Last week the lift Founders President Logan Green and CEO John Zimmer suddenly announced they are leaving the company after 11 years. David Risher, a former Microsoft and Amazon executive who has been on Lyft’s board since 2021, will take over at the end of this month.
The Lyft C-suit driver was surprised, but not too surprised. For one thing, tech companies in their teens and twenties seem to be entering an era of founder flops. Twitch’s Emmett Shear, Instacart’s Apoorva Mehta, Pinterest’s Ben Silbermann and Peloton’s John Foley have all recently bid. But Lyft in particular is struggling. It didn’t make a profit. It is losing market share to Uber. It laid off 13 percent of its workforce last fall. Shares fell 90 percent after the announcement in 2019.
And yet Green and Zimmer’s exits say something about how the tech industry has changed since the early 2010s, when young-ish dudes raised mountains of cash to disrupt.
In the beginning, Lyft’s primary offering was… vibrations. Travis Kalanick’s Uber was an expensive, low-cost black car service designed and built because Kalanick and his employees had ambitions to be “ballplayers.” Lyft, on the other hand, welcomes passengers to their front seats with any license, vehicle and pink fuzz mustache to affix to their car and greet strangers with a fist bump. It was Lyft that tested the peer-to-peer ride model with the idea that anyone could become a taxi driver if they downloaded the right app.
Zimmer liked to focus on the city-shaping potential of the ministry. Cornell University’s Department of Urban Planning says it opened his eyes to the damaging effects of the car on city life — traffic, smog, lots of parking that could be parks or playgrounds or housing. Lyft and services like it could, in theory, help more people escape the tyranny of car ownership by letting them use other people’s vehicles instead. When Lyft acquired a major U.S. bike-share operator in 2018, it pitched that transaction as another way to help cities.
In the year It was a touching story that gained credibility from Uber’s public implosion in 2017. Ride-sharing concept Lyft was originally proven to feed the growth of the gig economy, which has some serious flaws. We are still learning about the complex effects of disengaging services from benefits such as health care and sick pay.
Meanwhile, horse riding seems to have increased traffic in cities. And that kills car ownership? A few months ago, Lyft launched services that help car owners book parking and vehicle maintenance. How Lyft fits into anyone’s urban planning curriculum is less clear than Zimmer might think.
When I spoke with Risher, Lyft’s new CEO, last week, it was clear that the vibes-based strategy provided the facts to turn the failing enterprise around. Some of Glossier’s marketing concepts are missing; were in brass tacks. “I feel a real sense of energy saying, ‘Let’s really focus on our rideshare business,'” Risher told me. “Let’s take people in time. Let’s give them a good rate so they don’t screw up to Uber. Let’s put them where they say they need to go.
When I asked Risher to name a focus that was missing from the new model, he highlighted Shared Rides (formerly known as Lyft Line), a low-cost service that allows a few other travelers to share a car. The common election disappeared when the pandemic began, but it has returned in a few American cities.