You were standing at the office water-cooler last Friday morning with two coworkers who also mustachioed cars. “Did you watch Lyft Live last night?” Nanc from HR asked.
“Duh,” Steve from Marketing said. “Wouldn’t have missed it. JZ was answering all driver questions — live.”
“Live?!” You interrupted in a fit of excitement. “John Zimmer answered driver questions? Live?” It was almost too much.
“Yeah, dude, c’mon. It's Lyft Live,” Steve said, shaking his head in disbelief as he walked away.
In case you were living under a rock (or driving on the road), we’ve curated the best of John Zimmer’s answers from Lyft Live 1.0, the first in an ongoing series of Google Hangouts with our co-founder. Click here for the unedited transcript (forewarning: John can be longwinded, but it's a great read).
Kathleen K.: Is Lyft planning any updates to make tipping easier?
John Z.: Yes. So the first thing we did was change the word — that was step one, and we’ve seen an improvement with that. As many of you have said, there are passengers who would like to tip you for the incredible experience they had with you as drivers, and I think there are some obvious ways to do that.
The quick answer is yes. The next question is probably when. I would say in the next couple of months we should be testing the other version. We always want to test it [first], because sometimes [passenger] behavior is counter-intuitive — and if [our test version] leads to less rides or less tips, we would want to know that. But it is something we’ll continue to test in the coming months.
Steve Y.: I think it's great that Mr. Zimmer is willing to engage in dialogue. [...] Support needs a phone number for drivers to get answers. It's crazy to have to wait 2-4 days for an email response. A $950M company needs a phone.
John Z.: [This is] a very fair question. We know we need to improve the responsiveness of Support. As someone who comes from the hospitality industry, it’s really important to me, and we’re not doing a good enough job.
Lyft is growing so quickly, thanks to you, and we’re doing everything we possibly can to keep up with the volume. We can’t possibly hire Support Associates and Specialists fast enough to keep up with the growth we’re experiencing, so we’re working with an outside company who works with Airbnb and other large companies [to add] more and more agents. One of the priorities this month is to figure out a long-term solution that 1.) gets you a same-day response, and 2.) reduces the need to ask Support for questions.
[And] from a product perspective, we should be making it so that you don’t have to reach out to Support. We need to ask why the problems even exist.
Jody K.: Can we please have quarterly earnings/mileage statements? The data is there — it just needs to be extracted and sent. This would be greatly appreciated by most, if not all, drivers. :-)
John Z.: This is obviously something we should do, and it should be built into the Driver Portal. My understanding is that there’s a running tally in the Driver Portal, then an annual number that we provide to drivers to help them prepare their statements, and then we send I believe if you’re over $20,000 a 1099K, a special kind of 1099. We can definitely make quarterly information easier to obtain in the Driver Portal.
Gary M.: I think it would be helpful if we could see passenger feedback for rides rated below 4 stars, so we can correct the issue. Why can’t we see all the feedback?
John Z.: We [do] pass along all text comments. We want you to hear that feedback in an effort to make that experience better. Comments and flags are things you can actually take action on. So if you’ve got three ratings under 5 stars, and a flag for safety and a flag for cleanliness, [those things] would give you direction. That is the most useful information [to help improve] those areas.
Kevin T.: Being a Deputy Sheriff for 27 years, I look at safety factor for the drivers. I would like to see is the cars back on the app and when you get a call your car changes color. Other drivers knows where you are at.
John Z.: Because the data show that heat maps led to drivers making more, we're sticking with that model. I have heard two reasons why drivers like the cars more, the first being what you’re saying, [about] keeping everyone spread out. Another being social purposes being able to find your friends.
Stassa: Yes, or just being able to find other drivers.
John Z.: Have you used the cars on the map to meet other drivers?
Stassa: To seek out new drivers that’s how we do it.
Nora: In Denver, there’s a whole group of drivers that meet up at Dunkin Donuts. When I see a group of drivers all at Dunkin Donuts I head over there.
John Z.: I think there’s other ways for us to accomplish that, and we absolutely want to accomplish that. Anything we can do to build the driver community, and just the Lyft community in general. Right now the best place to do that is on the Lounge. Longer-term, we need to think how we would do that in the app as a separate view. That’s not on the road map, but we can think about it. And again, because our priority is making more money for drivers.
[Seeing the cars is] also something people have gotten used to for over two years, and there’s definitely a change. Maybe in our next Lyft Live session we can hear about how people are liking it after several months, and I can come with more data to report back to you guys.
And just to respond directly to Chet’s question, he also brought up safety.
Anna C.: He’s a deputy sheriff, and he was saying how seeing the other cars around makes it safer.
John Z.: We have everything on record to make sure everyone is safe, so that doesn’t disappear. If there was anything law enforcement need, we can work with them on that.
Helio C.: Why does Lyft seem to have almost zero focus on advertising? I see competitor ads everywhere I go, but there's no concerted marketing campaign for Lyft. I know the mustache helps with word-of-mouth advertising, but we need real marketing to get new customers!
John Z.: Absolutely, marketing is important. I can tell you that our passenger growth is higher than it’s ever been. That doesn’t mean we can’t do more, or that we won’t do more. We are working on bigger partnerships, one of which we will have announced by the next session. There are two advertising campaigns being tested, one in Denver, and one in San Diego. After the tests, we’ll consider bringing them to other cities.
