In 2011, Zimride raised $6 million. But as a web service, it was caught flat-footed by the rise of smartphones and mobile apps. In 2012, Mr. Green decided to spin out of Zimride a mobile, peer-to-peer ride-hailing service, calling it Lyft.
Instead of just pairing students for long-distance rides, Lyft would put drivers together with riders on public streets, in real time. Mr. Zimmer came up with the idea to emblazon the cars with pink mustaches; Mr. Green encouraged passengers to greet their drivers with a fist bump, to keep the community feeling of Zimride.
At the time, ride-hailing wasn’t legal, and only licensed drivers could pick up passengers on public streets. Ann Miura-Ko, a partner at the venture capital firm Floodgate, who had invested in Zimride and sits on Lyft’s board, recalled that some board members had been doubtful about the change — but that Mr. Green had been confident.
“Someone asked, ‘Will this really work?’ And he wasn’t just sure, he was positive,” she said.
But Mr. Green didn’t reckon with one issue: Uber. At the time, Uber, run by Travis Kalanick, had positioned itself as a luxury service for the wealthy that used only licensed drivers, unlike Lyft’s lower-cost service. In 2013, Uber published a white paper outlining the risks of peer-to-peer ride-hailing, a way to elbow Lyft out of the market.
“They were trying to get the whole category shut down behind the scenes,” Mr. Green said. “They didn’t want competition.”
Uber officials met with California regulators about the matter. As for Mr. Green, several current and former regulators and lawmakers who oversee ride-sharing in California said they had never worked with him, because Mr. Zimmer was often the one who communicated with officials.
“Truth be told, I’ve never heard of him,” said Aaron Peskin, a San Francisco supervisor who called for crackdowns on Uber and Lyft in their early years and negotiated a new per-ride tax with Uber and Lyft last summer.