When Uber first launched three and a half years ago, it looked a lot like it does today.
Press a button on your iPhone. A few minutes later — during which you can chart a driver’s progress toward your location — up rolls the car. The company was recently valued at $US3.4 billion.
Garrett Camp, the co-founder of Uber and StumbleUpon, first funded and built the app. He came up with the idea for more affordable, reliable car service one New Years after he over-paid for a convenient ride. He built a prototype with two of his graduate school friends and looped in current Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.
But Kalanick may have taken an Uber ride a year or two before the company was founded without even realising it.
Shafqat Islam, CEO and founder of NewsCred, thinks he may have been the world’s first Uber driver.
He told Business Insider his story, which is detailed in the intro of an extensive profile of Travis Kalanick.
Here it is again, below.
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Shafqat Islam’s phone was ringing. He rubbed his eyes and looked at the number on the screen. It said unknown, but he took the call anyway.
“Hi, this is Travis,” a voice said. “I know Lukas Biewald, and he said you were the only guy he knew in Switzerland.”
Islam, part of the tech team at Merrill Lynch Bank Suisse, sat up and wracked his brain.
Biewald? He had met the man once or twice, but he certainly didn’t know this Travis character.
“Let’s go out!” prodded the restless out-of-towner.
Islam resisted. It was getting late and he was tired. He wasn’t in the mood to give his night to a stranger.
“Come on, I’m only in town one night!” Travis persisted. “You gotta show me Geneva!”
Islam finally gave in. He hopped in his second-hand BMW, picked up Travis and took him to a favourite bar, where Islam learned a bit more about the mystery man. A tech founder named Travis Kalanick, he’d sold a startup for millions to Akamai. He was now an investor in a couple of companies, including CrowdFlower, which was run by their mutual friend. After a night of drinking and swapping tech war stories, the pair parted ways.
Years later, they met again at a business event in the States. Islam had founded a content marketing company called NewsCred. Kalanick was running a startup called Uber, designed to link car services and passengers at the tap of a finger.
Now that Kalanick’s startup has grown into one of the world’s most admired tech companies, recently valued at $US3.4 billion, Islam can’t help wondering: Was he the world’s first Uber driver?
“Travis pressed a button and I was his ride for the night!” Islam says now, reflecting on that fateful evening. “I wonder if he has ever put that together.”