How Lyft could beat Uber

Lyft Car
Photo: Daniel X. O’Neil

Uber is arguably a juggernaut. They’ve grown like crazy and attracted a lot of press (not always for good things). They’ve raised nearly $6 billion(!) and are now in 55 countries. Lyft has ‘only’ raised $862 million and they’re in just 60 cities around the US. I’ve used both services several times and I’ll likely do so in the future. I like the style of Lyft a bit better than Uber personally but they’re pretty close in just about every way. In fact many drivers moonlight for both services in an effort to keep things moving.

In the long term future, Google, Apple, (maybe Amazon?) and Uber will all compete in the transportation market with automated vehicles (and drones). Today, Uber owns the market for “ride sharing,” but as vehicles become more automated that may shift. Where does Lyft fit into this? They’ve got 1/6th of the capital, and while they’re growing, they’re definitely in second place. I believe there’s a niche that Lyft could take over and leap frog Uber.

screen capture Uber website

Uber has already tested this niche out. They called it uberESSENTIALS and in the Washington DC area that promised “everyday” items in 10 minutes or less. They list everything from a “S’mores kit,” a folding snow shovel, to a $1 can of coke along with many typical drug store/corner store type items. If the service had been successful (it was shut down in late January), it’s likely they would have expanded the available inventory and the cities it was in.

So here comes the place where I think Lyft could kill it. I think there is a place for a delivery/transportation API. Imagine all of these stores that are now offering in-store pickup, all of the places that offer to-go food, and then link them into to drivers. (Locally there’s a business called 864ToGo and they just call in to-go orders and deliver them for a fee) Even bigger if you could score a couple of pizza chains. The appeal is that drivers will stay busier and make more cash, delivering not just people but goods; businesses could reach customers easier (last mile delivery is already the biggest challenge for major delivery companies). But by making this an API based service Lyft could enable developers to build things that we can’t quite imagine just yet using their platform. If they could get first mover advantage they could own this market. The other big part of this is that by focusing on making this an API based process you can allow lots of folks to experiment with the platform and fail and try again in smaller less risky ways.

It’s a crazy idea but the immediate step between what Uber and Lyft are today and the self driving cars of the future probably includes some interesting things that we haven’t thought of yet.

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