October 6, 2014
By Kara Swisher
Will the ongoing Spy vs. Spy war between San Francisco ride-sharing services Lyft and Uber ever end?
Not today it won’t, with Uber hiring recently departed Lyft COO Travis VanderZanden to head a new unit that will focus on international growth.
“We are thrilled to welcome Travis to Uber,” said an Uber spokesperson in a statement. “After he left his previous employer, we talked to Travis and it was clear his experience and skills would help us strengthen our operations as we grow, expand and evaluate markets internationally.”
It’s not clear if the hiring violates any non-compete agreement VanderZanden might have signed with Lyft, although those are hard to enforce in California. But it’s no secret that the exec probably has a lot of insight into the internal workings and plans of Uber’s main rival. In addition, when he worked at Lyft, in which he was an angel investor, VanderZanden gave an interview with Liz Gannes of Re/code in which he talked about how Lyft was better than Uber.
But bygones! The hiring, which is immediate, comes after he left Lyft in August after tensions with its pair of founders. VanderZanden came to the startup after it bought his on-demand car-washing service Cherry last year. Its officeless expansion scaling model is now used by Lyft.
Basically, VanderZanden developed a system where Lyft does not have to set up local operations in new markets; new drivers apply and get their background checked online, they are then screened by phone, and a more experienced local driver does a vehicle inspection and ride-along.
Before Lyft, VanderZanden was the chief revenue officer for Yammer and is known as a hard-charging entrepreneur.
As I noted when VanderZanden departed Lyft: “It is unclear what specific issues he had with CEO Logan Green and President John Zimmer, but such management wrangling is common in fast-growing companies as teams are formed (and often de-formed).”
And now Uber has scooped him up in a talent grab to up its ability to grow its already fast-growing global business to run a new division that will combine product design, engineering and growth. Uber is currently operating in 46 countries and has plans for many more, with international efforts being a big part of its current spurt of users.
VanderZanden will work closely with Ed Baker, the former Facebook exec who heads growth overall for Uber, and report directly to CEO Travis Kalanick.
The hire will surely increase tensions between Uber and Lyft, which are now pretty tense as it is.
The pair have been recently involved in a rather heated series of public spats, even as both face intense challenges from the taxi industry and also local government regulators. That has not stopped them from sniping over a range of issues, including Lyft accusing Uber of poaching drivers and booking and then canceling rides. Uber has denied the sneakier of the allegations, but has crowed about its recruiting efforts and even claimed that Lyft offered itself for sale to Uber.
Both also recently debuted new services that lets users carpool, with people who are taking similar routes in return for a significant discount, called, respectively, Lyft Line and UberPool. Those efforts have been flagged by regulators in San Francisco, who have also been aggressively going after them over how car-sharing services vet drivers.
Still, there was a fight between the two about the carpooling efforts, but who’s counting? (Well, me!)
I have a call into Lyft for a comment, and will add if I get one.