Hey all, we’ve gotten a bunch of questions about the founding of Uber so we figured we’d dish the goods. For those of you who don’t know, I’m Travis Kalanick, co-founder of Uber. So here goes Uber’s founding story:
Uber’s LeWeb Origins
It was a cold winter in late 2008. Garrett Camp and I were hanging out in Paris for a week at Loic and Geraldine LeMeur’s LeWeb conference. Amongst the amazing food, the copious amounts of wine and inevitable nightlife crawls there were all kinds of discussions about what’s next. Garrett had sold StumbleUpon to Ebay and had been doing “hard time” at a big company. I had just completed my tour with Akamai after selling Red Swoosh to them in 2007.
Jamming on ideas, rapping on what’s next is what entrepreneurs do. Garrett and I would get some good music, good drinks and jam until 5am. Garrett’s big idea was cracking the horrible taxi problem in San Francisco — getting stranded on the streets of San Francisco is familiar territory for any San Franciscan. Garrett’s m.o. fits the Uber brand. He likes to roll in style, comfort and convenience. His over-the-top idea in Paris that winter started as a limo timeshare service. I think his original pitch had me and him splitting the costs of a driver, a Mercedes S Class, and a parking spot in a garage, so that I could use an iPhone app to get around San Francisco on-demand. Hilarious! Obviously things have changed quite a bit 😉
By March of 2009 Garrett started working in earnest on figuring out what this iPhone app would look like. The prototype was coming along, but it was still a side project – Garrett had spun out StumbleUpon and was now CEO again. By mid-2009, Garrett began a charm offensive for ramping up my involvement and by that summer I joined on as Uber’s Chief Incubator. My job was to temporarily run the company, get the product to prototype, find a General Manager to run the operation full time and generally see Uber through its San Francisco launch. This approach seemed to fit pretty well. I wasn’t yet ready for a full time gig – still recharging from a 10 year non-stop startup life in P2P technology – and we both thought the business was going to be pretty low-tech, mostly operational – Little did we know 😉
An Uber hire
By January 2010 we did our first test run in New York. We had 3 cars cruising the SOHO/Chelsea/Union Square areas and had a few people using the system. The core crew was Garrett, myself, and Oscar Salazar, Garrett’s friend from Grad school who helped build the prototype in early 2009. We were also interviewing a General Manager candidate – a super sharp guy out of Chicago (working for GE of all places!) named Ryan Graves. Funny story how we brought him in. I was hitting Craigslist, Twitter, and other channels looking for the right candidate. What resulted was the Awesomest job post and response I’ve ever seen (I’m @konatbone):
I work with a ton of young startup executives, but rarely have I had the opportunity to work with someone as high quality as Ryan. He’s got the trifecta: Hustle, Emotional Intelligence, and Smarts. Ryan Graves’ first day was March 1st and he hit the ground running. From the day he got going, we spent about 15-20 hours a week working together going over product, driver on-boarding, pricing model, the whole nine. He learned the startup game fast and worked his ass off to build the Uber team and make the San Francisco launch and subsequent growth a huge success. San Francisco launch day was May 31st, 2010 and the hair-on-fire craziness began. Today’s huge ridership (1000’s of active riders in SF and GROWING!) started with Garrett and I inviting friends, Ryan hitting the startup tech demo scene and as they say, the rest is history 🙂