Garrett Camp: the quiet techie who dreamt up Uber

The taxi app is always associated with its former boss Travis Kalanick. But it was actually his co-founder, Garrett Camp, who came up with the idea. He’s now sitting on billions. Jane Lewis reports.


Garrett Camp: the brains behind Uber
(Image credit: Credit: Aflo Co. Ltd. / Alamy Stock Photo)

So much is made of Travis Kalanick's association with Uber it was his "intuition and drive", notes the Financial Times, that propelled the taxi app into the valuationstratosphere that it's often forgotten who originally came up with the big idea.

That honour belongs to Garrett Camp, "a serial entrepreneur" from Canada who was by far the quieter player in the double-act with Kalanick, says Forbes. The two men worked together for a tumultuous decade. Camp, now 40, was Uber's chairman. But he was often absent and later criticised, along with the rest of the board, for allowing Kalanick's "frat-house" culture to go unchecked.

A factory of ideas

For Camp, Uber was the big idea that delivered beyond dreams. He "holds the distinction of reaping the largest windfall for doing the least amount of work". True, the value of his stake estimated at $3.7bn before the float has taken a trimming following the company's disastrous initial public offering (IPO). But he's still sitting pretty on billions to feed into new ventures.

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Born in 1978, in Calgary, Camp "inherited his parents' entrepreneurial spirit", says Investopedia. His mother, an artist, and his father, an economist, had ditched their careers and set up together, designing and building houses. Their son, who had techie talents, took a degree in electrical engineering at the University of Calgary, where he majored in "collaborative systems, evolutionary algorithms and information retrieval".

He launched his first company, StumbleUpon, in 2002 while still at university. Camp called it a "discovery engine" the idea was to help people find sites "more targeted to their interests" than a regular search engine could. The idea flew. After attracting Silicon Valley cash, the company moved to San Francisco in 2006 and was sold to eBay a year later for $75m.

A time saver for San Franciscans

He actually came up with idea of Uber "as a cool app" that would save his friends in San Francisco time. Even though Camp successfully ran Uber's first investment pitches, he now freely admits that he "didn't really thinkabout the scale that it would reach". It was only when "Travis joined" that things "started to go faster".

Being slow to grasp the "significance" of Uber as a disruptive force was a rare "failure of imagination" on Camp's part. But he also made another big miscalculation, says Bloomberg. In his original presentation to investors in 2008, Camp described the Uber as "profitableby design". Ten years and tens of billionsof dollars of losses later, investors arestill waiting.

Jane writes profiles for MoneyWeek and is city editor of The Week. A former British Society of Magazine Editors editor of the year, she cut her teeth in journalism editing The Daily Telegraph’s Letters page and writing gossip for the London Evening Standard – while contributing to a kaleidoscopic range of business magazines including Personnel Today, Edge, Microscope, Computing, PC Business World, and Business & Finance.

She has edited corporate publications for accountants BDO, business psychologists YSC Consulting, and the law firm Stephenson Harwood – also enjoying a stint as a researcher for the due diligence department of a global risk advisory firm.

Her sole book to date, Stay or Go? (2016), rehearsed the arguments on both sides of the EU referendum.

She lives in north London, has a degree in modern history from Trinity College, Oxford, and is currently learning to play the drums.