A Journey with Joby Aviation: From Investment to Strategic Manufacturing Collaboration
At Toyota Ventures, we are on a mission to discover what’s next for Toyota by helping early-stage startups bring disruptive technologies and business models to market quickly. When we make an investment, it’s the first step in a much longer journey that we’re taking with our portfolio companies. We believe their success is our success. In addition to funding, our team is committed to providing them with the support they need to go-to-market, and to grow and thrive throughout the years.
Four years ago, shortly after the launch of our firm, we had the opportunity to invest in a groundbreaking company named Joby Aviation. As we embark on the next leg of our journey, it’s an opportune moment to reflect on how far we’ve traveled with one of our earliest portfolio companies.
From Test Flight to First Investment
In August of 2017, Jim Adler, founding managing director of Toyota Ventures, made a visit to Joby’s headquarters in Santa Cruz, California to watch a test flight of Joby’s electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. JoeBen Bevirt, Joby CEO and founder, had a plan to launch an urban air taxi service using eVTOL aircraft. His bold mission was to save a billion people an hour a day in their commute.
Jim received a full-scale demonstration of Joby’s aircraft, and was impressed by the technology, how quiet it was, and how safety redundancies were incorporated throughout the vehicle. He was also excited about JoeBen’s strategy for building an air taxi service, and quickly focused on making an investment in Joby’s next financing round. Though Toyota Ventures had itself just launched, Jim was confident that Joby Aviation was a perfect fit for the portfolio.
In building the Toyota Ventures investment strategy, Jim prioritized financial return over strategic return based on the principle that the most financially successful companies make the strongest strategic partners. The initial investment was the first step towards laying the foundation for that potential collaboration.
Platform Support: Building Strategic Relationships
With Joby, it became apparent early on that there was an opportunity for a strategic engagement that involved manufacturing. Given that Joby’s plans for an urban air taxi service would require thousands of vehicles to be mass-produced on a level unfamiliar to most aviation manufacturers, it made sense that an automotive manufacturer offered much relevant knowledge. The Toyota Ventures platform team set up meetings with Joby that included expert presentations from Toyota on the Toyota Production System.
Meetings between Joby Aviation and key stakeholders at Toyota were fruitful, eventually leading to Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) leading Joby’s $590 million Series C financing round. In addition to the financing, a strategic manufacturing collaboration between TMC and Joby was officially announced on January 15, 2020. It marked the first large-scale engagement of its kind for a Toyota Ventures portfolio company and Toyota.
Our partnership with Toyota Ventures has accelerated our goals and growth far beyond our expectations from that first investment. We are so, so grateful to Jim, Toyota Ventures, and the Toyota team for this spectacular partnership. — JoeBen Bevirt, Founder and CEO, Joby Aviation
New Milestones: Going Public and Collaborating Side-by-side
This year brought more notable milestones for both Joby and the strategic collaboration with Toyota. On February 24, 2021, Joby announced that it intended to list on the New York Stock Exchange later this year through a merger with Reinvent Technology Partners, a Special Purpose Acquisition Company. In addition, Toyota engineers began working alongside Joby counterparts in California on collaboration projects to help Joby prepare for manufacturing at scale.
From the initial test flight and the first Toyota Ventures investment to additional TMC financing and the ongoing manufacturing collaboration, the journey so far has fulfilled all of the expectations and hopes that we have for our portfolio companies — with much more yet to come.