Ruth G.: Why did your company place so much emphasis on earning "extra income in your spare time" and then create a system where only 55+ hours a week gets the driver a livable income (current rates + commission being too low to survive on)?
John Z.: Any decision we make around pay we weigh very heavily. We know that you, and other drivers listening, really depend on this income to pay for important things, whether that’s paying bills or whatever. That matters to us. Just know that we take those decisions very seriously.
In order to grow together as a community, as a company, we have to pay for all the expense and continue to raise capital so we can grow this thing that we all love. We always knew, and we communicated that, we were going to temporarily remove commissions so that we could grow the driver base. We brought it back in a way that really aligns incentives that are good for the business.
Whenever we bring drivers onto the platform, there are expenses — whether that’s just the mustache, or the Mentor session, [or ads to find drivers], or the background check. These are upfront expenses that we have to pay for every driver.
The thing about those expenses is that if a driver comes onto the platform and only gives a couple rides, that’s really expensive for us — versus a driver that’s driving 10 hours or 20 hours. And that’s why we created this idea of a driver bonus. We love having drivers drive one hour or two hours, but we just need to make sure we can pay for those expenses that we have.
Mark S.: When will it actually mean something to reserve hours?
John Z.: Reserving hours used to be part of the system in the early days, to try and find a balance between the amount of drivers on the road, and the amount of passengers who needed rides. What we found is that providing information about Prime Time — and the best times to drive — actually manages the balance between supply and demand.
Signing up for hours is now a tool that helps if you need reminders about getting that information. You can schedule your hours, and [then] get the information you need to earn the most.
Theresa M.: Can you please explain why the insurance deductible for drivers is $2,500? That’s a high deductible if we’re ever in an accident, and it’s very hard to afford.
We added collision insurance to our $1 million of liability insurance, which is generally $10,000 more than when you’re driving alone. One thing we were advised by our insurance team is that we had to create the right incentives.
You don’t want someone in an accident during non-Lyft hours, like a mirror getting bumped, then filing that claim when they’re driving for Lyft. A driver doing that could increase commissions for all drivers. Having a $2,500 deductible helps us align the right incentives.
I wanted to be honest about the reasons why we did it. We’re constantly reviewing all of the insurance benefits we’re providing, and if there is a way we can solve that we will.
Caroline Q.: I don't like when passengers cancel. It's a waste of time and gas. How can this be improved?
John Z.: Right now there’s a $5 penalty for cancelations after 3 minutes [ed. note: This fee goes entirely to the driver]. We recently moved it down [from 5 minutes to 3 minutes], and we can potentially consider moving it further down.
Carlos P.: When will the app show a price upfront? I’m constantly asked how much the fare will cost.
John Z.: That’s something that plan to do. It’s really hard to predict what the cost of a ride will be, given traffic. The danger of having drivers quote passengers is that there are so many things that can’t be controlled, and if you quote the wrong amount it can lead to a bad rating. We don’t want to put drivers in that position.
Dianne C.: The rating system seems to be getting abused, resulting in lower driver ratings. Is there a way we can get passengers to leave a mandatory comment when rating 4 and below?
John Z.: Driver ratings have stayed consistent, historically. We don’t make feedback mandatory because it could have negative consequences, especially if someone doesn’t want to leave feedback. We don’t want leaving a comment to become a barrier or stop people from using the app.
Guillermo G.: Are you monitoring driver earnings? I understand the strategy of having a supply of drivers before the demand of rides increases, but it seems there isn't a defined boundary. There are many drivers struggling for rides.
John Z.: There are two sides to each marketplace: drivers and passengers. The most important thing is having perfect balance, and that can be difficult. If there aren’t enough drivers, in the short-term that’s really good for drivers because [you] get lots of rides — but in the long-term, that’s not good, because passengers won’t get a ride when they need one, and they’ll go use another service. That’s why we're constantly trying to find the right balance. … We’re getting better at balancing, but clearly there are some markets where we could improve.
Another hard part of that that’s important is the time of day. A lot of drivers want to drive in the middle of the day — let’s say 12 or 1 — but that’s usually the slowest time. A lot of drivers don’t want to drive at 7 a.m. or 8 or 9, when it’s really busy, or nights and weekends. Because we have to think about providing drivers [at] all times, there may be times during the day where it’s not busy.
That’s why we have things like Prime Time, to balance that out. Part of the idea is if it’s not a busy time, it’s not beneficial for a driver to be around, then that market will correct itself a bit, and drivers will choose to drive at 8 a.m. when there will be ride after ride after ride. We can get better, and one of those ways is informing drivers of those times, and the hot spots when you can earn the most.
Like I said upfront when I talked about commissions, I take driver earnings very seriously. I know people are depending on [Lyft], but we also have to weigh the long-term growth of the company so that we can keep providing an opportunity for drivers. There’s also competition, and we have to make sure we’re offering an enticing ride that’s available at the right price point.
Be sure to tune in Thursday, October 2. for the second installment of Lyft Live. You don’t want to disappoint Steve.