOs this year, including PinterestZoom Video, and Beyond Meat, which surged in their debuts.

A person holding a smartphone with the Uber app open.

Image source: Uber.

Uber wanted to play the IPO conservatively after seeing the stock of rival Lyft (NASDAQ:LYFT) fall more than 20% from its $72 IPO price over the last six weeks. Lyft stock also dropped this morning and hit an all-time low of $50.03 shortly before Uber shares began trading.

Even before shares began trading, the company's debut at the New York Stock Exchange featured some conflict. Uber co-founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick, who was ousted in a boardroom coup in 2017, showed up for the event with his father. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi had barred Kalanick from taking part in the tradition bell-ringing ceremony with the rest of the company's leadership. Kalanick avoided the press while there, but some investors have speculated that he could try to stage a comeback at some point as he still feels scorned at being forced out of the company that he helped build. Kalanick owns 8.6% of Uber, making him a billionaire many times over now that Uber shares are freely traded.

The road ahead

Now that Uber's long-awaited IPO has happened, the focus moves to the company's business and its prospects. As rival Lyft learned, investor patience can quickly wear thin. Lyft shares have fallen about 40% from their opening-day high, and the stock slipped earlier this week following Lyft's first earnings report as a public company, even though it handily beat analyst estimates.

Both companies are putting up wide losses -- Uber had an operating loss of $3 billion last year -- and the question of whether they can become profitable looms over their outlook.

Uber's growth has slowed precipitously recently; in the first quarter, the company said revenue rose just 18%-20%. It's also possible that the ridesharing market may not be as big as some had hoped. Uber and Lyft have already decimated local taxi markets, taking much of their market share, and further gains may depend on convincing consumers to give up their cars. Meanwhile, in the United States, Uber is starting to lose market share to Lyft. According to e-commerce research company Edison Trends, Uber's market share has fallen from 68% to 64% over the past year. 

With both companies locked in a fight for market share, facing driver protests as well as huge losses, something will have to give eventually. The most likely outcome seems to be that the companies will have to raise prices and stop subsidizing rides. In the meantime, however, the stocks may not deliver the rewards that investors had hoped for, since slowing growth and more red ink could compress their lofty valuations.

Khosrowshahi pitched the company during its IPO roadshow as the Amazon of transportation. It's now his job to make good on that promise, guiding the company to growth in new markets and its current ones, and building competitive advantages that eventually generate significant profits.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.