That One Weird Trick

Neil Shah, Lyft

What does Lyft do in your own words?

Lyft is improving people’s lives with the world’s best transportation. I’ve had the great luck to work at several mission driven companies and I can’t recommend it enough. On the first day of orientation at Lyft we visited one of the most expensive real estate properties in SF—it was a waterfront parking lot by the baseball stadium. We were asked to imagine a city built around people with parks not parking lots. I was instilled with a vision to change the world through better transportation – it’s powerful and incredibly motivating.

What do you do at Lyft?

Over the last few years I’ve moved into the trust & safety space, as a product manager. Specifically, at Twitter I worked on information integrity during the elections, now I build Identity products focused on a safer experience for riders and drivers.

What might be different about marketing car-sharing vs. other types of products/services?

Most tech companies are purely online and users can be anonymous, but at Lyft we have strangers riding in the car together. That difference changes how we approach building product, especially from a trust perspective. This is because the challenges of dealing with offline harm are high stakes. Another difference is the three sided marketplace: Lyft, riders, drivers – we’re constantly juggling and the complexity is not apparent until you’re face-to-face building product.

On your team, are you currently more focused on acquiring new customers or growing engagement of existing customers? What are you specifically focused on?

Being more focused on trust work, there are inevitable battles with growth opportunities. For example, if you require identity verification for safety, you’re adding friction to the experience which can cause acquisition tradeoffs. I’ve found that many times you can align interests by thinking about second order effects, for example, if you felt unsafe as a driver you might leave the platform – so if we added safety constraints on the rider side, say like checking for face masks, could that impact driver supply even if it meant losing some users? These are necessary and challenging questions to think through and I often put myself in the shoes of my counterparts in growth teams to ensure I understand where they are coming from.

How does your work contribute to building trust with users, in order to persuade them to use Lyft?

One of the most fun projects I worked on was building a way to book rides for other people. With rideshare apps it’s common to book a ride for someone else, but guess what—the driver doesn’t know that! So here they are trying to find you but it’s actually someone else–it can be a terrifying experience. So, with that in mind we set out to build foundational elements that could improve driver safety with the correct passenger pickup identity. Convincing a large group of people across 16 teams was no walk in the park, but we dug up business metrics related to things like cancellation rates and wrong passenger pickups that would likely improve with the product. By addressing concerns we were able to build and launch this feature which had great rider/driver impact as well as business impact.

How do you measure the impact of trust work?

It’s pretty difficult, but simplicity is key – you shouldn’t have to take more than 1-2 min explaining a metric, think of it as your elevator pitch. And in the long run, there should be an inarguable trust sentiment element, such as ‘drivers feel safer’. This can be harder to measure casually, however. In one project, I listed a number of future product concepts the company could unlock new business opportunities on the foundation we were creating. I highly recommend doing listening and vision tours to ensure alignment.

What was your time at Twitter like?

It’s hard to imagine, but back in 2015/16 the company was in a dire state–morale was low, attrition was high, the stock was low, and product leadership was a revolving door. Jack Dorsey gave the company and their employees a simple mission and purpose–’be the conversational layer of the internet’. Twitter didn’t really have an identity before that, it was really hard to explain the core strategy. I also learned that, at public companies, it’s easy to be short sighted with quarter to quarter planning. Jack has a very long term perspective and that can be a game changer in product work. I’m grateful for my time there and feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to work on information integrity there.

What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career so far? If none come to mind, what are you most looking forward to?

Most products we ship are fleeting, they’ll likely be gone in 7-10 years, if not sooner. There was a project I was so proud of at Twitter, then someone went and killed it a few months back. Things change, right? So instead of pointing to specific projects, I’ve been searching for lasting impact. One way is by giving back to the community, by helping folks start their careers in product management and advising minorities/women negotiate for higher compensation (via 81cents, tip: ask for more). This has by far been the most rewarding experiences for me. I’ve had the luck of some great mentors along with my decade in product and tech and I’m really happy to be able to pass some of that knowledge along–please reach out!

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