Ryan McKillen was Uber’s second engineer. He learned about the company from Graves, a fellow alumnus of Miami University of Ohio whom he’d gotten to know in San Francisco. The company was using a small amount of office space from another startup called Zozi.
Somehow we ended up in a tiny conference room in their office, this glassed-in little conference room. The table was about as big as the room. On the morning of my first day I remember crossing the threshold of the door and noticing this stack of books on the table. All these computer science books, programming, databases, all this stuff. They’re pristine—the bindings on the books had never been broken. And there’s this one tattered book on the table that looks like it’s gotten all kinds of love, a lot of use. And so, first thing I say is, “Hey, Conrad, why is there a Spanish-to-English dictionary on the table?” And he looks back up at me and goes, “Well, Ryan, because the code is written in Spanish. Welcome to Uber.”
Austin Geidt started at Uber as an intern. Eventually she’d do so many jobs that she’d be the expert on Uber’s “playbook” for opening new markets.
I was out of school. I was looking for jobs. It was a bad economy. I was following a few random tech people on Twitter, and I think it was from Jason Calacanis, but I saw some tweets about Uber, and it looked interesting. I heard they were looking for an intern, and so I reached out to Ryan Graves, who was CEO at the time, and basically was like, “You’ve got to give me a shot.”
This was in August of 2010. And he called me pretty immediately. He said, “Answer a few questions for me.” I put together a little deck of some sort. I’d love to see today what it looks like. And then, pretty immediately, he was like, “Why don’t you come on in?” And then I met with them.
They were sharing Zozi’s office. They had very little space at the time. I met them. I don’t remember what we talked about but it was very casual. I liked that. I remember that I came very overdressed and they were just, like, these nerdy guys.
I remember thinking, “These guys are really cool, they’re really passionate about what they’re doing. Their products are really interesting.” And so I pleaded [to Graves] and he gave me a shot. I wasn’t super-qualified at the time, to be completely honest. It was a struggle for the first couple of months. I didn’t do super well, but they kind of hung on to me while I was green until I got the hang of it.
I was an intern, so the job wasn’t very defined. I remember handing out flyers at the Moscone Center that no one wanted. I remember cold-calling drivers off of Yelp. Then our first support ticket came in. I was like, “I got this.” And we experimented with phone support early, which just went to my phone. If I didn’t pick up, it went to Graves’s phone, and then to Travis down the line. But then I would get calls at 3 a.m. saying, “I can’t get a car.” So we shut that down. But in the beginning, it was just kind of making up value where I could find it.
I was so green out of school that I thought I didn’t know how to write a proper email. Then I quickly learned: “Oh, everyone’s kind of making this up.” In a start up, no one knows what they’re doing. As soon as I got confident on that, I was pretty much off to a running start.
When we started getting support, I was like, “All right, I’m going to do all the support.” I took on the community-management side of blogging and whatnot. And then our driver operations guy left the company. They said, “Austin, can you take this along with what you’re doing?” And I said, “Sure.” And so then I was managing relations with partners.
Remember, we were just limos at the time, right? And so I remember onboarding someone. I happened to walk him out and see that he was in, like, a pink [Chrysler] Caravan, and I was like, “Oh, we should probably do vehicle checks going forward.”
I took notes on everything that I was doing as I was launching a city. It kind of became a very sloppy version of our first playbook. And then each city I would go to thereafter, I would try and refine it, make it more efficient, just streamline this process. Then they said, “Okay, why don’t you hire a couple of launchers?” I ultimately hired about 50. My attitude was, “Ask for forgiveness.” I managed the expansion.