Uber CEO visits campus, shares entrepreneurship tips with students

Ariel Hayat/Senior Staff

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Travis Kalanick, CEO of the car-sharing service Uber, stopped by Banatao Auditorium on Thursday evening to share his entrepreneurship tips with about 150 students.

The event featured a recruitment introduction from entrepreneurship student groups on campus, a keynote address from Kalanick, a question-and-answer session with Kalanick and a “Shark Tank”-style pitch session during which three Bay Area startups proposed ideas to Kalanick.

“Our hope is to inspire a new wave of students to explore hands-on learning and the startup community,” said Steven Buccini, a junior electrical engineering and computer sciences student, in an email. Buccini hosted the event and asked Kalanick questions during the Q&A session.

Having interned at Uber last summer, Buccini added that he invited Kalanick to campus to share anecdotes about his experiences with current and past startup projects.

“Uber has now become a norm in our everyday lives,” Buccini said. “Travis is a serial entrepreneur who started up when he was in college, so we knew he had relatable stories to share.”

Kalanick, who briefly attended UCLA, told students during his keynote address that his success was built on receiving “a hundred ‘no’s’ everyday for four years straight until (he) started making a salary.”

Among his tips were knowing when to be realistic and when to take risks, how to execute ideas and how to strongly recover from setbacks. Kalanick, who built his first company when he was 18 years old, noted that being an entrepreneur involves being a jack of all trades and being deft at solving problems.

“What’s interesting is, when the times are rough, the situation is that you don’t have a lot of people around you. You’re often by yourself and often kind of lonely,” he added. “If it’s not going well, you have to work your ass off to be pretty much good at everything.”

Pitching to Kalanick was very intimidating but also very helpful, said Sebastian Merz, a sophomore EECS student. Merz stepped up first to pitch Instant eSports, his startup that serves as a “one-stop shop for sports statistics.”

“I was really keen on hearing his opinion,” Merz said. “You could call it personal validation that we’re on the right track. It’s sort of good to check once in a while that what you’re doing is following the right steps.”

More than 1,000 students indicated interest on the event’s Facebook page, though admission was ultimately based on a lottery selection. The popularity of Thursday evening’s talk with Kalanick drew long standby lines that started forming more than an hour before the start of the event.

The event also allowed guests to network with campus entrepreneurship clubs, as well as the Uber recruitment team, and presented an opportunity for clubs to meet with potential members interested in being more involved with startups on campus.

“Next time, we’re going to go as big as we can. We’re going to try and get a stadium, if possible,” said Jeremy Fiance, who helped plan the event. “Our goal is to make (the event) as accommodating as possible and to inspire students from all ends of campus to see what kind of clubs they can get involved in.”

Contact Lydia Tuan at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @tuanlydia.