Lyft wants to be your favorite ridesharing app. They also want to be your friend.
“When we launched Lyft back in late 2012, early 2013, we wanted to make people smile every time they got into a Lyft,” John Zimmer, the startup’s co-founder and president, told Fusion. “It’s all about connecting with people, getting there in the most affordable way in the most welcoming ride.”
It’s a philosophy summed up in the “Your friend with a car” Lyft tagline, and it may also be a competitive advantage in a market where Uber, Sidecar, and many others—even trusty old cabs—want to give you a ride. With so many options, why not choose the one that’s all about that bass?
“Basically what I do, is passengers that ride with me, they actually—I created a hip hop trivia game and they get to play with me,” said “hip hop Lyft” driver Deco. “And if they know about hip hop they can win a cool prize from me.”
Lyft’s drivers understand that being fun and unique can help their bottom line as well as the company’s. And it makes their time behind the wheel feel less like work.
“So I put a lot of love into my car, “disco Lyft” driver Matt Earnest said. “I want to make an experience for my passengers that kind of made me standout, so that next time they rode with me we could pick up where we left over on our conversation.”
The structure of Lyft, where drivers use their own cars, also lends itself to a more personal approach. Lyft drivers are letting customers inside their lives.
It’s another characteristic distinguishing Lyft from Uber, the Goliath of the ridesharing boom—other than size, of course. Uber’s valuation sits at $40 billion compared to Uber’s $1 billion, and Uber operates in 200 cities worldwide while Lyft is in 65 across the U.S. But Zimmer thinks an underdog spirit suits his company just fine.
“We’re growing faster than Uber, than anyone else in the industry,” Zimmer said. “And I think that’s because of the driving community that really takes care of the passengers.”
Many drivers prefer Lyft’s warm culture to Uber’s, which has been criticized for its strict ratings system and aversion to requesting tips.
“With Lyft they really make, whether it’s the drivers themselves or even the people at HQ, they like to arrange events for us for us to socialize and get to know each other,” a driver named Vy said. “And it makes it feel more like we have this regular workplace, and that we have these co-workers.”
It’s an important factor for Lyft drivers who are often signing up to work flexible hours as they pursue other things. Drivers only need to boot up their app, make their wheels available, and they can start (and then stop) working in a matter of minutes.
“I don’t think we realized the impact to have some type of work that’s extremely flexible,” Zimmer said. “So if you want to be an artist or you want to start your own business or you’re a single parent who has to take care of your kids, to be able to turn on and off your app that provides work and opportunity it’s really powerful.”
For some drivers, the job even provides elements of adventure.
“I do it for the, it’s really the fun of the moment,” a driver named Brian said. “It’s the fun of the night. And it’s just as enriching as say, reading a good book, a good movie would be for me. And with the added benefit of letting me sock away a little extra money.”
Not to mention financial security. Some drivers who started part-time have been motivated to take the full-time leap, even leaving behind more traditional permanent jobs.
Are happy drivers leading to happy customers? A recent Fusion poll suggests that Lyft could have an edge over Uber among millennials, who may be the most interested in Lyft’s quirky rides. And Lyft has also seen much more interest from investors as its growth has surged.
Lyft has a long road ahead, but Zimmer believes strongly in the potential of the new ridesharing movement he’s trying to capitalize on.
“For young people and everyone the car itself was about freedom, it was about going wherever you want, but then you realize that cars become a burden,” Zimmer said. “So when you have a service like Lyft that allows you to get where you want at the tap of a button, that’s a new sense of freedom and in many ways your phone has become your symbol of freedom versus the car. And I think that really resonates with people…our generation is less into ownership, we don’t have to have lots of stuff, we just want things to work well and allow us to focus on what’s important, which is the people in our lives and having a good time.”
From airbnb to TaskRabbit to Lyft, the sharing economy has made waves—and millions—in industries around the world. Whether Lyft is building an Uber-beater remains to be seen, but they’ve undoubtedly tapped into the phenomenon of owning less and making use of things on an as-needed, on-demand basis. It’s a movement being powered by philosophy as much as technology.
So, pink mustache or not, keep your eyes on the road. Lyft isn’t about to hit the brakes.