Greylock Buys Into Self-Driving Startup Packed With Star Power

(Bloomberg) -- Self-driving startup Aurora has added $90 million in funding and two big-name directors as it gears up to deliver autonomous-car software to the world’s automakers.

The company’s first major round of funding is one of the largest for an automotive tech company, according to data from CB Insights. The round was led by Greylock Partners and Index Ventures, and includes other investors who were not identified. Aurora declined to disclose the company’s valuation. Reid Hoffman of Greylock Partners and Mike Volpi of Index Ventures will join Aurora’s board.

Aurora was founded by Chris Urmson, Sterling Anderson and Drew Bagnell, each a former executive from autonomous-car projects at Google, Tesla Inc. and Uber Technologies Inc. The star power of the founding trio, along with the talent it has since attracted, has made Aurora a leading contender in the push to code human drivers off the roads.

Aurora isn’t going it alone, though, and has announced partnerships with Volkswagen AG, Hyundai Motor Co. and China-based Byton.

Autonomous-vehicle startups have already raised nearly $3 billion this year, according to research firm PitchBook. The median deal size for companies at a similar stage in their life as Aurora increased about fivefold to $63.5 million so far this year.

Aurora has been largely self-financed to date, and the founders said they thought carefully about who they wanted on their board as they try to build a business for the long term. Hoffman and Volpi join a board that includes Aurora’s three co-founders and Ian Smith of Allen & Co. “Chris Urmson is the Henry Ford of autonomous vehicles,” said Hoffman, a thought he echoed in a blog post published Wednesday.

Hoffman was the co-founder of LinkedIn and serves on the boards of several companies, including Airbnb Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Nauto, which outfits commercial fleets with sensors to monitor driver behavior. Volpi is a former Cisco Systems Inc. executive whose board seats include Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Sonos Inc.

“I’m over the moon that Reid and Mike will be joining us,” said Urmson, Aurora’s chief executive officer. “They are both tremendous leaders with deep operational experience, and they match what we are trying to build as a culture. We want to build a company that people are proud to be at, where they feel welcomed, where they feel respected.”

That culture includes “no jerks,” according to the job listings page on Aurora’s website. “We debate and solve hard technical problems. We don’t waste time battling over personalities and egos, and we have no tolerance for time-wasters and nonsense,” it reads. Aurora has roughly 90 employees between its offices in Palo Alto, California, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The unique hiring criteria comes at a time of intense reckoning within Silicon Valley about sexism and a toxic “bro culture” as well as heightened competition for engineers. In California, 50 companies have been issued autonomous-vehicle testing permits from the state’s department of motor vehicles. In addition to Aurora, the ranks include established automakers Ford Motor Co. and BMW AG; startups including Zoox Inc. and Nuro Inc.; and tech behemoths like Apple Inc.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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