Five years ago, Travis Kalanick launched a startup called UberCab in San Francisco.
Fast forward a few years and Kalanick’s company, now just called Uber, is now one of the most lucrative in Silicon Valley.
Uber operates in more than 300 cities in 58 countries, and it could be worth as much as $60 billion.
Thanks to that sky-high valuation, Kalanick made Forbes’ list of the world’s billionaires this year, where the 39-year-old serial entrepreneur is said to have a net worth of about $6 billion.
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.
But 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.
Kalanick dropped out of college to work on Scour, a peer-to-peer search engine, with classmates Michael Todd and Vince Busam.
Kalanick collected unemployment while working full-time for Scour, which was run on angel funding obtained by one Scour cofounder's friends and family.
After being sued by several entertainment companies to the tune of $250 billion, Scour filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Kalanick spent his first year as a millionaire travelling around the world. He went to Spain, Japan, Greece, Iceland, Greenland, Hawaii (twice), France (twice), Australia, Portugal, Cape Verde, and Senegal.
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 adviser,' 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 on board as UberCab's general manager. Soon, he'd be named CEO. UberCab launched in June 2010 in San Francisco. It was a huge hit there, though investors weren't initially knocking down Uber's door to invest.
'Our goal for all UberCab users, called clients, is for you to feel like a baller every time you use UberCab,' Graves wrote in an early UberCab blog post.
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, New York is one of Uber's biggest markets.
Uber announced recently that the company had delivered 30 million rides in New York City since 2011. To put that number in perspective, that's more than 82,000 Uber rides per day.
To help the company expand, Kalanick has hired lobbyists such as 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, the Chinese search engine Baidu invested in Uber, a partnership that would theoretically allow Uber to expand throughout mainland Asia.
Earlier this year, news broke that Uber could soon be expanding its massive war chest of funding by as much as $1 billion, which would value Uber at as much as $60 or $65 billion and could signal that the company could go public soon.
Uber has raised $6.61 billion at a $50 billion valuation. The company's recent valuation would make Kalanick a multibillionaire. Uber's funding makes it the most valuable privately held tech company in the world.
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. Uber has also expanded its courier service, Uber Rush.
The company has had its share of obstacles and bad press, too. Last 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.
In May, Kalanick's company poached numerous 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 more than 50 countries.
Thanks to Uber's sky-high valuation, Kalanick himself is a paper billionaire. This year, Kalanick -- along with uber cofounder Garrett Camp and early Uber employee Ryan Graves -- made Forbes' list of the world's billionaires for the first time. Cofounders Kalanick and Camp have a larger stake in the company than Graves does, which explains their larger net worths ($6 billion each, as opposed to Graves' $1.5 billion).
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