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Eleanor Pringle

Lyft's new CEO says his strategy is to 'copy' Jeff Bezos

Lyft CEO David Risher. Right: Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (Credit: Left: Courtesy of Lyft; Right: Karwai Tang—WireImage/Getty Images)

Lyft's latest CEO David Risher may have left Amazon more than 20 years ago—but his work on the platform is immortalized with a personalized thank you note from Jeff Bezos, still available on the online giant's site.

It's this proximity to Bezos—who is worth some $133 billion, according to Forbes—that Risher is hoping to capitalize on in his latest role.

Risher says he wants to copy his former boss's approach to customer service guided by a principal of "outsourcing stress" from consumer to businesses.

It's a turnaround that can't come soon enough for the embattled transportation provider, which has lost 90% of its market value since going in public in 2019.

Since taking on the San Francisco-based company last month, Risher has had to make some unpopular decisions, including laying off 1,000 members of staff—equivalent to 26% of the workforce.

His onboarding has prompted the departure of two of the company's co-founders from their day-to-day roles: Logan Green, Lyft’s former chief executive, and John Zimmer, its former president, moved from their hands-on roles to the company's board of directors.

Lyft announced its first product update under Risher for the first time last week—an airport pre-booking system which customers can confirm as soon as the craft touches down.

It's then over to the business to account for how long it will take for its customers to get through baggage claims, immigration and passport control, and any other delays, while ensuring the car is outside for the consumer when they exit the airport.

The aim is simply to make life easier for its customers, Risher told CNN: “Our focus right now as summer travel begins is really de-stressing the airport experience in particular,” he said, and this focus will be the new guiding principal for the business.

“You can outsource a lot of that stress to us, that’s what we want to do. And that really is Jeff Bezos," he explained. “I’m just copying his strategy that worked pretty well for Amazon. I think it can work pretty well for Lyft and our customers.

“We’re going to focus on customers. That’s a fundamental, just truth of business—if you can create a business that, really, your customers love, you can do amazing things for the world.”

Customer obsession

Amazon's so-called "customer obsession" has been at the heart of the company since 1997, with Bezos writing to shareholders the day of the launch: "We set out to offer customers something they simply could not get any other way."

And Risher was part of that cohort—he was Amazon's 37th employee—with his thank you note from Bezos reading: "David, from the store launches you oversaw to your focus on customer experience, you've been a big part of what we've built."

Like his former colleagues at Amazon, Risher also isn't afraid to reduce headcount to be a "strong player".

In March this year Amazon announced 9,000 layoffs on top of the 18,000 confirmed earlier in the year.

Of Lyft's own staff cuts of more than 1,000 colleagues, Risher said: "It was a very, very tough decision and a tough, you know, set of days and weeks to go through, of course. Nobody likes it. But it’s also really important for us to be a strong player.”

The Uber question

Risher admitted Lyft had suffered a difficult few years, saying something "went wrong" for the business during the pandemic.

Questioned on whether he had been appointed to ready Lyft for a sale, Risher—co-founder of reading platform Worldreader—said he was not focussed on becoming "part of somebody else’s company".

Although rival Uber had a similarly bumpy lockdown while customers were forced to stay in their homes, that platform has insisted it has bounced back, beating forecasts with its 2022 financial year results which revealed its highest ever quarterly and full-year revenue.

Instead of pushing to replace Uber in the number one spot, Risher propositioned Lyft as an alternative to its $77.82 billion counterpart: “My view is every single person who’s a rider should have both apps on their phone, I really believe that, because sometimes you want a choice,” Risher explained.

"But then we want you to choose Lyft, and the reason we want you to choose Lyft is because we think we can provide a better experience.”

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