Zoox: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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Looking to take advantage of a recent sky-high valuation of $3.5 billion by selling shares of the company, Zoox is on a media blitz.

Highlights of their story by the excellent Ashlee Vance:

The GOOD:

  • The video shows a successful autonomous drive, driving through highways, suburbs and city conditions. It’s unclear how ‘practiced’ the car was on this particular route. I mean, if you were showcasing your robot car, and millions of dollars depended on the quality of the showcase, wouldn’t you make sure the car traveled a familiar route?
  • Reporter Vance was duly impressed: “Overall, the vehicle performs so well that you forget no one is driving.”
  • Zoox has raised $800 million to date, including $500 million in early July at a valuation of $3.2 billion. The founders are looking to raise $350 million more. A significant chunk of that will go to hiring workers. They are currently hiring 125 new positions, according to their website.
  • Their business model seems solid: “The world will eventually move to perfectly engineered robotic vehicles, so why waste time trying to incorporate self-driving technology into yesteryear’s cars?” (But didn’t Google cover this ground years ago and decide this wasn’t the way to go?)

The BAD:

  • Founder Tim Kentley-Klay used to sell fake IDs to schoolmate; made up his last name; popped dextroamphetamine before giving a self-driving presentation at Google in 2013.
  • Kentley-Clay seems proud of these and other rebellious acts for having told reporter Vance. He’s depicted as a shrewd, cavalier salesman, bordering on a confidence man.

The UGLY:

  • Co-founder Jesse Levinson (son of Apple board member Arthur Levinson) hired a P.I. to investigate Kentley-Klay. It checked out.
  • Anthony Levandowski, former head of Google’s driverless team, is unimpressed: “I don’t think making the car is the gangsta differentiation. It’s overly complicated, and the wrong way to go.”

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