From eureka moment to global domination: a timeline of Uber’s aggressive expansion

As the Uber files shine a light on activities at the height of the app’s growth, we look at how it started and where it stands today

The Uber files show how the cab-hailing app bulldozed its way into cities around the world through a combination of lobbying, manipulating tech, fighting regulations and exploiting drivers.

The leak of more than 124,000 documents to the Guardian, shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, shines a light on the period when Uber was at its most aggressive: between 2013 and 2017.

Here we trace the company’s history from scrappy upstart co-founded by Travis Kalanick to today’s humbled tech giant.

* * *

2008: A cold night in Paris

The idea for the ride-hailing business comes “on a cold winter evening in Paris”, as Uber’s website will go on to recount, when entrepreneurs and computer engineers Kalanick and Garrett Camp are unable to get a taxi. “That’s when the idea for Uber was born.”

* * *

2009: Foundation

The company is founded in San Francisco as UberCab. In the company’s first pitch deck for investors, Kalanick and Camp describe a professional car service that would provide a faster, luxury alternative to taxis and could be hailed via a mobile app.

The Uber files is a global investigation based on a trove of 124,000 documents that were leaked to the Guardian by Mark MacGann, Uber's former chief lobbyist in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The data consist of emails, iMessages and WhatsApp exchanges between the Silicon Valley giant's most senior executives, as well as memos, presentations, notebooks, briefing papers and invoices.

The leaked records cover 40 countries and span 2013 to 2017, the period in which Uber was aggressively expanding across the world. They reveal how the company broke the law, duped police and regulators, exploited violence against drivers and secretly lobbied governments across the world.

To facilitate a global investigation in the public interest, the Guardian shared the data with 180 journalists in 29 countries via the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The investigation was managed and led by the Guardian with the ICIJ.

In a statement, Uber said: "We have not and will not make excuses for past behaviour that is clearly not in line with our present values. Instead, we ask the public to judge us by what we’ve done over the last five years and what we will do in the years to come."

* * *

2010: First cars hit the road in San Francisco

Kalanick is appointed chief executive of Uber. On 5 July, the company receives its first ride request and cars hit the road in San Francisco. UberCab is immediately ordered to cease and desist with the threat of fines or even prison time.

* * *

2011: New York launch

Uber launches in New York and is met with a great deal of opposition. It closes a series A funding round that values it at $60m. It launches in France, its first expansion outside the US.

* * *

2012: To London and Amsterdam

The first Uber trip in London happens in June 2012, making the UK Uber’s second European market. Uber launches in Amsterdam, its third European city and the headquarters for Uber’s European business. By October 2012, Uber has a presence in 20 locations, according to its website.

* * *

2013: Acceleration

Uber launches in more than 40 new locations worldwide. New countries include Italy, Germany, China, India and Russia. There are launches in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town, marking its first African presence.

* * *

2014: God View controversy and Delhi rape case

The former Barack Obama aide David Plouffe is hired to lead the policy team in August. In November, an Uber executive is investigated for using God View – a tool that allows it to monitor the movements of any customer – on a journalist. In December, Uber raises $1.2bn and is valued at $40bn. By now Uber says it is operating in 250 locations worldwide. Days later, an Uber driver rapes his passenger and the company is banned in Delhi. Uber launches in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia and in Spain but has its operations suspended in the latter after a series of protests by taxi associations.

* * *

2015: Kill switch deployed as Amsterdam offices raided

Uber offices in Amsterdam are raided for operating illegally. The company deploys a regulatory evasion tool called “kill switch” which shuts off access to computers when authorities enter the offices. Anti-Uber protests in France erupt in violence as taxi drivers attack drivers thought to be working for Uber. A group of US drivers file a class-action lawsuit against Uber and its competitor Lyft claiming that they are misclassified as independent contractors and instead should be treated as employees.

The company claims to have carried out 1bn trips worldwide since its 2010 launch. Uber Eats, its takeaway delivery service, debuts in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.

* * *

2016: China sell-off

In August, Uber sells its China operations to Didi, the first major retreat for a company hellbent on expansion. In September, Uber launches its first pilot of self-driving cars in Pittsburgh, then rushes to launch a self-driving pilot in San Francisco in December that is quickly shut down for not seeking the city’s approval.

* * *

2017: Annus horribilis

Uber faces a backlash for not shutting down surge pricing during a protest against the Trump administration’s Muslim ban, which prompts public calls to delete Uber. Weeks later, the former Uber staffer Susan Fowler publishes a blogpost detailing sexism and harassment she encountered at the company.

Many of the company’s other infractions come to light, leading to the departure of several executives. Google sues Uber for allegedly stealing trade secrets from its self-driving arm. Uber hires the former US attorney general Eric Holder to conduct an investigation into all of the company’s issues. Holder and his law firm recommend that Kalanick has his responsibilities taken from him. Kalanick resigns. Dara Khosrowshahi is hired. Uber posts a net loss of $4.5bn.

* * *

2018: Grab sale, Google settlement, 10bn trips

Uber sells its south-east Asian arm to its competitor Grab a year after selling its Russia operations to another competitor, Yandex. It settles the trade secret theft lawsuit brought by Google for $245m. The company claims to have doubled its trips in just over a year from 5bn on 20 May 2017 to 10bn on 10 June 2018.

* * *

2019: Floating

Uber drops 7.6% on its first day of trading on the New York stock exchange on 10 May 2019. It claims to have reached 111 million active users in the final quarter of 2019, to have carried out 6.9bn trips across that year and to have 3.8 million drivers worldwide.

In the months after the stock market flotation, Kalanick sells more than $2.5bn of Uber shares and resigns from the board.


* * *

2020: Self-drive sell-off

Uber sells its self-driving arm to the startup Aurora, ending its long-held ambitions to develop a vehicle that could replace drivers. Uber acquires its delivery competitor Postmates and merges it with its Uber Eats operation, signalling the company’s decision to prioritise food delivery. Uber and its counterparts in the gig economy spend more than $220m to push a ballot in California that would allow the company to continue to treat its drivers as contractors, breaking the record for money spent on a single ballot initiative in the state.

* * *

2021: Record number of active users

The company claims to have a record 118 million active users. In a blow to Uber’s fight to preserve its model of using a workforce of freelancers, a UK court forces the company to treat its drivers as employees.

* * *

2022: Uber files published

The Uber files expose 18.7GB worth of files showing the vast lobbying effort made by the cab-hailing company at a key time in its development. Uber posts another loss – of $5.9bn (£4.9bn) – in its most recent quarterly report. At the time of writing, the company claims to have operations in 1,200 locations worldwide.


Johana Bhuiyan and Pamela Duncan

The GuardianTramp

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