It’s hard to believe that it’s been less than a year since ride-sharing service Lyft first launched in beta to friends and family, offering a low-cost alternative to on-demand black car service Uber. Not only has it grown aggressively in its home market since then, but Lyft has since begun offering service in Los Angeles and Seattle. It’s tacking on another city this weekend with a launch in Chicago.
With the addition of Chicago, Lyft will now be in four markets nationwide. That’s fewer than competitors SideCar and Uber, but it’s been focused on improving its rollout with each new city. With the recent addition of Cherry co-founder Travis VanderZanden as COO and its expansion playbook set, Lyft president John Zimmer promises me that the company will be aggressively adding new cities over the next year.
In the early stages of its expansion the company has seen positive signs of growth from each new city it’s launched in. Lyft’s launch in Los Angeles outpaced its first 12 weeks in San Francisco, with three times the number of users after its first 12 weeks. And the first month of service in Seattle has outpaced both its first two markets.
In Chicago, it’s hoping for the same type of demand trajectory, and believes it already has the driver supply to match. The launch team in Chicago has seen more drivers apply during its initial outreach period than in either Seattle or L.A., Zimmer tells me.
Exporting Company Culture
The company decided to expand to Chicago next due to the population density and transportation habits of residents there. Surprisingly enough, it didn’t really look at data around the number of people who have tried using downloading the app or using the service locally there.
Just as in L.A. and Seattle, Lyft sent a launch team ahead to Chicago to recruit drivers and vet them for service. For Lyft, that means driver and criminal background checks, as well as a car inspection and training to ensure that drivers fit with the community that it’s trying to build.
Along with the easily recognizable pink mustaches that grace Lyft vehicles, the company’s culture could be its biggest differentiator, but it’s also the most difficult piece of the business to re-create as it expands from market to market.
As for those mustaches — the company almost ran out, as it’s been adding drivers more quickly than its supplier could keep up, Zimmer tells me. Mostly, that was due to growth in San Francisco, where the company has recently doubled its driver count over the last two months.
Notably, the increase in supply has happened while Lyft has faced increased competition in its home market from Uber, which recently launched ride-sharing services of its own. In an effort to compete, Uber has been trying to poach Lyft drivers with some aggressive marketing tactics — including a “Shave the ‘Stache” mobile billboard that’s been driving around San Francisco over the past week.
Focus Now On Ride Sharing
Along with the launch in Chicago, the startup is announcing that it’s officially putting to rest the Zimride brand and will be known just as Lyft going forward. The company continues to support the legacy Zimride business, but the company’s main focus is on ride sharing — and has been for a while. So it’s not a huge surprise that it’s decided to reincorporate as Lyft Inc.
The rebrand follows a long and winding road that the company has been on since its inception. It all started about six years ago, when a group of friends founded Zimride to make it easier for university students to carpool home during the holidays and on weekends. The carpool community eventually expanded beyond university students, but the founders saw a larger opportunity in helping passengers get around urban markets.
So early last year, the remaining founders decided to take the business in a different direction and focus more on ride-sharing in cities rather than the longer, road trip-style carpooling that Zimride was traditionally known for. Thus Lyft was born.
Now that it has seen success with that model in San Francisco and subsequent cities, Lyft is ready to make it available throughout the country. Expect a number of new cities to be turned up over the next several months, as the Lyft expansion team continues to grow.