Ben Horowitz, major shareholder of Lyft, speaks during an interview in New York. (Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg) 

Ben Horowitz Compares Lyft to Rocky Balboa, Throws Jabs at Uber

(Bloomberg) -- Lyft Inc.’s co-founders don’t like to talk about their bigger rival, Uber Technologies Inc.

But on Friday, the day of Lyft’s initial public offering, board member Ben Horowitz ended up doing the dirty work for them. In an interview with Bloomberg TV, Horowitz, co-founder of VC firm Andreessen Horowitz, accused the world’s largest ride-hailing company of past "highly illegal tactics" and said that today, Lyft is hiring employees away from Uber.

"Uber of course stole the original Lyft idea," Horowitz said, referring to the startup’s peer-to-peer ride-hailing model, where regular people use their own cars to shuttle passengers. He also accused Uber’s backers of trying to intimidate other investors. “When Lyft was raising money, they would call investors and threaten them, like literally, ‘You’ll never do business in this town again if you invest in Lyft,’" he said. "The Benchmark guys would call and threaten investors." A spokesman for Uber declined to comment.

Lyft did adopt the peer-to-peer system before Uber. In fact, at first, Uber Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick thought the model was illegal; he quickly changed his tune when regulators didn’t step in to stop Lyft. Andreessen Horowitz’s rivalry with Benchmark, a major early investor in Uber, has been long-simmering. Horowitz’s co-founder Marc Andreessen has called Benchmark general partner Bill Gurley "my Newman," referencing Jerry Seinfeld’s antagonist in his eponymous sitcom. Benchmark didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The fact that Lyft survived the fight with Uber, and even made it to the public markets first, would have surprised many people a few years ago, Horowitz said in the interview from Los Angeles, the site of Lyft’s IPO ceremony.

"It’s like Rocky Balboa winning the heavyweight championship of the world. It’s like that,” he said. “All these founders in Silicon Valley go, ‘Oh, nobody believed in us.’ When John and Logan say it, they’re telling the truth. Literally everyone had written them off."

To be sure, Horowitz has a horse in this race. He is both a Lyft board member and major shareholder. (Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP is an investor in Andreessen Horowitz.) But with Lyft’s share price on Friday trading well above the price range initially predicted by investors, it’s very much his day. Uber’s will come soon. The No. 1 ride-hailing company is expected to file publicly in April for its own IPO, people familiar with the matter have said.

Andreessen Horowitz invested in Lyft in 2013 and Horowitz joined Lyft’s board in November 2016. The following year, Lyft’s luck turned around when #DeleteUber started trending on Twitter and the public seemed to turn against the larger startup. "You can see it in the numbers," Horowitz said. "We’re getting stronger and stronger as a competitor."

Horowitz also said that despite the positive reputation of Uber’s new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, the company was still losing market share to Lyft in the U.S. under the new management.

"Travis, for all his aggressiveness, was an amazingly competent founder CEO and a very tough competitor and I think, with the change in management, Uber has lost a lot of talent, a lot of people," he said. "We’ve hired a lot of them at Lyft."

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