Lyft Hires Facebook, Nike Executives in Push to Challenge Uber

Lyft Inc. hired two vice presidents with experience at consumer giants Facebook Inc. and Nike Inc., doubling the ride-sharing startup’s executive team in six months as it mounts a challenge to Uber Technologies Inc.

Brandon McCormick will join Lyft in mid-May to oversee corporate and consumer public relations. He worked at Facebook for six years, most recently leading communications for WhatsApp after the social network acquired the messaging application. Lisel Welden joined Lyft as vice president of brand marketing after working at Nike Inc. for more than a decade.

The new heads of communications and brand strategy will need to position Lyft, whose slogan is “Your friend with a car,” as a community-oriented alternative to better-funded competitor Uber, which has a more corporate image. McCormick and Welden will report to Lyft Chief Marketing Officer Kira Wampler, who joined the San Francisco-based startup in December 2014.

“We’re still so early,” Wampler said in an interview at Lyft’s headquarters on Harrison Street. Lyft, which was founded in 2012, recently re-introduced its brand, transforming the fuzzy pink mustache worn on its cars into a “glowstache.”

Riders are no longer required to fist-bump drivers or sit in the front seat. Moving away from those quirks shifted Lyft’s approach a bit closer to its rival Uber, whose slogan is “Everyone’s private driver.”

Earlier this month, Lyft named former Amazon.com Inc. executive Rex Tibbens as chief operating officer. Lyft is valued at more than $2.5 billion and has raised more than $860 million in financing. By comparison, Uber has raised more than $5 billion in funding and is valued at $40 billion.

New Customers

Now Welden, McCormick, Wampler and Lyft Creative Director Jesse McMillin will have to navigate how the company introduces itself to people who have never used a mobile ride-sharing application, while at the same time differentiating itself from Uber, the category leader by a mile.

In other words, Lyft’s marketing team will need to grapple with the friendliness question.

“On the negative side, friendliness has the perception of being a little soft,” Welden said, but “the friendliness piece is attached to the ethos of the company.”

Welden, who spent some time with the Air Jordan brand at Nike, said one byword that she started to use inside Lyft is “whimsy,” rather than something like “quirky.”

“It’s not about being weird,” she said. “It’s about being unique and distinct.”

For all the money pouring into Uber and Lyft, the competition is still in the early innings. The team acknowledges that the brand can still grow and change.

“I think that being a friendly brand is an asset, so I think it’s something we need to maintain,” McCormick said.

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