Uber went public today in one of the largest IPOs in history.
Its founder CEO, board member and largest shareholder Travis Kalanick,who was forced out a couple of years ago, was told he couldn’t stand on the NYSE opening bell dais, much less ring it. (He was there, on the floor in the crowd with his dad, though, and was greeted with applause when he walked in).
But Uber’s current CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, didn’t ring the bell either.
That honor went to Austin Geidt, Uber’s earliest employee.
Her career story is the stuff of Silicon Valley legend.
In 2010, she saw some tweets about a startup looking for an intern. That startup was Uber. Back in 2010, the economy was still really rocky in the aftermath of the 2008-2009 financial collapse. Jobs — even internships — were hard to get and her résumé was “blank,” she told the audience at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Next Gen Summit back in 2015, when she was 30 years old.
She reached out to Uber’s CEO at the time, Ryan Graves, who told her to put together a presentation about herself. Having struck out so many times, she went all in, loading her slide deck with humor and pleading with him to give her a shot.
And she became employee No. 4. As an intern, she did everything from cold-calling potential drivers to handling support calls.
Within five years, Uber was everywhere, one of the most important new companies the Valley produced. And, at 30 years old, she was one of the company’s most powerful executives at the company. She ran the team that expanded Uber into new international markets. Her role at the company has since expanded to include head of operations at Uber’s self-driving car unit, the Advanced Technologies Group.
Even five years ago, when Uber raised another $2.1 billion and hit a valuation of $62.5 billion, her stock options had made her a very wealthy woman.
She’s not a named officer at the company, so the company doesn’t have to reveal how much stock she owns, so we don’t know how many millions she made on Uber’s massive IPO.
But it was a surprisingly painful journey to get here, she has revealed.
When she was 19 and in college, she had a drug problem, she says.
“I had a drug addiction. I got sober, I’m 10 years sober,” she said. “I was in a very dark place. It was a moment of stepping back with my family [and realizing] I don’t like who I am, just physically, spiritually, emotionally, I was just really sick.”
She went to rehab but it really took her a few years to heal. She left school during that time and returned, sober and 25, to graduate.
But she “was super insecure about feeling behind,” she said. “I was a sober, 25-year-old senior. Which was a super different experience.”
It seems as if a high-pressure job at a Silicon Valley startup, especially one as watched as Uber, would be a dangerous amount of stress for someone newly healed from addiction.
But the opposite is true, Geidt says. Although she loves the job and the company — “I live and breathe Uber,” she says — the rehab experience keeps her grounded and gave her managements skills.
It taught her to be honest and direct, to turn feelings of being overwhelmed into small, manageable steps, to have a “sense of humility” rather than “feeling self-important,” she describes.
But ultimately, it keeps her focused on the important stuff in life.
“I’m so proud of the work my team has done at Uber and the work I’ve done at Uber. But it’s not the proudest thing I’ve done, right? I’m more proud of being sober,” she says. “I just have perspective.”
Here’s the full interview from back in 2015: