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Big Omaha – Travis Kalanick: ‘Whatever it is that you’re afraid of, go after it’

Travis Kalanick speaks at Big Omaha 2011. Photo by Malone & Company.

Travis Kalanick is the co-founder and CEO of Uber, a startup working to provide high-quality, on-demand car service booked easily through a user’s iPhone or SMS. His previous company, Red Swoosh, was sold for $19 million in April 2007. Prior companies include Scour, the world’s first p2p search engine, where Kalanick also achieved the distinction of being sued for $250 billion.

After giving a brief background on his childhood, Kalanick jumped right in to describing some of his first companies. This included a quick overview of the $250 billion lawsuit, how they shut that company down, reworked the tech into something that could be sold, and then the realization that they were five years to early to market.

After finally getting that company profitable and sold, Kalanick started what he called his “curation phase.” This basically consisted of frequently getting a bunch of entrepreneurs together to hash through various ideas, issues and technologies. Basically, any problem they needed to solve.

Travis took a good portion of his talk to talk about some of the lessons learned during the Jam sessions he curated.

Preemption is bad

Preemption is when someone accepts a deal or offer without hearing others. As Kalanick put it, “They try to make it seem easy.” “Here, lets make a deal and you don’t have to go talk to other people.” … “Even when I thought it was a good idea, it’s always proven that it was a bad idea.”

VCs tend to kill founding CEOs

“I don’t know why. I can’t explain why this happens, but it does.” He briefly gave an example of a common scenario where a venture capitalist is very supportive of the founders when they are building the deal, but inevitably the venture capitalists tend to start pushing them out.

“Fake it until you make it” is B.S.

Travis spoke very passionately about this lesson. It is something that is frequently seen for any number of reasons, however, Kalanick feels that “It’s a lie to yourself and everyone around you … If you feel like you need to fake it, then you should check yourself.”

Fear is the disease. Hustle is the antidote

“When you’re scared (of when your next sale will come), get on the phone and call 100 more customers.” The point that Travis was trying to make is that entrepreneurs will encounter something they fear at some point and that they will need to learn to control that fear. The advice that he had was to get out of your comfort-zone and find a way to kill that fear. “Whatever it is that you’re afraid of, go after it.”

Funding does not solve all problems

Travis started by saying, “This is an issue given today’s environment. It seems like anyone can be a Y-Combinator kid.” This topic has come up more than once at Big Omaha this year and is certainly gaining some mass. I think Kalanick did a great job of summarizing why by saying “At the end of the day you still have to make something people want. You have find a way to produce it. You have to find a way to distribute it.” 

CEOs that survive are CEOs

“Sometimes they have to be a ninja and know how take people out.” With everything that a startup goes through, a CEO is put in a wide variety of situations that they will be forced to find a way out of. People that are able to do this, and do it well, are meant to be CEO’s. Others are not.

Kalanick then went on to talk about his latest company Uber. Uber “provides licensed, professional drivers the ability to receive and fulfill on-demand car service reservations as your private driver.” The company originally started in San Francisco, has expanded to New York City, and is already planning to expand to additional cities in the near future. In regards to building the business, some of the topics that Uber is focusing on are:

  • Creating a wow product
  • Creating a big disruption
  • Creating insane traction
  • Having OMG double rainbow metrics
  • Math-a-magic & data porn