"Life gets better when you share the ride." That was the initial pitch from Lyft co-founders Logan Green and John Zimmer to venture capitalist Ann Miura-Ko, who became an early investor in the ride-hailing company and is about to see a huge return when Lyft launches its IPO next week.
Miura-Ko, a founding partner of VC firm Floodgate who has a Ph.D. in mathematics from Stanford, recalled that 2010 meeting, as well as other early encounters with startups and entrepreneurs and what she called a "quintessential Palo Alto moment" during an interview on the NBC Bay Area podcast "Sand Hill Road."
Miura-Ko said that in 2010, there were no real transportation startups, and it was an interesting time in which "investors were largely in the fetal position," as were a lot of entrepreneurs.
"I believe it’s in those moments that the truly original ideas emerge," she said.
Green and Zimmer were talking about transportation from two different perspectives, she said: Green had become fed up with traffic, and Zimmer approached it from a hospitality question and how transportation changes the social landscape.
Together, they were trying to figure out what would happen when social meets transportation.
"Their initial cut at it was selling a platform to universities to enable ride-sharing, and really this carpooling," Miura-Ko said. "And what I always loved about that initial pitch was there was this quote: 'Life gets better when you share the ride.' And that was literally from a customer.
"When we looked around at what other transportation startups there were, the only company we knew of was Zipcar, and I think that was the attraction. It felt like it was a huge space. It was a place where if something interesting happened, it would have massive ripple effects."
'What right did I have ...?'
A Ph.D. candidate at Stanford at the time, Miura-Ko had to ask herself what right did she have to be writing checks. But she was handed a checkbook to write out of a new fund called Floodgate, and then here comes two entrepreneurs with an idea and few options.
"The way I see it is we both grew up in the industry," she said. "I grew up as an investor alongside them growing up as entrepreneurs. So we both kind of needed each other in that moment. You hear so often about investors making a bet on the entrepreneur, and I really believe in this case, it was just as much John and Logan taking a real bet on me."
With the Lyft IPO around the corner, Miura-Ko was asked if there's an advantage to beating its main competitor, Uber, to the punch. She said she doesn't even think about it in that context and believes Lyft has always remained focused on its mission of being different, its culture and the experience it delivers.
"If you remember the early days, not only did you get to sit in the front, you would fist-bump the driver, you had the gigantic furry mustache on the front," she recalled. "The other thing was you would donate to the driver. You wouldn’t actually directly pay them – there was an optional donation. That was sorta how that experience started.
"I have a good friend, Christopher Lochhead, who is one of the very best marketers I know. He always said: 'Don’t be better, be different. Because different is memorable, different sticks and different matters.' I love that because that to me is the Lyft story."
A moment to remember
Miura-Ko grew up in Palo Alto and had an interesting encounter during her high school days when she was at friend's house getting her ready for the debate team.
"I was sorta helping this younger member get up to speed, and her father appears," Miura Ko recalled. "And her father was Steve Jobs. I remember putting all these things together and realizing who this person was. But for me that was a very quintessential Palo Alto moment."
More from Miura-Ko on ...
Early investment in Gurjeet Singh's Ayasdi: "I literally grabbed a checkbook where I wasn’t clear whether or not I was allowed to write checks of this size. But I wrote 'Ayasdi, $1 million,' and I signed my name, and ... I stayed outside of that classroom until he walked out. I said, 'Gurjeet, I’ll die a thousand deaths if you don’t let me invest in your company.' I’ll never forget it: He looked at me and said, 'Ann, I don’t even know what I’d do with that money. So I’ll promise that when the time comes, I’ll take money from you, but let’s figure out what we’re going to do with the investment first.'"
What to know about the Lyft IPO: "What I love about the vision for the future is that this kind of network transportation has the ability to create real human connections and through those experiences actually change the fabric of how our economy works."
What idea she wishes would walk through the front door: "One area that I've been thinking of incubating: How do you reinvent e-commerce as a mall on your phone? There are a few examples of companies trying to do this, but the way I envision it is I would want individuals to actually be curating product feeds and for me to be able to follow those individuals. I think that’s really important because shopping on your mobile phone for things that are aspirational or inspirational is very hard."