Millennial Think Tank: Uber, Lyft & Collaborative Economies

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Last week it was standing room only as we tackled collaborative economies with a focus on transportation; definitely a topic that excites Millennials as we had people clamoring to be on the hangout. Our panel consisted of:

  • Samantha Estoesta, a young Millennial working in Public Interest Research and published poet
  • Kelsey Pollack, a mid-Millennial working in Academia – Cat Owner
  • Kiernan McGinnis, a young Millennial, 3rd year student at Lehigh University, English Lit. Major
  • Albert Qian, a young Millennial working in Silicon Valley
  • Paige Sandhu, a younger Millennial working in Visual Design
  • Joe Cardillo,  an older Millennial, Content and Analytics specialist

A collaborative economy is a “powerful movement that shifts power away from corporations.” Uber, Lyft, Sidecar and other alternatives to taxis are transforming the transportation industry. Before we dive into the discussion, consider these facts:

  • Despite a waive of negative PR, Uber has raised $3.3 Billion in venture capital.
  • Both Uber and Lyft have been the focus of lawsuits in many cities and counties in the US.
  • There is a potential class action against Uber in Boston for endangering its drivers.
  • Uberpop, the company’s less expensive version, has been banned in Paris where taxi licenses run around $300K.

All but 2 of our Millennials have used Uber or Lyft, some of them doing so weekly; they all had opinions on the subject.

How do you differentiate between Uber and Lyft?

Albert uses Uber a lot because he had coupons earned by the numerous  Facebook friends of his who join Uber. He is impartial to either company, but sees Lyft as the ‘happier, more cheerful’ company. Uber has a more upscale vibe to it; Lyft feels cheaper. He would choose Lyft first due to cost.

Paige was a dedicated Uber user, but because her friends started using Lyft frequently, she tried it out and now uses it 70% of the time. They shifted away from Uber because they had bad experiences with reckless, rude drivers. Lyft drivers know the roads of San Francisco better – many of them are natives. Often her Uber experiences have been GPS reliant, or, the driver asked her for directions.

Joe does not use either service often because he bikes and walks everywhere. His experiences echo both Paige and Albert, including his friends who drive for both companies. Kelsey uses Lyft exclusively because a friend is a community manager at the company. She describes Lyft as a “ride with a friend,” saying that Millennials are searching for a personalized service. She and her husband decided to be a one car family and supplement their travel with Lyft.

The Fist Bump Culture

Lyft has a fun and cool branding direction, and Albert told us that drivers fist bump their passengers, offer food and water to their drivers, and make it a friendly experience. Our panel all liked this aspect tremendously.

How do you commute?

ALL of our panelists except our college student owns a car and it is the primary commuting option.

When do you use Lyft of UBer?

Albert uses them as taxi service in the city, and to and from the airport. Samantha uses a co-op taxi company; you buy a membership and get a discounted service and know that your driver is getting paid a decent salary.  Paige uses both services late at night when she needs to get a ride quickly and not wander around looking for a taxi.

When I asked if it safety, convenience and price  were the primary factors in choice:

Paige said it depended upon the time of the day; she chooses them for safety late at night, but normally convenience is the primary factor in her decision. She does feel that taxis are safer. Her family is very concerned about her safety when using these services and try to discourage her from using it.

Kelsey named safety as the number one reason, and price second. She does not feel that a cab is safer. Samantha DOES feel that cabs are safer because the drivers are licensed and checked, and the driver can be reported.

Albert pointed out that you can see the rating of your driver when you use Uber; he does wonder what it would be like a woman getting into a stranger’s car. Joe would put convenience, first.  Not surprisingly, safety was the most important factor for all of the women on our panel.

Imagined Economies

Kiernan referenced a book by Benedict Anderson called Imagined Communities, describing the rise of nationalism via print media, the vernacular language and newspapers that made people feel ‘American.’ As technology and its uses expand, so do imagined communities. He sees these imagined communities, like Uber,  actually becoming REAL communities when the driver pulls up. You can request the driver digitally, seeing him as a blip on a screen and he then shows up in real life. The consumers in the community have taken it upon themselves to interact with each other and advise each other on their experiences.

