The rise and fall of Travis Kalanick, Uber's embattled billionaire founder who just resigned as CEO

Uber founder Travis Kalanick. Photo: Money Sharma / AFP / Getty Images

Eight years ago, Travis Kalanick launched a startup called UberCab in San Francisco.

Today, Uber is a global behemoth and one of Silicon Valley’s most successful companies — and one of the most contentious.

Uber operates in around 600 cities worldwide, and it’s said to be worth nearly $US70 billion.

The 40-year-old Kalanick is now said to have a net worth of more than $US6 billion.

But Uber — and Kalanick — have been caught up in one scandal after another in recent months, leading to a four-month investigation, more than 20 firings, and finally, Kalanick’s resignation from the company he created.

Here’s how it all began. 

Maya Kosoff contributed to an earlier version of this post. 

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.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty

Source: Business Insider

Kalanick got good grades and was athletic growing up, running track and playing football. But he was bullied by older students, and later vowed that he'd never be pushed around by anyone again.

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

Mario Tama/Getty Images

Source: Business Insider

Kalanick's parents, Donald and Bonnie, would be 'rider zero' when Uber launched in Los Angeles.

Instagram/Travis Kalanick

Source: Instagram

Kalanick went to UCLA to study computer engineering. He would drop out in 1998, but with good reason... work on Scour, a peer-to-peer search engine, with classmates Michael Todd and Vince Busam.

Source: Business Insider

After being sued by several entertainment companies to the tune of $250 billion, Scour filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Source: Business Insider

Kalanick rebounded with Red Swoosh, a networking-software company. But he clashed with his new cofounder, Scour cofounder Michael Todd. Between the post-9/11 stock market crash, the company's pushing of legal boundaries by reinvesting its employees' income taxes back into the startup, and a final falling-out between the cofounders, Red Swoosh almost never made it to exit.

But things improved. Kalanick moved back into his parents house and raised more funding. In 2007, Kalanick sold Red Swoosh to Akamai for $23 million and became a millionaire.

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.

While attending the LeWeb technology conference in late 2008, Kalanick 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.

Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for IAVA

Source: Business Insider

But Kalanick's dislike of taxis stemmed from a bad experience in a cab years earlier: He got into an argument with a taxi driver and jumped out of the moving car.

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.

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...

An early version of the Uber app.

Source: Business Insider

In December 2010, Kalanick became CEO and Graves became Uber's general manager again. According to both, the rearrangement was friendly.

In December 2011, Uber went international and launched in Paris, its first non-US city. Uber now operates around 600 cities worldwide.

Uber is currently valued at $69 billion, making it the most valuable privately-held tech company in the world.

Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Source: Crunchbase, Business Insider

In early 2015, Uber announced plans to start testing self-driving cars in Pittsburgh. The project has since expanded and Uber now tests its self-driving cars in San Francisco and Arizona. It's a project that Kalanick is particularly passionate about -- he believes the future of Uber depends on it.

An Uber self-driving test car in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

'If we are not tied for first, then the person who is in first, or the entity that's in first, then rolls out a ride-sharing network that is far cheaper or far higher-quality than Uber's, then Uber is no longer a thing,' Kalanick told Business Insider in August 2016.

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...


Source: Business Insider

...but it has also backfired for Kalanick and Uber as a whole.

Reuters Staff

Uber weathered its first scandal in 2014, when in an interview with GQ, Kalanick called the service 'boob-er' since it helped attract women.

Steve Jennings / Getty Images

Source: GQ

A dashcam video then caught Kalanick losing his cool in an argument with an Uber driver on Super Bowl Sunday after the driver confronted him about lowered fares. Kalanick issued an apology and said he'd seek out leadership help in the form of hiring a COO, a position that has yet to be filled.

Though Kalanick previously would only use Uber to get around and would occasionally drive for Uber himself, he has since hired a private driver.

(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Source: The New York Times

Kalanick dated violinist Gabi Holzwarth for two years, but the pair called it quits in August 2016. Holzwarth came forward in March 2017 to detail sexism she witnessed at Uber during her time dating Kalanick, including a visit by several Uber executives to an escort-karaoke bar in South Korea.

Paul Morigi/Getty

Source: Page Six, Huffington Post, Business Insider

A self-driving Uber vehicle also jumped a red light in San Francisco. An Uber spokesperson initially said that it was due to 'human error,' but a report from The New York Times contradicted this, saying it was instead because the tech failed to recognise the red light.

Jeff Swensen/Getty Images
Uber driverless Ford Fusions sit in the Uber Technical Center parking lot on September, 22, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Source: The New York Times

In May, Kalanick was struck by tragedy: His parents, Bonnie and Donald Kalanick, were in a boating accident in California. Bonnie Kalanick died in the accident, and Donald Kalanick was rushed to the hospital in serious condition. Travis Kalanick wrote on Facebook in early June that his father's condition was gradually improving.

Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Source: Business Insider, Business Insider

In June, Kalanick's right-hand man, chief business officer Emil Michael, resigned from Uber. Michael reportedly believes that his close friendship with Kalanick and a 'weak' board of directors led to his ouster.


Source: Bloomberg

Perhaps most damningly, executive Eric Alexander allegedly acquired the medical records of a passenger who was raped by their driver in India, discussed them with Kalanick and Michael, and carried them around for a year. He has now been fired -- but when the episode came to light, it led to more calls for Kalanick's resignation. The passenger is now suing Uber.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Source: Business Insider, Business Insider

But late on Tuesday night, the news broke that the embattled CEO had resigned. 'I love Uber more than anything in the world and at this difficult moment in my personal life I have accepted the investors request to step aside so that Uber can go back to building rather than be distracted with another fight,' Travis Kalanick said in a statement.

Mike Windle/Getty Images for Vanity Fair
Travis Kalanick.

Source: Business Insider

There was reportedly 'hours of drama' between Uber's investors, and five demanded Kalanick's immediate resignation. Bill Gurley, who reportedly pushed for the CEO to go, subsequently tweeted: 'There will be many pages in the history books devoted to (Travis Kalanick) -- very few entrepreneurs have had such a lasting impact on the world.'

Bill Gurley.

What's next for Travis Kalanick? It's not yet clear. He will remain on the company's board, and still owns a massive stake in the company. 'Travis has always put Uber first,' the firm's board said in a statement. 'This is a bold decision and a sign of his devotion and love for Uber. By stepping away, he's taking the time to heal from his personal tragedy while giving the company room to fully embrace this new chapter in Uber's history.'

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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