Adam Lashinsky’s first book tackled Steve Jobs and Apple. His second takes on Travis Kalanick and the rise of Uber. It is called Wild Ride, and the story he tells really is a wild ride – if you are in a logistics business, it will have you biting your knuckles.
Lashinsky has a great ear for a good story and for any business leader, the tales he tells have a lot of resonance, especially as he is writing a recent history of a super-fast-growing business, with access to an A-list of commentators.
The idea for Uber arose out of Garret Camp’s frustration with the poor quality of taxi services in San Francisco. Camp had moved to the city in 2008 as part of the $75m (£56m) sale of his StumbledUpon website to eBay.
Camp was an engineer and, waiting for a taxi that had not shown up, he thought: “Okay, if you put one smartphone in a car and it has the GPS location and you have one in your hand, then dispatchers do not have to take down the address any more. There could be just one button in the app that says ‘Pick me up’.”
The next thing Camp did was buy the internet domain name for UberCab and discuss his ideas with other entrepreneurs, one of whom was Kalanick, who had scrabbled his way through two start-ups, managing to sell his second business for $3m.
A second key piece to the success of Uber came in 2008, when the two men were in Paris. Kalanick persuaded Camp that he did not need to own limousines or employ drivers.
“You can just give the app to drivers and let them be free agents – it is just a better model to have,” he told Camp.
From the start of 2009, Camp invested $250,000 in getting UberCabs up and running. He persuaded Kalanick to take a leading role and the limousine service was launched in May 2010.
Almost immediately, Kalanick started raising funds. One of the first investors was Rob Hayes of First Round Capital, who had been following Camp on Twitter. He sent an email to Camp saying that he would bite at the offer of investing. Hayes had gone for a ride and decided to invest not because he believed in the limousine service, but because it was so convenient to use.
“I knew that using the existing black-car market as a proxy for how big this could get was wrong. But I knew it was better than what was here today and that it solved a real customer problem,” Hayes tells Lashinsky.
His firm put up $450,000 as UberCabs raised $1.5m, with a company valuation of $4m. “The bet would net the firm billions in return,” Lashinsky observes.
In October that year, Kalanick installed himself as chief executive and dropped the word Cab from the company’s name to avoid attention from local regulators.
Across the next two years, the company expanded worldwide into 262 cities using an improvised playbook.
After growing, Uber launched a raft of experiments, including UberEats, a food-delivery business. Launched in four cities in the spring of 2015, UberEats was in 62 by the start of this year and is now Uber’s second biggest business.
What is remarkable about this is that the company was still basically a start-up at this point, inventing processes as it went along.
Lashinsky shows Kalanick’s genius first in how he transformed someone else’s idea from “being merely interesting to undeniably groundbreaking” and second in how he raised money.
Uber has demonstrated how an app on a smartphone can disrupt industries. Its success has inspired everyone from Amazon to Tesla to think about reshaping our world. Wild Ride helps you to see why.