Ridesharing startup Lyft is well known for its furry, bright pink mustachioed cars.
But it turns out that the company behind the facial hair should have been a prank, Carstache founder Ethan Eyler told Business Insider in an interview.
Though, the company has been profitable since day one, Eyler says.
In the early days of Carstache, Eyler played around with a few different materials for the iconic carstaches. Before deciding on synthetic materials like faux fur and polyester, Eyler first looked into regular fabrics. Fabrics weren’t going to do the trick because they’d get dirty too easily. Eyler’s next thought: weaves, which are hair extensions to make your hair appear more voluminous.
Check out Business Insider’s full interview with Eyler, where we discuss how Carstache should have been a prank, “for all intents and purposes,” how Khloe Kardashian inadvertently helped kickstart his success, and truck mullets.
Business Insider: For starters, how and why did you come up with this idea?
Ethan Eyler: My background is in creative marketing. Marketing in that world was tweaking colour of a digital cow. You would look at data and try to improve conversion rate. I was burnt out on that side of the business. [The idea for a carstache] popped into my head during my commute on my way to my boring day job in 2010. When I got home I Googled “Car mustache” and there was nothing. And I was like, “OK, well I’m going to make one of these.” So I kind of set about prototyping and making one. The first one I made was black. I put it on my car and started driving it around San Francisco. People were freaking out, petting it, it was insane. I felt like I was an instant celebrity. It was nuts. And that’s the reaction we get with Lyft.
BI: At what point did you decide to make this a business?
EE: I drove around for probably two months because I was addicted to the type of reaction I’d get. After a couple of months, I quit my job and my parents were not happy, but they were still supportive. Once it was a huge success, they came back around and said, “Yeah were we initially worried.” It’s so crazy that the website, and just the whole e-commerce experience and branding needs to spot-on, otherwise people will think it’s a prank. For all intents and purposes, it should have been [a prank]. So we got the website built and initially made 500 units. We started with black, orange, grey, pink, and blonde.
It eventually came across Khloe Kardashian. She tweeted about it and through that, [basketball player] Lamar Odom got word and I made a Lakers-themed one for him. Within three days of turning on the site, it was trending on Twitter. It just went insane. [Khloe Kardashian] was the spark that got it going.
BI: How do you make these carstaches?
EE: We make them in factories now. When I first started doing it, I didn’t know anything about manufacturing. I had one made by a friend — that was the first prototype. The first factory that made them is in San Leandro, across the bay. All of the ones for Lyft are made in the U.S.
BI: Lyft is your biggest customer, but not your only one. Who are some of your other customers?
EE: I emailed Urban Outfitters and they were on board. [It ended up being one of the most liked products of all time on Urban Outfitters.com.] ABC’s “Shark Tank” had also reached out, but this was when Lyft had already started taking off. I still own Carstache and I can’t go into too much detail, but I exclusively provide pink mustaches to Lyft.
BI: All in all, how many carstaches are out in the wild?
EE: Tens and tens of thousands. A lot. More than I ever imagined would be out there. They have really gone all over the world. It’s funny, in the first or second week when I was running it out of my basement. Someone bought one who lived three blocks down. I put it on their doorstep, rang the doorbell, and literally ran away.
BI: Lyft recently announced the Carstache 2.0. What makes this better than the original?
EE: There are two major differences in Carstache 2.0. The original wasn’t intended to be taken off and on. It was cumbersome to always be attaching and detaching wires from grill. So we came up with way to attach clips onto your car. We call it “super fur.” The idea was to create a type of fur that doesn’t fade as much in the sun. Synthetic fur is just not designed to do that. It’s not typically an outdoor material.
BI: What’s your favourite Carstache story?
EE: One time, there was this old guy driving by me in a scooter. He stopped half way, reversed, pet the mustache, and completely took off. People will jump up and go crazy for it!
BI: Given that you still own Carstache, what’s your role like at Lyft?
EE: I’m on the brand experience and brand strategy team. It’s not so much like we’re developing custom products for any one company. I work with ad agency partners to manage relationships.
BI: Do you think you would ever sell Carstache?
EE: It could go either way. I’m open to both. I can’t really see how that’s going to end. I’m very close to Lyft at this point. It’s hard to tell.
BI: In the promotional video for Carstache 2.0, the actor says Lyft’s carstache is the global leader in vehicular facial hair. Do you actually have any competitors in this space?
EE: Well, there’s Car Lashes, which are eyelashes for your car. I mean, I tried back in the day to do some creative co-branding marketing with them. We toyed with a superhero idea, but they didn’t get it, so it didn’t happen.
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