Kalanick himself is a paper billionaire: for the first time ever, he made Forbes' list of the world's billionaires, thanks to Uber's sky-high valuation. The 38-year-old serial entrepreneur's net worth is approximately $5.3 billion, according to Forbes.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick grew up in Northridge, California, a suburb outside Los Angeles. When he was a kid, he wanted to be a spy.
However, Kalanick would eventually follow in the entrepreneurial footsteps of his mom, a retail advertiser. He went door-to-door, selling knives for Cutco as a youngster. He started his first business at age 18, an SAT-prep course called New Way Academy.
Travis' parents, Don and Bonnie Kalanick, were "rider zero" when Uber launched in Kalanick's home town, Los Angeles.
He went to UCLA to study computer engineering. He'd drop out in 1998 but with good reason.
Kalanick dropped out of college to work on Scour, a peer-to-peer search engine, with classmates Michael Todd and Vince Busam.
Kalanick collected unemployment while working full time for Scour, which was run on angel funding obtained by one Scour cofounder's friends and family.
After being sued by several entertainment companies to the tune of $250 billion, Scour filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Kalanick rebounded with RedSwoosh, a networking software company. But he clashed with his new cofounder, Scour cofounder Michael Todd. Between the post-9/11 stock market crash, pushing legal boundaries by not withholding their employees' income taxes, and a final falling-out between the cofounders, RedSwoosh almost never made it to exit.
But in 2007, Kalanick sold RedSwoosh to Akamai for $23 million and became a millionaire.
Kalanick spent his first year as a millionaire traveling around the world. He went to Spain, Japan, Greece, Iceland, Greenland, Hawaii (twice), France (twice), Australia, Portugal, Cape Verde, and Senegal.
Late in 2008, at the LeWeb technology conference, he first heard the idea for Uber. He envisioned it as a way to lower the cost of black car service at the touch of a button.
Garrett Camp, Oscar Salazar, and Conrad Whelan built the first version of Uber, a black car service called UberCab. Kalanick served as a "mega advisor," though he's previously said his title then was "chief incubator." With UberCab, which cost about 1.5 times as much as a cab, you could request a car in San Francisco by sending a text or pressing a button.
Early in 2010, Ryan Graves was brought onboard as UberCab's general manager. Soon, he'd be named CEO. UberCab launched in June 2010 in San Francisco. It was a huge hit in San Francisco, though investors weren't initially knocking down Uber's door to invest.
"Our goal for all UberCab users, called clients, is for you to feel like a baller every time you use UberCab," Ryan Graves wrote in an early UberCab blog post.
In summer 2010, Uber raised money from investors: a $1.25 million seed round from First Round Capital, Kalanick's friend Chris Sacca, and Napster cofounder Shawn Fanning.
In December of that year, Kalanick became CEO, and Graves became Uber's general manager again. According to both, the re-arrangement was friendly.
Kalanick's personality — described by those who know him as reckless and arrogant, at times — has been the reason Uber has found so much success.
After San Francisco, Uber rapidly expanded its services to other US cities. In May 2011, Uber launched in New York City — and now, NYC is one of Uber's biggest markets.
Uber announced recently that the company has delivered 30 million rides in New York City since 2011. To put that number in perspective, that's over 82,000 Uber rides per day.
In December 2011, Uber went international and launched in Paris, its first non-US city.
To help its expansion, Kalanick has hired on lobbyists like David Plouffe, who spearheaded Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.
It seems Uber is constantly raising money from venture capital firms and other investment groups. In December 2014, Chinese search engine Baidu invested in Uber, a partnership that would theoretically allow Uber to expand throughout mainland Asia.
Last month, news broke that Uber could soon be expanding its massive war chest of funding by as much as $1 billion, which could signal that the company could go public soon.
Uber has raised $5.9 billion at a $41 billion valuation. Its recent valuation would make Kalanick a multi-billionaire. A rumored new $1.5 billion to $2 billion round of funding would value the company at $50 billion, making it the most valuable privately held tech company in the world.
Uber has experimented with services besides point-A-to-point-B driving, too. In Santa Monica, Uber allowed customers to order meals through its UberFRESH service, which is now called UberEATS. In spring 2014, Manhattan Uber customers could use Uber's courier system, Uber Rush.
The company has had its share of obstacles and bad press, too. In November at a dinner for "influencers," an Uber executive named Emil Michael suggested the company could theoretically dig up personal information on reporters who are critical of the company.
In May, Kalanick's company poached a number of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University's vehicle autonomy department to work at its Pittsburgh center. Rumor has it this would let Uber experiment with self-driving cars.
Uber is aiming for world dominance while its rivals struggle to roll out in US markets. Lyft, one of Uber's closest competitors, operates in only the United States — Uber operates in 58 countries.
Thanks to Uber's sky-high valuation, Kalanick himself is a paper billionaire. This year, Kalanick — along with uber cofounder Garrett Camp and early Uber employee Ryan Graves — made Forbes' list of the world's billionaires for the first time. Cofounders Kalanick and Camp have a larger stake in the company than Graves does, which explains their larger net worths ($5.3 billion and $5.3 billion, respectively, as opposed to Graves' $1.4 billion).