CRF Blog

Man and Uber Man

by Bill Hayes

In Man and Uber Man, Vanity Fair profiles Travis Kalanick and his company, Uber.

[T]he service launched in San Francisco in the summer of 2010, with only a few cars, a handful of employees, and a small seed round. It was a big idea, especially since UberCab was about to ride the most important new trend of the tech scene, the mobile moment. After entering credit-card information on the app, anyone could summon a car with the press of a button. G.P.S. took care of the location, and the cost was automatically charged to the customer’s account, with tipping already figured in. In other words, in a phrase often used by Camp, everyone could ride like a millionaire.

In August, well-known angel investor Chris Sacca tweeted out his love of the service, pretty much summing up the idea: “Rolling in an @ubercab. Eat your heart out Robin Leach.”

But the real attention came in October, when the new company got a cease-and-desist order from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, as well as the California Public Utilities Commission. Both, among other issues, objected to the use of “cab” in UberCab’s name, since it was operating without a taxi license. As it turned out, such a setback was just what Kalanick wanted: an opportunity for a fight.

He still gets exercised when he talks about it: “We’re totally legal, like totally legal, and the government is telling us to shut down. And you can either do what they say or you can fight for what you believe,” says Kalanick, setting a pattern of what he called “principled confrontation” that still persists.

Instead, the start-up ignored most of the order and simply changed UberCab to Uber … [more]