Having spent a decade as a high-level aide to politicians in Texas and California, Veronica Juarez knew a lot about government bureaucracy when she joined Lyft in 2013. But that hasn’t made her job easy: Juarez is steering the company through the endlessly complex array of local laws that dictate Lyft’s ability to do business.
Fast Company: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve dealt with at Lyft?
VJ: We really had to say, “OK, if we want to be successful, we are going to have to work with government agencies and elected officials–explain what we’re doing and then work to create new rules around that.” We now operate in over 60 cities. That’s meant growing a team from one–myself–to, now, a team of 24.
When Lyft started operating in Austin last year, it wasn’t legal. That has since changed, but it was a rocky start. Why was “launch first and ask forgiveness later” the best strategy?
We started to engage with the city of Austin two years prior to us entering the market. For a long time they were just not interested in having that conversation. It became clear last year that the city has some major challenges in regards to drunk-driving issues. The police chief went on the news and said: “We do not have enough options for people to get home after they’ve been drinking.” We started to say, “We are part of your solution.” When you ask a government for permission to do something that’s going to disrupt the status quo, the answer will always be “no” or “later.” Now these [ride-sharing] services have such a huge consumer demand. We said: “If you want to talk about the possibility of regulating us out of existence, that’s a conversation we are going to bring your constituents into.”
What are you hoping to accomplish next?
We don’t have rules and regulations [that make ride sharing legal] in every city or state that we operate in. That’s something we definitely want to do. It requires pushing a huge amount of education and collaboration and time and resources. We [need] to explain that we’re not here to replace existing transportation industries; we’re not here to replace public transit. We’re trying to build, for the first time, a dynamic carpooling network.
Where or how do you seek out creative inspiration?
I love modern art and the New Museum in New York. I was there recently and as I walked in, this woman comes out to the exhibit and she turns on this shower, it’s kind of a bed shower, and she just lies there. I was like, ‘What is going on?’, and everybody starts taking pictures and she stays there for like 10 or 15 minutes. I love that place and I love spending time learning about different kinds of art because I truly feel like my brain expands. I see things that I just never ever thought of. I think it really helps to force yourself into the situation and engage with somebody else’s thought process.
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
I’m up by 5:15 or 6 a.m., and I either run or do a spin class or a yoga class. It just really helps me focus and center myself. If a couple of days go by and I don’t do it, I’m crappy and upset and impatient and it’s just really hard for me to prioritize. So I really, really try even when I’m on the road.
What is one thing about your job that you think would surprise people?
I’ve worked in government for a decade, a lot of my colleagues do public policy, and I don’t know that people would realize just how entrepreneurial we are. Often times, we’re rewriting the rules so someone can do something different with their business, and what we are doing is truly creating something from nothing that nobody has done before. We are able to be incredibly creative about that process.
What’s your favorite Twitter or Instagram account and why?
I don’t know if it’s going to be too obvious but it’s true, I love Sheryl Sandberg, I love her Instagram. I know that she receives some criticism for her book and things she’s said, but the way I thought about it was, is that she is a person that we should have more of: women talking about their views on work and putting them out there. I think that’s awesome she took that risk, and said, ‘Hey, here’s a couple things I think based on my experience and business in the workplace.’ I love that her celebrity platform brings awareness to other issues, and she’s continuously encouraging other women to just take advantage of opportunities.
Who outside of your field inspires you the most and why?
I learned a lot about how to do business from my father. He’s been a plumber for decades and he’s extremely straightforward and forthright about everything he does. Personally, at work, in family matters, he’s constantly negotiating things within our family because we have a large family and there are usually issues to figure out. He always stays true to who he is and in his values. Working in politics, it is so easy to lose sight of that, as there’s always a deal to be made, there’s always something to exchange and there’s always something to negotiate. When you are doing this all the time, every day, for an industry that’s so new and didn’t exist before, it could be incredibly easy to kind of get lost in that deal-making. I’ve had so many people tell me, ‘Wow, I really appreciate your candor’ or ‘I really appreciate how frank you are. Like, yeah, that’s how we do business. This is what we would like to work out with you. Let’s figure it out.’