Can Lyft Pull an Avis?

Can Lyft survive as No. 2? What could make it No. 1? Or should it become a different product altogether? Those are the kinds of existential questions being hashed out in Lyft’s San Francisco headquarters, and among investors wondering whether to bet on the underdog.

Can Lyft Pull an Avis?

I don’t think Lyft has much of a chance if the industry stays in its current form. Almost every rider I talk to picks rides based on price (or perception of price), and Lyft will probably run out of cash faster than Uber. When that happens, their prices will go up and their ridership will go down.

Long term, it seems clear that the serious opportunity (the one that has Uber valued at $50+ billion) is with managed fleets of self-driving cars. These fleets will eventually supplant most private car ownership; they’d be too efficient and cost-effective not to!

If you don’t need a network of drivers and it comes down to capital investment, it seems plausible that there could be a handful of companies which split the market (probably along geographic lines: think Comcast & Time Warner).

I still wouldn’t be bullish on Lyft though. They’d need to survive for 10+ years (and presumably 20+ years for self-driving vehicles to be widely adopted), and the opportunity would be big enough that other companies would compete. In a world where transportation companies own their whole fleets and technology is the differentiator, I could imagine car companies (Tesla?) entering in a significant way.

You don’t know Lefsetz?

The line between an amateur and professional keeps blurring, but for me, the posture of understanding both the pioneers and the state of the art is essential. An economist doesn’t have to agree with Keynes, but she better know who he is.

If you don’t know who the must-reads in your field are, find out before your customers and competitors do.

Too much doing, not enough knowing.

You don’t know Lefsetz? from Seth Godin

So who are the must-reads in product management? There aren’t many that are product-specific. Marty Cagan’s writing maybe comes close, and there are seminal essays like Ken Norton’s “How to Hire a Product Manager.”

I think product might be a bit different because it sits at the intersection of so many different roles — you need to follow the must-reads in engineering, design, marketing, strategy, the broader tech-sector, and your specific industry.

Why good Product Managers are never busy

Good Product Managers understand that ‘busy’ is the enemy. They make busy a confession, not a boast…. As a Product Manager, it’s common to find oneself spread thinly and overwhelmed by tasks that don’t feel like ‘real’ work.

This is ironic as an ability to prioritise, stack rank and focus intensely on a single goal are critical skills that all Product Managers strive to develop.

Why good Product Managers are never busy from Pivot

Keeping tabs on the competition

ChangeDetection (and other sites like it) are a powerful tool for tracking what your competitors are up to.  While at RedLaser, I’d use this kind of tool to watch some of our competitors, and particularly their feature lists. Whenever they launched an update, I got a notification and it was far more reliable than Google Alerts.

If you’re trying to monitor your competition more broadly — think funding updates, acquisitions, or other major news — the best service I’ve seen (without a hefty fee, like Mattermark) is Owler. Owler has a number of frustrating UI bugs, but once you’ve subscribed to companies to follow, you can use it almost entirely by email, and it works really well.

An example of a recent message

Owler Email

How important is mapping?

… it emerged that Google Maps on iOS has only around 100m active users, out of a little over 400m iPhones and 650m total iOS devices in use today. This points both to the power of defaults and to the fact that, as I suggest here, maps in general probably aren’t as universal a use case as one might think. 

(From Benedict Evans)

These numbers don’t reflect map users — they just reflect map app users. If I stay in San Francisco, I rarely need to use a maps app (I know my town, I don’t need directions) but I can’t get away from maps on OpenTable, on Strava, on Instagram, on Swarm. These maps are important because location is important, and apps can’t tap into my eyes to identify the cross street.

I’m not sure the import for Google Services though; getting directions (with routing and traffic) seems to be the hardest part of Google Maps to replicate. Geocoding is a relatively simple problem; if good geocoding does most of what’s required for a mapping service, then replacing Google Maps (and probably all of Services) is a much simpler problem.