5-Year Anniversary Remarks from Uber CEO Travis Kalanick

Uber launched in San Francisco five years ago this week. On Wednesday, June 3, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick gave a special address to employees, driver partners and others reflecting on the past five years and looking ahead to the future.

You can read his full remarks below.


5-Year Anniversary Remarks as Delivered by Uber CEO Travis Kalanick

Like Ryan Graves mentioned, it’s unusual for us to take the opportunity to reflect and as I see my mom up here — she’s getting a little emotional, and I get this from my mom. Man, it’s been five years, and we went from, like Graves said, four people around a desk to something that is around the world. So we couldn’t have guessed that this would be something we would do or something in our future, but here we are. For a while, Graves and I, we could barely keep the lights on, and our thoughts in the beginning were really about surviving and making sure we had enough rides with the number of cars we put on the system. We needed to make sure we were surviving, much less thriving.

But it’s not just the journey that matters – it’s who you take the journey with. And because I am so proud of what we have accomplished together over these past five years, I wanted to gather as an Uber family and talk about our road ahead.

This moment of reflection is an important time for us to reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re going. As Garrett mentioned, we had this romantic moment. Garrett gives me a little more credit than I deserve. It was Garrett who said, “I wanted to push a button and get a ride.” I wasn’t sure I wanted to buy 10 S-classes and create a full limo company. Garrett brought the classy, and I helped to bring the efficiency.

Uber didn’t begin with any grand ambitions. It began as the answer to that simple question.

We started small, opening it up to about a hundred of our friends in San Francisco and then launching officially five years ago this week. Sofiane was there in the very early days. Those drivers, just like those riders, were willing to give us a chance. I remember when there were two cars here in San Francisco, you’re basically like, I’d call a friend, “Hey, are you able to get a car? Is this happening? Can you make it happen?” And there was a lot of dedication on the rider and the driver side. But the more people heard about Uber, and the more that it started to work, the more people wanted to ride, and drive, with Uber. Our early riders didn’t want to waste time driving in traffic, looking for parking, or waiting twenty minutes to get a cab. Those days, in San Francisco, it wasn’t just about waiting 20 minutes to cab, it was about waiting 20 minutes to maybe get a cab. The first drivers wanted to spend their precious time actually moving people around their city, not waiting idly for fares that may never appear.

These are the people who ultimately built Uber from the ground up: the riders and the drivers who believed in Uber when not many did; who fought for Uber when not many would. And, of course, the inspiring employees here at Uber, who roll their sleeves up and lay it all out there every day because they believe in the mission, and each other. You’re the ones who made it possible for us to serve so many more people in so many more places. And today, just five years later, those original hundred friends and ten drivers have become tens of millions of people in 300 cities across six continents. Every single month, Uber is adding hundreds of thousands of drivers around the world. Already, there are over 26,000 drivers in New York, 15,000 drivers in London, 10,000 in Paris, 42,000 in Chengdu and 22,000, of course, here in San Francisco. These are economic opportunities for men and women who want the chance to earn a better living, it was a chance for a better living and the freedom, as Theresa said, and the freedom to set their own schedule. Just recently, our millionth driver took his first passenger on Uber. And in 2015 alone — this is just in the rest of the year — we expect another million people to drive with Uber.

Even though this company grew out of a desire to solve a very common problem, you’ve put Uber in a position to help tackle some of the biggest challenges facing our cities in the years ahead.

Many of these challenges stem from a transportation status quo that is unequal, insufficient and massively inefficient. Right now, the world has over 1 billion cars on roads. Of those billion cars, 96% are not in use. Ninety-six percent of the time, people aren’t utilizing one of the most expensive assets they own. And further, a full fifteen percent of the space in our cities is dedicated to storing these cars when they aren’t being used that aren’t being driven.

When these billion cars are actually on the road, they create even more problems. We now spend almost two full days per year sitting in traffic. I’m from Los Angeles, that sounds pretty good. But it’s not necessary. In the U.S. alone, nearly 20% of the carbon emissions that are destroying our climate come from the vehicles we drive. And every 52 minutes, somebody is killed in a drunk driving accident.

Public transportation of course is part of the answer. But public transportation alone isn’t enough. Not everyone can live by a bus stop or a subway station. And today, there are still too many places that mass transit doesn’t serve; places where it’s hard to get a cab – the poorest neighborhoods and suburban communities where millions of people don’t have access to reliable, affordable transportation. It creates an unequal transportation ecosystem that makes people’s lives that much harder and more expensive to live.

Throughout North America and Europe, the transportation status quo is a real problem. But in developing countries like China, like India that are adding tens of thousands of cars to their roads every day, it is existential. In places like Mexico City, where there are now nearly two cars being added for every new resident that comes into that city– older, less fuel efficient cars – the failure to alleviate this will lead to more deadly collisions, more dangerous pollution, and the kind of inefficiency that strangles economic growth. This is not hyperbole– this is what we know will happen if something doesn’t change.

