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For years, Lyft positioned itself as the “nice guy” in the ride-hailing industry. It let rival Uber do most of the dirty work fighting regulators and the taxi industry to create a path for a new crop of companies to offer rides to customers through an app.
In the process, Lyft cultivated a feel-good brand – but Uber dominated the market. For a brief moment in 2017, however, it looked like the balance of power might shift, as Uber was rocked by a seemingly endless series of PR crises that culminated with its founder and CEO Travis Kalanick stepping down.
Six years later, however, Lyft’s position is arguably more precarious than it has ever been. Uber now has 74% of the US rideshare market, up from 62% in 2020, according to market research firm YipitData, while Lyft’s market share slipped to 26% from 38% during that same period. Meanwhile, Lyft stock has plunged nearly 90% since it went public in 2019.
In a nod to those challenges, Lyft announced Monday that its two cofounders, Logan Green and John Zimmer, would step back from their management roles and the company would bring in Amazon veteran and Lyft board member David Risher to take the helm of Lyft as CEO.
In its announcement, Lyft framed the leadership change as a straightforward succession plan. “All founders eventually find the right moment to step back and the right leaders to take their company forward,” Green said in a statement. “As a member of the board, he knows both the challenges and opportunities ahead.”
For Lyft, the current challenges are immense. While Uber diversified its business beyond ride-hailing by delivering meals and grocery items, Lyft never did. That arguably hurt the company earlier in the pandemic when fewer customers were traveling but more were ordering items online. Late last year, Lyft said it was cutting 13% of its staff, or 700 employees, as part of a major effort to cut costs.
At the same time, Lyft now faces an Uber that is run by a seasoned executive, Expedia veteran Dara Khosrowshahi, who immediately got to work straightening up the company’s business and image. Under Khosrowshahi, Uber doubled down on growing its meal delivery business, while working to cut costs elsewhere, including by selling off more experimental efforts like its self-driving car unit.
In its most recent earnings report last month, Uber said that it had its “strongest quarter ever,” reporting a 49% year-over-year increase in revenue. Lyft’s latest earnings report, meanwhile, was unusually disappointing for Wall Street.
One tech analyst, Dan Ives of Wedbush Securities, said Lyft’s conference call to discuss the results “was a Top 3 worst call we have ever heard” as its “management is trying to play darts blindfolded.” He slammed the earnings outlook offered on the call as a “debacle for the ages.”
With Risher as the new CEO, Lyft is clearly hoping for a turnaround. Risher was the 37th employee of Amazon – a company that has long been the model for the on-demand industry – and he went on to become the e-commerce giant’s first head of product and head of US retail. In its statement announcing Risher as the new CEO, Lyft pointed to his legacy at Amazon: “In tribute to Mr. Risher’s contributions, Jeff Bezos added a permanent thank-you to the Amazon website, where it can still be seen today.”
Tom White, a senior research analyst at D.A. Davidson, wrote in a note this week that the new CEO “could signal an increased willingness to broaden the strategic aperture at LYFT a bit as it relates to areas like product strategy (delivery), partnerships, or other novel ways to create value.”
Nicholas Cauley, an analyst at research firm Third Bridge, wrote that Lyft “still has many levers it can pull to regain market share.” He added: “There are still improvements to be made and a leadership change is a positive catalyst for turning the ship around.”
But in an interview with CNN’s Julia Chatterley on Wednesday, Risher seemed to dash hopes that Lyft would borrow from Uber’s playbook and branch into other delivery categories.
Risher told CNN he wants to make sure Lyft focuses on providing a great ride-hailing service and “not get distracted by delivering pizzas or packages or all sorts of other things that other companies are doing.”
“I don’t really want to get in the same car that, you know, just delivered the tuna sandwich,” he added. “And if you talk to drivers, they say, ‘Gosh, I don’t make as much in food delivery and it’s more frustrating. I get tickets when I’m double parked in front of the restaurant and so forth.’ So, you know, I think that, that Uber has its challenges too. I really do.”
Risher also said “it’s not our focus” to pursue a sale of the company.
While the market initially seemed to welcome Risher’s appointment, the slight uptick in Lyft stock after the news came out was quickly wiped out a day later once Risher started talking about his plans for the company.