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Lyft takes over SXSW to prove it's nothing like Uber

Caitlin McGarry | March 19, 2015
Lyft CEO Logan Green on Uber's struggles, Lyft Line, and the future of ride-sharing apps.

On-demand transit app Uber is ubiquitous, but it typically hogs the ride-sharing spotlight for all the wrong reasons. Lyft is perfectly content to let its rival soak up the negative attention, because despite the constant comparisons between the two apps, their approach to business nothing alike.

Lyft has a reputation for friendliness. While its cars are no longer decked out in fuzzy pink mustaches (which some of us actually liked), the dashboard glowstache replacement is a welcoming sign. Riders hop in the front seat and get to know their drivers, though the introductory fist bump is no longer mandatory. Lyft hasn't jumped into international markets like Uber because it wants to establish ride-sharing as a de facto public transportation system in the States first.

"We have completely different visions for the world and we operate very differently," Lyft cofounder and CEO Logan Green said during a keynote talk at the South by Southwest Interactive festival this week. "Uber is a good car service, and that's exactly what they were when we launched."

But Lyft doesn't want to be an on-demand car service. The company is pinning its future to Lyft Line, the carpooling service that now makes up more than half of Lyft rides in San Francisco.

The mustache makes a difference

Lyft had a huge presence in Austin during SXSW as the festival's official ride-sharing partner. Not only is Lyft the only transit app allowed to pick up passengers at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, which immediately set the stage for the company's festival dominance, Lyft also used SXSW to gin up more users by sending cool cars--like a classic Bentley and a Tesla-- to pick up lucky passengers.

The Lyft experience in Austin is also much different than in New York, where I live. Both Uber and Lyft offer a different version of their ride-sharing service in NYC than in other areas due to city regulatons--drivers must be licensed by Taxi and Limousine Commission and go through additional checks that drivers in other states don't have to, and so the passenger experience is more similar to a black-car service--and to Uber--than to Lyft rides in other cities.

But in Austin, the differences between Uber and Lyft are stark. Sitting up front in a Lyft and chatting about your life story with a stranger isn't for everyone, but that experience is what Lyft is riding on. The company pairs mentor drivers with new ones to show them the Lyft way.

"Lyft is more about connecting people in communities, not creating an on-demand delivery service," Lyft Chief Marketing Officer Kira Wampler said during a press roundtable at South by Southwest.


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