And yet, while this may be the road that we’re on, it doesn’t have to be the road that we take. City by city, Uber’s technology and innovation is changing challenging the transportation status quo. We’re offering a real alternative to a world that looks like a parking lot and moves like a traffic jam – a new mode of transportation that complements and improves the system we have today now. If you’re looking for a safer, cheaper, more reliable way to get from here to there, Uber is the right choice – for riders, for drivers, and for cities. And as we’ve gotten bigger, it’s been about the cities and the impact we’ve brought not just to riders and drivers but to the cities we serve.

Uber is the right choice for anyone who wants a way to earn a living as a driver. Our driver partners are the heart and soul of this company, and the only reason we’ve come this far in just five years.

While most of these drivers are new to the industry, many are professionals who are happy to have an alternative to working for the taxi company. These drivers are fed up with an antiquated system where you have to punch a clock and keep a grueling schedule. Imagine putting up with all that after spending $40,000 a year just to rent a car. That’s how much the taxi driver has to spend per year just to be a taxi driver.

By comparison, people tell us that being a driver on Uber is liberating – there’s no schedule, no boss, and better income through better technology. These people tell us they drive because they love the flexibility these jobs provide – the student who can work to pay his off her college debt between classes; the freelance consultant or artist who can make a few trips between meetings or performances; the single mom who can turn off the app to pick up her kids from school, and then turn it back on once they’ve been dropped off at soccer practice. What other job out there can you just turn it on when you want to start and off when you want to stop – whenever you feel like it. There’s no other job like it and that flexibility is powerful for having control of your life. And for people who want to earn a little extra money for their family, the ability to open the Uber app whenever they want and make $50 in just a couple of hours isn’t just a better choice – it can feel like a small miracle.

Uber is also the right choice for riders and commuters, and there are three reasons why:

First, Uber is a safe option. Our technology allows passengers to constantly rate their drivers, and vice versa. Every driver is screened and every ride is insured. During a ride, a driver’s identity and location is traced by GPS in real time – by us, by you, and by whichever friends and family you want to tell. And if there’s ever an issue, you can contact us immediately and we’ll actually do something about it. Uber’s technology also makes it easy to work with public safety officials to make sure people are protected. And when we get big in the cities we have extensive relationships with public officials and cities who have that in mind. And where we operate, we’re very proud that Uber is helping so many people make smarter, life-saving decisions at the end of the night. In Seattle, DUI arrests have dropped by 10 percent. In California, thousands of drunk-driving accidents have been prevented since the launch of UberX.

Second, Uber is the most reliable transportation choice. Push a button, and the average ride is just a few minutes away. This is possible because our technology predicts demand and matches it with the appropriate supply. So it doesn’t matter where you are or where you’re going. There is no destination discrimination. There are no refusals because of what you look like or where you live. Someone living in Compton or the Tenderloin is just as likely to get picked up by an Uber as someone in Beverly Hills or Pac Heights. If you live in the East Bay or New York’s outer-boroughs, you’re just as likely to get picked up as if you’re in downtown San Francisco or Manhattan. And if your train or subway or bus doesn’t get you all the way home from work, Uber will take you that last mile. By complementing the existing mass transit system, we’re helping to build the world’s most reliable transportation network for everyone, everywhere.

And third, Uber is the most affordable transportation choice. In most cities, UberX is half the cost of a taxi, and when you factor in parking, insurance, and maintenance, commuting with UberX is cheaper than owning a car.

And that is the big idea that we’ve stumbled upon. More innovations that make Uber cheaper than owning a car is what the next five years are about. One major innovation we’re really excited about is UberPOOL.

In cities like San Francisco and Paris and New York, a ride is still five minutes away, but when the car pulls up, someone else is inside. Two people taking a similar route are now taking one car instead of two. And when you chain enough of these rides together, you can imagine a perpetual trip – the driver picks up one customer, then picks up another, then drops one of them off, then picks up another – the trip just keeps going. The driver always has a customer in the car. And when you get to that level of efficiency, you can bring the prices way down. It’s on-demand and hyper-convenient, picking you up wherever you are and dropping you off wherever you want to go, but it’s ad hoc carpooling. Plus, the increased efficiency means it helps more people commute cheaper than owning a vehicle. And not only is it much less expensive than taking a cab or owning a car, it has the potential to be as affordable as taking a subway, or a bus, or other means of transportation. And that’s what we believe is the real game-changer. Those are the things we’ll be working on in years to come.

UberPool has been available in just a handful of cities over the last few months, and already it’s been responsible for millions of rides. In San Francisco, almost half of all rides in this city are UberPOOL rides. Think about how many times two people would have been in two separate cars, but now they are in one. Think about how many cars off the road that means. As more people in more cities use UberPool, it will help contribute to the future that Uber has already begun to create: fewer people owning cars, and fewer cars on the road.

