The one big question I hope Lyft's John Zimmer answers at tonight's Pando Monthly
In a few hours, here in San Francisco, Pando's Sarah Lacy will interview Lyft's John Zimmer in what's likely to be one of the most compelling PandoMonthlys of the year.
It's a fair bet to say that Sarah will likely ask Zimmer about the scandals around Lyft's major competitor, Uber. [Disclosure: Pando shares investors with both Uber and Lyft]. Certainly, I'm keen to hear whether Lyft is guilty of any of the same lax data policies as Uber and whether Zimmer will commit on the record that he would immediately fire any executive who was caught misusing user data or threatening journalists. Should be an easy question to answer, but then again it should have been easy for Uber too.
[Get your ticket to tonight's PandoMonthly SF with John Zimmer here.]
Another easy question for Lyft's co-founder to answer: when the hell is Lyft going to launch a black car service?
I uninstalled the Uber app two years ago and since then I've been looking for a good replacement. Mostly I walk everywhere in San Francisco but occasionally I have to take a car or a cab. Maybe I'm going to the airport, or I'm late for a meeting or I know a quiet car ride is my only chance to make an important call. On those occasions, Uber used to be a godsend.
I've tried Flywheel, which works fine in San Francisco but is ultimately just a shiny bandaid on all the problems with the city's cabs. Generally, but not exclusively, San Francisco cabs are awful: Drivers don't have the first idea where they're going, they drive like fucking lunatics and, increasingly, they spend the entire journey bitching about Uber and Lyft. Not a great way to keep me coming back.
My only real, reliable, alternative is Lyft, but -- call me a snob, or call me a curmudgeon -- I just cannot get into the mustachioed spirit of things like "karaoke Lyft" and "dude who wants you to listen to this totally awesome band really loud actually my brother is the bassist you don't mind do you bro? Lyft." Also, maybe it's because I'm British, but it feels just weird jumping in the passenger seat of a fake friend's car or showing up at a meeting in a car with pink facial hair. And, as for fist bumping...
It has been fascinating over the past few weeks to watch Uber become something akin to a tobacco company: A habit that clearly a huge number of users want to kick, but that they... just.... can't. UberX and Lyft are basically indistinguishable at the this point -- as Sarah Lacy has written before many Uber drivers also have a pink mustache ready in their trunk. Greg Muender wrote a great guest post here on Pando yesterday about his experiences driving for both services.
It's only Uber's black car service that is truly unique. There's no way a company like Citigroup is going to partner with Lyft to drive their tight-assed bankers around town; there's no way politicians in DC are going to pile into a Lyft driver's Ford Focus to get to Capitol Hill (no matter how much Uber might be spying on them) and there's no way Lyft is going to win in places like New York and LA where people use Uber the same way as they use table service in clubs.
Recently Lyft tried a premium service involving big white SUVs and subtle silver mustaches, but the whole failed experiment felt very "white limo in Vegas" rather than "black car in Manhattan."
If Lyft launched a black car service tomorrow -- with all the customer friendliness that people apparently associate with Lyft, but with none of the fist-bumping-in-a-Jetta-ness -- they would absolutely clean up, at least in major cities. They already have the technology and the money to do it, and you only have to look on the Uber driver forums to see how many of them are ready to jump ship. And, again, they've already tried a premium service so clearly there's some will at the company.
I'm not expecting John Zimmer to give a date for the launch of Lyft Black or Lyft Exec (or whatever they call it) on stage tonight. But I really hope he at least tells us to watch this space.
There are still a small number of tickets available to tonight's PandoMonthly interview with John Zimmer. The event kicks off at 6pm at Rackspace in SF and includes free beer and pizza. Get your ticket here.
[Illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]