I’m 22 days into launching my startup, and we are still very much bootstrapping. Cash is king, and I’ve got to do whatever I can to bring in money to pay the bills, without being overly distracting or time consuming. Driving for Lyft in San Francisco is my solution, and I’ve racked up 1,000 rides thus far. I start my wheelman duties on Friday afternoon, and go until 1:00 AM. I take a quick slumber, and I’m back on the road at 7:00 AM for another full day.
I can usually fit in around 15 hours of drive time per week, while still keeping my Sunday open to relax and Monday through Friday to work on my startup. A typical weekend brings in about $500. It’s enough to support my current bare bones lifestyle.
As any creative entrepreneur might do in my place, though, I leverage my driving time. I use it as a way to promote my startup, garner feedback, and have general conversations about the approach. But, I’m very careful to avoid being aggressive or spammy. It’s all about having natural conversations that make my passengers feel comfortable.
It’s no coincidence that the majority of my passengers are involved in the tech scene in some way. I mean, come on…it’s San Francisco. Most people want to talk about this stuff. Startup life is all encompassing, and many residents live, sleep, breathe, and eat it here. In addition, my startup is in the sharing economy space. Lyft passengers in particular are inherent supporters of the industry, so it makes my product even more relevant. A startup about sanitation analytics, for example, would probably not be received as well.
So how do I bring it up? Very, very organically. I understand that first and foremost, I provide a great experience for my passenger. This isn’t a no- holds-barred opportunity to inundate my passenger with spam. Usually within a few stoplights, this is how the conversation goes:
Passenger: “So do you drive Lyft full time, or do you do something else?”
Me: “Ya, I actually do this just on Friday evenings and Saturday. During the week, I work full time on my startup.”
Passenger: “No way! Can you tell me what it is?”
Me: “Of course! It’s called Whttl. Think of it like the Kayak.com for the sharing economy.”
Now, it isn’t an opportunity to ramble an elevator pitch just yet. I’ll let the passenger dictate the conversation based on their level of engagement or inquisition.
But something amazing usually happens. They light up. “That’s so cool! Tell me more,” they say. At that point, it’s pretty easy to go a little bit more in depth. Even so, I’ll let them do most the talking. I want to hear their thoughts, feedback, questions, and criticisms. And trust me, this is not challenging to do. When given the opportunity, people in general find it very empowering to be given the proverbial mic. They feel ecstatic to contribute.
Near the end of our ride, I’ll give them a little paper card so they can remember to check it out. After a collaborative Friday workday a few weeks ago, I told my cofounder Tim that I was going to go Lyft. He said, “Dude, I’m going to make you some business cards!” His creative vision manifested to produce these little clever gems:
By the end of the ride, three things have happened:
- The passenger feels great. They were just introduced to a new startup, and they feel like they’ve heard about it first before their friends. They feel like their input was heard, and had fun providing feedback and enjoyed the conversation.
- I’ve got another potential user and a new brand advocate. Without being spammy or pushy, I have someone genuinely interested in what we are building, and they’ve shared some valuable feedback with me.
- Oh yeah, and that whole transportation thing happened, too.
I’ve had passengers suggest features that we later rolled out, give me valid tips on promotion, and even email me their resume for when we start hiring!
But there are a few rules that I abide by. Not every passenger wants to talk about startups or tech. I read the situation to assess if it’s appropriate to go down this conversational path. If the subject matter meanders away from the startup, I don’t force it back. Also, it’s a different approach when dealing with rides of 2 or more people. Solo riders are very engaging and conversational. However, when it comes to couples or groups, they sometimes want to chat amongst themselves, which is totally understandable.
I hope to give you a Lyft someday soon. If I do, feel free to bypass the formalities, since you’ll already know what I do full time!
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Greg Muender is the cofounder of Whttl, described as the “Kayak.com for the sharing economy.” Use it to compare dozens of different providers and marketplaces at once, including RelayRides, DogVacay, and HomeJoy. Drop Greg a line via greg<at>whttl/dot/com. Read more posts like this on the the Official Whttl Blog.