Last month, I woke up in the middle of the night with a data visualization idea in my head. Instead of working from another spreadsheet where data had already been compiled, I thought it would be interesting to make the data more “alive” by going out and collecting it myself.
I signed up with Lyft, uploaded my driver’s license, insurance info and agreed to a background check and I was off and running, err, driving, within a day or so.
I love meeting new people, can talk with almost anyone and am extremely energized by good conversation, however, I must admit I was unusually nervous the first evening I turned the app on and waited for the “ding” signaling my first rider was ready to be paired with a driver.
I continued to remain a bit nervous for the first two or three days giving passengers rides, but quickly settled into the grind and routine of being on the service end of the gig economy of ride sharing. By the second week, I felt like a seasoned pro, taking shortcuts, providing local dining recommendations, hopping out to open doors and load luggage. By the third week, I turned down my first drunk ride (someone covered in vomit who I was not letting into the car I drive to work and shuttle kids in throughout the day) and had upgraded to providing complimentary water and mints to all riders.
On it’s promotion page to attract new driver’s (at least when I signed up), Lyft declares drivers in the Tampa area can “earn up to $20/hour”. My experience was a little short of this. On “normal” days I averaged between $15-$17 an hour. On “busy” days (i.e. Friday and Saturday nights) I averaged between $20-$25 an hour. On “surge” nights (I only experienced one such night – the Ed Sheeran concert at Raymond James stadium) I hauled down a little over $50 an hour for a 2.5 hour period after the concert was over.
Some more general observations (much of which will be going into the data visualization I saw in my head):
1. Most people are really nice.
2. Most people are working really hard. About 10% of the passengers I picked up were going from their first job, to their second job. This blew my mind and greatly surprised me.
3. Most people are very conversational, especially if you can get them talking about things they are interested in and passionate about.
4. About 25% of people tip. Surprisingly, the more affluent riders tipped significantly less frequently than the more “blue collar” riders.
5. The diversity of people’s backgrounds and experiences is AMAZING. (On a random philosophical side note, it’s why I think Jordan Peterson’s critique of post-modernism is so on point, namely, (but paraphrasing) when he says group identity is a fool’s game because it is impossible to account for the infinite number of individual differences between all people. A quick sample of people I gave rides to: business owners, felons who can’t get a driver’s license, disabled people who can’t drive, wildly successful CEOs, traveling salespeople, domestic tourists, international tourists, university students, high school students, wedding and funeral attendees (two different rides), doctors, a rider who didn’t speak English (we communicated through Siri translating for us – quite fun!), Kim Kardashian wannabes, and a rider who ended up being coworkers with one of my closest friends of nearly twenty years. There were certainly others, but these are the ones that immediately come to mind.
6. The cost of gas is roughly 15% of total revenue. So if you make $100 in revenue, it’s going to cost you about $15 in gas (at least this was the case for our 2017 Honda Pilot which averaged just over 19.5 mpg).
7. Miles add up QUICK. This discovery was perhaps the most startling to me. In the 3 weeks I gave rides, I averaged 1,000 miles per week. That’s a massive amount of miles, especially, considering I was only doing this 3-4 hours a day at most. I can’t imagine the number of miles full-time drivers must be compiling on a weekly basis.
8. Giving long rides were the most profitable per ride, however, they significantly lessened the rides per hour, as getting back to the destination you started from takes a long time, and once you’re far from the metropolitan hubs of downtown Tampa, USF, South Tampa, etc, finding rides was difficult. Clearwater was the worst, because if you didn’t get a ride before you hit one of the bridges crossing the Bay back to Tampa, you were not getting a ride until you got back to Tampa.
9. The organic flow of where your rides take you when the app is on is very unpredictable. There were nights when all I did was give rides in the downtown Tampa area. Another night, I started in downtown Tampa, ended up in St. Pete Beach and couldn’t get away from St. Pete Beach for the next 3 hours. I finally worked my way back to Gandy and 4th Street in St. Pete, and a rider popped up…who was heading straight back to St. Pete Beach! Another night, I started in downtown Tampa, ended up in Riverview, where I gave rides for 2.5 hours, then picked someone up who was heading back to downtown Tampa, within 1/2 mile of where I started.
10. Most people could not believe that I was driving purely out of curiosity and because I am energized by meeting people.
11. Profile pictures matter (at least sometimes). Three separate rides (all groups of younger women out partying) mentioned to me that they cancelled previous rides “because the driver’s profile picture looked sketch”, until they found a driver profile pic “who looked like a dad” (because in their experience dads “were responsible” and far less likely to “be creepers”).
12. This was the second “funnest” job I’ve ever tried (a close second to being a certified forklift driver at a large global retailing warehouse). But, just like the certified forklift driving job, the opportunity cost of forfeiting design, software and data visualization income is too significant to rationally justify embarking on it in more than a limited, part-time capacity. I did not do it long enough to collect sufficient data, however, I’m guessing the cumulative cost of the wear and tear (frequent oil changes, tires, maintenance, etc) would be quite substantial (although I’m also guessing the $0.55/mile tax write off would eventually neutralize much of the wear and tear costs too.)
So, will I continue to give rides? Short answer is, yes, absolutely! But only as:
a) a periodic efficiency increaser that fills spare time (during kid’s basketball practice, early morning 4am-6am airport runs while family is still sleeping, etc) or replaces some meaningless leisure time (i.e. a Netflix replacement), which I actually did a YouTube video on showing the cumulative impact of replacing two hours of Netflix with two hours of Lyft, resulting in a $76,000 reduction in mortgage cost.
b) a periodic cause and effect reinforcer. The importance of this, especially for entrepreneurs, is that sometimes we need a morale boost that effort results in direct income. Lyft is the perfect pick-me-up on this front. When the reward of entrepreneurial efforts are delayed or in limbo (accounts receivable, R&D phases, holidays, waiting for a partnership to come through or a proposal to be signed, etc) there is something incredibly cathartic about turning the app on and it resulting in instant revenue. There is also something very reviving about seeing the immediate reward of hustling correlating directly with instant revenue – again, something that not always is present in entrepreneurial life. The highlight for me was the Ed Sheeran concert. I didn’t have to go out from 10:30pm-1:00am, but I did, made $50/hour with some nice tips, and consequently had my hustle gene reinvigorated, which, at least for me, directly translated to my primary business endeavors the next day.
I’ve been asked a lot by friends if I would recommend becoming a shared driver. My answer has been, “If you enjoy meeting people, have flexibility in your schedule to give it a try, and approach it as an experiment or efficiency increaser, you should be fine – just be sure to avoid the late night party pukers.”