My first day as a Lyft driver

By Michael Guigli, Co-Founder, Etch

I recently attended a startup event in NYC where Michael Seibel, CEO of Y Combinator, was speaking. He started by offering a piece of counter-intuitive advice for all the entrepreneurs in the room. His advice, which is documented in full detail on Paul Graham’s blog, is to “do things that don’t scale.” Without a lot of resources, the most common unscalable thing for startup founders to do is to manually recruit users. Why? Because in the early days of a startup you can’t wait for people to find you.

Putting this advice into action, I signed up to become a Lyft driver as a way to promote Etch and attract new users. This may seem strange at first, but let’s examine the intricacies of ride-sharing that make it an ideal environment for app promotion:

  • Easy and non-creepy way to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger (potential new user)
  • Forces a one-to-one interaction for about 10–15 minutes — much longer than the average pitch time
  • You have someone’s undivided attention (phones don’t count anymore)
  • Passengers almost always have their phones out (👆) so the app store is only a few taps away
  • I make money on each new user!

This isn’t just an idea, it’s a reality. Bright and early yesterday morning I hit the road for the first time as a Lyft driver. It felt like the first day of school. I was a little bit nervous, but mostly excited. I packed a bag with mint candies and cough drops (it’s that time of year) for my passengers. For me, a granola bar and of course my marketing materials, which I fastened to the front seat headrests. They hung at eye level and within arms reach of my passengers. They could not be missed.

Sign #1 that was displayed in my car for Lyft passengers
Sign #2 that was displayed in my car for Lyft passengers

Before I get into how my day went I want to share my new perspective on people who drive for a living, especially in a city. I like to think my patience level is above average, however, like any normal person my blood can boil. For example, when you’re waiting for your ride and the little cartoon car on the Lyft or Uber map makes a wrong turn or doesn’t seem to move for hours. Or when you’re standing on the street waving at the car and it’s like they don’t see you. Just remember this: inside that car there’s someone navigating detours, avoiding pedestrians, getting honked at for going too slowly, figuring out where to double park, all while monitoring their Lyft app and trying to spot you on the street. It was a humbling experience to say the least.

Now for the good stuff — the numbers.

  • Total rides = 5
  • Talked with me about Etch = 3
  • Installed Etch = 1
  • Total time = 2.5 hours
  • Total earned = $34.45

Yes, these are small numbers. But remember the whole point of this article is to do things that don’t scale. We don’t expect hockey stick growth from talking with Lyft passengers, but if we maintain a 20% conversion on our efforts it could result in hundreds of new users in the next month or two. And equally as, if not more, valuable are the many hours spent talking with people about Etch and hearing their feedback.

I look forward to sharing an update in the next few weeks. In the meantime, tip your drivers and go download Etch from the App Store!

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