Last year, ride-hailing company Lyft differentiated itself from bad-publicity magnet Uber by playing up its social responsibility. Melissa Waters, who joined Lyft in 2016 from Pandora, oversaw a quirky brand campaign last October with Jordan Peele and Tilda Swinton piloting a space capsule and reminding riders that “it matters how you get there.” Waters also launched a “Round Up and Donate” campaign, giving Lyft riders the option to round up their fare to benefit any of a dozen charities, from Black Girls Code to the USO; since May 2017, more than 770,000 people have contributed more than $5 million. Over the past year, the company extended service to 54 additional U.S. cities, doubled its drivers to 1.4 million, provided rides to 92% more passengers (23 million), and surpassed $1 billion in annual revenue.
Fast Company: Why was the Jordan Peele/Tilda Swinton ad right for Lyft?
Melissa Waters: For this spot, we focused on the drivers. We’ve worked to treat them right since day one. We were the first to implement in-app tipping, same-day payments, low-cost car rentals.
FC: You’ve been expanding your brand partnerships recently. Can you describe some of the biggest?
MW: With Delta we’re [offering] an end-to-end experience where travelers can get off a plane and get a ride easily while [earning] points [for Delta miles]. With Taco Bell we’re trying to extend the night with Taco Mode [a feature within the Lyft app that allows passengers to get a free taco]. And with Disney we’re partnering on the Minnie Vans [Minnie Mouse-themed vans at Disney resorts]. These introduce Lyft to people who hadn’t heard of us or tried us yet.
FC: Why did Lyft decide to donate $1 million to the ACLU in January 2017 after President Trump ordered travel restrictions?
MW: [It] felt like a threat to our community, a threat to our drivers. We’ve always focused on doing business the right way.
Melissa Waters is No. 32 on the 2018 Most Creative People in Business list. Check out all 100 people here.