Uber turns five today -- here's how it took over the world in just a few years

Travis kalanick, ceo uberSteve Jennings/Getty ImagesSAN FRANCISCO, CA – FEBRUARY 05: Winner Travis Kalanick of Uber collects the award for Best Overall Startup of 2014 at the TechCrunch 8th Annual Crunchies Awards at the Davies Symphony Hall on February 5, 2015 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

Five years ago today, a startup called UberCab launched in San Francisco.

Fast forward a few years, and Uber is now one of the hottest companies in Silicon Valley.

As of today, Uber operates in 311 cities in 58 countries, and it’s a global company that could be worth as much as $US50 billion.

But that wasn’t always the case. Uber was the third in a series of startups Kalanick had helped get off the ground and the first that has been truly successful.

This is the story of how Travis Kalanick built Uber’s empire and took the world by storm in five years.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick grew up in Northridge, California, a suburb outside Los Angeles. When he was a kid, he wanted to be a spy.

However, Kalanick would eventually follow in the entrepreneurial footsteps of his mum, a retail advertiser. He went door-to-door, selling knives for Cutco as a youngster. He started his first business at age 18, an SAT-prep course called New Way Academy.

Travis' parents, Don and Bonnie Kalanick, were 'rider zero' when Uber launched in Kalanick's home town, Los Angeles.


He went to UCLA to study computer engineering. He'd drop out in 1998 but with good reason.

Kalanick dropped out of college to work on Scour, a peer-to-peer search engine, with classmates Michael Todd and Vince Busam. He collected unemployment while working full time for Scour, which was run on angel funding obtained by one Scour cofounder's friends and family.

Kalanick rebounded with RedSwoosh, a networking software company. But he clashed with his new cofounder, Scour cofounder Michael Todd. Between the post-9/11 stock market crash, pushing legal boundaries by not withholding their employees' income taxes, and a final falling-out between the cofounders, RedSwoosh almost never made it to exit. But in 2007, Kalanick sold RedSwoosh to Akamai for $23 million.

Late in 2008, at the LeWeb technology conference, he first heard the idea for Uber. He envisioned it as a way to lower the cost of black car service at the touch of a button.

Garrett Camp, Oscar Salazar, and Conrad Whelan built the first version of Uber, a black car service called UberCab. Kalanick served as a 'mega advisor,' though he's previously said his title then was 'chief incubator.' With UberCab, which cost about 1.5 times as much as a cab, you could request a car in San Francisco by sending a text or pressing a button.

Early in 2010, Ryan Graves was brought onboard as UberCab's general manager. Soon, he'd be named CEO. UberCab launched in June 2010 in San Francisco. It was a huge hit in San Francisco, though investors weren't initially knocking down Uber's door to invest.

In summer 2010, Uber raised money from investors: a $1.25 million seed round from First Round Capital, Kalanick's friend Chris Sacca, and Napster cofounder Shawn Fanning.

Kalanick's personality -- described by those who know him as reckless and arrogant, at times -- has been the reason Uber has found so much success.

After San Francisco, Uber rapidly expanded its services to other US cities. In May 2011, Uber launched in New York City -- and now, NYC is one of Uber's biggest markets.

Uber announced last month that the company has delivered 30 million rides in New York City since 2011. To put that number in perspective, that's over 82,000 Uber rides per day.

In December 2011, Uber went international and launched in Paris, its first non-US city.

To help its expansion, Uber has hired on lobbyists like David Plouffe, who spearheaded Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.

It seems Uber is constantly raising money from venture capital firms and other investment groups. In December 2014, Chinese search engine Baidu invested in Uber, a partnership that would theoretically allow Uber to expand throughout mainland Asia.

Uber has experimented with services besides point-A-to-point-B driving, too. In Santa Monica, Uber allowed customers to order meals through its UberFRESH service, which is now called UberEATS. In spring 2014, Manhattan Uber customers could use Uber's courier system, Uber Rush.

The company has had its share of obstacles and bad press, too. In November at a dinner for 'influencers,' an Uber executive named Emil Michael suggested the company could theoretically dig up personal information on reporters who are critical of the company.

At the end of 2014, Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, voiced privacy concerns about Uber in an open letter to CEO Travis Kalanick.

And some drivers have protested the company, too, disputing Uber's claims that they can make $90,000 a year driving for the company. Lawsuits have even been filed against Uber, alleging that drivers are misclassified as independent contractors when they should be employees.

Demonstrators hold signs during a protest organised by the San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance against ridesharing services Uber and Lyft outside the 8th Annual Crunchies Awards in San Francisco, California February 5, 2015.


In May, Uber poached a number of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University's vehicle autonomy department to work at its Pittsburgh center. Rumour has it this would let Uber experiment with self-driving cars.

Uber is aiming for world dominance while its rivals struggle to roll out in US markets. Lyft, one of Uber's closest competitors, operates in only the United States -- Uber operates in 58 countries.

Uber has raised $5.9 billion at a $41 billion valuation. Its recent valuation would make Kalanick a multi-billionaire. A rumoured new $1.5 billion to $2 billion round of funding would value the company at $50 billion, making it the most valuable privately held tech company in the world.

Honoree and CEO of Uber, Travis Kalanick, arrives at the Time 100 gala celebrating the magazine's naming of the 100 most influential people in the world for the past year, in New York April 29, 2014.


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