Uber turns five this week. For many users it’s hard to imagine a time when taxis or dial-a-number car services were the only way to be driven around. If Uber isn’t quite grown up yet, it certainly has grown. It is now in 311 cities in 58 countries, and it employs more than 3,000 people worldwide. To celebrate its anniversary the company is running a series of promotions in its home town and first market, San Francisco. Travis Kalanick, the company’s chief executive, also plans to give a speech to Uber’s employees, drivers, and various dignitaries. He’ll focus on the challenges that cities face (including safer roads, congestion, and economic opportunity) and how he thinks Uber can help. As well, Uber’s San Francisco employees plan to fan out across San Francisco over the weekend, volunteering on a handful of public-works projects.
In celebration of its anniversary, Uber recently made five of its earliest employees available for interviews to talk about how they came to Uber and what some of their first tasks were. Their stories have some common themes, including the serendipity of joining something that didn’t look like much at first, scrapping to get something new going, and using Twitter to job hunt and stay abreast of critical developments. Their comments follow.
Ryan Graves was working for GE in 2009, and he decided he needed a change.
I said, “I cannot be the GE guy.” I wanted to get into the startup world. I started following on Twitter a lot of guys in New York and angel investors around the country, figuring that angel investors know what’s coming next.
I wanted to know what was coming next in terms of starting something. I met the Foursquare guys when there were four or five them. They weren’t offering any kind of internships or business roles at the time, but I went out to Chicago and essentially started working for Foursquare. I did that for about three months. Then I saw a Tweet from Travis through some random angel investor who I was following who didn’t know him from Adam. He talked about big equity, big people involved. And I thought that sounded interesting.
So I tweeted at him and I shot him a couple of paragraphs about who I was. We spoke that night ’till one in the morning. It was a two-hour conversation. I woke up my wife in the middle of the night and said, “Hey, what do you think about moving to San Francisco?” We were in Chicago at the time. To her credit, she said, “If you think it’s a good idea, I’m up for it.”
Graves moved to San Francisco in February 2010. There was a lot of work to do at the new company, including improving on the work of one of Uber’s co-founders, Garrett Camp.
Garrett had a prototype that didn’t work very well, so one of the first things we did was go out and get a firm to rebuild it before we pushed it to the App Store. They were called Mobley and were later acquired by Groupon. Then we designed the site for UberCab.com. We also worked on things like the sign-up flow and integrated credit card payment systems. All of the basics of commerce needed to be built out. We had one guy who was a driver that we would meet with at coffee shops, asking him questions so we could get an idea if the real world would accept this idea.