♫ If I had a billion dollars ♫

♫ "I'd disappear into obscurity..." ♫ (Honestly, this is one of my favorite stories because it's so bizarre.) Also, 7 other things worth a click.

Wait. Will that subject line make sense? It’s a Barenaked Ladies reference, going back back to 1988. Anyway, the fact that I feel the need to explain it tells me maybe I should just move on…


This is one of my favorite bizarre entrepreneurship tales. I’m glad I remembered it before the end of the month, so we can peg it as an “exactly 10 years ago” story.

It starts with a tweet. This one:

That’s Travis Kalanick, who at the time had just cofounded an insane, shoot-the-moon startup called UberCab (he later dropped the “Cab”). Even now, a decade later, there aren’t that many replies to it.

But still on Twitter, for all to see, is the response that a guy named Ryan Graves posted just a few minutes later:

(The @KonaTbone part was Kalanick’s “other” Twitter account at the time.)

Anyway, things worked out for Graves in a way almost unparalleled in the history of the Internet. Kalanick brought him in as UberCab’s first non-founder employee—in fact, as its first chief executive officer.

He held that post basically until Kalanick decided he wanted it for himself, but stayed on as senior vice president of global operations and a board member. His equity made him a billionaire.

When I first wrote about Graves, he was worth $1.5 billion; now Forbes pegs him at only $1.1 billion. So I guess this is sort of the story of someone who lost $400 million in five years.

But still, you have to have that first in order to lose it, so I still think he comes out on top.

We should say a little more about Graves. Honestly, even if he’d never replied to Kalanick or joined Uber or become a billionaire, I think there would be some good takeaways here.

The short version is that he was working as a database administrator for GE Health Care just before he saw this tweet, probably making about $109,000 a year (if the data at GlassDoor is accurate). 

It was "unglamorous" work, he later told Daily Finance. "The corporate career--20 years in the same company--was not really my thing. I can't be the GE guy."

So, while working at GE, Graves decided in 2009 to apply for a job at Foursquare. As Daily Finance explained:

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.

That's the kicker: Foursquare didn't actually hire him.

It turned him down--and yet he didn't let the rejection faze him.

Instead, as the story goes, he simply faked working there, and signed up 30 businesses to the company, and then "emailed that list of new customers to people connected with Foursquare, including investors."

Gutsy move. No downside, really.

And while I’m not sure there’s a direct line between just working for Foursquare without being hired and talking your way into what turned out to be the job of a lifetime at Uber, you can see the indirect connection.

I should say: I’ve never met Graves. I tried sending an email to the address in his tweet, but it’s no longer active. He hasn’t quite disappeared into obscurity; he has some other ventures.

But it will be a heck of a heavy lift to top what he did, starting with a response to a tweet from someone he didn’t even know at the time.

7 other things worth a click

  1. Amazon restricts travel to China, and tells employees who have been to affected areas to work from home for two weeks. (CNBC)

  2. Warren Buffett sells all his newspapers. (MarketWatch)

  3. Seriously guys, this isn’t funny. No, stop laughing … Google searches for “Corona beer virus” are spiking because people apparently think the coronavirus is caused by a Mexican lager with lime. (Fox News)

  4. Guy spends millions on a Super Bowl ad to thank the vets who saved his dog. (Next time, maybe just give them the money?) (Scary Mommy)

  5. More Americans visited libraries than went to the movies in 2019. (CBS News)

  6. Food courts at the mall: the photographic retrospective you didn't know you wanted to see. (Business Insider)

  7. Half of Americans never went outside to play during all of 2019. (The Colorado Sun)

Bonus: A friend and former coworker of mine wrote this for the New York Times, about what happened when her 11-year-old daughter was lost without a phone in New York (and survived).

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