Technonlogy

Google led a $1 billion investment in Lyft, here’s why that matters

Lyft got a major boost in the form of a billion-dollar investment round, and an earlier rumor was confirmed: CapitalG, Google parent company Alphabet’s growth equity fund, led the round.

The investment brings Lyft’s post-money valuation up to $11 billion from $7.5 billion just six months ago, and places CapitalG Partner David Lawee on the company’s board. The round gives Lyft an extra boost as it prepares to dive into some major strategic projects after rapidly expanding this year, as the company says it grew from being available to 54 percent of the U.S. population to 95 percent in 2017 alone. 

Importantly, Google isn’t responsible for the entire billion dollars — the fund typically invests between $50 to $100 million in late-stage startups, like Airbnb, Snap, and Duolingo. Even if Google is only putting up a tenth of the round, the investment marks another important association between Lyft and some of the biggest names in the auto and tech industries. 

The Google connection in particular highlights some intriguing storylines in the ride-hailing space, and the development of new automotive technologies on the whole. Such as:

1. Lyft’s next steps

While the Google name carries heavy connotations, the biggest takeaway from the billion-dollar round is what Lyft will be able to do with the money and the increased profile it brings.

Lyft has major plans to bring self-driving taxis to the streets, but the development of the systems that will make those AVs possible largely depends on a series of partnerships with self-driving startups and automakers that will harness Lyft’s open autonomous platform. Lyft is building its own dedicated self-driving development center in Silicon Valley to branch out on its own, however. The total price tag for the project isn’t known, but you can bet that it won’t be cheap. The new financing could help to fund the project. 

There have also been reports pointing to Lyft finally embarking on an international expansion, starting in Canada. The company expanded rapidly during 2017 — but only in the U.S.A. With new funding, a higher valuation, and a Google stamp of approval, Lyft could be even more ready to branch out beyond America. 

2. Google’s plans for Waymo self-driving taxis

CapitalG’s connection to Google raises questions about Waymo‘s position within the ride-hailing landscape, though, especially because the former Google X self-driving car project has a partnership with Lyft already. 

One of Waymo’s goals is to create an advanced deployment system for its fleet of driverless cars, which is exactly what Lyft promises with its open autonomous system. Waymo is one of a handful of companies in the US running a public self-driving passenger pilot. Waymo has no ride-hailing service, though, so the benefits of partnering with Lyft are obvious.

Alphabet’s Lyft investment shows that the biggest companies in the self-driving space are happy to spread their money and attention out for multiple projects that are ostensibly working toward the same goal. Another of Lyft’s investors, GM, is a similar case: the auto giant put $500 million into Lyft last year and has a member on the company’s board. GM also has its own self-driving projects, which includes Cruise Automation, a startup with designs to deploy driverless taxis.

Clearly, the self-driving industry is at a point where players are throwing everything at the proverbial board, hoping that some of the projects will stick.  

3. Uber has no friends

CapitalG’s investment in Lyft is another vote of confidence for the ride-hailing company — which is another strike against its much larger rival, Uber. 

A separate Google fund, Google Ventures, was an early investor in Uber, but the relationship between the brash startup and the tech titan has soured of late, mostly due to a contentious lawsuit over alleged theft of self-driving secrets that could sink Uber’s fledgling autonomous program. 

The lawsuit and other problems highlight the key difference between Uber and Lyft’s growth strategies. While Uber is one of the prime examples of the “move fast and break things” mantra, boldness has sometimes proven to actually have been recklessness as self-driving pilots have been shut down and licenses to operate have been revoked. 

Lyft, on the other hand, is content to grow more conservatively, focusing on honing its strengths and collaborating, instead of alienating potential partners on the path to dominance. The company isn’t perfect, but its reputation is currently much cleaner than Uber’s, and its roster of big name partnerships haven’t even begun to bear fruit.

Uber has the (contentious) $70 billion valuation and the established international presence — but Lyft might have a clearer path at success in the long term. Now that Google has put up its money and, by extension, its pedigree, the road ahead looks even brighter for Lyft.


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