This is our ultimate vision for the future: smarter transportation with fewer cars and greater access; transportation that’s safer, cheaper, and more reliable; transportation that creates more job opportunities and higher incomes for drivers. That’s why Uber isn’t just the better choice for drivers and riders and commuters – it’s the right choice for cities, and all the people who live there.

A city that welcomes Uber onto its roads will be a city where people spend less time stuck in traffic or looking for a parking space; a city where people will spend less of their income on cars or commutes.

It will be a city that spends less money building parking garages, parking lots, or expensive new public transportation.

It will be a smarter city, where we can share data and technology that will help improve everything from parking issues to traffic light patterns.

It will be a cleaner city, where fewer cars on the road will mean less carbon pollution – especially since more and more Uber vehicles are low-emission hybrid vehicles.

And a city with Uber will be a more prosperous city – a city where more people and small businesses have access to more affordable transportation than ever before; a city where there will be tens of thousands of new jobs created in a couple years.

We get this great opportunity at Uber to go to a mayor and say, let us serve. Let us serve and let’s create 20,000 jobs in the next couple years. Let us serve and let’s reduce pollution in your city. Let us serve and let us take 10 cars off the road for every Uber that’s fully utilized on the road. When we show up to that new city, a lot of companies out there ask for handouts. We don’t ask for special favors or handouts. And whenever we’re asked to abide by modern regulations that protect the rights and safety of passengers and drivers, we do – because we believe in those protections, too.

All we ask of these cities is that they allow their citizens to start serving their neighbors. Our belief is that if a driver meets all the criteria for safety, for insurance, and for quality, and she wants to make a living driving people around, why can’t she?

All we ask of local officials is that they say yes to allowing people to serve their cities. All we ask is that they don’t deprive people of this service because of some outdated regulation – regulation that might have originally been designed to protect passengers or drivers, but decades later exists to preserve a century-old monopoly for a connected few.

I realize that I can come off as a somewhat fierce advocate for Uber. I also realize that some have used a different “a”-word to describe me.

Well, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not perfect, and neither is this company. Like everyone else, we make mistakes, but at Uber we are passionate about learning from them. And the reason I’m so proud of what we’ve already done – the reason I believe so strongly in what we’re trying to do – is because in city after city, we’ve seen it work.

Five years ago, the idea that you could seamlessly travel across a city with the touch of a button was unimaginable. And we’ve faced resistance every step of the way. Nearly every time we try to set up shop in a new city, there’s a powerful industry with powerful allies who try to stop progress — you may have read about it in the news — who try at all costs to protect the status quo.

The only reason they haven’t succeeded is because of you. It’s because there’s always a handful of Uber riders and drivers who decide to stand up and speak out and petition City Hall. And then they’re joined by a few more. And then a few more. And pretty soon, an entire community of people is fighting for a new way of doing things that makes their lives a little easier.

They all come with different reasons and different stories. We’ve heard from drivers who’ve said that the income they’ve earned with Uber has made the difference between eviction and making the rent; between bankruptcy and paying a loved one’s medical bills. We’ve heard from people who can’t afford to own a car or they live in a neighborhood where taxis and public transportation are not easily accessible. Our allies are activists in the fight against climate change; mothers who’ve become advocates against drunk driving; veterans groups who are looking for partners to give new opportunities to service members coming home. They come from the world’s biggest cities to its most remote villages, where some people’s very first experience with any technology at all has been the smart phone they’re given as a driver with Uber.

Today, the transportation status quo is broken, and it’s getting worse. We can choose to do nothing, and wake up to a future where our cities are clogged with cars, choked by congestion, and still debating whether to build that new railroad or subway stop.

Or we can embrace a future where companies like Uber work with businesses, governments, and citizens to build a transportation system for the 21st century. Because if we were able to achieve this much in five years, just imagine what we could achieve in the next five years, or the five years after that. Just imagine a city where traffic speeds along smoothly and quietly, even at rush hour (this is my dream). Imagine a city that reclaims the space once wasted on garages and lots and meters to build new parks and schools and housing. Imagine a city where you can choose to live or start a business anywhere you want, because transportation to and from will always be one tap away. And in a world where technology can deliver the ride you need within five minutes wherever you are in the world, just imagine all the other goods and services that you could one day get delivered quickly, safely, with just the single touch of a button.

In the last five years, people from every corner of the world have said yes to this kind of future; yes to innovation over the status quo; yes to more jobs; yes to getting rid of traffic; and yes to cleaner air. And my hope for the next five years is very simple: that thousands more cities — we’re only 300 in — will allow the people who live there to make this same choice, and embrace this same future.

It’s a future we will imagine together, and I know that each and every one of us can’t wait to get back to work and start helping the cities around the world build a better tomorrow.

Thank you for all you do, you inspire me each and every day.