- Ride-hailing service Lyft is now worth $US11 billion.
- But in the early days of Lyft — then called Zimride — the cofounders didn’t take a salary and shared an apartment/office.
- They turned the startup around when they thought creatively about how to fulfil their original mission and adapted to current smartphone technology.
There was a time in Lyft cofounder John Zimmer’s life when sleeping in a full bed was a “major upgrade.”
Zimmer and his cofounder, Logan Green, had been living in a Silicon Valley space that served as both apartment and office. They called it the “apartfice,” and Zimmer slept on the couch. They survived off Trader Joe’s microwaveable meals.
On an episode of Business Insider’s podcast, “Success! How I Did It,” Zimmer told US editor-in-chief Alyson Shontell that, during this time, he and Green weren’t taking a salary from Lyft, which was then called Zimride.
“At that point it was a side project, and so it felt like a school project where there was a lot of interest, passion, and we had a big vision, but we didn’t know what it was going to be, and so we just wanted to see it work. We wanted to see if we could flip a student population at a university. We were mostly focused on college campuses and making the majority carpool to get home for spring break. That was the main challenge, and that’s what we were trying to solve.”
By 2012, Zimride had reached thousands of users; 150 universities and companies were participating in their closed carpooling network. But that didn’t feel like the best way to fulfil their original mission.
Here’s Zimmer again:
“Then, in 2012, Logan and I looked at ourselves and said, ‘How are we doing? It’s five years in, we had this dream of starting a business, we’ve done that.’ We had raised a couple of million dollars, which was fantastic. We had this great team of about 20 people.
“But the bigger vision, which we’ve always had, was providing a full alternative to car ownership. Our actual mission is to improve people’s lives with the world’s best transportation and, in doing so, to change our cities so that they are designed around people instead of cars. And we were just scratching the surface. We really didn’t feel like we were doing enough.
A single question proved transformative:
“And so we said, ‘What if we were starting Zimride over today? What would it look like?’ And when we started Zimride in 2007, smartphones didn’t really exist. And one of the biggest problems we had with Zimride was that the frequency of use was a couple of times a year because there were these long-distance trips, and so we said, “Well, what if we could increase the frequency of use? Use a smartphone?” At the time, Uber existed, but they were just doing this for black cars and limos, and to us that was uninteresting.”
Within three weeks, two engineers had built the Lyft app. Today, the company is valued at $US11 billion.
Interestingly, Lyft went back to its Zimride roots in 2016, when it launched Lyft Carpool in San Francisco. As Business Insider’s Avery Hartmans reported, regular drivers could earn up to $US10 per ride for picking up riders along their morning commute.
But the service was suspended shortly after, Forbes reported, with Lyft citing a lack of driver interest. Lyft said while it expected a carpool feature would be popular one day, “the time is not right now.”
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