Startups are born out of ideas and moments which impel the founders to set out and fix an existing problem with a new solution. Cab-hailing service, Uber’s birth was the result of a multitude of such incidents in the life of Garrett Camp. However, you’d be surprised to know that one of those was inspired by Bond. James Bond.
The story of how the Canadian entrepreneur was influenced by the action movie franchise dates back to 2007 when he sold his first company, StumbleUpon to eBay. Camp used to occasionally watch the DVD of Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale. However, one specific detail struck a chord with Camp’s entrepreneurial instincts.
In the movie, Bond navigates to the whereabouts of his nemesis, Le Chiffre through a Sony Ericsson phone. Surely the phone would seem highly outdated by today’s standards but it helped Bond by updating the location of his Ford Mondeo’s pointy icon in real-time and guided him towards the destination. I’m certain we are all familiar with that sort of interface now on various applications including, of course, Uber.
However, there’s a critical reason why that image stuck in Garrett’s mind. It allowed him to connect the dots with another matter which kept bothering him. The problem was San Francisco’s poorly established taxi rules. The city caps the number of licenses at roughly 1,500. In addition to that, these licenses were inexpensive, couldn’t be resold, and owners were authorized to keep the permit as long as they logged a minimum number of hours on the road every year. Therefore, a license, in most scenarios, was issued only when drivers died or years after the application.
This was fine before the technology boom. However, as the demand exceeded the supply, finding a cab in San Francisco became a headache. Camp had been trying to figure out a better way to approach the messed up system. One of his experiments involved the unlisted black sedans which roamed around the city flashing headlights at potential passengers to solicit a fare.
Contacting these drivers, although, was an inefficient and relatively more expensive experience and Camp had been looking for better alternatives. The iPhone which had just come out also became a critical factor in this ambition. With the accelerometer, it was possible to show in real-time if the car was moving or not on the map which would consequently allow the phone to function like a taximeter and be used to charge passengers by the minute or the mile.
Garrett’s early plan, however, was to invest in a fleet of cars and distribute among other people. But one man, and you probably know him as well, convinced him that was impractical — Travis Kalanick. And we all know what happened after that. Uber went on to disrupt the taxi industry across various regions, spawned a range of competitors, clones, and in between of all of this, became the most valuable privately owned company.