I always tell drivers that it’s important to stand out if you want to take your driving or even your business to the next level. Today, RSG contributor, Joe Strandell talks to Erika Simone aka Driving Is A Drag. Erika is a Lyft driver out of LA that has become an overnight sensation with the community due to her unique approach to driving.
Erika Simone is making headlines with her new brand of rideshare, “Driving is a Drag”. Erika (also known as Erik Koral) is a male who dresses as a female during her rides and she’s a rising star in the Lyft and LGBT communities.
I reached out to Erika with some questions about her, her business, and the future of rideshare. From her story, I’ve learned that if you want to be successful in something, you have to get the word out and make people aware. Read along and be sure to check out her spot in LA Weekly if you’d like to learn more.
1. How long have you been doing “Driving is a Drag”?
First I wanted to thank you for wanting to do this story and to let you know that I’ve been enjoying The Rideshare Guy since the day I started doing rideshare in late July of last year. I did my first ride as Erika Simone/Driving is a DRAG with the fully decked out Drag Mobile on Aug 6th, 2014 so the concept is just over 7 months old now. I was scared shitless doing it the first few days, but thank god everyone loved it.
2. What or who inspired you to cross dress?
To be totally honest, dressing up came to me in a very difficult period in my life last year where I was struggling with my sexual identity. I came out as bisexual after 3 months in a rehab facility in Pasadena, CA. It was one of those things that I just experimented with that “clicked” with me the first time I tried it and I haven’t really looked back since. I think it’s one of the most creative and liberating things I’ve ever done.
3. Besides a possible Ellen Degeneres or Reality TV slot as you’ve mentioned, do you have other future goals with Driving is a Drag?
Another big goal that’s very important to me is to be able to provide a safe ride solution for LGBT youth and also the adult Transgender community. There have been a wave of unfortunate hate crimes where Transgender people have been harassed, beaten up, raped, and killed and they are afraid to leave their homes. I think Driving is a DRAG could work for LGBT Charity events as a shuttle service for anyone wanting to participate. I’d also love to get a cameo in the Amazon Prime show “Transparent.” My goal with any types of film, commercial or television appearances has nothing to do with “celebrity” aspirations, but instead using these different mediums as a way to grow my brand and eventually branch out and create a bonafide franchise speciality business. I have been an entrepreneur my entire life and would want nothing more than to give Drag Queens jobs.
4. I’ve seen some negative comments about passing out penis toys in your rides. How would you respond? When do you think it is or isn’t appropriate?
I don’t always pass them out. I get a general “vibe” from a passenger within the first minute. If they would rather be quiet and play on their iPhone during the ride, I let them do just that. If I am picking up more than one person and they are in a party/friendly talking mood, that’s when I offer them out. Definitely not a requirement when you take a ride in the Drag Mobile. I also have pink necklaces, feather boas, and stuffed animals they can use for props if they want to take a selfie with me.
5. What has been your experience with driver ratings? How do you maintain those?
My rating with Lyft and Uber hovers around 4.9. It’s not perfect and passengers will find anything to ding you on, especially if they are not in the best mood that day. I just try to offer a safe and fun ride and get people to their location as quickly as possible.
6. What does your weekly driving schedule look like?
It really fluctuates. Right now I am really busy with press and meetings so not driving as much but generally I take Monday and Tuesday off then drive Wed-Sunday. I am typically out there 6-8 hours a day and start my days around 2pm. For safety reasons, I don’t do the 2am drinking crowd. Doing any more than 8 hours a day in LA is not recommended because if the stress of sitting in traffic and its simply exhausting.
7. What makes you different from the other themed Lyft drivers?
I love all Themed Lyft drivers. I think they are the secret weapon that makes Lyft stand out from any other rideshare or taxi service. Everyone offers their own unique flavor to their experience and without reading about HipHopLyft, DiscoLyft, Batman, etc I would have never been inspired to create my concept. I guess the only major difference is that I am taking my theme into another direction with a fully developed marketing campaign, press, and business plan. I tend to be a “big picture” guy with everything I sink my teeth into and my friends and family are pretty convinced I am completely nuts. 🙂
8. You’ve mentioned being bullied as a child. What would you say to others who are currently being bullied?
Reach out for help right away. Tell a friend, principal, or the police. The emotional damage from bullying is life long if not addressed immediately. Bullying is a cancer on society that should have a ZERO tolerance policy.
9. If you could say or ask anything to John Zimmer, what would you say?
I met with John in late Jan for a 30 min meeting in the Lyft HQ cafeteria and I didn’t get a chance to ask him if he’d like a ride in the Drag Mobile sometime. He was running off to go meet with Katie Couric right after we met. It was a great meeting and I look forward to meeting John again in the future. He’s a terrific guy.
