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How Travis Kalanick helped build Uber into the multibillion dollar success it is today

Sanjana Ray
15th Mar 2017
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When Uber first set foot in the Indian market in 2013, they were doubtful of the response they would receive from the people. A number of reasons could be attributed to this, the primary one being that the country was mightily proud of its existing taxi services, yellow cab or otherwise. These services, during this period, proved to be a cheaper option than the near 1.5x that Uber was charging for the same ride.

Fast-forwarding four years, Uber has become a standard mode of transport for a majority of working professionals today. Arguably cheaper than its prime competitor, Ola, it has been seeing a significant rise in numbers especially in the post-demonetisation period.

Image : shutterstock

Image : shutterstock

Considering that Uber has become such an important part of the Indian user’s day, it is only fair that we also know about the journey of the multibillion dollar company and the man behind the plan, Travis Kalanick.

Kalanick belonged to the throng of geniuses at UCLA. He pursued a degree in computer engineering, only to drop out mid-way in light of his sudden entrepreneurial passion. This culminated in the creation of a peer-to-peer search engine called Scour, which he proudly co-founded with former classmates Michael Todd and Vince Busam.

“As an entrepreneur, I try to push the limits. Pedal to the metal,” Kalanick had once proclaimed. And his impassioned belief in this frenzied statement was evident when after litigations against Scour surfaced, he didn’t waste any time before co-founding RedSwoosh, a networking software company.

While RedSwoosh was built on a favourable concept, many of its practices weren’t entirely legal. This, coupled with the complications of operating in a post-9/11 stock market, didn’t help the company. However, Kalanick wasn’t one to give up easy. As he has often been heard saying, “Fear is the disease. Hustle is the antidote. Whatever it is that you’re afraid of, go after it.”

In 2007, Kalanick sold RedSwoosh to Akamai for $23 million and experienced his first moments of being a millionaire. A year later, Kalanick found himself in conversation with his old friend Garrett Camp, Co-founder of StumbleUpon, during a LeWeb tech conference. This was where the idea for an app-driven taxi service was first presented. Recognising a good opportunity when he saw one, Kalanick decided to dive headlong into its many possibilities.

The first version of Uber as we know it today was built by Garrett Camp, Oscar Salazar, and Conrad Whelan. Called ‘UberCab’ at the time, it referred to a black-car service, with Kalanick serving as ‘mega advisor’, or more legitimately ‘chief incubator’. The service was first launched in the burgeoning market of San Francisco two years later in 2010, after securing $1.25 million in seed funding from First Round Capital, Kalanick's friend Chris Sacca, and Napster cofounder Shawn Fanning. In December the same year, Kalanick was geared up to take the reins as CEO of the company, with Ryan Graves as its General Manager.

A few months later, Uber began to grow aggressively and extended its services to other cities in America, including the melting-point market of New York. As of December 2011, the company could boast of having crossed overseas, launching its service in its first non-US city, Paris. Around the same time, it also closed a $32 million Series B funding round led by Menlo Ventures, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and Goldman Sachs.

After almost two years of branching out its services to more cities, and incrementing a series of new campaigns and projects, the company launched its services in India and Africa. The move occurred in August 2013, after Google Ventures invested a whopping $258 million into the company, as a part of a Series C funding round. As a positive consequence of this, Uber was now valued at $3.76 billion. After a year of planning, Uber decided to introduce the concept of shared cabs into its services and in 2014 introduced its famous UberPool services.

Refusing to halt for even a second, Kalanick got into talks with Baidu, a famous Chinese search-engine platform, about a possible partnership, securing which the company turned its attention to the rest of Asia. Uber even raised $600 million from Baidu and managed to integrate the company’s mobile-search and maps apps into its own services.

To relieve its total dependence on Google Maps, the company made its first acquisition in mapping company deCarta in 2015. The same year, it introduced its UberEat services in four pilot cities and began to look towards staffing its robotics-research facility, which it opened in February of that year, to build self-driving cars.

Keeping its focus zeroed in on international expansion, Kalanick earthed a series of new campaigns which helped the company raise another $2 billion in private equity. With tides turning in their favour, the company managed to procure another $200 million investment from Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman.

Roughing it through a stale-period that entailed a series of class-action lawsuits, including the one surrounding its ‘unchallenged status’ advertisements, the company agreed to pay $28.5 million to 25 million riders to settle. In 2016, Kalanick proclaimed that Uber was seeing great returns through a number of its leading cities, especially after the $3.5 billion it received from the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund, which is also Uber's largest investment from a single investor. In July of the same year, Kalanick called for global celebrations on the account of the company having completed its two-billionth trip.

Since then, Uber has been looking to implement a series of new and innovative campaigns – local, national, and international. And while some have definitely piqued the interest of leading investors and talents, many have embroiled them in legal battles, social and political scandals, as well as a series of losses.

That being said, the company is said to be on the right path of becoming the most valuable privately held tech-company in the world. And Kalanick, whose net-worth lies at $6.3 billion, certainly seems to be the man to spearhead it towards this title.

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