Embark Announces $30 Million Series B led by Sequoia

Today, Embark is proud to announce our $30 million Series B. The round was led by Sequoia Capital, with participation from our existing investors including Data Collective, YCombinator, SV Angel, and AME Cloud. With Sequoia partner Pat Grady joining our board and $47 million in total funding to date, Embark is ready to lead the way in developing the first commercially-viable driverless truck.

Since completing the first coast-to-coast run in an automated truck back in February, we’ve hit key milestones that bring the dream of self-driving trucks closer to reality. Delivering goods cheaper, faster, and safer will improve life for everyone: from consumers paying less for goods to reducing traffic fatalities — 94% of which are the result of human error.

People often ask me, “How will Embark compete with teams like Waymo, who have billions of dollars and can partner with the biggest names in the industry?” I think the best answer comes from a kid in Calgary who loved building robots.

My First Robot

I was 13 years old when my middle school teacher, Mr. Sveen, invited me to join his after-school robotics team.

Mr. Sveen encouraged five of us to enter an international robotics competition usually won by high schoolers. When I voiced doubts about giving older, more experienced teams a run for their money, Mr. Sveen was undeterred. “I expect you to step up,” he said, “to work hard, work smart, and work as a team.” Whether it was youth, naïvite, or both, that pep talk was enough to convince us.

We built a testing field in my living room (thanks, Mom!) to spend more time on the project. I’d wake up at 6 AM to work on the robot before school and come straight home afterwards to keep plugging away until bedtime. It was during these early days and late nights when I fell in love with robotics.

Halfway through the season, a local news crew visited to tell our story. Mirroring the skepticism I originally expressed to Mr. Sveen, the reporter asked how a team of kids expected to compete against high schoolers. Without skipping a beat, li’l 13-year-old me smiled and said, “We have more heart than they do.”

Embark CEO, Alex Rodrigues, at 13 (video link)

Against all odds, our scrappy Canadian team won it all, taking first place in a field of 2,000. This win — nine years ago — was one of the best days of my life, leaving impressions that still guide me today:

It doesn’t matter what you look like on paper.
What matters is working hard, working smart, and working as a team.
What matters is having heart.
Alex and his teammates (orange shirts) pose after winning the world championships

Forks in the Road

The time spent learning from Mr. Sveen set the stage for a lifetime of robotics-related nerdery. I entered more competitions. I spent summers at math camp. I enrolled in a self-directed high school that afforded more time building robots, even designing one out of a juice box as a gift for a girlfriend. I attended very few parties (go figure!), but was learning a lot and having a blast.

My robot obsession brought me to the Mechatronics program at the University of Waterloo, where I met Brandon Moak. It didn’t take long for our love of building stuff to become little robotics projects, culminating in Canada’s first self-driving vehicle (a golf cart, because it’s all we could afford). Buzz around our self-driving golf cart exceeded expectations, leading to demo rides with VIPs like the University’s president, the CEO of GE Canada, and the Governor General of Canada.

Brandon and I realized our project was on to something special. Halfway into our undergrad careers at Waterloo, we decided to spend our lives focused on building robots. We dropped out, co-founded a company committed to self-driving vehicles, and were accepted into Y Combinator’s startup incubator.

Before moving to the the Bay Area, people said we were crazy, showering us with skepticism eerily familiar to the doubts I had with Mr. Sveen: “What can two 19-year-olds contribute to a challenging, capital-intensive problem like self-driving vehicles?” “How can you compete against more established players?”

This time, we knew the answer: “We’ll work hard, work smart, and work as a team.”

Embark

Two years after founding Embark, Brandon and I are excited to partner with Sequoia, tapping into their experience as early investors in Google, Airbnb, and Dropbox, among many others. In two short years, Embark has built a self-driving powerhouse from scratch. Getting an investment from the most successful venture firm in the world is a humbling validation that Embark’s ethos is working:

Work Hard

We just opened an operations center in the LA suburb of Ontario, CA. I’m incredibly proud of our team, who brought it online in just three months. While Embark is headquartered in San Francisco, adding operations in LA places us right in the middle of the west coast’s biggest freight hub. Embark’s presence in the region was the key to hitting our milestones for the first half of 2018:

Los Angeles to Phoenix with no disengagements. We run daily service on our freight route from LA to Phoenix and back. As of June, our system can complete the route end-to-end with no disengagements. This includes lane changes, merges, on-ramps, off-ramps and lots of LA-metro traffic.

100,000 test miles. There are only four self-driving companies with more than 100k public test miles: Waymo, Cruise, Uber…and now Embark!

Welcoming new customers. Several new Fortune 500 shippers are now Embark customers (that’s all I can say for now, stay tuned for more).

Work Smart

Working smart means making every person incredibly high leverage. It means constraining the problem carefully (start with only trucks, only highways), prioritizing projects based on real world data and choosing technology that gets the right outcomes, regardless of the latest research craze.

Embark’s 35 people have done more than hundreds of people at other companies. That was one of the key things that convinced Sequoia to make Embark their first investment in any company making autonomous vehicles in the US.

Work as a Team

To each and every one of you on this adventure with me at Embark: Thank you for putting your faith in me — I love you all! You’ve shown what underdogs can accomplish in self-driving. You’ve proven what is possible if you work hard, work smart, and work as a team. We’ve accomplished much so far, with much more to go. I’m excited to face the challenges and milestones ahead with all of you.

The last two years have been incredible, working on the kind of truly world-changing technology I’d always dreamed of, with a team of people I’m excited to see every morning. We’re thrilled to have Sequoia joining that team and working alongside us on our mission to transform self-driving from fantasy to reality.

I believe in this team. Even alongside the wealthiest corporations in the world, Embark will continue to revolutionize the development of driverless trucks. To quote a little robotics-loving kid: “We have more heart than they do.”