- David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick had an unlikely inspiration to help get him back into the startup world.
Speaking onstage at UCLA’s Royce Hall on Monday, Kalanick addressed 1,200 entrepreneurs as he accepted the UCLA Venture Capital Fund’s Entrepreneurial Achievement Award, Re/code reports.
Kalanick has always been something of an entrepreneur: When he was a kid he went door-to-door selling knives for Cutco. He started his first business at age 18, an SAT-prep course called New Way Academy.
He then spent some time as an angel investor, backing a number of startups before an unlikely figure inspired him to start another venture.
The 2008 Woody Allen film “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” ultimately helped inspire Kalanick to re-enter the startup field again, he said onstage Monday.
“I thought, ‘That guy’s old, but he’s still got it,'” he said about the director. “He still has his art. He still has the ability to relate. And he’s still sharing with the world. I said, ‘You know what? Let’s try again.'”
Kalanick went on to a series of ventures before co-founding Uber.
Before Kalanick ever thought of starting the company that would become $51 billion Uber, he was an early employee at a company called Scour. Scour was a peer-to-peer search engine for files, videos, movies, and images, which employed SMB protocol to crawl through people’s Windows directories, index their files, and let others download them. Shawn Fanning, who ended up cofounding Napster, was an early Scour user.
But even though users liked Scour, movie studios and record labels did not. Scour let users download content for free without paying. A bunch of entertainment companies sued Scour for $250 billion. The company was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Almost immediately though, Kalanick started plotting his next company.
“The idea was to take those 33 litigants that sued me and turn them into customers,” he told the audience at FailCon, a forum in which founders offer hard-won lessons from their business failures. “So now those dudes who are suing me are paying me.”
The company, called RedSwoosh, was a networking software company. RedSwoosh launched in 2000, endured fallout from the post-9/11 stock market crash, and faced difficulty staying afloat at times. But ultimately, RedSwoosh was acquired in 2007 by Akamai for $23 million – $19 million in stock and $4 million in earn-outs.
The sale made Travis Kalanick a millionaire. Later, he’d go on to cofound Ubercab, the company that would ultimately become Uber.