In the past Marketers sold to imagined communities, but the members of those communities had no interaction or knowledge of each other. In the new Imagined Communities, like people who write Amazon reviews,  members aren’t doing it because Amazon is paying them.. they’re doing it for the other members of the community. The collaborative economy is the ultimate manifestation of imagined communities becoming real, outside of the confines of what marketers, governments, or corporations want.

Kiernan’s eloquence on these new communities reminded me of a conversation in Albert’s Job Listings and Referrals, a community our own Albert Qian built on Facebook. When Albert posted a job opening at Uber, a passionate discussion arose, with most Millennials defending Uber loudly. When I asked: hey, isn’t GenY the generation that cares so deeply about brand ethics, Albert pondered: perhaps if this was a traditional (i.e. older, established) company, we wouldn’t care so much. Kiernan pointed out that when you criticize and Uber driver, you aren’t really criticizing the company.. you’re getting angry at the relationship you are having within that community.

Kiernan would feel more angry at the other members of the imagined community who didn’t give honest ratings. Kiernan asked:

In a collaborative economy, is it the fault of the overarching institution, organization, or corporation, or is it the fault of the people on the ground.

Joe, who worked for Visualy, said that Kiernan put his finger on the problem that collaborative economies face. If something is screwed up, you don’t really care about if it is the individual designer or driver’s fault; you just want it to work well and you want to be safe. What good is rating someone if my personal safety isn’t assured. On the other hand, we want to hold people accountable.

When is the community to blame?  Samantha referenced a community she participates heavily in around Sephora, where she is a vip, the members of the community feel that it is there responsibility to make good recommendations, and the other members of the community get angry about faulty recommendations.

Do brand ethics matter with Uber/Lyft

Paige initially shifted away from Uber due to personal experience, but said that the bad press that has been coming out cemented her preference for Lyft. Uber practices in other cities and countries has affected her choice.

Albert had a more subtle reaction to the bad press, but his own wallet also comes into play. He sees himself as an ethical guy, but he is also a pragmatist; he doesn’t see every single purchase he makes as an ethical statement. Albert also touched on the individual stories for Uber drivers; his last driver was earning money to pay for his engagement ring.

Joe talked about the value of experience weighing on his decision as well. Brand ethics weighs in when it comes to safety. Kelsey cares very much about the brand ethics when she chooses a service, but is even thinking about self driving cars of the future and how they are made. She only uses Lyft because it is also an anti-Uber statement.

What about shared space in transportation?

My colleague Susan Silver and I have had the pleasure of connecting with Dr.Federico Casalegno, the head of MIT’s Mobile Experience Lab, to discuss the work they’ve done.  To describe it in their own language:

“The MIT Mobile Experience Lab designs experiences that connect people, information, and places in meaningful ways.”

Learning about the lab left me wanting to know about personal space in transportation; as in – would you pay less for a shared Uber if it meant sharing a confined space with a stranger.

Samantha talked about her claustrophobia in travel, the issues that arise, and how that plays into her decision making on mode of transport.

Kiernan talked about his recent experience on Spirit Air, and about the value of personal space being evident when you can buy exit seat leg room for $25. He loves the fact that it is totally no frills and you can CHOOSE what you want to pay for. At well over 6 feet tall, he chooses to pay for the extra space if he can’t bribe the flight attendant with M&Ms.

The bus, where shared space is a definite, are still used widely by our panel because of the convenience and price.

The future of travel

Kelsey and her husband, who rely heavily on car service, foresees a time when they pay for a google car service on demand. Kiernan, half jokingly, foresaw drones to transport us.

The panel really perked up with the mention of Elon Musk and the hyperloop. Paige described herself as a ‘fangirl.’ She loves the futuristic aspect, and of course being an early user.


The primary takeaway from this hangout is that Uber, Lyft and collaborative car services are here to stay. There will of course be lawsuits and battles as established corporations seek to halt their progress, but with billions in venture capital and a very dedicated and enthused fan base, they will triumph.

Of course safety is a huge concern for consumers, especially women; the service that figures out how to better regulate for safety will be the winner.

Our pane of GenY are not car enthusiasts, but they all own automobiles because, at this point, other transportation services can’t cover ALL of their needs.

Next week we tackle other collaborative economies. Watch this space for updates.

Photo credit: JayW51 via photopin cc.

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