Keeping the Faith: Why I Keep Betting on Uber's Travis Kalanick
I’m probably like a lot of Uber investors.
I got in roughly during the A round in May, 2011, albeit through a side door (by taking equity for our services in helping Uber fight the taxi industry and recalcitrant regulators around the country).
Travis seemed like an impressive guy, the business model was interesting, but it’s not like I knew what Uber would one day become (if I did, I would have taken my entire fee in equity instead of only some of it).
When Uber hit a $3.5 billion valuation in August of 2013, I was excited (I remember a late night call where Travis told me what my equity was worth and realizing my entire life had just changed).
The business kept growing, we kept fighting the taxi industry (and winning), Uber kept expanding, but even then, I didn’t know where things would land. When Facebook bought What'sApp for $19 billion in February 2014, I remember thinking “If only Uber could have an exit like that.”
Then Uber blew right past $19 billion. And $25 billion. And $30, 40, 50, 60, all the way to its current valuation of $68 billion. If I had been allowed to sell along the way, each milestone would have prompted me to unload most of my equity. And yet by not being allowed to, the value of my stake keeps growing and growing.
Travis just proved it again with his merger of Uber China and Didi Chuxing. He spent $2 billion, turned that into $7 billion in current value in Didi and by merging the two ridesharing giants in China, that $7 billion could easily end up being worth 10 times that amount. Now Uber can focus on expansion into other areas of the globe, specifically Southeast Asia, India, and Latin America.
Do I know where it’ll end up whenever Uber goes public? Of course not (and anyone who says they do is trying to sell you something). Of course I want an IPO to happen sooner than later (and a secondary market for private shares does make sense, even if utilizing it may not be in the equity holder’s best interests).
But I also believe that Travis knows what he’s doing, has a true vision for the company, knows what he needs to achieve before going public, and will get us there.
A lot of recent signs point just to that - more advances in Uber’s autonomous vehicle development, legalization of ridesharing in China, merging with Didi Chuxing in China, developing its own mapping system, Lyft putting itself on the market.
So whether Uber ultimately goes public at its current valuation or a multiple of it, we fundamentally have a company that is literally changing the way the world gets around, led by someone who developed and has stayed true to that vision from day one.
What this means for you For those of you who have invested or are investing in startups, it all comes down to the quality of their leadership.
If the CEO and his or her team is great, trust them and let them do their job. If not, it doesn’t matter how much you pressure them because odds are, you made the wrong call when you invested in a bad management team and there’s no way to fix it now.
In other words, I bet on Travis and it worked. And while there’s only one Travis Kalanick out there, when investing in a startup, knowing who you’re investing in (even more important than what you’re investing in) is the most important thing to know.
But for those of us waiting to see the proceeds from our investment, the best thing we can do is let Travis do his job, fulfill his vision, and keep us from selling ourselves short.
The above appeared on Inc.com as a political op-ed and social commentary.