You Never Get a Second Chance to Make a First Impression [UPDATED]

A few weeks back I wrote about becoming a so-called Lyft pioneer and how nice it is of wealthy individuals and institutions to subsidize my taxi rides, among other things, by investing in companies that will more or less pay people to be their first customers.

The Lyft pioneer promotion, which included a bunch of free rides. was all part of Lyft's launch in New York City. The goal was to help them catch up with Uber and make their little pink balloon the icon I seek out when I just can't be bothered to stand on a street corner and hold out my hand. How'd it go?

Yes, I can complain about free

Assuming Lyft has a good idea of conversion rates and lifetime value of their Pioneers the plan makes some sense but at the end of two weeks I ended up down on Lyft. The problem I encountered went to the core of their offering and, I would think, entirely avoidable.

Almost every time I tried to get a car and claim a free ride it took multiple requests before a Lyft driver finally took the job. Delivering rides on demand is pretty core to a company that delivers rides on demand and it seems to me that they lost sight that fact when they designed this promotion.

An avoidable mistake?

Lyft's been operating for a while and they must know their ideal ratio of drivers to riders. They must also have known that offering up tons of free rides would raise demand; I mean, that was the whole point of giving them away. Despite having an operating history and knowing with some precision the number of drivers and the number of riders they still failed to balance their most important equation and I ended up having bad experience after bad experience. Which is a long way of saying that my impression of Lyft is a company that can't deliver its key value proposition.

The irony is that Uber, Lyft's rival, faced a major backlash last winter when they balanced the same equation by raising prices during periods of high-demand. It turns out that the only thing worse than having to pay a higher price for a ride is not being able to cash in on a free one.

[update] BUT WHAT ABOUT MVPS?

I'm well aware of the whole MVP (Minimum Viable Product) concept and think that Lyft failed at delivering even minimum functionality. (The MVP idea In a nutshell is that companies should release new products once they have fundamental core features, despite the fact that they may still have flaws, bugs, imperfections, etc, so that they can quickly start learning from real-world users and ensure that the next rounds of releases are being driven by users' actual needs.)