If you haven’t heard of Lyft, you’ve probably heard of their main competitor, Uber. Lyft is a peer-to-peer on-demand ride sharing service, most comparable to UberX, except most passengers sit in the front seat and most rides start with a fist bump. And yes, I’m a driver.
Why Would I Do This?
That’s the question most people I’ve told this story to begin with. “I thought you were a big shot consultant, why are you driving a taxi??”. Well, allow me to explain.
It started as an experiment in new employee on-boarding. Most businesses that I’ve worked with (and all businesses for that matter) have to work very hard to make their system of hiring new employees as smooth as possible. When a small business loses a key employee, it can take months to replace them. And that usually means the owner or other employees are picking up the slack.
A few months ago, I downloaded the Lyft app to test it (like I do with hundreds of apps), and saw an interesting little button.
Hmmm… I’m interested. I’ve been using Uber for years since my first ride in San Francisco during their early days, and never once have I thought about driving myself. But, this little button in the Lyft app was appealing enough to touch, so I was overcome with curiosity and I gave it a tap.
I wondered what it was like to drive around picking up strangers. I wondered what stories I might hear or connections I might make. But most of all, I wondered how Lyft and Uber could take ordinary people with cars and turn them into contract drivers so quickly and easily. These services have swept across the world in the last few years, and hugely disrupted the transportation industry. So there must be something that’s making it catch on so quickly.
The process was simple and elegant. Here are my favorite parts:
1. Self Selection. Before I completed any serious application, Lyft showed me a series of 3 videos, straight through my iPhone. The videos describe the eco-system of the company and the culture, and they’re likely to weed out people who aren’t a good fit. If I wasn’t comfortable navigating the GPS on my phone, I would probably stop there. If I didn’t like talking to people, or didn’t take pride in having a clean car, or didn’t like the uncertainty of no hourly pay, I probably would have shrugged off the idea. But, like thousands of drivers around the country, I was excited.
2. Mix of Education & Experience. After watching the videos and learning the basics, it was time to get out on the streets. First, Lyft requires that you give your car a good cleaning and remove your personal artifacts. As it was Saturday afternoon and Lianne was out with friends, a car wash was likely on my to-do list anyway. Check. Then, the app launched me into a temporary driver mode, where a more experienced driver could request a ride with me. Am I ready for this??! I just signed up 35 minutes ago. I was excited by the challenge, all the while thinking, “Am I seriously doing this?”
3. Order of Operations. My ride request came through, and I drove about 10 minutes south to meet up with the more senior driver. He started with a quick walk around of my car, looking for damage and ensuring that it was up to Lyft’s standards. Then he collected my license and registration, insurance, and license plate number, and took a photo of me and of the car. He jumped in for a quick ride, and started going through what I realized was his very own training checklist. The process was impressive! Everything was documented, and everything was discussed in just the right order.
4. Excitement of Progress. Seconds after the trainer give his stamp of approval of me on his app, I got an email from Lyft with a mostly complete checklist of steps. Only 3 steps to go, and I can see the finish line! At this point, I’ve been at it for about an hour, and I’ve jumped through the basic hoops for getting approval. Next step was a background check. I submitted the requested information, again without ever talking to anyone from the actual company.
5. Independence. On Monday morning, less than 36 hours after I clicked the little steering wheel button (and maybe an hour and a half of time invested), I was approved as a driver. I couldn’t believe that I went through the entire process without speaking with anyone from Lyft corporate. Instantly, I had a new way to make money using resources that I already owned. Instantly, I was free to offer a service to the market that I had never even considered offering just two days earlier. I was free to work anytime I wanted to, simply by toggling the app into driver mode with one touch. I was emailed some instructions on how to set up a bank account for direct deposit, and an invitation to a Facebook group of drivers. Everything was automated.
Monday afternoon, as soon as Lianne came home from work, I begged her to let me drive her to Target or something. I just wanted to try this thing! And as it turned out, driving was just as simple as signing up.
When a passenger requests a ride, an alert is sent to the closest Lyft driver, who has 15 seconds to accept the ride. If they don’t accept, the lead is passed on, but it negatively affects the first driver’s “acceptance score”. Of course, if you have the app on and are willing to work, there shouldn’t be a reason to deny rides. So, this is another method of weeding out poor drivers.
The app is simple, with a few buttons to start/end a ride and navigate to a location. It’s pretty difficult to mess up. And, if I did mess up, the passenger’s feedback rating might be a direct indication. Drivers with feedback scores that dip below 4.8 are automatically deactivated for quality control. Imagine if any employee who didn’t rank 4.8/5.0 with ALL customers was immediately let go from your company! That’s a pretty high standard.
Why I Still Do It… Occasionally
Since being approved (now 3 months), I’ve only done 18 rides, and a few of them were with friends. But, I look forward to the occasional spontaneous afternoon in the car.
Earlier this summer, Brad Wiatr wrote a great post about working to take a break from working. The idea is that when you’re burnt out from doing one thing, it can help to switch gears entirely. Even if both projects are “work”, they may be pursuing different goals or using different mental muscles.
Driving around aimlessly and picking up strangers is definitely different from consulting. When I consult, I’m often giving advice and opinions. When I drive, I’m often just listening. When I consult, I’m trying to be innovative and new and different. When I drive, I’m just another car on the highway.
And although this can be a great opportunity to make a living (the driver that trained me pulls in $2k/week), for me driving is a way to be less driven. For someone who is as goal oriented as me, sometimes driving without a destination is the best way to find new perspective.
So, if you happen to jump into my car for a ride home from work or out to dinner, remember how cool the experience that connected us is.
Oh, and new users can use my referral code (CHRIS32213) for $25 off your first ride. Enjoy!