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Uber Founder Travis Kalanick: 3 Ways Being a CEO Is Actually Fun

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick spoke about the simultaneous enjoyment and anxiety that come from running a company.
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Presumably, you would sleep a bit easier if your company was considered one of the 10 most valuable in the world. But take it from someone who's there now -- peace of mind doesn't necessarily come with the territory. 

"People ask me, okay it's going so well now, does't it feel great? And my approach to things is I am pushing always to a point of discomfort. To such a degree like I'm a little nervous, I'm sweating a little bit," Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said today at the Launch Festival in San Francisco. "That means I'm always feeling like we did 15 years ago."

Kalanick gave the opening keynote at the annual event, which drew more than 8,000 attendees. Uber, a transportation network company that allows users to order rides on their phones, is now available in 70 cities around the world, says the company's website. And to date, Uber has raised $405 million and is valued at $3.8 billion, according to The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones VentureSource.  

Though that success hasn't quite managed to quell all of the anxieties that come with running a company, it doesn't mean that Kalanick isn't having a good time. In fact, the word "fun" came up quite often while Kalanick described his own survival tactics. Here are three ways that even the most high-strung CEOs can enjoy themselves at work every day.  

Take advantage of your own product.  

Kalanick recently spent three and a half hours on the road as an UberX driver.

"It's like high def humanity," Kalanick said. "As it got later and people got more and more liquored up, it was just fascinating. You have a couple making out in the back, you had a couple that was pissed off at each other. You had three dudes who were just trashed and wanted to go for a joy ride."

This kind of research isn't all for Kalanick's amusement, though. Uber has been trying to address safety concerns related to its service after an UberX driver reportedly struck and killed a pedestrian in San Francisco on New Year's Eve. Kalanick said there is a process for kicking unsafe drivers out of the Uber system. 

Relish in the fact that you don't hear "no" as often.

Kalanick said the only difference between now, a time when his company is relatively stable, and 15 years ago, when he saw his fair share of failures, is that he hears the word "no" less frequently than he used to. Kalanick acknowledged that hearing "no" 100 times a day takes an emotional toll.

"I have to admit that it's a little bit more fun when you do see product market fit, and you can feel it get out there, and you can watch it grow," Kalanick said, referring to the way things are at Uber now. 

Don't focus on living "the dream." 

Despite public anticipation, Kalanick isn't thinking about taking the company public, he said. At least not right now. "Sometimes people get attached to an outcome," Kalanick said. "And then you get there and you realize it ain't all that." Kalanick has failed enough times to know that much. Instead of focusing on making it one day, he advised founders to come to work passionate about what they do.  

"Basically I have two lists when I go to work in the morning," Kalanick said. "One is what are all of the crazy f'ed up awesome problems that I can solve? What is all the crazy, awesome shit that I can invent?"

IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: Feb 24, 2014

LAURA MONTINI | Staff Writer

Laura Montini is a reporter at Inc. She previously covered health care technology for Health 2.0 News and has served as an associate editor at The Health Care Blog. She lives in San Francisco.




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