San Francisco-based ride-hailing service Lyft has enlisted a big-name local entrepreneur in its drive to challenge Uber for supremacy in the Ottawa market.
Rob Woodbridge assumed the role of Lyft’s market manager for the Ottawa region last month. A founder of several communications and tech startups in his 25-year business career, Woodbridge had previously spent the past two-and-a-half years as CEO of local tech venture Gymtrack.
Lyft arrived in Ottawa last March, becoming the company’s second expansion site outside the United States after Toronto. But Woodbridge says he was a fan long before then, having used Lyft’s service regularly during business trips down south.
“I was already a brand advocate,” the 48-year-old Ottawa native says. “I loved the brand, loved what it stood for. Then the opportunity just landed.”
Lyft works like Uber: Users download an app to their mobile phone, enter a payment method such as a credit card and then use the app to request a ride from a nearby driver. Launched in 2012, the service now operates in more than 300 U.S. cities in addition to Ottawa and Toronto.
Woodbridge says he was struck by Lyft’s commitment to hiring experienced drivers via a rigorous screening process and building a rapport with the markets it serves through initiatives such as its Community Grants program, through which it donates $1,000 worth of ride credits to a different local non-profit organization every month.
“I just think that really, when it comes to what Lyft stands for in everything … the ideology behind the company, putting the drivers on a pedestal, putting the riders on a pedestal, really adhering to regulations and the laws … it really resonated,” he explains. “I think that this city is ripe for that. There’s such a perfect alignment between the ideology of Lyft and the ideology of the city of Ottawa. It was a no-brainer for me.”
Woodbridge, who’s also had stints as an entrepreneur-in-residence at Invest Ottawa and a senior executive at Terry Matthews’ Wesley Clover investment company, says he threw his hat into the ring as soon as he heard Lyft was looking for someone to lead its operations in the capital.
"It was me basically begging to be a part of this because I just wanted to make this work in Ottawa."
“It was me basically begging to be a part of this because I just wanted to make this work in Ottawa,” he says with a chuckle.
“I have been founder, co-founder, CEO, VP, whatever. You can name a title, I’ve had it. And when the Lyft opportunity presented itself to me, it didn’t matter to me what the role was. I could have literally been a driver, I could’ve cleaned waste bins – it wouldn’t have mattered. What I just wanted to make sure was that I was a part of this company.”
According to Aaron Zifkin, managing director of Lyft’s Canadian operations, the admiration is mutual.
“Rob is as passionate about the community as he is about Lyft’s mission, making him the ideal person to represent the company and grow our business in Ottawa,” Zifkin says.
As market manager, Woodbridge will be in charge of expanding Lyft’s ridership share in Ottawa and convincing more drivers to join the platform, which faces stiff competition from its more-established rival, Uber.
He wouldn’t say how many drivers the service currently employs in the region, saying only that the number has risen tenfold since the service launched while the number of passengers is doubling every month.
Whether it’s through more traditional forms of advertising or through drivers telling their friends about job opportunities at Lyft – referrals are the platform’s No. 1 method of finding new vehicle operators – Woodbridge says he knows his mission.
“We have to build that network up. It’s driver-by-driver.”
The firm currently has three full-time employees in Ottawa, including Woodbridge. As a man who’s made a career of launching his own ventures, he says he’s used to running a lean operation.
“This is a role that’s ideally suited for me – a small team, big mandate and a community that’s willing and ready for Lyft to arrive,” he says.
The graduate of Algonquin College’s small business management program says he’s also hoping to soak up some of the entrepreneurial wisdom that has propelled Lyft from a small ride-sharing service to a billion-dollar multinational enterprise in just half a dozen years.
“How often do you get the chance to work for a Silicon Valley startup that is coming into Ottawa just like this? I get to bring that knowledge up here into the city.”