Garrett Camp. Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg
Garrett Camp. Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg

How much is an idea worth? In Uber’s case, $3.7 Billion

By Eric Newcomer Time of article published May 14, 2019

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How much is a great idea worth? In the case of Uber Technologies Inc., the answer is $3.7 billion. 

That’s the value of the stake held by Garrett Camp, the inventor of Uber, ahead of the company’s first day of stock trading on Friday. It’s an unfathomable sum, even for Camp, who was already an internet millionaire.

With that haul, Camp could buy his hometown hockey team, the Calgary Flames, and probably still afford the seven other teams in its division. He could gift a brand-new Toyota Camry to nearly a fifth of the population of his adopted city, San Francisco. Instead, he says he’ll spend a chunk of the money on the thing he loves most: creating startups.

The Uber IPO is America’s single greatest corporate wealth creation event since Facebook Inc. Uber’s initial public offering values the business at $75.5 billion. As with other Silicon Valley success stories, the money will be concentrated among a small group of early employees and investors. Camp won’t be the biggest individual winner of the stock offering. 

That would be Travis Kalanick, another founder and the former chief executive officer who now has a net worth of more than $6 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. But Camp holds the distinction of reaping the largest windfall for doing the least amount of work.

This was by design, Camp says in an interview. He came up with the idea for Uber in 2008, while running a popular website he created called StumbleUpon. He spent a couple years in his spare time tinkering with prototypes for Uber and devised an app with many of the key features that now generate $11 billion annually in 63 countries. In Kalanick, Camp found a business partner with the ambition and ferocity to turn his vision into a metropolis-altering, rule-bending force. “My goal is to create something that can live beyond me,” Camp says. “Any one person is going to hold a company back if it depends on them.”

Yet, the business quickly became dependent on Kalanick. He was the chief aggressor, investment magnet and ultimate authority on decisions of all sizes. Most insiders, including Camp, acknowledge that Uber would not have achieved its global dominance without Kalanick. But he’s also blamed for a series of legal and moral failures that stained the company’s reputation and led to his ouster as CEO. Camp relinquished his role as chairman during the tumult.

A portrait of Camp emerges from interviews with him, as well as with more than 10 current or former employees and investors, most of whom asked not to be identified, citing the IPO quiet period. He’s a factory of ideas, with a preternatural aversion to confrontation.

Some of his former colleagues at Uber say his most severe lapse was allowing Kalanick’s power to go unchecked. At pivotal moments in the boardroom, Camp was indecisive or unreachable. When the board met in 2017 to discuss whether Kalanick should take a leave of absence, Camp was traveling abroad. Camp described it as a “stressful time” but declined to discuss the events in detail. Representatives for Uber and Kalanick declined to comment. 

At 40, Camp’s mind is in a near-constant state of preoccupation with life’s daily inefficiencies—some might see them as First World inconveniences—and figuring out how technology could solve them. His work over the last decade includes: an app to circumvent airport security by booking seats on private jets; one for hiring a personal shopper; a travel guide to plan exotic vacations with friends; and a digital currency free from government authority. If Camp had a failure of imagination along the way, it was underestimating Uber “He’s an incredible idea generator,” says Tim Ferriss, a friend and self-help author who invested in Uber after Camp pitched him the idea at a bar in 2008. “At the time, it was unclear just how significant Uber would become.”

The founding story of Uber, as told in countless interviews and immortalized on the company’s website, is something of a myth. It tells of Camp and Kalanick dreaming up the concept together on a snowy night in Paris, while trying to locate a taxi. Camp describes that evening in late 2008 as “a pivotal moment” for forming a business partnership between two friends but not the beginning. “By that point, the app was already pretty much designed, and that design didn’t change for three years,” Camp says. “Travis loves to get the press and tell the Paris story.”

Earlier that year, Camp met up with Ferriss at an unassuming Irish pub in San Francisco called the Phoenix. Ferriss, who wrote the 4-Hour Workweek, recalls Camp complaining about taxis. They agreed the city had a capacity problem. Camp was having a harder time than most, though. He often called multiple cab dispatchers at once and took the first car that arrived. The taxi companies didn’t like that, and most took steps to ban his phone number. “I would just be late for dinners because I would call a yellow cab, and it wouldn’t show up,” Camp says.

Camp eventually resorted to taking black cars, which is where the idea for Uber was formulated. Sitting at what Camp remembers as “some sort of pub,” he showed Ferriss an early mock-up of the app. Ferriss was impressed, and Camp suggested they could use it to get around town. “I didn’t really think about the scale that it would reach,” Camp says. “It wasn’t some master plan of, ‘Oh, we’re going to have this huge company.’ It was more like, ‘Hey, this would be a cool app that would save my friends time.’”

Uber didn’t invent ride-hailing. Similar apps called Taxi Magic and Cabulous already existed. Camp says he checked them out but found the services hard to use and never succeeded in taking a ride. He wanted Uber to exist, but he had a day job at StumbleUpon, which he’d been working on since 2001. Near its height, more than 40 million people used the service to wander around the web. You clicked a button on your browser, and it transported you to a web page that aligns with your interests—a game, an educational website, a news article. He sold the business to EBay Inc. in 2007 for $75 million and remained CEO.


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