"Since Uber popularized the on-demand service model in which one swipes for a convenience on a smartphone, there is an Uber for just about everything: dog walking (Wag!), late night 7-11 or mid-day office supply runs(Postmates), takeout (DoorDash), doctor house calls (Heal), laundry (Rinse), car washes (Squeegy), and other instant needs in modern life. And that's a good thing, because to earn a net profit while assuming all financial and legal liability for a company's fleet, and grappling with fluctuating pricing besides, gig workers have to side hustle their side hustles, combining work for different apps to maximize each minute on the road."

A secondary wake

Thus was born an array of apps for apps, products and services to make giggers' work lives better.

A driver who is enterprising can run earn a percentage of revenue on backseat advertising or product demos, or be a mobile convenience store. The more data-driven personalities can use dashboards that direct them to statistically ride-dense sections of the city, and calendar upcoming events likely to present ride demand, such as conventions and concerts. 

But a driver will do best, according to Y Combinator graduate Herb Coakley, by using two phones to pick up rides in rapid succession. And that is also a dangerous habit for drivers and all others on the road.

Helping drivers quit juggling

To really earn, drivers must invest in more than one phone to drive for both Uber and Lyft, and then must juggle the two while in motion to avoid losing the precious seconds between ride request (someone swiping up an Uber or Lyft) and ride acceptance (the driver committing to that customer).

Until Coakley conceived Mystro, no one had created a way to toggle between the two driver-facing apps on one phone. 

Coakley himself was one of those juggling drivers. He has a master's degree in Applied Physics from UCLA, but elected to ditch lab life to pursue a career in film. Driving for Uber afforded him the flexibility to craft a new career between rides. At least, it would have if he could count on consistent earnings. Joining Lyft as well to two-time Uber and its fickle rates did not make it easier: "Within a short period of time I started to realize how difficult it was trying to do that. I also realized how unsafe [it was] to toggle both phones while you're driving."

Coakley started looking for an existing app, and then researched all modes of ride-hail entrepreneurship, asking around, and reading The Rideshare Guy blog. He realized he was going to have to create it himself, and find a way to crack Uber's code. That is, he'd have to find a way to run an end game around the master evader. 

Finding the investors (and ignoring the naysayers, including Uber)

Last year, Coakley started talking up his idea to anyone and everyone. "I started pitching to everyone who got in the car," he laughed. "Everyone said, 'I don't see how you would build it. Because you need the API. Uber and Lyft would shut it down.'"

Mystro's now-Chief Technology Officer Matt Rajcok found a "workaround" (Coakley won't elaborate on their secret sauce) to prevent being disabled by Uber, and Coakley kept talking about his plans.

One of his Uber passengers in San Francisco had a friend with an angel fund who liked the idea, infusing the concept with $100,000 last fall. Coakley and Rajcok used the money to begin working full-time on a prototype in November 2016. 

Coakley and Co-Founder Dwayne Shaw started making the rounds at designated parking lots for ride-hail drivers to find early adopters. Then UberMan Randy Shear picked up the idea, broadcasting the concept in February, before Mystro successfully applied into the coveted Y Combinator class of 2017.

Today fully operational and available for Android (with iPhone functionality planned), Mystro costs drivers $12 per month, on a month-to-month contract.

Mystro has, according to Coakley, enrolled 22,000 subscribers nationwide, and currently has 5,000 paid daily users.

Next in the pipeline is voice control for even less touch interaction with one's phone.

And Uber? So far the wily behemoth hasn't been able to warp Mystro's function. Not that it hasn't tried a little saber rattling. "They have reached out and we have had high-level conversations with executives at the company," Coakley said. "They left us alone when they realized we weren't actually doing anything [damaging] to their system."Coakley expects Uber will eventually be enthusiastic about Mystro, citing the potential for a symbiotic relationship with the embattled gig economy germinator. He said, "As we grow, we're going to help their retention problem."

When he told Uber execs that in a meeting, "They just sort of nodded and smiled," Coakley laughed.

For now Coakley still sees his work as leading a kind of rebellion, employing a Star Wars analogy: "The Empire would be like Uber. And the rebel force would be the drivers. And we're technology for the rebel force."

This post has been updated to clarify the difference between Postmates and DoorDash, whose services overlap; to correct the spelling of Squeegy; to note that both of Mystro's co-founders worked to recruit early adopters at TNC lots; and, importantly, to state that Mystro is currently only available on Android, whose Accessibility feature is a core capacity that enabled the development of Mystro.
 

Published on: Oct 30, 2017