SAN FRANCISCO — Lyft’s cofounders John Zimmer and Logan Green are want to redefine how people get where they need to go.
“We want to break this idea of a service relationship between driver and passenger — they are equals,” said Lyft cofounder Logan Green on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt 2013. “The pink mustache has translated in every market so far. The Lyft driver going down a street creates a mystique around it. People want to know what’s going on, and this creates a viral word-of-mouth effect.”
Lyft is a popular peer-to-peer alternative to taxi cabs where drivers adorn their cars with pink fuzzy mustaches. You order a ride through an iPhone or Android application, and the driver picks you up at your location and squires you to your destination. You will probably fist bump the driver and chat along the way — the company’s tagline is “your friend with a car.”
Zimmer and Green founded Zimride in 2007, a national ridesharing service with a strong presence on college campuses. Lyft was launched in 2012 and quickly took off.
“I’d never experienced this kind of pull from users,” Zimmer said. “In the last three months, we have doubled the number of rides we are doing per week and recently completed the 1 millionth ride. We want to maintain the sense of community while going as fast as possible.”
Lyft completed the sizable $60 million round of funding in May and is now active in 11 markets. The road hasn’t been easy though. Lyft and its competitors have faced legal battles across the country, as local taxi drivers and municipal regulators raise questions about safety, licensing, and insurance.
“The taxi industry has been around for decades and decades, and there is a lot of regulatory crust,” Green said. “When we go into a market, part of what we do is shine a light on these policies. Regulators realize that they have put unfair versions of policies and some regulators are looking at pulling back some of those regulations that aren’t helpful for an industry as a whole.”
The California Public Utility Commission recently came out with a proposed decision that would permit ridesharing startups like Lyft to operate as long as they follow certain regulations. Every market presents a new set of challenges, and there are a number of rivals battling it out for dominance. Lyft competes with Uber, SideCar, Instacab, Hailo, RelayRides, and Flywheel as well as traditional taxis.
Uber started out by providing on-demand black car service. The company has since expanded to also connect passengers with low cost rides through UberX and traditional taxis, and it announced it would launch a ride-sharing platform. It is now valued at $3.5 billion and just closed a whopping $285 million in funding to fuel expansion.
Last week, Uber offered passengers free rides in Lyft’s three recently opened markets.
However, Zimmer and Green said they don’t see Uber as a threat.
“Uber was in San Francisco for two to three years when launched, and we are thriving here,” Zimmer said. “This market will play out with who provides the experience that is the most mass market. What we are doing with community, the peer-to-peer model, and sitting up front is resonating.”
Green and Logan said that they have plans to take Lyft international soon, although they would not share details on when and where. They also have a greater vision for what Lyft can become.
“Eighty percent of seats on roads and highways are empty at all times,” Zimmer said. “This is first page and chapter of what we want to do. We want you to be able to go outside and find an empty seat, and maybe that driver has a friend in common. We want to build an information infrastructure on top of our roads for consumer transportation. That’s something that hasn’t been created yet.”
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