Memo to Lyft: Just help people get around not, ahem, get around
The other night, I was having drinks with a friend who isn’t involved with the tech industry. In fact, she had just created her first LinkedIn profile.
She noted that just after she signed up for a premium account, LinkedIn showed her all the people who had looked at her new profile. They all had a startling fact in common: They were all guys she’d gone on dates with. “You can’t call me back, but you want to know what I’m doing professionally?” she ranted before another friend wondered aloud why LinkedIn had never built an explicit “stalk your ex in stealth mode!” dating functionality. Clearly, people were trying to hack it for, ahem, non-professional purposes.
I’ll tell you why: LinkedIn was founded by Reid Hoffman who had previously tried starting a dating site and so knew all the good and bad of that particular business. He explicitly hampered LinkedIn’s short term growth by ensuring the site never became an unseemly meat market that would distract from its primary purpose.
For example: Well past the time when Facebook had already built a $15 billion business with the killer central app of tagged photos, LinkedIn still refused to allow even profile photos on the site. For a long time, you also couldn’t add anyone without knowing their email address.
It’s a lesson that modern startups could learn from. I’m looking at you Lyft and Classpass and countless others thinking that morphing into a real-world Tinder is a great way to hack growth. (Remarkably, Uber isn't the worst offender here, although their overall record with women is so bad that the UN Women’s group had to backpedal from a partnership with the company.)
I get there is a large part of the population really into finding someone new to have sex with by the easiest means necessary. And unlike Vanity Fair, I don’t find that idea new or particularly scandalous. Tinder is a remarkable app for those looking to date. And it should absolutely optimize for dating. People interested in dating-- or sex-- come there for that reason.
But other companies should think twice about positioning themselves-- or allowing themselves to be positioned -- anywhere near that.
Several months ago Classpass created an idiotic sponsored post talking up the merits of picking up women in classes. That version I link to above had to be toned down because the first one was such a facepalm. It opened like this:
For you single bros out there, where better to meet a lady than at a fitness class? Between the sweat, endorphins and the potential for less clothing than usual, the stage is set for us guys to make your move.
Because that’s what all women want: Another place to get hit on in the world. If you don’t understand why this isn’t “flattering” read this article on Medium on “eye fucking.” To know how well that kind of thing plays in this climate…. fire up the Internet. If you open by addressing “bros” in your piece, you’re about as gender tone deaf as it’s possible to get right now.
Sadly, the same thing has been continually hinted around Lyft’s carpooling service, Lyft Line. Even Lyft’s president John Zimmer hinted as much at our PandoMonthly when he joked about creating a Lyft/Tinder mash up. And now, sure enough, we’ve heard that’s why several people take Lyft Line and UberPool.
Pando alum Carmel DeAmicis detailed the trend and her own exploits riding these services for love for a Re/Code article yesterday. I’m always a fan of Carmel and her work, but her findings made my skin crawl.
She opens with a VC who rides these services for dates:
Mitchell, 26, uses the carpool versions of Uber and Lyft — called UberPool and Lyft Line — to meet women.
Here’s his routine: Check the app to see who he’s matched with (Lyft Line will show the person’s Facebook picture; UberPool, just the name). Then when the woman joins him in the car, he’ll ask where she’s headed.
“If they’re like, ‘Oh, I’m going to my boyfriend’s house,’ it’s not a good situation to step into,” said Mitchell, who is a venture investor. He’s been on four dates with women he’s met this way so far — two from each app.
Nice. Mitchell is apparently one of those men for whom the only acceptable “no” is “I have a boyfriend” -- whether it’s true or not. Cue millions of women deciding never to use Lyft Line.
Later, Carmel quotes a driver who regales her with stories of what men say before and after a girl gets in the car:
“When he completely strikes out and fails, that’s when he’ll say, ‘Oh, man! I was trying to get the most out of my Uber ride.'”
Hopefully I don’t have to explain why this is just gross. Contrary to some “bro” opinion, women don’t roam the earth looking to be hit on at every possible moment. This is the reason bespoke apps for that continue to exist in a social media world. I use Lyft when I want to get somewhere. I would install Tinder if I wanted to be hit on.
But just wait! It gets grosser:
Saturday night, when everyone’s been drinking, is prime pickup time.
And then this:
Another person I spoke with said they have a friend — a guy — who takes nonstop Lyft Lines and UberPools at the end of Saturday nights, until he finds someone amenable to going home with him.
“Nonstop.” Uh-huh. “A friend.”
Carmel points out that women look for love on these services too. But compare and contrast the above anecdotes with this one:
Men aren’t the only ones plotting their romantic rendezvous. Shonna, a 31-year-old brunette who works at Airbnb, says she always chats up whoever is in the car, and it has led to both professional networking and — on her first ever ride — a date. “I got in the front and he sat in the back, and I turned around and thought, ‘He’s super cute,'” she remembered. “I gave him my card.”
That’s hardly cruising late on a Saturday night looking for someone with impaired enough judgement.
By encouraging this kind of thing-- and Lyft Line absolutely does allowing you to send messages to people you’ve shared a carpool with and showing photos and names before they get in-- these services clearly run the risk of exactly what worried Hoffman and absolutely decimated a site like Chatroulette: A small percentage of creeps ruining it for everyone else there for the actual intentions of the app.
It’s not enough to shrug and say “Oh well, if it happens, it happens!” If Lyft cares about not creating a hostile environment for women, they need to include messaging and features that diminish the feel that it’s a mobile speed date, just as LinkedIn fought from becoming another social media meat market.
For these services, it’s sadly potentially worse because sites like Classpass and Lyft operate in the real world, helping put people in the same shared physical space-- and creeps in Lyft Lines and Uberpools can see where you are dropped off.
While at Pando, Carmel wrote one of the first articles that detailed how Uber background checks had failed, putting people in danger. In a lot of ways, I found this lighthearted article way creepier.