If you’ve ridden the New York City subway in the last two months, you know Lucas. You might hate him, but you know him. He’s the mustachioed man who stares at you from subway ads, never quite smiling, under a declaration of stuff he does: Lucas buys a round, Lucas takes the stairs, Lucas uses Venmo.
Lucas’s favorite money exchange app, Venmo, is what he and his blank expression are attempting to advertise. But with vague messaging and those empty eyes, the campaign, which a Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesperson told Fast Company likely cost somewhere between $200,000 to $350,000, has drawn extreme reactions from subway riders, many of whom despise the Lucas ads. Who is Lucas? What is Venmo? Why is his half-stache so creepy? The ads have created more confusion than awareness, as billboard advertising expert (and self-professed Venmo fan) John Laramie explained to Valleywag. “I should give a fuck that Lucas likes magic? Oh wait, I like magic, so maybe I’ll like Lucas, which means then I should try Venmo?”
Fast Company recently spoke with Lucas himself (sort of) to get to the bottom of the ads. Venmo’s PR people wouldn’t let us have direct access to the local celeb, probably because of the negative energy surrounding his face. But, we were allowed to submit a few vetted questions to Lucas via email. Through his presumably highly edited answers, we learn about how Lucas won the honor of having his face plastered all over the city’s well-trafficked underground tunnels, what’s up with his facial-hair situation, and how it feels to be notorious.
FAST COMPANY: First things first, who are you? What’s your role at Venmo? How long have you worked there?
LUCAS CHI: I’m a software engineer at Venmo, and I work on the Devops team. I’ve been here for about four months now.
Okay, on to the ad: How did you get to be the face of the Venmo campaign?
Mostly luck; I was just in the right place at the right time. Iqram, one of our cofounders, spotted me making coffee for myself in the morning after an uninspiring meeting with an ad agency and had one of those moments of clarity. Apparently “Lucas uses Venmo” has a good cadence.
Why didn’t you guys decide to hire someone outside of the organization?
I can only guess at the answer to this, but probably because it adds a layer of complexity to the ad. I think it’s interesting to find out that Lucas is actually an engineer who works at Venmo.
We’ve heard your face is also plastered around the Venmo office; how did that happen? Was that part of the inspiration?
We put up posters after the ads were rolled out, mostly for decoration. I think it’s nice to have an office filled with things that we created ourselves, but I tend to avoid my own stare(s).
Do you ever get recognized?
Surprisingly, yes. I’ve had double takes on the subway, people approach me in the gym, and people yelling after me in dim sum restaurants.
Do people ever heckle you or ask you for your autograph?
I’m not sure if I’ve ever been asked for an autograph, but usually people will ask for pictures.
Have you ever overheard anyone talking about you/the ad on the subway?
A few times.
What have they said?
The most interesting piece of conversation was something I overheard a man asking some coworkers of mine. After finding out that they worked for Venmo he asked, “How did he get his mustache like that? Did he go through and pluck every other hair? It’s just so … sparse.”
How does it feel to have your face all over New York City? Is it distressing or invigorating? (I imagine it’s something like hearing your voice on a recording…)
I can’t really look at the ads for too long without laughing. It doesn’t distress me but looking at them does make me feel really self-conscious.
Do you regret it?
Of course not; it is the absolute funniest thing that has ever happened to me. It’s still crazy to think that there are posters of me all over the city just staring off into space with that mustache (if I can call it that).
Have you been surprised by the strong reactions people have had to the campaign?
Not really, I think the ads are very different from what you would normally see on the subway.
Do you regret your facial hair choice?
I didn’t have a choice. We shot the ads during Movember.
Do you take the stairs?
I live in a walk-up in Brooklyn.
So, who is Lucas? A clean-shaven tech dork who thinks he’s lucky to have a ubiquitous, albeit maligned mug. (Also, ed note: he double spaces after his periods.)