Lessons from a $2 billion typo

It has been quite the wild ride for Lyft.

A typo in a press release told investors of the ride-hailing company it expected profit margins to increase at a rate far higher than was real.

An extra zero saw the release state the company’s profits were projected to rise 500 basis points, or by five per cent this year. The real prediction is for a 50 basis points rise or 0.5 per cent this year.

Not got time to keep reading? Listen to the blog instead


The company’s shares soared by more than 60 per cent off the back of the error in the release before retreating to a gain of about 15 per cent once it had been amended.

It has been described as a $2 billion typo. And it certainly grabbed attention and headlines:

Caution: Lyft out of order Financial Times

Lyft Shares Surge as Strong Earnings Report Offsets Typo Confusion The Wall Street Journal

Lyft stocks skyrocket by 60% thanks to a typo Independent

 Lyft shares take a bumpy ride over rogue zero in financial results The Times

It is quite the typo.

The story reminded me of a gaffe from way back in my local newspaper days.

My front page exclusive (obviously) on the redevelopment of Walton’s town centre reported the project would cost £50 rather than the real £50 million figure.

I can still remember the embarrassment and humiliation felt when the missing 'million' was pointed out.

The idea of a $2 billion typo gives me heart palpitations.

But let’s get back to Lyft’s bumpy ride.

What stood out for me about the saga is how the company responded to the error.

David Risher, the company’s CEO, has been in the media spotlight owning the mistake.

He told CNBC: “Look, it was a bad error and that’s on me. That’s on me.

“But I don’t want to take an ounce of attention away from everyone at Lyft who busted their butts to deliver the best financial quarter in the company’s history.”

Asked for more detail about how it happened, he said: “We had thousands of eyes on this. We have a process on this that is nuts.

“And it is a terrible thing. It is an extra zero that slipped into a press release.

“Thank goodness we caught it pretty fast, and we issued an immediate correction.

“It is super frustrating for everyone on the team and people are taking it really seriously.”

During another interview with financial channel Bloomberg, he said: “My bad. This was a bad error, but it was one zero.”

During the same interview, he was asked if the error put the chief financial officer's (CFO) job under threat.

“The CFO’s role is 100 per cent safe,” he said. “Look, she and the team are taking this incredibly seriously. We go through hours and hours of checking and double-checking before something like this goes.

“It’s an unacceptable error. Again, ultimately it is on me. I’m the CEO. The buck stops with me.

“But the team is taking it super seriously.”

During our crisis communication training courses, we talk about the importance of visible leadership.

And of leaders taking responsibility for the errors that put the company in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

It would have been easy for him to throw his comms team, proofreaders of people who signed the press release off under the bus (or taxi).

But instead of passing the buck, he insisted it was his responsibility, praised his team for their achievements and outlined how the mistake had been quickly corrected.

And he kept taking responsibility in his media interviews despite attempts from journalists to deflect some of it elsewhere.

He also comes across as human, honest and caring.

And, as a result, an embarrassing error has not become the PR disaster many predicted. Sure, there are some red faces. But the media narrative is more forgiving than damning.

In fact, the Financial Times has created ‘blunder-proof’ merchandise emblazoned with the “My bad – but it was one zero” response.

That’s not a bad outcome from a head-in-hands moment one analyst described as a “debacle of epic proportions”.


Click here to see our new open course dates

Bespoke courses are not our only training option. If you have someone a little more junior you need to train or are happy to attend a course with people from other organisations, an open course could be the right option. Click here to see our latest media skills, presentations skills and podcasting open course dates.

But could that error have been avoided?

Mistakes do happen, and they can be embarrassing. The Vatican once misspelt Jesus on commemorative medals commissioned to celebrate Pope Francis’ first year.

Around four medallions were sold before the ‘Lesus’ error was spotted and they were withdrawn.

I can also remember clothing brand H&M making headlines for spelling ‘genius’ as ‘genious’ on one of its T-shirts.

It would be easy to sit here and say Lyft needed one more round of proofing. But who can say whether or not that extra zero would have still crept in? And it is not insightful or helpful advice.  

Spotting those annoying typos is something we cover during our writing skills training courses.

Here are some proofreading tips we recommend during the training to reduce the chances of errors slipping through the net.

Leave time between writing and proofing

You will spot many more mistakes if you leave a decent gap between the writing and proofing stages. Go and make a cup of tea, tackle the next thing on your ‘to-do’ list, make that phone call you’ve been putting off, or take part in that Zoom meeting before you start to check your work.


Read backwards

When you read your work, you can become blind to your mistakes. The brain automatically corrects wrong words inside sentences. One way to tackle this problem is to read your copy backwards, word by word.


Read aloud

Another way of avoiding the automatic correction problem is to read your work aloud. Your ears spot things your eyes miss. If you stumble over your words and struggle for breath, you need to simplify and rework your sentences.



People read differently on screen and on paper, so print out a copy of your writing.


Change the look

If you can’t print it out, change the font and size of your text. Making your content look different will help you to identify the errors.


Re-check the facts

Every fact, statement, date and name in your content must be checked. Go back to the source of the information and ensure you have got it right.


More eyes

Make sure someone else reads it – once you are happy with your copy, ensure someone else proofreads it before it goes live. Another pair of eyes will invariably spot something you have missed.


Extra zero or not, maybe Lyft might invest some of those extra profits in more proofreading advice from our writing skills training course. They can be delivered remotely, so they wouldn't even need a ride.


Media First are media and communications training specialists with more than 35 years of experience.

We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.

Click here to find out more about our writing skills and  crisis communication training courses.

Our Services

Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.

Ways - Online learning
Ways - Videoconference
Ways - Blended
Ways - In-Person
Training by videoconference
Identifying positive media stories
How to film and edit professional video on a mobile
Media skills refresher
Blended media skills
TV studios
Crisis communications
Presentation skills and personal impact
Media training
Message development and testing
Presentation Skills Training
Crisis communication training
Crisis management testing
Leadership Communication Training
Writing skills training
Social media training
Online learning
Open Courses
Media myth-busting & interview ‘survival’ skills workshop

Recommended Reading

Crisis management, Spokesperson training, Media Skills Training — 9 April by Media First

The interview that shows you can’t ride away from scrutiny

Doorstep interviews are notoriously difficult to handle. They are probably the type of interview spokespeople fear the most – who would want to find journalists gathered outside their home or…

Crisis management — 19 March by Adam Fisher

Unexpected chaos in bagging area – How Sainsbury’s handled its IT meltdown

How do you respond when an IT glitch leaves customers unable to use your service? That was the issue faced by Sainsbury’s over the weekend as it was plunged into crisis media management mode. An…