Flush With Funds, Lyft Pushes Through Two-Dozen Launches
Now that ride-sharing startup Lyft has more venture capital than Uber--$333 million, to be precise--it's speeding up launches dramatically. That is to say, it's dropping a whole bunch of them all at once, today.
Lyft, the community-driver platform known for its spunky attitude and pink mustaches on drivers' hoods, is launching in 24 different midsize American cities Thursday, from Albuquerque to Virginia Beach. Here's a list: Albuquerque, Ann Arbor, Buffalo, Colorado Springs, Corpus Christi, New Haven, Fresno, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Lexington, Lincoln, Louisville, Memphis, Modesto, North Jersey, Oklahoma City, Omaha, Raleigh Durham, Rochester, San Bernardino, Spokane, and Virginia Beach.
That's 60 cities total for Lyft in the United States, more than any other upstart ride-hailing company. I asked Lyft co-founder John Zimmer, why go so big in one single day? He says he wants to demonstrate the simplicity of a Lyft launch in any city, because, unlike Uber's model, a launch doesn't require assembling--or parachuting in--a team of company employees there.
"We really want to demonstrate the power of the peer-to-peer model," he says. "The community is built by the community, and drivers find new drivers. We want to have the most availability across the country, and now we do."
There's no shortage of risk in such rapid launching. Regulators in several of the cities are already raising eyebrows at Lyft, which allows car-owners to become Lyft drivers, who connect with passengers needing an affordable ride through an app. For example, there's a cease-and-desist letter in Omaha stating companies such as Lyft and Uber can't operate unless the carrier has a "certificate of public convenience and necessity," according to local ABC affiliate KETV. And Colorado lawmakers are mulling legislation to change how technology companies that facilitate ride-hailing are regulated.
"Just like we've done in other cities, we want to work together with local officials," Zimmer says. "We do have a decent-sized government relations team that can reach out to them and work with them."
He adds that the company has "a safety pledge and promise to our users," and requires strict background checks, driving checks, and more driver insurance than local taxis.
Aside from the fact that this expansion blitz nearly doubles the ground Lyft covers in the United States, what will be interesting to watch here is how Lyft functions on the ground in less-dense geographies. For instance, look at the map of Milwaukee's Lyft coverage area: It expands far beyond the city center, out into suburbs and even farmland.
Might someday a farmer whose tractor breaks down dial a Lyft? Lyft is clearly testing the cababilites of its platform with this broad launch into a wide range of city-densities and demographics. Keep an eye out for those mustaches.
CHRISTINE LAGORIO-CHAFKIN | Staff Writer | Senior Writer
Christine Lagorio-Chafkin is a writer, editor, and reporter whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Village Voice, and The Believer, among other publications. She is a senior writer at Inc.