Lyft’s CEO Logan Green: Why being nice pays off, and getting back to its roots

Lyft’s co-founder and chief executive officer Logan Green has often been called, at least in casual conversation, “the nice Travis.”

That refers to, of course, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, who has earned a reputation as an egotistic, aggressive, will-run-you-over-in-my-Uber-to-succeed, startup founder. His attitude, and actions, have earned him a $41 billion company on track for a monster IPO, and a lot of negative news headlines.

Green, at least according to those who know him, has taken a different approach to building his company, which trails Uber in funding and market share but is still rapidly growing. As the final keynote speaker the of Startup Grind, a three-day event for startup founders and entrepreneurs in Redwood City this week, Green talked about the art of negotiating nicely with regulators and creating a culture in which Lyft drivers are nice to passengers, and Lyft passengers are nice to drivers. (But many drivers work for both Uber and Lyft, so how consistent this niceness is among Lyft vehicles remains unclear.)

“There is this expectation (at Lyft) of being nice, and we’ve done a lot to drive that home,” Green said in an on-stage interview with Startup Grind founder Derek Andersen. “It can be tough sometimes not being a jerk, but it can go far in building a culture.”

Lyft hasn’t had to deal with the accusations of drivers raping and beating passengers, indictments from South Korean officials, exploiting hostage situations in Australia and the scandals of employees tracking riders or spying on journalists who were critical of them. Just some of Uber’s highlights from 2014.

Green said Lyft has also been successful negotiating with regulators and getting access to new markets without behaving badly. The company worked with officials in 29 jurisdictions to update transportation regulations in 2014, and he said he expects the same number of markets to make regulatory changes this year.

“When it comes to the regulatory environment, being a jerk doesn’t get you very far, because the folks that you have to work with are the ones making the decisions,” he said. “And a lot of other companies in this space have left a bad taste in regulators’ mouths.”

Not naming any names, of course.

And while many industry watchers and investors have already named Uber No. 1 in the ride-hailing space, Green said the race isn’t over just yet. In 2014, Lyft led in market share in San Francisco, the largest market for ride-hailing in the country, according to Green. The company had five-times growth in the 29 states where it operates — unlike Uber, Lyft does not operate internationally.

About one-third of all its rides in San Francisco now come through Lyft Line, a carpool feature the company rolled out last year. It allows passengers traveling to nearby destinations to share a ride, cutting down the cost for each passenger. However, some drivers have complained that the cheaper rides cuts into their pay.

But Lyft Line is also more consistent with the company’s vision, and what it has always claimed to be — a way for people to share rides so there are fewer cars on the road. The Lyft feature that allows drivers to pick up passengers who are along their route to work also aims to encourage carpooling. Until recently, ride-hailing companies had been operating more like taxi cabs — nothing “sharing” about them.

Uber recently launched a similar carpool feature, called UberPool.

“Uber users hated getting matched with other people, and Lyft users loved it,” Green said, referring to a study the company did on the new services. “I think we made it more comfortable by establishing a social etiquette in the beginning.”

Photo: Logan Green, co-founder and chief executive officer of Lyft, displays his company’s “glowstache” during a launch event on Monday, Jan. 26, 2015, in San Francisco. AP Photo/Noah Berger.


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