Aurora IPO: The Road Ahead

Carl Eschenbach on behalf of Team Sequoia

When we partnered with Aurora in early 2019, co-founder and CEO Chris Urmson had been on Sequoia’s radar for several years. As we noted at the time, he even helped shape our early thoughts on the autonomous vehicle landscape itself, with a memorable 2016 presentation he shared after leaving his role leading Google’s self-driving unit.

With deep expertise in a space that we consider one of mankind’s largest and most exciting “science projects,” Chris was already widely respected for both his technical and leadership abilities. But in the years that followed, we got a closer look at what makes him so exceptional — not only as a technologist and as a leader, but as a person.

Chris and I happen to live only a few miles from each other, and as he began to build Aurora and Sequoia continued to explore self-driving technology, we started meeting for coffee every couple of months. His IQ was immediately clear — but so was his EQ. He is open, authentic and down-to-earth, a truly good human. He also has a clear sense of purpose. Each decision he makes is with Aurora’s mission in mind: to accelerate the adoption of self-driving technology, and to do it safely.

As we got to know his co-founders, Sterling Anderson and Drew Bagnell, we realized that while Chris may have set the stage, Aurora is led by a dream team, all of whom are all-in on its impressive company culture. Their leadership is contagious — in the Bay Area and Pittsburgh offices alike, we found the same commitment to making our roads safer and our supply chains more efficient, and the same understanding of what it takes to deploy self-driving technology at scale. And at their new trucking center in Texas, which opened last summer, that mindset again quickly took hold.

In the years since Chris, Sterling and Drew gave us the opportunity to support their mission and lead the Series B, we’ve seen Aurora grow rapidly. But through it all, their culture has remained intact. From a small lidar company in Bozeman, Montana, to the entire ATG unit of Uber — several-hundred-engineers strong — Aurora has successfully added new team members and new ideas while retaining its values. Merging two organizations is difficult even under normal circumstances, much less in the middle of a global pandemic. It wasn’t always seamless. But because Aurora was so intentionally built to scale, they were able to figure it out, and those two teams are now one.

As Aurora has grown, so have its ambitions — with Chris and the team wisely recognizing that the Aurora Driver platform is a true crossover technology, applicable to autonomous trucking as well as passenger mobility. By starting with trucking, they are helping meet the moment of a supply-chain crisis fueled in part by a shortage of 60,000 truck drivers — which is expected to grow to 160,000 in less than 10 years. In the process, they are also expanding Aurora’s already world-class partnership ecosystem, with an industry-first pilot program with Paccar and FedEx that is already on the roads in Texas (with a safety driver for now).

Five years after Chris, Sterling and Drew launched their dream of revolutionizing transportation, today’s IPO is an exciting validation of the hard work they and their team have put in, and we are proud to celebrate alongside them. But we also know there is much more hard work to come; this is merely a milestone on the path to commercial deployment of the Aurora Driver. So on behalf of everyone at Sequoia, congratulations to the Aurora team on this accomplishment, and thank you for trusting us to be by your side. We’re confident that you will continue to drive down the road toward safe and autonomous vehicles — even and especially when no one’s at the wheel.

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