As 10cc famously sang “One night in Paris will wipe the smile off your pretty face” and it will, especially when you are standing there on a winter’s evening in the rain trying to hail a cab.
And it’s on just such a winter’s night in 2008 that our tale begins. Two old friends, Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp, had been attending the LeWeb, an annual tech conference. Both had reasons to be cheerful as in the previous year they had both men had sold their start-ups for sizeable sums of money. Kalanick had sold Red Swoosh to Akamai Technologies for $19 million while Camp sold StumbleUpon to eBay for $75 million.
Getting over their frustration and the cold, they briefly discussed the germ of an idea, a timeshare limo service that could be ordered via an app. However, nothing happened immediately, and they went their separate ways.
Camp, now back in San Francisco, was still working as CEO of StumbleUpon but he continued to mull the idea over. Increasingly he thought there might be something in it and started to work on it as a side project. He bought the domain name UberCab.com.
In 2009, he contacted and persuaded Kalanick to join as UberCab’s ‘Chief Incubator’. The service was tested in New York in early 2010 using only three cars. The official launch took place in San Francisco in May.
The service started to catch on. The ease and simplicity of ordering and paying for the ride made it really attractive.
This led to the company receiving its first major funding, of $1.25 million in October 2010 – a round led by First Round Capital. It would be followed by other larger funding rounds – a $11 million Series A round of funding led by Benchmark Capital and in December, back at the 2011 LeWeb Conference, Kalanick announced that Uber raised $37 million in Series B funding from Menlo Ventures, Jeff Bezos, and Goldman Sachs.
The funds helped the brand expand to New York, Seattle, Boston, Chicago, Washington D.C. as well as its first foray abroad into Paris, of course.
In 2012, the company broadened its offering by launching UberX, which provided a less expensive hybrid car as an alternative to black car service
Its growth hasn’t always been a smooth ride though. In 2014, traditional taxi drivers staged large scale protests in London, Berlin, Paris, and Madrid. Taxi companies claimed that since Uber avoided their expensive license fees and bypasses local laws it created unfair competition. There have been legal challenges in many European as to whether Uber is a transportation company or a company offering what they call ‘information-society services’.
There has been a long running case in the UK where there have been challenges to Uber’s position that its drivers are self-employed rather than employees. In October 2017 Uber lost its license to operate in London where the company has 40,000 registered drivers. Transport for London (TfL) said Uber was unfit to hold a license; Uber felt that the Mayor had caved in to a minority who wanted to restrict consumer choice. On June 26, 2018, a London judge overturned the ban, effectively allowing Uber to operate under a 15-month license, albeit with certain conditions.
Despite these bumps in the road Uber continues to grow and expand.
According to their website they “ignite opportunity by setting the world in motion.
Good things happen when people can move, whether across town or towards their dreams. Opportunities appear, open up, become reality. What started as a way to tap a button to get a ride has led to billions of moments of human connection as people around the world go all kinds of places in all kinds of ways with the help of our technology.”