On the back of his drivers’ seat headrest, Fred Wyllie has a laminated paper on display: “Are you in pain physically or financially? Let me know.” Exactly what Fred is offering here isn’t immediately clear, though he’ll quickly tell you if you ask: Fred sells CBD products, along with another suite of services offered by multi-level marketing company 5Linx.
Months back, Fred gave me his business card during a routine Uber ride. He wasn’t the first rideshare driver I’d witnessed offering something other than transportation from Point A to Point B either: For many drivers, Uber and Lyft provide them the means to double their side hustle. And for some, the nature of the rideshare system and precarity of the economy as a whole is such that financially, they need to in order to get by.
It might sound surprising, but drivers for both major rideshare companies are technically allowed to sell products to passengers. Often, this translates to selling things like snacks, water or new phone chargers, or offering these items for free in hopes of a good tip and rating, but every now and again, you’ll encounter something on a whole different level.
Uber and Lyft’s policies differ somewhat, but they ultimately yield the same result. In a 2015 Forbes article, a spokeswoman for Uber stated that they “absolutely” condone drivers using the app as a promotional platform for another business. “One of the greatest things about the Uber platform is that it offers economic opportunity for a variety of drivers — full-time, part-time, veterans, teachers, artists and students — in more than 260 cities around the world. Supporting and fueling the local economy is important to Uber and our driver-partners help us to achieve this goal,” she said.
Lyft spokesperson Kat Murray, meanwhile, informs me via email that drivers are indeed “allowed” to sell things while driving, but that it’s somewhat discouraged: “Advertisements or self-promotion in the car can sometimes make passengers feel uncomfortable or pressured, which may lead to a bad rating. We ask that drivers keep in mind the impact their promotion might have on their riders. Drivers should also refer to their city and state’s regulations and our community guidelines when giving rides to make sure they’re in compliance,” she says.
For Wyllie, who is 59 and lives in L.A., CBD sales are actually his third source of income: He works full-time as an overnight security guard on top of driving for Lyft and selling products. He tells me that he doesn’t have a set number of driving hours per week, but instead usually strives toward an undisclosed monetary goal that he sometimes hits and sometimes misses. Whatever profits he makes from CBD are essentially just a bonus or backup, in the event he loses his job or can’t continue driving. (Wyllie previously worked full-time for LegalShield — formerly Prepaid Legal, a multi-level marketing company — for five years before the company was bought out.)
“I’m a firm believer in multiple streams of income,” he tells me when I get in touch via the information on his business card. “Things can change in a moment. Rather than have your whole lifestyle get disrupted if your primary source goes down, you need to have some other streams in place.”
Selling CBD while driving Lyft might seem like a side hustle to a side hustle, but Wyllie finds the two jobs complement each other in that they’re both flexible in terms of hours. In addition to selling products, Wyllie also benefits from getting others involved in 5Linx. “It works hand-in-hand. As I’m driving, I’m sharing with people the benefits of CBD. A lot of the companies out there aren’t being regulated or of high quality. I know a lot of people out here are looking for relief for various ailments or need a secondary income — that’s where we come into play. My number one goal in life is helping people win in life. That’s always been my focus.”
Although he does the majority of his sales and advertising on Facebook, he considers the value of his in-person connections, made through Lyft, to be incomparable. “There’s nothing like face-to-face communication,” he says. “People like to know that there’s a human attached to things. It’s a more realistic connection than just some ad that pops up.”
Despite Lyft’s warnings about potentially making riders uncomfortable (and thus him a lower driver rating), Wyllie says he hasn’t had any issues. “Typically, either people are open to conversation or not. My sign is there, so if someone sees the sign and they’re interested, they’ll say something to me about it. If they sit there and don’t say anything, I don’t bother them. I don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable.”
This method of quiet advertisement has been a shared theme for other Uber and Lyft entrepreneurs. “My passengers surprised me,” driver and jewelry salesman Gavin Escolar told Forbes. “I thought they’d be silent or on the phone. But most people wanted to talk. When I mentioned my jewelry, they asked for business cards, but I didn’t have any.”
According to the drivers on the forum UberPeople.net, this strategy can apply to the sales of smaller objects like snacks, too. One driver even suggests selling nips, or mini liquor bottles. “I learned on here to sell Fireball Shots, you can get them at most liquor stores for $1 to $2 and then you can turn around and sell them for $5,” writes user UberLou. “They’re popular as hell, you just need to make sure you never sell to underage riders. I take Square to pay me for the shots, plus most of the time [they] tip me because I have the tip option come up on all transactions. Win-win if you are smart about it.”
Another driver with a small beef jerky business uses Uber as a means of hooking new customers. If they ask if Uber is his primary job, he explains that he’s retired and makes jerky. If they seem interested, he offers up a sample.
Though Uber and Lyft are essentially the biggest names in the modern gig economy, wherein wages are determined by an algorithm and people can get from place to place without having to speak to another person, they ultimately offer some drivers the opportunity to make those old-school human connections that lead to a sale. “There are things in life that are still simple and effective — someone saying ‘hello’ or ‘happy holidays’ can make a difference to people,” says Wyllie.
For guys like Wyllie, then, a five-minute Lyft ride isn’t just a few extra bucks in their pocket — it’s a priceless networking opportunity. Unless you opt to use that “quiet preferred” button, of course.