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Better Buy: Airbnb vs. DoorDash

By Leo Sun - Feb 3, 2021 at 8:15AM

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Which disruptive tech platform will head higher in 2021?

Airbnb (ABNB -3.58%) and DoorDash (DASH -6.88%) were two of the hottest tech IPOs of 2020. Airbnb went public on Dec. 10 at $68 per share, closed at nearly $145 on the first day, and continued rising to about $180 a share. DoorDash went public on Dec. 9 at $102 per share, closed at nearly $190 on the first day, and the stock is still hovering near that price.

Airbnb and DoorDash operate in different markets, but the two companies share similar strengths and weaknesses. Let's compare these two disruptive players and see which is the better overall investment.

The similarities between Airbnb and DoorDash

Airbnb and DoorDash both disrupted and dominated their respective markets. Airbnb, which was founded 12 years ago, disrupted the hotel industry by allowing anyone to offer short-term rentals.

Plants sprouting from stacks of coins.

Image source: Getty Images.

DoorDash, which was founded eight years ago, became the top third-party food delivery platform in the U.S. in 2019. Its streamlined platform helped it overtake Grubhub (GRUB), which previously dominated the market with fragmented acquisitions.

Both companies' digital platforms mainly facilitate transactions and let other parties do the heavily lifting. Airbnb connects hosts to guests and earns commissions from each rental. DoorDash connects restaurants to diners via its "Dashers" and collects fees from both sides.

That business model is easy to scale, but it often limits Airbnb and DoorDash's ability to resolve disputes on their platforms, which might arise if a host posts misleading rental ads or a diner gets the wrong order. It also makes both companies popular targets for lawsuits and regulations.

Airbnb has been sued by guests and hosts and grilled by Congress over misleading listings, and faces a growing number of bans on short-term rentals. DoorDash's Dashers have protested the company's low wages, and it still faces demands to reclassify its Dashers from independent contractors to full-time employees across several states.

Which company is growing faster?

The pandemic generated tough headwinds for Airbnb over the past year, but stirred up strong tailwinds for DoorDash.

A Dasher picks up a meal.

Image source: DoorDash.

Airbnb's revenue rose 32% to $4.8 billion in 2019, and its gross bookings climbed 29% to $29.4 billion. But in the first nine months of 2020, its revenue fell 32% year over year to $2.5 billion as the pandemic disrupted global travel and tourism, and its gross bookings tumbled 39% to $18.0 billion.

On the bottom line, Airbnb's net loss widened from $16.9 million in 2018 to $647.3 million in 2019. In the first nine months of 2020, its net loss widened again year over year from $322.8 million to $696.9 million.

DoorDash's revenue rose 204% to $885 million in 2019, then soared 226% year over year to $1.92 billion in the first nine months of 2020 as restaurants shut down and relied more heavily on online delivery services. Its takeover of Square's (SQ -2.46%) Caviar, a minor player with a low-single-digit market share, complemented that growth after the deal closed in late 2019.

DoorDash also remains unprofitable, but its bottom line is improving. Its net loss narrowed from $668 million in 2018 to $207 million in 2019, then narrowed again year over year from $534 million to $149 million in the first nine months of 2020.

But what will happen after the pandemic ends?

DoorDash looks like the stronger business right now, but its tailwinds could fade after the pandemic ends. It could also losing its pricing power as restaurants regain their on-premise diners, which could spark another margin-crushing pricing war with Grubhub and Uber (UBER -1.29%).

Based on these factors, analysts expect DoorDash's revenue to rise 222% to $2.85 billion for the full year, but increase just 30% next year. It's expected to remain unprofitable this year, but potentially post its first full-year adjusted profit in fiscal 2021.

Meanwhile, Airbnb's headwinds could wane after the pandemic passes and people start to travel again. Those travelers could also favor Airbnb's cheaper accommodations over pricier hotels -- especially if their savings took a hit over the past year.

Analysts expect Airbnb's revenue to decline 32% to $3.27 billion for the full year, but rebound 37% next year. However, it isn't expected to turn profitable anytime soon.

Investors shouldn't put too much faith in these forecasts, since we can't be sure when the pandemic will end. But based on these estimates, DoorDash and Airbnb trade at 16 and 24 times next year's sales, respectively.

Both stocks are cheaper than those of many other high-growth tech stocks -- but their low valuations also reflect their uncertain growth in a post-pandemic world. Both companies also face unpredictable regulatory headwinds.

The winner: DoorDash

I'm not a big fan of either stock right now with so many uncertainties on the horizon. But if I had to choose one over the other, I'd pick DoorDash for its stronger growth, narrowing losses, and lower valuation. Airbnb still looks like a promising long-term investment, but I wouldn't touch it until the pandemic finally ends and its revenue starts rising again.

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Stocks Mentioned

Airbnb, Inc. Stock Quote
Airbnb, Inc.
ABNB
$117.10 (-3.58%) $-4.35
GrubHub Inc. Stock Quote
GrubHub Inc.
GRUB
Uber Technologies, Inc. Stock Quote
Uber Technologies, Inc.
UBER
$24.07 (-1.29%) $0.32
Block, Inc. Stock Quote
Block, Inc.
SQ
$82.08 (-2.46%) $-2.07
DoorDash, Inc. Stock Quote
DoorDash, Inc.
DASH
$68.64 (-6.88%) $-5.07

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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