From Dead-End Job to Uber Billionaire: Meet Ryan Graves

How did one man go in a few years from working a dead-end job inside a large multinational corporation to being worth hundreds of millions of dollars (at least) and a key player at what is one of the hottest start-up companies around? And more importantly, how can you use the same techniques to improve your finances and your life?

That man is Ryan Graves, head of global operations for Uber, whose mobile app connects would-be passengers with drivers of vehicles for hire.

In 2008, Graves was a database administrator for GE Healthcare (GE), a job that he says was "unglamorous" and didn't provide the potential for rapid advancement that he desired. As Graves bluntly put it, "The corporate career -- 20 years in the same company -- was not really my thing. I can't be the GE guy."

Moving Out on His Own

So in mid-2009, he decide to make a radical change. A fan of Foursquare, an app that allows people to check in on their mobile devices when they patronize business establishments, Graves decided to go to work for the company.

He spent hours each week cold-calling bars around his adopted home of Chicago, explaining the benefits of Foursquare, showing business owners how the app worked, and encouraging them to sign up. And he didn't even work for Foursquare.

You see, Graves had been turned down when he applied for a job. But instead of giving up -- and while still working for GE -- he spent evenings and weekends pretending to work at Foursquare, and signed up 30 customers.

He then emailed that list of new customers to people connected with Foursquare, including investors. He was promptly brought on board to help with business development.

But Graves didn't stop there. He began to relentlessly interact with people in the start-up industry, not just at networking events, but through social media. In his words, he wanted to "put himself in the right position to meet as many frickin' people as possible."

Hire Me :)

He was in the right position one day when he saw a tweet by Uber founder Travis Kalanick: "Looking 4 entrepreneurial product mgr/biz-dev killer 4 a location based service.. pre-launch, BIG equity, big peeps involved--ANY TIPS?"

His response: "here's a tip. email me :)" Graves became Uber's first employee.

Though the company is private, a recent investment by Google Ventures (GOOG) values the company at $17 billion, which conservatively places Graves' net worth at between $850 million and $1.7 billion. The takeaways from his story can be used by just about anyone to excel in all aspects of their lives:
  • Never give up. When Graves was turned down for employment at Foursquare, that didn't stop him. He knew what he wanted to accomplish, and he was determined to achieve it, no matter what obstacles were in his way.
  • Be true to your nature. In all likelihood, Graves could have stayed on with General Electric in a secure job that would have eventually yielded him a pension and gold watch after 40 years of service. But that wasn't who he was. A corporate gig wasn't fulfilling him, and he was insightful and honest enough with himself to recognize that.
  • Follow your own rules. Among the most rigidly respected traditions in the American business world is the job interview. Yet Graves understood that there was another, more powerful way that he could prove his value to a company, and by playing outside of the normal rules, he was able to convince Foursquare to hire him, despite their previous formal rejection.
  • Never stop moving forward. After achieving his goal of employment at Foursquare, Graves could have easily rested on his laurels, but instead, he kept his radar hot, scanning for other, potentially better opportunities -- like the tweet that led him to Uber.
Brian Lund's blog offers more on personal finance, the stock market, investing and the secret to eternal life.

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I just invented Speednet, the new Internet that puts the servers into the cell phone towers
and has 2 GBs bandwidth.
It's worth a lot more than Uber.

March 20 2015 at 6:21 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

oh man this is another story from last year. budget cuts?

March 20 2015 at 10:27 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

see, all you have to do is just come up with a unique idea and cash in before the bubble bursts! it is that easy. good for him, he got it while he could. sad thing is I really have no idea what uber is or does, I have no need for it I guess. but nice for him.

March 20 2015 at 10:20 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to iaetn's comment

The scope of knowledge unobtainable by imbeciles who are being crushed by the knowledge gap is unfathomable.

March 20 2015 at 2:49 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to trewliberal's comment

I apologize. if I looked at the publishing date I never would have posted.

March 20 2015 at 5:04 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down

You mean dunce-posts are determined by when the article is written?

Something tells me if DF regurgitates this article a year from now, you'll still be an imbecile who drives to Wisconsin to buy your gas, and has no clue what Uber is.

March 20 2015 at 8:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down
Alexandra Charters Z

Ryan is the nicest guy. Well deserved.

March 05 2015 at 12:37 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

How can it be worth billion's if I've never heard of it and how can you make billion's off a taxi ride in a city?, is it the same advertised loaded app like facebook?

July 06 2014 at 6:45 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to chris36m's comment


Another DF classic.

March 20 2015 at 9:49 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

this 4th of July weekend, go see AMERICA, the movie. it's a compelling, eye opening, true history lesson in a hour and 45 minutes about how the United States was founded and about the American dream and about our politicians of BOTH parties.

July 04 2014 at 8:43 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

I really like to read stories about people succeeding and doing well in life.

This guy is living proof that just about anyone can get rich if they set goals, work as hard as they can to achieve those goals and focus in like a laser on becoming wealthy.

The key elements are that you have to want it BAD and have strong self-discipline. If it takes working 16 hours a day 7 days a week, living in a studio apartment and eating ramen noodles to make your dream of success a reality --- then, that's what you do.

Also, study how wealthy people live their lives. (Did you ever notice how most successful business people read six times more than the average person and never stop learning?? Those are two good success habits to copy.)

None of this is going to be easy to do. You have to be willing to leave your "comfort zone" and try new ways of living and working.

July 03 2014 at 4:39 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to Valerie's comment

"The corporate career -- 20 years in the same company -- was not really my thing.******* No one spends 20 years in the same company anymore, unless it's family owned.

July 03 2014 at 2:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The key ingredient here is hard work - it almost always pays off.
Many times over the years I put in 80 hour weeks. Sometimes, I could hardly stand up and I had bones coming through the bottoms of my feet, but I kept on going.
You could say I've done very well. A good friend of mine, John Drake, summed it up.
He said to get rich "Get off of your dead a**" I don't use the profanity.

July 03 2014 at 12:32 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to alfredschrader's comment

John Drake became a millionaire by putting wrecked cars together.
He'd find a Ford Taurus with low miles but totalled from the rear, and another Ford Taurus with a blown engine and as an example he'd buy both of them for a song.
Then he'd take the good low miles engine out of the totalled Taurus and put it into the good body Taurus and sell it in Orlando for thousands.
Then he'd take the blown motor and totalled Taurus to the salvage yard and sell that for $300.00
He had a machine shop so he could splice anything into anything.

July 03 2014 at 12:39 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
Sal Giovanni

But is the service legal? Read more here

July 03 2014 at 12:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply