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Go everywhere and go deep
By Travis Kalanick, Co-Founder and CEO, Uber (As told to Ryan Lawler)
Travis Kalanick is the founder and CEO of car service application Uber, which is aiming to revolutionize the way that people get around major cities. Before that, he was the co-founder of the P2P file sharing application Scour.net and the founder and CEO of the P2P CDN provider RedSwoosh, which got acquired by Akamai in April 2007. We asked Kalanick to tell us about his plans for 2012, as he and Uber disrupt the urban transportation industry.
One of the things I take away from 2011 and deep into 2012 is that I have got to put the pedal to the metal on international expansion. The adage “Get domestic right first, and then go international” doesn’t apply when you go hyperlocal, and it doesn’t apply in a world where there’s an industry around cloning applications. You need to go out there and stake your claim aggressively before someone copycats you.
Replication and domination are definitely on our minds this year. Our goal is to get more Ubers in every city we’re in than there are taxis.
We have 20-25 cities ahead of us in 2012, which is an operational challenge. The average Internet tech company doesn’t have to scale operations by going into different cities. They scale operations by adding servers, right? Our challenge is to scale operations in every city we go to. I think that’s been one of the interesting challenges that Uber faces, and will face, over the next few years.
We don’t go to a city unless we think we can do $100 million top line in that city. So there’s a high-leverage operational environment going on here. But it means that the three people we put in each city have to be really, really good at what they do. While some folks might have to scale sales forces in a distributed fashion, we are scaling operational teams.
At the same time, we’re definitely a tech company. We still shoot to have half of our staff in engineering. We’ve got crazy math to make sure that the right number of cars are on the road at the right time — we predict demand, we do supply matching, we do positioning. There’s a lot of good stuff that makes it a hell of a lot of fun.
There are a lot of cool things when you think, “How do you go deep in a city?” There are a lot of things you can do from a feature perspective, a market segmentation perspective, and a technology perspective to build out that urban logistic fabric.
As we roll into 2012, it’s time for us to build a management infrastructure to handle our growth. We’re a team of doers. We’re a team of makers. But when you become a company of 200 or 300 people, you need to build your executive ranks, so that the train doesn’t go off the tracks. Remember, this isn’t your everyday type of thing, right? We have operational teams, engineering, product managers with process managers, and regulatory people. We also have thousands of drivers connected to our system. There’s a lot going on there and it’s a highly complex environment.
I think a lot of high-growth companies — you know, Airbnb, Dropbox, et cetera — are going through the same thing. They are doers and makers who are starting to hire managers.
I’m 24×7 Uber. I love what I do and I have no shame in dedicating every waking hour to my job. It’s fun, man. It’s so much fun. You have no idea. None of us are the type of guys who get to go to the front of the line at the club. But people care about Uber in the cities that we’re in, and often they’re telling our employees things like: “Hey, you’re the Uber guy, right? Come on up front.” It’s a real world thing. No one’s like, “Hey, you do the killer social media app app.” It doesn’t work that way.
There’s just something really cool when you touch people’s lives on a daily basis in a physical way, in a way that changes how they live. When I go into a city and I meet with drivers, they want to hug it out. If that can be your life’s work, that’s beautiful.