How Lyft’s new CEO is ‘copying’ his former boss Jeff Bezos to turn the company around | CNN Business
David Risher had a rough first week on the job.
Days after taking over as Lyft’s ( LYFT ) new CEO last month, Risher announced plans to “significantly reduce” the company’s workforce and stressed that the decision was his. The following week, Lyft ( LYFT ) revealed the extent of the layoffs: 26% of the workforce, or more than 1,000 employees, would lose their jobs.
“It was a very, very tough decision and a tough set of days and weeks, of course,” Risher told CNN in an interview Thursday. “Nobody likes it.”
“But,” he added, “it’s also very important for us to be a strong player.”
Lyft hasn’t looked like such a strong player lately. The company has lost 90% of its market value since going public in 2019. It has lagged its main rival, Uber ( UBER ), in recovering from the pandemic’s shock to business. And Lyft has gone through several rounds of layoffs and management changes, including Risher taking over as CEO last month and the company’s two co-founders stepping down.
Now Lyft’s new CEO says he hopes to draw on the lessons of Amazon ( AMZN ), where he worked early on, and his former boss Jeff Bezos in his efforts to turn around the ride-sharing company.
“We’re going to focus on customers,” Risher said, alluding to Amazon’s guiding principle. “This is a fundamental truth of business: If you can build a business that your customers really love, you can do amazing things for the world.”
Many tech companies like to compare themselves to Amazon, but if anyone has the credibility to say so, Lyft probably hopes it’s Risher. Risher was Amazon’s 37th employee, and his contributions are commemorated on the site with a thank-you note from Bezos, which can still be seen today more than two decades after Risher left the company.
In its first product update since Risher took the helm at Lyft, the ride-sharing company on Thursday unveiled new features aimed at taking some of the summer travel season’s toll off. With the update, customers can book their Lyft rides from the airport the moment their plane touches down; Lyft then takes care of the rest of the logistics to make sure a driver is waiting for the customer when they leave the airport.
The airport pre-order option was implemented Thursday at Los Angeles International Airport and Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway airports, with plans to expand to other airports in the near future.
“You can outsource a lot of that stress to us, that’s what we want to do. And that’s really Jeff Bezos,” Risher told CNN. “I’m just copying their strategy that worked pretty well for Amazon. I think it can work pretty well for Lyft and our customers.”
But as Risher works to revive Lyft’s fortunes, he faces a rival, Uber, which has shown renewed strength in recent quarters. (Uber has also added features to make airport pickups less painful.)
When asked what went wrong with Lyft, Risher told CNN, “I think the pandemic went wrong with Lyft.” But the pandemic didn’t affect Lyft and Uber equally.
Under the leadership of Expedia veteran Dara Khosrowshahi, who took over after founder Travis Kalanick resigned following a long list of public relations crises, Uber set out to diversify its business by delivering meals This service has helped overcome the pandemic and recover more quickly as the economy reopened.
But in an earlier interview with CNN, Risher appeared to dash hopes that Lyft would borrow from Uber’s playbook and branch out into other delivery categories.
Risher told CNN’s Julia Chatterley that he wants to make sure Lyft focuses on providing a great ride service and “doesn’t get distracted by delivering pizzas or packages or all kinds of things that other companies do.”
For now, Risher and Lyft are focusing on the important summer travel season.
Another update unveiled Thursday helps customers get out the door at the airport at the best time by syncing their flight information from their smartphone calendar to their Lyft app to receive reminders about booking rides at the airport Risher told reporters Thursday that the basic idea for it came about because he and his wife could never agree on the best time to leave for the airport.
“Our focus right now, as summer travel starts, is really to reduce the stress on the particular airport experience,” Risher told CNN.
Risher demurred when asked if Lyft would be an independent company a year from now, after many industry watchers initially thought news of his appointment was going to position the company for a sale.
“It’s not our goal to be part of someone else’s company,” Risher said.
Uber may be beating Lyft today, but Risher believes customers are better served by having both companies around.
“My opinion is that every person who is a rider should have both apps on their phone, I really do, because sometimes you want to choose,” he added, “but we want you to choose Lyft and the reason we want you to. choosing Lyft is because we believe we can provide a better experience.”