On Monday, September 9th, Logan Green and John Zimmer, the co-founders of Lyft, talked about their experiences of starting a company at Disrupt SF. Lyft is an on-demand ride-sharing service that started in San Francisco, and has expanded to Los Angeles, Seattle, and Chicago.
What was interesting about this presentation was that both Logan and John were unafraid to bring up their competitors (most obviously Uber) when talking about their strategic vision and experiences as a young company. At a conference where very few panelists were willing to address the competitive landscape, the Lyft founders were able to explain their role within the transportation industry.
As Logan explained, Lyft offers a different service than many on-demand mobility applications. Fundamentally, the company wants to provide a peer-to-peer experience in lieu of a customer-to-employee experience. This relationship is reinforced by the company’s use of a fuzzy pink mustache to identify its vehicles and the “fist-bump” that drivers use to greet riders. Throughout this conversation, it was clear that Logan and John had a very clear vision for the role they wanted to occupy within the industry, and how they would select various features to support that positioning. I believe this corporate self-awareness is one of the reasons Lyft has been so successful.
However, Logan and John provided another important lesson to potential entrepreneurs. Lyft actually grew out of an earlier venture called Zimride, in which the duo focused on a ride sharing service for longer distances (e.g. inter-city travel). While this strategy gained some traction, the founders soon recognized that the real value was in allowing users to share rides on shorter trips within cities. Logan and John talked about the “mental pivot” required to change employees focus from Zimride to a new venture, Lyft. They explained that they were able to successfully navigate this transition because they offered open communication to their team, and explained how the new company (effectively a spinout) would serve as the best use of resources going forward.
I think it is important for founders to recognize not only the importance of clear strategic positioning, but also the need to be able to communicate these goals with employees. As any product or service begins to scale or adapt to new threats and opportunities within the ecosystem, founders need to be able to communicate with their teams in order to preserve quality execution.
Logan and John were appropriately focused on what made Lyft an attractive service in the current environment, but also were actively involved in the types of messaging and communication required to make sure that Lyft remains a competitive ride-sharing service going forward.