Uber's plans go far beyond car ridesJuly 15, 2013: 2:02 PM ET
That may be why it's getting more attention than ever.
FORTUNE -- Uber is raising money again. After several weeks of speculation that the digital taxi-hailing service would raise a round large enough to value the company at well over $1 billion, CEO Travis Kalanick confirmed to the Wall Street Journal July 12 that he was talking to investors. The exact amount is TBD, but I plan to ask him about his plans next week when I interview him at Fortune Brainstorm Tech, our annual tech conference which will take place at the Aspen Institute starting July 22.
It's been three years since Kalanick and cofounder Garrett Camp launched Uber to help their friends find rides -- in the form of flashy town cars -- more effectively in San Francisco. (Anyone who has lived in San Francisco knows that cabs are notoriously hard to hail.) In that short time, Uber has rolled out in 35 cities including international hotspots like Amsterdam, Paris, and Seoul. Kalanick has said the company is profitable in its earliest markets like San Francisco and New York, and that revenue is growing 18% each month.
What's more, Kalanick is thinking well beyond digitally commissioned town cars. He is a rapid experimenter, trying out more than a half-dozen services from UberX, a low-cost version of the car service featuring cars like the Toyota (TM) Prius and the Camry, to UberSUV, a pricier ride offered in a swanky Chevrolet (GM) Suburban or GMC Yukon. And promotions hint at the future direction of the service: On Valentine's Day, Uber let users press a button to deliver roses to a sweetheart. On July 3, Uber invited users to try UberCHOPPER, a $3,000 helicopter ride for five from NYC to East Hampton, with car service on either end.
But even as Kalanick imagines an Uber future broader than simple car rides, other startups are racing into the car-service business. In San Francisco, where the average wait for an Uber is less than three minutes, a new Andreessen Horowitz-funded started called Lyft lets any member with spare time and a car slap a pink mustache logo to the front of her car and become a taxi-driver; riders find these drivers and agree on a price via the Lyft app and bump fists upon getting into the car to acknowledge the interaction.
To succeed, Kalanick will have to out-lift Lyft and others and even more important, he must make peace with city and state regulators. The company has finally won over regulators in New York City, as my colleague Dan Primack reported in an interview with Kalanick and NYC Taxi Commissioner David Yassky in June. But the company has ongoing issues in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., as well as Denver, Colo., just a few hours' drive from Aspen. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper plans to join us at Brainstorm Tech; perhaps he and Kalanick can use the opportunity to take up the issue directly.