Lyft is by far the smaller of the two, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t as ambitious as Uber. The company isn’t talking about expansion. “As you may know, we’re currently in a quiet period, so likely can’t speak to future plans,” said Alex Rafter, product communications manager at Lyft.
Lyft clearly has further international designs, as well as some strategic overseas alliances, but CEO Logan Green and President John Zimmer appear to be in no hurry — and with good reason. Covering the globe hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for Uber.
The likely expansion markets for Lyft are Europe, China and Japan. Lyft’s largest shareholder is the Japanese e-commerce company Rakuten, and its CEO, Hiroshi Mikitani, is on the company’s board. Rakuten, the largest e-retailer outside China and the U.S., is a big investor in ride-hailing companies. It has shares in Indonesia’s Go-Jek and Cabify, which have operations in both Europe and Latin America, and in 2016 invested $350 million in Careem, a Dubai-based ride sharer.
Lyft claims to be the biggest operator of bike sharing — last year it bought Motivate, operator of such city services CitiBike in New York, Ford GoBike in San Francisco and Capitol Bikeshare in Washington, D.C. And bike sharing is huge in all of Lyft’s target markets.
So far, though, foreign expeditions haven’t gone all that well. In 2015, the company formed what some have called an “anti-Uber” alliance with Didi Chuxing, GrabTaxi in Southeast Asia and Ola in India. The roaming arrangement allowed users to reserve rides on each other’s platforms.
Lyft said at the time, “When we think about international expansion, we think about our community, and ensuring every passenger has access to safe, convenient, and reliable rides everywhere they travel. By establishing strategic partnerships with local market leaders Didi, GrabTaxi and Ola, we’re able to remove many of the pain points and language barriers that often come with foreign travel.”
But all three of the international partners were out of the deal by 2017. Lyft downplayed the significance, telling Mashable that none of the partners had been actively marketing the partnership.
Lyft opened a European office in Munich, Germany early last year, but that appears to be largely a hive for developing autonomous driving technology. Lyft has also had dialogue with Transport for London officials in 2016 and 2017.
Expansion into protectionist China was a costly failure for Uber, and some analysts think Lyft is going to move forward cautiously. “My guess is that they are in no immediate rush to grow outside of North America,” said Sam Abuelsamid, a senior analyst at Navigant Research. “They have witnessed the struggles that Uber has had in other markets with both competitors and regulators and they are more content with focusing first on building the business beyond a la carte ride-hailing in North America.”
Thanks in part to Zimmer’s Wall Street savvy, Lyft has raised more than $5 billion. It’s not undercapitalized. Just careful.
A smorgasbord of offerings could be a winning formula for Lyft internationally. “If they can find a path toward profitability by integrating subscriptions, micro-mobility, pooling and other revenue generators, then they might consider moving into overseas markets,” Abuelsamid said. “Without some means of building a self-sustaining business, they will just be following the Uber path of setting mountains of VC cash on fire.”