Travis KalanickFounder of Uber Published On: Tuesday, December 08, 2015 Views 6676


Born on the born 6th of August 1976; Travis Kalanick is the founder of Uber!

Founded as “UberCab”, the company is a prodigy of the cofounders Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp.

Quite opposite to the popular belief, Uber is not a cab service providing company! It, in fact on papers is a company that develops, markets and operates the Uber mobile app, and the app connects the consumers who own smartphones, to individual Uber drivers.

In 2014, Uber was rated as 48th most powerful company in the America by Klout and in the current year, it holds a valuation of a whopping $50 Billion.

Talking about the hero of our story; with a net worth of $6 Billion and listing amongst the 400 richest Americans, Travis is one of the very few people in the world, who holds no special position (Government-wise), yet has successfully managed to scare the shit out of a long list of many.

Don’t believe me? Read this…..

“I have no info about Uber/Google. But, as much as i think page is a genius, i would never, ever want to compete w/ @travisk. He’s too good.”

This was a tweet by Chris Sacca, billionaire investor and ex-Googler, when Google was intending to start something similar to Uber.

Yeah, this is how good he is!!!


Anyway, moving on! Travis’s mother, Bonnie used to work for Los Angeles Daily News in retail advertising, while Donald, his father was a Civil Engineer for the city of Los Angeles.

As of the present year, it is said that he is dating Gabi Holzwarth – a violinist and Huffington Post writer, whom he had met at a party hosted by Shervin Pishevar.

What Were The Failures Of His Early Life?

Now this failure or early ventures are divided into two parts, which eventually led to the formation of his true calling…

Let’s follow the sequence!


Uber is that boom in the tech world which holds foundation dating back all the way to his university days!

The ambitious 21-year-old during the ending months of his Engineering, was more than keen on getting into the real world and take up entrepreneurship. Unable to control the urges, Travis dropped out of college and around 1998, went on to start working on his first venture Scour! Scour was nothing but a Napster-like product, but also had few other additions to it like movies as well.

The founding team of Scour included his college friends, and while, most of them handled the geeky end a.k.a the technology end, Travis being a good talker, was also made in-charge of business development and marketing as well. As his friends called him – he was a natural salesman!

Travis, to everybody’s luck also managed to bring-in investment from Michael Ovitz (cofounder of the talent agency CAA) and Ron Burkle (supermarket mogul). Michael was also the one who had given Travis his first lessons of hardball business tactics.

He started-off by asking for a 51% share of the start-up in against for the $4 million he and Ron were giving, and in addition to that, when the start-up team began looking for other investors, Michael and Ron sued Scour as a negotiating tactic.

Scour’s central Headquarters was an apartment in LA for several years. Oh, and this was also the phase or rather the tense phase, when file sharing portals were being sued by content providers.

But fighting all the odds, Scour grew to account for millions of consumers. This was mainly due to their offerings of music, movies and including reproduced copies of then-current theatrical releases.

And then what they feared the most, happened!

In 2000, just about 2 years since their formation – Motion Picture Association of America, Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and National Music Publishers Association (NMPA) filed a lawsuit against Scour, claiming copyright infringement.

At such a young age, these founders were being sued by nearly every major record company and movie studio across the United States with damages of $100,000 per file.

Going by this figure, they were being sued for a whooping $250 billion. This was around the GDP of Sweden, back then. And obviously, due to the lawsuit, the company was also declined more funds as well.

The situations were so bad that, when Travis was even threatened by Michael by sending an associate to him at a public event and was told that if Scour did anything to hurt Michael’s reputation, then the consequences would be dire.

Eventually, Travis was forced to file for Chapter 11 of Bankruptcy protection, and then left the company.

But things didn’t end there. Travis being the badass bounced back. But with “a revenge business” – RedSwoosh!


So the idea of Red Swoosh was to turn those 33 companies who had sued Travis into their customers.

Confusing? Well, he actually made that happen!

All he did was, Travis transformed Scour’s file-sharing technology used by general consumers into an enterprise software product, which would make it cheaper for media companies to deliver large media files on the web. The team also remained the same.

And in 2001, he officially started the new company – RedSwoosh.

What was interesting was that, since Red Swoosh was running the world’s largest Data Grid with more than 200,000 machines simultaneously connected, and 3M machines participating worldwide, it made the company even more lucrative to opt for.

But as we all are aware, all the revenge plans sound very simple in the head, but they turn out to be really different in reality. Similar was his case as well. A while after the company launched, Bandwidth prices fell rapidly and also began the dotcom bust.

So basically, no investments for the company!

The company was forced to fire all its employees expect for one, and Travis also had moved in with his parents.

Every morning seemed like the verge of bankruptcy for them. Everyone thought he was crazy to keep going, but Travis didn’t let negativity hinder him.

But problems just didn’t seem to end for them. IRS (Internal Revenue Service) some of the practices of the company were not legal. They found out that Red Swoosh had been withholding taxes from employee’s salaries and were asked to pay a fine of $110,000 or else face jail time.

Luckily, Travis was able to acquire a decent amount of funding from Mark Cuban, and eventually rebuilt the team, and also signed up a client in satellite TV provider EchoStar as well.

Later, Travis finally ended the battle by selling off the company to Akamai Technologies for $19 million in 2007!

But the sad part was that, this incident also led to a fight between him and Todd, and Travis took control of the company.

Those 6 years were really hard for him. He was in a phase where everything he saw around him, the first thought he got was “could this help the company?”

To worsen the situation more, he had failure over failure stacking up, which eventually led him to losing all his friends and reaching to a phase of loneliness.

And this is the worst place anyone could be. You are going through hell, and you cannot even talk to anyone about it, you don’t have anyone besides you for support in any way, and every day you have to give yourself reasons to continue.

