Australian-founded self-driving car startup Zoox would likely be one of the highest-valued but worst-kept secrets of the local startup ecosystem, but today the autonomous cat is (somewhat) out of the bag.
The startup has locked in a $US500 million ($677 million) Series B funding round, led by Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes, who has also joined the startup’s board. The massive round was also contributed to by Blackbird Ventures, reports Forbes, which joins other investors including Silicon Valley-based Lux Capital and DFJ.
Based in California, Zoox was founded by Australian Tim Kentley-Klay and American Jesse Levinson. The company is a rarity on many fronts, being an Australian-founded autonomous vehicle manufacturer that has operated effectively in stealth mode since its founding in 2012.
The massive funding round and associated $US3.2 billion valuation ($4.3 billion) confirms many of the rumours around the startup’s valuation and prominence. Zoox reportedly hit a $2 billion valuation in late 2016, but no official confirmation was made at the time.
“To raise that amount of capital in a company that is pre-revenue, pre-product, pre-customer is pretty unprecedented. It speaks to the quality of the theme and the vision we have here and what we’ve been able to achieve,” Kentley-Klay told Forbes.
The founder says the company is currently aiming for a 2020 commercial launch for its vehicles, which he notes is “definitely aggressive”. Much of the new war chest of funds is seemingly being poured into recruitment, with the company advertising swathes of developer jobs on its newly revamped website.
Cannon-Brookes proudly took to Twitter this morning to announce his participation in the funding round, calling the startup “the most ambitious company I’ve ever met”. Kentley-Klay and Levinson are “building the future”, he said.
“Infinity is enough.” Thrilled to help pull the covers off @Zoox – https://t.co/3wdBDA4EAa – the most ambitious company I’ve ever met. Tim & Jesse are building the future. I’m leading their new $500m series B & joining board. This is happening ⚡️???????????????? https://t.co/c4FPRjOktl
— Mike Cannon-Brookes ???????????????? (@mcannonbrookes) July 17, 2018
Speaking to Forbes, Cannon-Brookes commented on the significant size of his personal investment in the company, revealing it was more than $100 million, and five times larger than any investment he has made previously.
“Leading the round and writing a more than $100 million check out of my own money is not a small commitment. It’s a big-ass check, no doubt about it,” Cannon-Brookes told Forbes.
“This is five times larger than I’ve done personally before. Take it as a measure of my belief in what they’re trying to do.”
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— Bloomberg (@business) July 17, 2018
In an expansive interview with Bloomberg, Kentley-Klay spilled the beans on Zoox and its goals, revealing the highly-coveted design of the company’s self-driving prototype, which he eventually hopes to have operating in a ride-sharing capacity.
“We are a startup pitted against the biggest companies on the planet,” Kentley-Klay said.
“But we believe deeply that what we’re building is the right thing. Creativity and technical elegance will win here.”