Lyft’s Kira Wampler and Brandon McCormick go as Raj Kapoor and Melissa Waters arrive.
Lyft, the ride-hailing company that has struggled to compete with Uber, has hired two new executives just as two of its top executives are leaving.
First the hires: Raj Kapoor of venture capital firm Mayfield Fund, which led Lyft’s series A round, is joining as the chief strategy officer; and Melissa Waters, the former vice president of brand and product marketing at Pandora, will become head of marketing.
Waters will be replacing the company’s chief marketing officer Kira Wampler, who is leaving to become the CEO of online art retailer Art.com. Wampler was previously at Trulia before joining Lyft in 2014.
According to a Lyft spokesperson, Waters was hired a “few weeks ago,” although the company learned of Wampler’s decision to leave the company only last week. Originally, Waters was slated to report to Wampler. Now that Wampler has decided to leave, Waters will report directly to company president John Zimmer.
“I’m excited for Raj and Melissa to join our executive team as we drive forward our next chapter of growth and scale,” Zimmer said in a statement. “Raj brings exceptional experience and energy to our overall strategy, and Melissa will take our brand and marketing results to the next level.”
Also leaving is vice president of communications Brandon McCormick. McCormick, who came to Lyft from Facebook where he was director of global communications, will be taking “personal time,” according to the company. Lyft said Sheila Bryson will be taking over as interim head of communications. “We thank both Kira and Brandon for their contributions to Lyft,” the company said in a statement.
The executive shuffle come as Lyft continues to lag its monied and aggressive competitor Uber. Fresh off the sale of its China arm, Uber has been freed up to focus its resources and time on forging ahead with its self-driving efforts, as well as scaling its business in its most important markets including the U.S. In other words, Uber has now has more dough and time to focus on beating Lyft.
That’s apparently part of why Lyft hired Kapoor as the chief strategy officer — a new role for the company. Presumably, though the company is growing it may not be able to catch up to Uber’s market share, but it can pursue new business ventures.
According to Kapoor, who spent one day a week at what was then Zimride when he was a board member, his role will be less about reacting to competition and more about expanding the company’s business beyond what it offers today.
“We’re at a point where the company just hit 1,500 people,” Kapoor told Recode. “We’re at a scale where the operation is going quite well and there is a massive opportunity around transportation alone, but there’s a lot more work that can be done.”
In that vein, Lyft has been working on scaling its enterprise business and diversifying its revenue stream with corporate partnerships with companies like HPE, Airbnb and Intuit. But the company is also exploring how to leverage its platform to help seniors and patients travel to and from their doctor’s appointments or to receive medical care.
Unlike Uber, however, the company has steered clear of offering on-demand delivery services.
Uber, which CEO Travis Kalanick said has 40 million monthly active riders, has been aggressive about both scaling its business both in the U.S. and internationally. Compare that to Lyft’s 3 million active riders in Feb. 2016. When it comes to expansion, Lyft has typically taken the wait-and-see approach often, not always, determining whether to enter a market based on how well Uber fared.
To an extent, it’s a smart strategy that has prevented the company from becoming embroiled in often unwinnable and expensive regulatory wars. It’s why the company chose to partner with China’s local ride-hail company Didi as opposed to entering the market like Uber did.
But it also can be a handicap for a company — valued at $5.5 billion — that is facing off against a take-no-prisoners company like Uber that is valued at $68 billion. It may be why Alphabet, Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon chose not to bid on Lyft — which was asking for $9 billion for a buyout — when the company solicited for competing offers after General Motors expressed interest in potentially buying the company.
Two years ago, Wampler told me that Uber and Lyft would eventually stop competing with each other because the companies are attempting to capture two very different markets. Uber, she said, was going after the $11 billion taxi and limo industry, while Lyft was going after the personal transportation market.
“We lead with ‘we want to reconnect people in communities,’” Wampler said. “We don’t lead with ‘better transportation,’ and that is on purpose. Transportation is better when you’re reconnected, you have a more welcoming, affordable, and memorable experience. You’re not anonymously sitting in a backseat — you’re actually enjoying the experience you have versus just getting delivered from one place to another.”
As the companies have evolved, however, the services and experiences and the industries Uber and Lyft are after are increasingly similar if not the same. So, it may no longer be enough to simply wait and see.