Featured Business Leader Travis Kalanick

Featured Business Leader  Travis Kalanick

As CEO of one of the most talked about transportation companies in the world, Uber, Travis Kalanick is a brilliant example of a resilient leader. Born in August 1976 in Los Angeles, California, Kalanick completed high school at Granada Hills, and later enrolled to study computer engineering at the University of California (Los Angeles). Whilst he did not complete his degree, he left university in 1998 to form his first start-up, Scour Inc. Scour was a multimedia search engine, paired with a peer-to-peer file exchange service, and whilst it did file for bankruptcy in 2000, this did not deter Kalanick. 

Only one short year later, Kalanick’s second venture, Red Swoosh, was created with the help of Scour’s engineering team. Again, this was a peer-to-peer file-sharing company, however this time around, the software took advantage of the increased bandwidth efficiency on the Internet. After six years of successful operation, Akamai Technologies acquired the company for $19 million, and left Kalanick with a clean slate to pursue his third start-up.

It wasn’t until 2009 that Kalanick, along with business partner Garrett Camp, founded Uber Technologies. As a mobile application which connects passengers with drivers of vehicles for hire and ridesharing services, in only six years Uber has grown to operate in more than 200 cities around the world. The Uber venture hasn’t come without its difficulties for Kalanick though, with the legality of the service and safety of passengers constantly under scrutiny.

It is through this scrutiny in which Kalanick has demonstrated his resilience as a leader and entrepreneur. In the Wall Street Journal in January 2013 he said “Stand by your principles and be comfortable with confrontation. So few people are, so when the people with the red tape come, it becomes a negotiation”. This is an interesting point as when confrontation does arise, many of us try to work out what we can give the other party in order to make the problem go away. If you truly believe in what you’re offering and its ethics, then you shouldn’t be afraid to stand your ground. Kalanick has also shared that “as an entrepreneur, I try to push the limits – pedal to the metal”, further reinforcing his risk-taking behaviour and mindset.

Today, Uber has raised more than $4 billion from investors, and is valued as a private company at $41.2 billion (Forbes). Whilst it is banned in several countries including Spain, and was temporarily banned in India, the company has indicated that it is stepping up its cooperation with city governments. Uber has also built itself a reputation for innovative marketing strategies, with initiatives such as Uber Kittens creating much hype.

The case of Uber, and its leadership by Travis Kalanick, is certainly an interesting one to examine.  I am interested to hear from readers who are both for and against Uber and Kalanick’s leadership direction. What do you admire? What would you have done differently? Please feel free to comment your views below and join the AIB conversation.

This article was written by Laura Hutton on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources have been used to prepare this article: Vanity FairBrainy QuoteIncForbes; and News.

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