Exclusive: Travis Kalanick Recounts Death Threat from Michael Ovitz's Heavy

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick revealed on "This Week in Startups" that a man associated with Hollywood powerhouse Michael Ovitz -- an investor in Travis's pre-Napster P2P company Scour -- threatened his life [ see our story on Uber's roadmap ]. 

In the summer of 2000, the movie industry had just filed a lawsuit against Scour for $250B. Naturally, the suit made Ovitz look very bad in the entertainment world.

After the suit was filed, Travis was about to speak at a Los Angeles event when the heavy, named Peter, approached him.

"Peter leans over my shoulder and basically tells me about how certain people in the industry have worked very hard to get where they are at, and that... those people would definitely prefer that you know, some schmuck like me doesn't take them down," said Travis. "Basically, my life and … my physical well-being and life were essentially threatened at that table." [ Watch the clip. ]

"I can't deliver that message as well as it was delivered to me that night whispered over my ear from this guy," said Travis, who said that just recounting the decade-old incident caused his heart to race.

In a cold sweat, pale and shaking, Travis started speaking at the event (although likes to think he handled it much better).

The suit got settled out of court for $1M cash because Scour had already filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and the Motion Picture Association of America didn't want copyright law decided in a bankruptcy court case that takes two weeks, explained Travis.

"The suit goes away, we turn the technology off. We sell the company for $10M in a bankruptcy court," Travis said. [Watch the clip. ]

Ovitz co-founded the Creative Artists Agency, which became known for assembling "packaged deals" to studios that included directors, actors and screenwriters. Such deals shifted the negotiating power away from the studios to Ovitz, who also had a notorious stint at Disney.

Ovitz had previously played hardball with Scour. When the company began to raise money, Ovitz, with several other investors, signed a letter of intent with the company that it would provide $4M for a 51% common stock stake in the company, according to Travis. [ Clip here. ]

However, while Ovitz strung the company along waiting for better negotiating ground, Scour was running out of money because of escalating server costs. Travis approached Ovitz at the end of the 30-day LOI and said that since the deal had not materialized, the company was going to have to search elsewhere for a deal.

Three days later, Ovitz responded by suing Scour for shopping the deal, which Travis said was not the case. News of the lawsuit spread, and Scour's list of potential investors disappeared, leaving Scour with no choice but to accept Ovitz's deal.

After the fallout from movie stars and directors over the funding of Scour, which they believed was stealing from them, Ovitz distanced himself from the deal and pretended he did not know what was going on, Travis said [ clip here. ]

"Gangster is the appropriate term," Travis said.

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