Ben Falik – Contributing Writer
Native son Elliot Darvick heads regional office involved in uplifting Detroit transportation.
To understand the success of Elliot Darvick — as Michigan and Ohio general manager for Lyft; as a son, sibling, friend, husband and father — you just have to look. I can tell out of the corner of my eye without getting up from his dining room table, even though he’s seated in the kitchen and it’s hard to hear him over the tumbling of my sheets and towels in his dryer.
But to understand the world of Elliot Darvick — and I’ve been trying off and on for 30 years — you have to triangulate: Mobility. Technology. Humanity. Those three intersecting lines and their many combinations have substantively shaped Elliot. Like few others, he can adapt to all variety of angles while remaining structurally sound in his values, voice and vision.
The triangulation between mobility, technology and humanity explains Elliot’s restlessness and rootedness, his amiable ambition — the man, the mentsh, the method.
Baby Boomer-brand mobility brought Martin (from Brooklyn) and Debra (from Atlanta) together in New York City and then, courtesy of General Motors, to Michigan. From his parents, Elliot got what JFK found wanting in Washington — Northern efficiency and Southern charm — and if you listen closely, you can hear both accents winding around each other like a vocal-corded double helix.
Automotive technology rolled in and out of his driveway with each consecutive company car, and Elliot found something to love in all of them, even the Cadillac Catera (“It zigged!”). In the carpeted confines of his basement, constructing with cardboard bricks and hula hoops (occasionally weaponized by the Brothers Falik) led to tech tinkering, led to web design that could not be derailed by a capricious and cacophonous dial-up internet connection.
“Lyft is a company with tikkun olam at its core. Our mission is very simple: to improve people’s lives with the world’s best transportation.”
— Elliot Darvick
Humanity has long filled the Birmingham home where the Darvicks have lived for 34 years. Nurturing relationships and ritual, each family member captured humanity in his or her own medium: writing (Debra), photography (Martin), music (Elliot) and art (sister Emma).
Midwestern mobility took Elliot to Washington University in St. Louis where technology enabled him to create, among other things, a website for a scrappy new Detroit organization called Summer in the City, and the humanity of hip hop-inspired DJ Ellioto and DJ Davizzle led him to share diverse tracks with countless listeners to Falafel Beatz on KWUR, 90.3 FM.
California, by way of Chicago. Success in tech. A JDate that went well. Elizabeth, wise West Coast wife wooed to make the maternal move to Michigan. Raising their daughter, Olivia, who weekly “waves her tiny hands in front of her eyes like her mother does prior to lighting the Shabbat candles.”
At Lyft, Elliot’s appetite for mobility, aptitude for technology and adherence to humanity align in a way that is both obvious and iterative. Lyft, for the appless, is an on-demand transportation company driven “to reconnect people through transportation and bring communities together.”
Elliot has found kindred company, entrepreneurial energy and passionate pursuits at Lyft. In his own words: “Lyft is a company with tikkun olam at its core. Our mission is very simple: to improve people’s lives with the world’s best transportation. You can find so many examples of this mission brought to life in the decisions the company makes, from programs like Round Up & Donate, where we have been raising millions of dollars for nonprofits by letting passengers automatically round up their fares for charity, to the fact that we literally buy carbon offsets for every Lyft ride to make your trip carbon neutral.”
Two years on — two years in which the company’s valuation more than doubled to $15.1 billion — Elliot lives to Lyft. He obsesses over both sets of his customers: the riders who hail cars via the app and the drivers who pick them up. Greater than the technology that brings people together or the mobility that gets them where they are going, there’s the humanity in both the driver’s and passengers’ seats.
The front passenger seat — if you are like many Lyft riders including Elliot. On the ride I took with him, he had myriad questions and compliments for our driver, a medical assistant at Wayne County Jail who sometimes ends up being the Lyft home for people she served inside when they’re done serving their time.
In the process of honoring the humanity of everyone involved, Elliot has made local out of global — no small service to a San Francisco-based company with its hundreds of millions of rides and autonomous ambitions.
By way of example
DCFC. Lyft is sponsor and partner of the Detroit City Football Club, a National Premier Soccer League team with a feverish fan base and a renovated New Deal-era stadium in Hamtramck. “DCFC and Lyft have a shared value set,” according to Elliot. “Bringing people together and empowering them to build community.” Fans who ride to the game get dropped off at a special Lyft Gate directly in front of the stadium; drivers get free tickets. While their logo adorns the team jerseys, Elliot says, “It was important that it be in DCFC rouge and gold and not Lyft pink. We live by the mantra ‘be yourself’ and this is a team beloved for its colors.”
SisterFriends. Elliot is quick to point out that Lyft “isn’t just for getting to the bar or the ballpark.” To wit, he worked with the Detroit Health Department to give free rides for at-risk pregnant women. Through mentorship and partnership, SisterFriends Detroit addresses women’s “barriers to accessing quality prenatal care, social isolation and stress that can put their babies at a higher risk of being born too small or too early.”
MusicTown. In the Motor City’s gig economy, you never know who will be behind the wheel of your Lyft. Elliot and his team count many aspiring and professional musicians among their drivers and, through a partnership with Entercom (formerly CBS Radio), they can park their cars and book free time at MusicTown’s state-of-the-art recording studio. Some may even be featured among the 50 live performances a year at the Lyft Lounge at MusicTown.
RTA. A Mackinac Future Leader and enthusiastic transit rider — “I take the FAST bus down Woodward to work most mornings” — Elliot threw Lyft’s support behind the Regional Transit Authority, joining 250 other companies and community organizations calling for a vote on the RTA. Lyft, he believes, is not a competitor but a complement, with one in five rides nationally starting or ending at a transit stop.
I had planned to come over to Elliot’s just to retrieve the notebook he graciously carried around in his Lyft-branded, jam-packed backpack during the DCFC game (I took mental notes). But when I mentioned my dryer had stopped working mid-wash, he insisted I bring the hamper full of wet laundry to his house, apologizing in advance that he would need to “keep his head down” while I was over.
Elliot has his head down to write performance reviews — for the employees he will be bringing to their new Detroit office and driver service center — before flying out to California to meet up with Elizabeth and Olivia. His typing is audible over the wrinkle-release cycle. “My team is amazing,” he says. “I am lucky.”