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Grubhub said to explore sale in boon to Uber, DoorDash and others

Alex Wilhelm

Shares of Chicago-based food delivery service Grubhub are sharply higher in regular trading today after The Wall Street Journal reported that the company has hired external advisers to explore its "strategic" options, inclusive of a possible sale.

Investors, heartened by the news, bid its equity up 17% as of the time of writing, valuing the firm at around $57 per share, or $5.2 billion.

The news comes during a difficult time for the company. Grubhub's value fell sharply last October after it reported its third-quarter earnings. At the time, the company cited new and rising competition as growth-related difficulties, as well as noting that, in its view, "the supply innovations in online takeout have been played out and annual growth is slowing and returning to a more normal longer-term state." It expected "low double digit" growth in the future.

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Investors dumped its shares after reading the growth warnings, sending Grubhub equity from the high $50s per share to the mid-$30s. Since then, the company's share price has recovered; with today's news, Grubhub is effectively back to where it was before the Earnings Report from Hell.

So what?

All this may sound a bit boring, frankly, to regular TechCrunch readers. What do Grubhub's troubles have to do with startups, private capital and high-growth companies? A lot, as it turns out.

Grubhub competes with a number of startup darlings, including Postmates (trapped in Schrodinger's Exit at the moment), DoorDash (aggressively valued, under fire for payment practices and theoretically considering a direct listing despite unprofitability) and Uber Eats (a deeply unprofitable portion of Uber's larger Red Ink empire).

So what happens to Grubhub could impact two unicorns looking to go public, and another post-IPO unicorn looking to shore up its income statement. As CNBC noted following the Grubhub report, "Uber shares also spiked on the news, as investors bet consolidation in the crowded food-delivery industry would help the company."

Consolidation could assist remaining players squeeze out more margin from their market. More margin means smaller losses. And as smaller losses are hot now in the IPO world, the move could help some yet-private companies get public.

After years of beating each other up, one key player in the on-demand food delivery space is willing to sell, or join up with someone else. That's big news, given the sheer scale of the venture bet on companies that compete with Grubhub.