Photo of Lyft Driver

Matt Earnest, El Disco Lyft, gave a fireside chat at Joshua Fechter’s SF Growth Marketing Meetup.  It was sponsored by GrowthX Academy and the interview was by our own Adam Wald, who was another early Lyft employee.

Matt’s aha moment came at Lyft when he discovered the Positivity Factor.

“It is not what you say, but how you say it.”

Matt lived this principle as one of the first 10 Lyft drivers. While waiting hours for the next customer, he obsessed over how to make the experience more interesting for riders. He transformed his Prius into a rolling disco party. He would pull up to events that were ending, jump out and start performing, while a friend would pass out Lyft promo codes. Word of mouth spread and people started calling Lyft’s headquarters asking how they could get the disco Lyft. It became the equivalent of winning the Lyft lottery. Matt was hired on to help spread Lyft across multiple markets.

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When asked about mistakes he sees companies make, he replied:

“One thing a lot of companies do is that they get lost in the boardroom and the pitch of their own product to the investors. They forget about being relevant to their targeted personas.”

One thing that came across loud and clear in his talk is Matt’s willingness to do the hard work of talking to people about a product.  He does this before the pitch is worked out, in order to discover what resonates with different customer segments.

He recently helped Bistro, a startup that turns your cell phone into a drive through window.  He had them set up at two different food locations.  He then took hundreds of Lyft/Uber rides back and forth between the locations.  Each time he would demonstrate the app to the driver, showing them how it works, while simultaneously learning how to talk about the product to a real person.  By the end of the experiment, they had gone from 14 orders a week to close to 200. But more importantly Bistro now knows how to tell people what they do.

Everyone wants to skip this step of early experimentation.  It is so painful to talk to the first 50 customers when you don’t know what you are doing.  When we were launching an affiliate program for our dating site in 1996, no one had ever heard of online dating, much less affiliate marketing on the Internet.  I called the first 200 website owners and stumbled through trying to figure out our pitch.  What did we need to say that would get them excited about adding online personals to their product? It was completely deflating initially because no one was interested.  But one conversation at a time, I learned what to say and how to say it.  Affiliates ended up being 80% of our revenue by the time we sold.

You can’t hide from your users if you want to get from 0 to the first 1,000 avid users.  Do the hard work of talking to strangers about what you are offering.  Play with you positioning and language. Don’t be afraid to create a disco Lyft experience. Remember that when you don’t have any customers, you have already failed by default. The only thing that can change that is radical experimentation until you find something that resonate.

I enjoyed Matt’s talk.  He has tremendous drive and determination. I’m looking forward to seeing his next projects and how he will connect to people to technology to make their lives more interesting.  You can see the full video below.