Lyft is a ride-sharing company. So why does it help people get to their polling place, and support anti-gun rallies and immigration rights?
Written by Lee Schneider
Lyft and Uber, rival ride-sharing companies, are locked in competition for your attention. On the surface, the tools they use to capture your attention and business are similar. They are both easy to use and convenient. But the ways they held your attention are very different.
Hello Bad Press
Uber has had your attention for all the wrong reasons: The scandals that continue to plague the company. Uber has had a pattern of workplace harassment to address, a toxic CEO to shed, and a reputation for economically exploiting its drivers. Uber also likes to force its way into local markets, often breaking local laws in a version “do what you want and ask for forgiveness later.” The transgressions happen often enough to become glued in our consciousness. This is how we think of Uber if we look into the company at all.
Despite all the bad actions and bad press that go with them, Uber’s peer-to-peer ride sharing is a brilliant idea. The taxi industry it has all but replaced was also exploitative to drivers and also corrupt, also overpriced, was not available in diverse neighborhoods.
Lyft had a different problem. Few people knew about it. Early efforts to get your attention — like requiring drivers to put a large, inflatable pink mustache on the front of their car — were, well, kind of desperate. Or just weird. The thing was, Lyft was the second to market in the peer-to-peer ride-share marketplace. Uber was founded in 2009. Lyft in 2012. Uber’s head start allowed it a big lead, but Lyft reports that it is growing three times faster than Uber. Lyft says it’s handling more than a million rides per day, passing $1 billion in revenue in 2017. Uber is still bigger – with a reported $7.5 billion in revenue and a market share of seventy-seven percent, but Lyft hit the accelerator and kept going. Why? Partly because of Uber’s missteps and bad press, but there is another reason.
Why I Use Lyft and Deleted Uber
Like everyone else who used it, I was an Uber-user for the convenience of the platform. Like many who had looked into the company a little, I continued to use it even though I knew it was a bad company under the leadership of its former CEO Travis Kalanick. Kalanick had (and still has) his defenders, but bad news about company policies continued to surface: sexual harassment within Uber, exploitative financial relationships with drivers, and Uber’s disrespect for local laws of the cities it entered. When I heard about the #deleteuber campaign I was ready. Then something tipped me over the edge. Lyft got my attention by donating $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union.
The occasion was the Trump administration’s travel ban. There was a taxi driver strike at JFK airport in New York to protest the administration’s ban, which discriminated against people of the Muslim faith and seemed racist. A sizable number of New York cab drivers are Muslims. They were obviously not in favor of the proposed ban. When they went on strike, Lyft decided to take their side and support them.. In contrast, Uber refused to participate in the strike. The “business as usual” stance rubbed many people the wrong way, including me. I joined the #deleteUber campaign that day and become a Lyft user. The effect was widespread. For the first time on the Apple App Store, downloads of the Lyft app exceeded Uber’s downloads. Lyft was becoming known for its brand activism.
Activism helps brands be more than just a seller of a product. Revealing where you stand is not only is it the right thing to do, but it also helps potential customers choose you.
Brands can seem all the same to customers. Taking a stand makes your brand different. Customers want to believe in your brand. They want to know that Patagonia is a steward of the Earth, that Nike supports free expression for athletes, that Etsy wants to support small business owners. This is more than window dressing. If the owners of a brand put their core values out there, there can be a cost. There will be pushback. But brands want loyal customers, and loyalty comes from trust. It comes from doing business with a brand that is consistent with your values. If you’re an NRA supporter, you want to do business with brands that support the NRA. If you are not, you want to do business with brands that cut ties to the NRA. More on that later.
Lyft has built customer goodwill with its brand activism. The actions can be small: The platform allows you to round up your fare and give to charity. They can be big: like donating to the ACLU. , publicity laced campaign like cutting duties and showing alignments. And small like allowing customers to round up for charities. Lyft has offered free rides to the March for Our Lives rally against gun violence. Lyft also offered to drive voters to the polls for the 2018 mid-term election.
Spread the Goodness
When a few brands set the pace for goodness, others follow. A recent campaign led by the activist group Sleeping Giants encouraged corporations to drop their ties to the National Rifle Association. Delta and United Airlines, Hertz and Avis, and MetLife Insurance cut ties, ending affiliate relationships and or discounts for NRA members. Allied Van Lines, North American Van Lines, car rental companies Alamo, Enterprise, National, and the data security company Symantec followed suit.
Goodness is contagious. It puts social justice in the spotlight. If you lead in goodness, other brands can be compelled to follow.
Not to say it will be easy. When you take a stand — a real stand — there almost always is a cost. NRA members vowed to boycott Delta after it ended their Delta discounts. Officers of L.L. Bean and New Balance have expressed solidarity with the current administration. Some customers will no longer buy those brands. Nike made Colin Kaepernick the face of a recent ad campaign. Nike sales spiked. Other customers became former customers, posting images of themselves burning their Nikes or cutting the logos off their Nike clothing.
Nevertheless, CEOs keep aligning their companies with their values. In response to the immigration ban, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky offered free lodging to refugees around the world who were caught in limbo. Former Obama White House official Valerie Jarrett is now a Lyft board member. Jarrett was targeted by Rosanne’s racist Twitter rant.
“The fact that values matter and ethics matter does not surprise me,” Lyft co-founder and President John Zimmer has said. “To me, that’s obvious.”
Taking a stand for your brand sets you apart. There will be risks, but the rewards are better.