#5 The early days of ridesharing – with Dan Riaz(ScaleUp Labs, 500 startups, ex Lyft, ex Zynga).

 Dan: With Lyft what was amazing to see was just that people kept coming back. They just kept using the service. It was just really sticky. I never saw anything like that in terms of the curves. The curves were amazing. It was basically just a flat line of people coming back week over week over week. It was pretty incredible to look at that data and see that.
Shamanth: So people never stopped commuting?
Dan: <laughs> Yeah, people never stop commuting! Yeah! People don’t stop commuting, you know! They don’t stop using transportation, right?


Welcome to this week’s episode of How Things Grow! In this episode we revisit the early days or ridesharing – and look at how bikesharing is beginning to evolve.

My guest today is my good friend Dan Riaz. Dan’s had a checkered career and an interesting life. Dan managed mobile acquisition at Zynga just when Zynga started to shift its business from web to mobile. He then joined Lyft when they were in just 4 cities to head up their mobile user acquisition. At Lyft, he saw from close up the ascension of the ridesharing industry – and its emergence as the widespread mass market phenomenon it is today. Subsequently, while he was at 500 startups, he worked with Grab Taxi in South East Asia, and catalysed the growth of ridesharing in South East Asia. Afterward, he worked with the bikesharing company Limebike, where he helped drive the early adoption of bikesharing.

Dan has been close to the action from the early days of ridesharing and bikesharing. He brings some amazing stories from the time ridesharing was practically at risk of being shut down by the law – to its rapid growth to being an integral part of our lives today. Dan brings a rare level of insight into the very many non-obvious forces that drive the economics of transportation that moves our world today. I’m very excited to bring to you this amazing interview with Dan!

[NOTE: The audio quality isnt the best in the first few minutes of this episode – which is one of the effects of this show still being a one-man show that has to make things work with some imperfections. But the audio is all still clearly audible – and there’s so much good stuff in this interview so I hope you’ll listen anyway].

Show Notes

3:10 – What it was like working for Zynga in 2012.

3:53 – did Dan see Facebook disrupting the mobile advertising ecosystem?

4:54 – Dan’s next career move. What Lyft was like when Dan joined.

6:50 – How Dan felt when there were regulatory pressures – and he realized that everything he was doing could just be declared illegal & he could lose his job any day.

8:42 – Uber had been around for a few years before Lyft. There were a number of other ridesharing companies around. How did Dan feel about the competitive pressure at the time?

9:54 – what Dan’s mentor told him at the time about the kind of company he wanted Lyft to be.

10:09 – Dan’s early priorities when he joined when Lyft was in 4 cities.

10:36 – What fundamental difference Dan saw in user behavior in ridesharing compared to gaming, and how it showed in retention curves.

12:22 – How Lyft prioritized acquiring drivers vs. riders.

13:17  – How Lyft strategically grew drivers and riders in tandem so that they fed off each other in a virtuous cycle.

15:22 – When Dan and his team saw that ridesharing could potentially become the mass market phenomenon that it has become.

16:22 – The key impetus that prompted Lyft to launch in 24 markets in a single day.

16:54 – The prep process before Lyft launched in 24 markets in a single day.

17:42 – why Lyft’s founders wanted to vet every single founding driver that would join Lyft as they launched every city.

18:25 – How Lyft assessed the success of the launch of 24 markets in a single day.

20:09 – Was there a point when things became all clear from a regulatory point of view?

21:08 – The common mistakes that some of the smaller competitors made that led to their demise.

22:36 – Why transportation is a commodity – and thus a market that really couldn’t support multiple competitors.

24:42 – The biggest challenges for Lyft when they would enter a new city.

25:32 – How Lyft would launch in new cities while having a minimal physical presence in a city.

26:33 – How Lyft created demand when they launched in a new city.

27:40 – Why Lyft didn’t really care about measuring and optimizing different segments & audiences, and what they really optimized for.

29:20 – The one metric that Lyft focused on and rallied around.

30:27 – The key difference in strategy and expectations when Lyft moved into small town America.

31:49 – Where billboards and out of home ads are effective, and why they weren’t used by Lyft in smaller cities.

32:38 – Dan’s next gig – advising at 500 startups.

34:07 – How Dan’s work led him to work with a ridesharing company in a different part of the world.

35:18 – What Grab Taxi’s big challenges were when Dan started working with them – and what Dan did for them.

37:16 – How Dan felt when Grab told him they didn’t want a systemic scientific model for growth.

39:01 – How ridesharing differs in Asia compared to America – and how it’s affected by car ownership.

40:04 – How the messaging had to differ on account of different car ownership patterns in Asia.

41:09 – Dan’s conversation with a taxi driver – and how ridesharing can cannibalize the livelihood of taxi drivers.

41:56 – Capitalism has its losers.

42:20 – How Dan’s work at Lyft and Grab led him to bikesharing.

43:38 – Why bikesharing is a growing trend.

44:56 – A number of Chinese bikesharing companies have gone bust. What that says about the future of the space. The business challenges that result because bikesharing companies are hardware companies.

46:03 – What it’ll take to make the bikesharing business model sustainable.

46:45 – The fundamental differences between ridesharing and bikesharing – and how these impact the density of docking stations in any city.

48:41 – The metrics that Limebike optimizes for.

48:40 – The big challenges confronting the bikesharing space in the US.

51:16 – How Limebike’s approach to launching a city differed from that of Lyft.

52:03 – Why & how topography is one of the biggest challenges to user retention in bikesharing.

52:28 – How Limebike is dealing with topography challenges that impact retention.

54:11 – What happens when there are multiple bikesharing companies in a single city.

People & resources mentioned in the episode

John Zimmer & Logan Green(founders of Lyft)

A Request Before You Go

I have a very important favor to ask, which as those of you who know me know I dont do often. If you got any pleasure or inspiration from this episode, could you PLEASE leave a review on your favorite podcasting platform – be it iTunesStitcher  or wherever you get your podcast fix? This podcast has been many months in the making – and is very much a labor of love. When you write a review, it will not only be a great deal of encouragement to me, but it will also support getting the word out about How Things Grow.


Constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement are welcome, whether on podcasting platforms, in the comments below – or by email to shamanth at gmail.com . I read all reviews & I want to make this podcast better.I have some AMAZING people lined up and ready to go for subsequent episodes – and I’d welcome any feedback that can make their stories even more compelling.

Thank you – and I look forward to seeing you with next week’s episode!


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