10. If you could say or ask anything to Travis Kalanick, what would you say?
The one thing I admire about Travis is his hustle. I’d like to ask him what drives him to succeed.
11. What is currently your favorite rideshare platform and why?
While I do drive for both Lyft and Uber, my loyalty to Lyft will always be there because the pink mustache was a big inspiration for creating my concept. I also think Lyft Line, when its REALLY working in full throttle like it did in San Francisco when I drove up there for 2 days, is a complete game changer. If everyone used Lyft Line, city traffic could be cut in half or more. I just think its going to take a few more years to catch on with the rest of the country. Nobody in LA uses it sadly because people are too used to sitting alone in their cars in traffic, which is a miserable existence.
12. You’ve gotten picked up by LA Weekly and publicly mentioned by Lyft. Any advice for drivers looking to get noticed by major publishers? 🙂
Just be as crazy as you can be with your concept and constantly market yourself on social media. If you sell happiness (Like Zappos) then people will gravitate towards you. Also blog about rideshare and whatever else inspires you.
13. What do you think the future of rideshare is? How can one compete with so much competition?
There is no question that its completely changed the landscape for transportation around the world and is one of the biggest tech disruption stories of the last 5 years if not THE biggest story. I think that it’s still a young industry and as drivers and passengers, we have all felt the hiccups that have come along the way. Uber has definitely become the “man to beat” in this race with a 41B valuation, but I still think that Lyft is a formidable opponent and I definitely want them to win. My own goal when I branch off and do my own thing is not to create a competitor to either business, but more of a niche speciality “package tour” business. For example, “You and your bachelorette party in a bus for 48 hours with a fabulous drag queen hitting all of the hot bars and clubs and concerts.” There is a company that does something like this in the music business called CID Entertainment that I really look up to.
14. You’ve said that you served in the music industry for several years. Do you incorporate music into your rides? If yes, how so?
I have had 3 local indie bands (Life Leone, Night Club and Immigrant Union) play in the back seat of the car in what I call Drag Car Sessions. I film each band and do a 5-10 minute interview, then they play 2 songs in the car and 1 song outside the car in a pretty location in LA. I want to do MANY more of these in the future and I’d love to get some bigger artists in the car that want to use the car as a way to debut new songs. Its a great cross promotional opportunity.
15. What’s been the best rideshare experience for you?
I worked my friend Ian’s birthday party in Malibu and that night I had Tim Commerford from Rage Against the Machine in the car and I also met the music industries most infamous blogger, Bob Lefsetz. Just this week I picked up the director of Napoleon Dynamite, Nacho Libre and forthcoming film Masterminds with Kristen Wiig, Zach Galifianakis and Owen Wilson. One thing about Ubering in LA is you never know what celebrity types you’ll get to pick up. That’s part of the fun!
16. What’s been the worst rideshare experience for you?
Two incredibly bratty 12 year old kids. One of them was the splitting image of the “I want my two dollars” paper boy in “Better Off Dead.” That kid still haunts my dreams to this day.
17. I would think that some might consider your unique value proposition to be controversial. How would you respond to that?
I am fully aware that Drag Queens are not for everyone, but my goal is not to make any type of statement with this. It’s just supposed to be a fun time. So far I’ve done nearly 1000 rides and not one single person has turned me down so I have been really fortunate there.
18. The title “Driving is a Drag” is a little ironic to me because from what I can see, It looks like you’re selling happiness. Thoughts?
It’s a lot better than “Driving is a Crossdresser.” It’s just a fun play on words and has definitely gotten this concept a lot of attention and plenty of laughs. People really identify with it because in LA, driving is most definitely a drag here with some of the worst traffic in the country and the world.
19. What do you see for the future of themed drivers?
To be honest, I am a bit saddened to hear that many drivers have stopped doing their themes. I completely get that it can be expensive and I even invested quite a bit of cash into my own theme, but if it makes you happy and helps you stand out, then go for it. I encourage anyone that has a passion to create their own theme. If you are going to be out there for 8 hours a day in a job that can be physically and emotionally grueling at times, might as well make the best of it.
20. Are you a part of any driver lounges? What’s been your experience with those?
I was a really active member in many lounges for a while, but have taken a break from most of them as I am simply too busy these days. I also found that they have become a sandbox filled with a lot of negativity that I don’t really need in my life at the moment.
21. Do you prefer Erika Simone or Erik Koral?
For the record, If you know me and see me dressed up in public I don’t care if you call me Erik or Erika. I’m not going to be pretentious like some rock star with the name stuff. I’m just enjoying my hobby. If I am driving, then I introduce myself as your “fabulous driver Erika Simone and rideshare experience, Driving is a DRAG.” That’s part of my “act.” Just don’t call me Shirley. 🙂
Do you have any questions for Erika Simone? What do you think about promoting brands or business ideas in your ride? I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments 🙂
-Joe @ RSG