9 'geek' lessons to entrepreneurs from Travis Kalanick, CEO, Uber

By Harshith Mallya & Dipti D
January 17, 2016, Updated on : Thu Sep 05 2019 07:25:23 GMT+0000
9 'geek' lessons to entrepreneurs from Travis Kalanick, CEO, Uber
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He came, he saw, and he 'ubered'. Travis Kalanick, Founder of Uber, got a thunderous applause at the ‘Startup India’ initiative by the Indian government on January 16 even before he could share his talk on 'A geek's guide to becoming an entrepreneur'.

In just 20 minutes, he took the largely local entrepreneur crowd at Vigyan Bhavan on his Uber journey right from establishing his geek credentials to showing the audience how to inculcate a champion's mindset. Riding on his magical storytelling, Travis did not leave any doubts in everyone's mind that the one most important thing for an entrepreneur is to 'first enjoy the ride'.


Here are the highlights from his session

Be a good geek

Travis started off his presentation with a picture of a young toddler in front of a computer. Referring to the picture and his childhood, Travis joked, “I have always been a geek and started coding at a young age. My dad was a civil engineer and growing up as a geek was not very easy for me.”

Before finally donning the role of an entrepreneur, Travis’s last coding feat including working on neural networks.

Find something broken you are passionate about

Talking about how Uber came about, Travis shared, “We wanted to get a ride in Paris but couldn’t find a taxi.”

So he saw a big market there that hadn’t changed for a long time. He recalled,

New York has had the same number of taxi licenses for 60 years. The cab owners lobbied together and created artificial scarcity. Things got so bad that nobody else could get into the business. A driver had to pay almost $150 dollars a day to get a licence and drive a cab.

This setup caused problems for both cab drivers who were trying to make a living and end consumers who needed to get from one place to another quickly, but couldn’t. Thus, through Uber he wanted to make things easier for drivers and end consumers.

How bad is the problem you are solving?

Talking about his role at Uber, Travis shared, “I am the Problem Solver-in-Chief at Uber. Just like math professors who relish tough problems, we too were looking at challenging problems.”

He went on to describe how Uber uses heat maps (analytics) to track cars and predict rider patterns and in turn help cab drivers be in the right place at the right time. He elaborated,“To give users a seamless experience, we need to predict demand and figure out when customers are looking for a cab 15 minutes ahead of time, so that we can bring down expected time of arrivals (ETAs) as low as possible.”

Uber has also tried to solve the problem of supply and demand through surge pricing, to ensure cabs are available where they are needed the most. Travis believes,

You won’t be a good entrepreneur if you are satisfied after solving one problem. There are always bigger challenges. The next one we and others in the industry like Google and Tesla are trying to solve is driverless cars.

Travis believes that the day is not too far where autonomous cars will be able to create 3D models of streets around the world and take commuters from point A to B, without any human intervention.

Be analytical and creative

Without creativity, computing doesn’t matter.

“Creativity is intelligence having fun” – Albert Einstein

Travis believes that the magic comes when you blend analytical abilities with creativity. He says,

Computers can compute anything. But without creativity what they compute doesn’t matter. When both come together, it brings joy and that can be the game changer.

Talking about some of the creative initiatives at Uber, Travis cited examples of Uber Ice Cream, where they delivered ice creams via drones and Uber Chopper, where they provided helicopter rides on Father’s day.

Know the difference between perception and reality

“There is always a large gap between perception and reality and that gap is the innovators playground, where the magic happens,” he said.

Travis believes that the one who follows the crowd, never gets ahead of the crowd and the ones who chart their own territories have the chance to do something disruptive. He joked, “Go against the grain, be resilient even if everyone thinks you are crazy. When you see difference between perception and reality, you better be right, otherwise things can backfire.”

Great entrepreneurs are great at understanding risk and mitigating them. So sometimes when the world sees something as risky as walking on rope across the Niagara Falls, entrepreneurs achieve the impossible because they have honed special skills to mitigate that risk.

Make magic

Travis said, “Hire the right people. See the future and get your team excited. Steve Jobs had a patent for the iPhone and saw the future for smartphones before anybody else.”

The best way to make magic is to give people joy by either giving them money, helping them save money, or giving them value for money.

You generally know instinctively when you are seeing (and not seeing) magic. He said, “Even though I have been on the Golden Gate Bridge hundreds of times, I always feel like take a photograph when I travel on it. That’s magic.”

Tell a good story

While a company should focus on technology and their product, the best way to create a connect with customers is to learn to hustle and tell a good story.

Travis then played a video of the world seen through the eyes of a taxi driver, including – everyday sights and marvels, we generally take for granted to further his point. He said,

Elevate your storytelling from just a taxi ride to the story of life and its meaning. Learn how to hustle – #AlwaysBeJugaading! There are ways to sell things with honesty, passion, and integrity. While Uber is about transportation you can still inspire people with a good story.

Seek adventure


Travis believes that doing the impossible is what entrepreneurship is all about. He cited an example from his earlier startup, where he and his colleagues packed their bags and headed to Varkala, Trivandrum, booked a room and coded from the beaches for a few weeks. Regarding why they did such a thing, he said, “Because we could. The world is going global – Bay Area, Beijing and Bangalore – that’s where the action is!”

Talking about seeking adventure, he added that Uber decided to do the impossible by trying to enter China, a market that almost no foreign company has been able to gain a foothold of. He added a few words of advice for Indian entrepreneurs, “It’s not just about building for your city or country but, now is the time when innovation is going global.”

Have a champion’s mindset


Travis advised entrepreneurs to put everything they have into what they do, any less and they will fail. He said, “Put everything you got on the field. If you have energy left you have failed. And if you keep getting back up after being knocked down, it is impossible that you will fail.”

Travis concluded his speech with an inspirational video of runner, Heather Dorniden making an incredible comeback after falling down midway during a 600m dash.

He concluded,

Whatever you do, you have to enjoy the ride.

YourStory is a proud partner of the Government of India’s ‘Start-up India’ movement, to be launched on 16 January 2016 in New Delhi. 

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