Recently, the city of Austin and ridesharing apps Uber and Lyft had a messy, public divorce. After a contentious public referendum, the two most used and most well-known ridesharing apps ceased operations within the city limits of Austin. After a couple of weeks of what felt like a time warp to an era before smartphones, a number of smaller ridesharing apps launched in the city to fill the void left by Uber and Lyft.
Four main substitutes materialized out of the chaos—GetMe, Fare, Fasten, and RideAustin. With a very tight timeline, each of the four apps launched by weighing two criteria: time to market and a minimum viable product. Adding more scope to a minimum viable product increases time to market. A quicker time to market risks launching a product without key usability features. The apps launched roughly two to three weeks apart, but the differences between the products that launched was staggering in my experience.
The GetMe app was operational the day Uber and Lyft left Austin. This undoubtedly led to an initial surge in usage as people were desperate for ridesharing immediately following an Uber/Lyft-free Austin. The app itself, however, was barely operational and was missing key features for user satisfaction. As I used the app, I noticed a major missing feature: an algorithm that matches riders to drivers based on distance. Without this feature, a driver could respond to a rider request from 45 minutes away. Additionally, the request feature was not synchronous. I called several GetMe’s before I realized that my original request was still pending.
Fare subsequently followed GetMe in the great Uber/Lyft vacuum. Fare launched with marked improvement over GetMe’s app, but several key features were conspicuously absent compared to Uber and Lyft. In the initial fare launch, there was no “snap-to” GPS feature, meaning users had to drop a pin on a map manually. Additionally, Fare was not prepared to handle the number of users in downtown Austin on a weekend night. Fare was able to capture disaffected GetMe customers, but the usability kept me from using the app more than once.
Fasten, the third ridesharing app, delayed launching for around 2 months after Uber and Lyft exited Austin. The Fasten user experience is slick, and is comparable to that of Uber and Lyft. The app functions with many of the same features of the original apps, and the usability was substantially better than both Fare and GetMe. It’s easy and fun to use. After a couple of Fasten trips, I found my replacement. Even though it launched two months after the Uber/Lyft departure, I became a vocal Fasten proponent among my friends.
RideAustin, a local nonprofit alternative, began a phased rollout a couple of weeks after Fasten. The RideAustin app incorporates several “nice to have” features, including rounding up the passenger fare to donate to a local nonprofit. The features are great and the app’s usability is phenomenal, but the app seems superfluous with Fasten in town. I feel comfortable using Fasten, and loyal to the Fasten app.
There is no such thing as a perfect balance between quick time to market and a full minimum viable product in a limited time. As a consumer, Fasten had the features I required in a ridesharing app. Sure, an earlier launch would have been nice, but the usability improvements outweighed the delay. The goldilocks balance will differ between industries and between companies. Nevertheless, this decision can mean life or death for a product or a company.