Mike Maples on the future of ridesharing: Uber is U2, Lyft is the Grateful Dead

By Dan Raile , written on May 8, 2014

From The News Desk

Uber and Lyft may be competing for ridesharing supremacy, but Floodgate Capital managing director – and Lyft investor– Mike Maples believes that this is anything but a zero-sum game. Maples shared his theories about the evolution of the category during tonight's PandoMonthly fireside chat. As someone with an unusually inside perspective on one of the category's key players, his opinion matters for something.

The upshot is that Maples considers the competition between Lyft and Uber as too close close to call and too early to tell. But the insight he offered into the two companies helps to make sense of the ridesharing froth we’ve seen in recent months. Both Lyft and Uber have been making moves to chisel into each other’s marketshare, grappling to dominate the space in city after city. All this at the risk of becoming indistinguishable from one another, given that there are many drivers who work for both.

Further narrowing the gap, Lyft today announced its premium service, an echo of Uber’s core product with a carefully branded contrast. Uber’s livery cars are black sedans. Lyft’s premium cars will be white SUV’s. Uber has challenged Lyft in the more affordable ride market with UberX, a service that is extremely similar to Lyft’s model, minus the moustache.

Asked by Pando's Sarah Lacy whether he thinks this means they are fighting in a zero sum game of market domination in which one will ultimately win out and the other fade away, Maples said no. “All the evidence I’ve seen suggests that it won’t play out that way– that they can both be successful, unless they engage in mindless competition.”

Maples further suggested that the companies will likely become the Coke and Pepsi of ridesharing. While there may literally be no difference between their products, with the same drivers often switching back and forth between platforms, significant segments of the consumer population will continue to identify with each based on figurative (i.e. brand) differences.

Maples offered a theory that people born before 1980 like Uber, while "millennials" gravitate toward the community-minded Lyft. He further postulated that Lyft is the Grateful Dead to Uber’s U2, Lyft CEO Jon Zimmer being the Jerry Garcia to Uber’s Travis Kalanick as Bono. Presumedly all this talk leaves Sidecar CEO Sunil Paul feeling like Meatloaf.

Bono may have prophesied this all in the song One:

Is it getting better/do you feel the same/will it make it easier on you/now that you've got someone to blame/One love/One life/When it's one need/in the night.
If nothing else, the conversation offers an interesting view of a future where both Lyft and Uber become entrenched and established service providers from coast-to-coast without needing other out of business to stay successful. We’ve already seen this dynamic at work as the companies have come together to fight off their biggest threat: regulation by local governments on a city-by-city basis.

If Maples is right, this strategic cooperation can be read as a signal that this town, any town, is big enough for the both of them.

[photo by Brad Jonas for Pando]