When asked – “Why didn’t he give up in the early days itself?”

And his answer was hear warming – “You can’t control who you fall in love with!”

What Were The Failures Of His Early Life?

At this stage, Travis had 2 major failures backing him. He was completely broken and shattered.

Clearly, he couldn’t get back to the Silicon Valley, and these failures along with the fear and its whole package, also restricted him from making another effort as well. But what motivated him to get back in the game, was watching Vicky Cristina Barcelona, a 70-year old director bringing in something new.

And this time it was different. That entire phase of struggle Travis had gone through in the recent past; he could clearly see that, they had come to train him and show him something.

He had now become so good that he exactly anticipate the future.

Then it happened!

Travis was in Paris along with his friend and future cofounder Garrett Camp (founder of StumbleUpon). They were waiting for a cab on a wintery night of 2008 when the idea of Uber, first occurred to them.

But Travis was scared. His past failures were holding him back. But Garrett somehow convinced him to give it a shot.

Taking the leap of faith, Travis developed the app and in 2009 they launched ‘Uber Cab’.

uber cab

The business was basically like a high-end personal limousine service, but instead of limos there would be cabs. The idea was to make the service a low-cost accessible luxury.

In other words, Uber Cab was a mobile application that connected passengers with drivers of vehicles for hire.

Its pricing model was also similar to that of metered taxis, but the difference here was that the payments were made online, and were handled exclusively by Uber and not by the driver.

Now, it was important for the company to get more and more people to use the service, because the more Uber got busier, it would get better. Drivers would make more money, passengers would be more happy and eventually so would the company.

Uber Cab was the first mobile app that offered this kind of service and also managed to receive $200,000 in seed funding in the same year as well.

Till now, Ryan Graves was managing the position of the CEO, but you can say Travis was officially back, when in formally took over the position of the CEO in 2010.

And from here onwards, began the battle!

The first battle came on the very day Uber’s board formally named Travis the CEO.

Travis got the message that Uber Cab was issued a cease-and-desist order by the city of San Francisco. They were accusing the company of running a Cab Service company without a license and were asked to pay the fine of $5,000 per ride and go to 90 days in jail, or stop the business.

But this time Travis was ready to fight back. He didn’t shut the business down, and kept the cars rolling. All he did was, he dropped “cab” from the company name, renamed it to just “Uber”.

Next, he went to meet the city’s Municipal Transportation Agency and explained that Uber was not a taxi company; instead they were a portal offering technology service to independent drivers.

Coming out with a clean chit, Uber began its widespread expansion, using various ways, mediums and strategies.

Being a one-of-a-kind idea; the madness of Uber had begun to catch up and the growth was exponential too.

uber Travis

One of their strategies was Surge Pricing Policy, which meant to lower the prices when the demand is low and increase it when the demand (during the peak hours) goes high, a scheme used by airlines and hotels.

Obviously, the strategy received immense criticism from every angle, but Travis being the badass, laughed it off. He didn’t care much for it either.

On the other end, Travis and Uber being the perfect example of “you can love him or hate him, but you cannot ignore him,” was the star for the Financial Press because of his impeccable calculations at Uber and had also caught the eyes of Venture Capitalists. Going by the words of Fortune – he was “Silicon Valley’s rebel hero”.

Starting may 2011, the company began expanding into a new city each month across the United States, and by the year end they began expanding Internationally as well. The first country was Paris.

In the next two years, they aggressively expanded deeply into the overseas markets using a range of unique strategies and also attained success.

By 2014, Uber, a 4 year old start-up was now being valued at $18.2 billion.

The next challenge that Travis had last year taken up and is working on it, is penetrating into the most complicated and lucrative markets in the world, a.k.a. China and India!

Having said that, Uber entered China in mid-2014, and has so far managed to expand to China’s four largest cities. Around the same time, the company with all offerings also entered India as well.

Within a few months itself, Uber announced a nationwide rollout of UberX in India. UberX service was basically a “for-pay rideshare scheme” wherein the trips cost less than the same journey in an ordinary taxi. Goes without saying, it faced huge criticism from various angles, but nevertheless, the idea turned out to become a HIT.


Now as Uber grew internationally, it also began experiencing disputes with governments, taxi companies, competitors, critics, etc., in many regions. There were many protests and a lot of violence has also been seen at various levels. Failing to resolve the issues, many cities have also opted to ban the service too.

But Travis being the new and improvised version of him, has successfully managed to make his way, using his tricks and strategies.

Be it – hiring former Barack Obama campaign manager David Plouffe as a lobbyist to mobilize public support for the service; launching UberCHOPPER, UberPOOL, Uber Rush, Uber Essentials, UberFRESH in different cities of the world; to launching a marketing program called “principled confrontation”, Travis has created his path to fight the competitors / enemies, and to bring the company to where it is today.

For all those aren’t aware; Uber as of date, successfully operates in 58 countries and 300 cities worldwide and is valued at $50 billion. It has become a generic name in the start-up world (who call themselves as Uber of [X] industry) and a trend that has come to be referred to as “Uberification”.

He has managed to create such a reputation for himself that some of the most eminent investors in the world have given him a blank check to fill.

But don’t be mistaken, for he is also known to be the most ruthless, aggressive, brutal, relentless and the most badass entrepreneur in the tech world. And believe me; everyone in that part of the world would vouch for this!

However this isn’t his fault, he is forced to be like this, because he today has single handedly managed to royally piss of the government, the regulators, his competitors, the taxi drivers and the whole taxi industry of all the countries that Uber operates in, faces threat from numerous angles.


“A businessman by blood, but a business writer out of passion”! As a Business Writer; Karan’s forte lies in writing some really interesting Case Studies about Companies/Eminent Personalities covering aspects which certainly, would not bore you to death!

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