It's official: Lyft is now Jeb Bush to Uber's Donald Trump
If Lyft’s Logan Green and John Zimmer were to write a business book, what might the title be?
How about “7 Habits of Highly Ineffectual Companies”? Or “How To Win Friends While Getting Your Ass Kicked By A Company Everyone Hates”? Or perhaps, “Travis Moved My Cheese, But That’s Ok. Yunno, It Is What It Is.”
I’m joking, of course. We all know there’s no way the defatigable duo of Lyft would ever write a business book. Authorship requires a willingness to stand for something. To put one’s head above the parapet. To risk criticism. To have a distinct message.
A far more likely prospect: A business book by Travis Kalanick, cribbed almost entirely from Zimmer and Green’s notes, titled “Bro, Lyft Sucks.” The book would immediately be a bestseller, and Kalanick would use the proceeds to buy Lyft’s headquarters, demolish it, and convert the land into a waterpark for Uber employees (no drivers allowed.)
Lyft’s repeated humiliation by Uber and Travis Kalanick - and the company’s unwillingness to meaningfully defend itself, let alone hit back - has long been uncomfortable to watch. I can’t be the only observer who, on reading reports that Lyft had hired Qatalyst to sell it off, was reduced to yelling at my laptop screen: Why wouldn’t you just deny it, you fucking idiots? But even that fist-biter, pales in comparison to the cringe-fest of this past month.
For half a nanosecond, it even looked like Lyft might be loosening its gloves, if not actually removing them. A partnership between the company and Didi Chuxing (pronounced cha-ching, appropriately enough) briefly repositioned Lyft as a serious contender, at least by association. In May, Didi was bolstered by a billion dollar investment from Apple and, even if Lyft is pathologically incapable of aggression, Didi and Apple are serious brawlers. Didi/Apple vs Uber! It was on!
And then it was off.
On August 2nd, Uber announced it was merging with Didi in China, to create the biggest ridesharing alliance the world has ever known, with Kalanick joining Didi's board. Lyft meanwhile was reduced to the corporate equivalent of the unnamed bride in Taylor Swift’s “Speak Now,” with Uber as Taylor herself…
I am not the kind of girl
Who should be rudely barging in on a white veil occasion
But you are not the kind of boy
Who should be marrying the wrong girl
So, don’t say "Yes", run away now,
I’ll meet you when you’re out of the church at the back door.
Then, late last week, “someone” leaked news that Lyft had tried to sell itself to not one, but six, companies including Apple, GM, Amazon and even Uber itself. There’s no proof that Uber was the source of the leak, but there are only three real possibilities: First, that Lyft leaked the story itself to drum up more interest. Which would be embarrassing. Second, that one of the potential buyers leaked the story to undermine Lyft. Which would be humiliating. Third, that Uber did it. Which would be business as usual.
Either way, moments later, Kalanick issued his own statement, saying that there’s no way he’d buy Lyft, even for two bill. (The asking price was, reportedly, nine billion.) Even then, Lyft couldn’t bring itself to fight back. Instead it issued a milquetoast statement to The Verge - The Verge! - whining about “Uber using unsavory tactics in an attempt to impact our business.” The spokesperson then added an unnecessary lie: "Lyft is not for sale, we are on a fully funded path to profitability."
As Donald Trump might put it, SAD.
Speaking of which: There’s more than a touch of The Donald about Travis Kalanick. The lies, the unpleasant history of corporate malfeasance and, of course, the delight in humiliating his rivals. Those rivals in this case being CEO Logan Green and Wait, I thought he was the CEO John Zimmer, the Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio of tech. Like Bush and Rubio, Green and Zimmer have clearly decided the best way to respond to a toxic rival is not to respond at all. In time, the American people will see through Uber's bluster and bullshit and bullying and eventually cast their vote in favor of a safe(r) pair of hands!
Sure they will.
Today, Uber is launching self-driving cars and positioning itself for an IPO while Lyft begs someone -- anyone -- for a bail out. If you listen carefully, you can hear echoes of Jeb! In almost every statement the company issues. Per the Times...
“Lyft is not profitable, said a person briefed on the company’s finances. Yet it has a $1.4 billion cash hoard, the person added, and the company thinks that will shield it as it works toward achieving profitability.”
Yeah, and the Jeb! Campaign raised $114.6m - more than twice as much as any other candidate - before it crashed and burned.
It turns out that, in ridesharing as in politics, nice guys finish last. Meantime, as with Rubio and Bush supporters before them, Lyft’s fans and employees are forced to watch and wince as Uber repeatedly kicks the company in the face. And, just when you think that face must have numbed to the pain, Lyft drops trou and offers up its balls.
I’ve long given up urging Lyft to show some steel, to comprehend that there’s a huge public appetite for a company to call out Uber’s bad behavior and position itself as a credible, David-y rival to Uber’s goliath. The “little guy taking on an asshole” strategy has worked many times in the past - think Richard Branson’s launch of Virgin Atlantic to battle the giant British Airways, or Apple’s assault on the entire PC industry. But while Branson and Jobs were certainly (for a time, at least) the little guy, they also understood that to beat a giant you need to wield a slingshot not a fluffy pink mustache. At the very least you need to act like you want to win.
As Kalanick continues to dominate every news cycle, Lyft’s two most senior execs are practically recluse, to the point where, to most people in Silicon Valley, the company’s CEO is most commonly referred to as “Logan… is it… Green?”
Lyft is no Virgin Atlantic and it’s certainly no Apple. On the contrary, it has squandered every last opportunity to build a unique and relevant business in the face of a widely reviled competitor and barely even seems to comprehend that it has been beaten, let alone why. You can almost hear investors like Andreessen Horowitz and Coatue whistling innocently as they accidentally delete the Lyft app from their phones and forget to invite the founders to their summer parties. [Disclosure: AH's Marc Andreessen is an investor in Pando. We are never invited to their parties.]
Traditionally, this is the part of a column where the writer would offer some suggestions as to how the ailing company might turn things around. In Lyft’s case, I have nothing. Like Trump’s Republican rivals, Lyft is clearly determined to keep “doing its own thing” right off the edge of the cliff.
“Our $1.4 billion will shield us as we work toward achieving profitaaaaabilllllllllllityyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy.” SPLAT.
The best Green and Zimmer can hope for at this point is that they’ll suddenly luck into a strategy (or a pile more dumb money) and can firmly establish Lyft as the “Is Pepsi OK?” commodity rival to Uber’s “only if it's cheaper than Coke” market leader.
Sadly, having watched the company debase itself thus far, I fear what they're actually doing is praying Kalanick will change his mind and meet them halfway on price. Then the rest of us can all avert our eyes from the final humiliating press conference where the two Lyft executives stand side-by-side with Kalanick, red faced and grinning as they announce their formal endorsement of Douchebag Goliath.
From Good, To Grateful.