Kodiak Robotics plans to double its employment and the size of its autonomous long-haul trucking fleet with $125 million in new capital funding, its first since a $40 million raise in August 2018.
The Mountain View, California-based startup, which arrived in the autonomous trucking space in 2018 — later than most of its competitors — decided against an initial public offering or a merger with a special purpose acquisition company.
“We started thinking about the B round in 2020 but with COVID, that obviously changed the game for a lot of companies,” founder and CEO Don Burnette told FreightWaves. “At the end of the day, we decided that raising during a pandemic and a potential financial crisis was not the strongest decision for us to [make]. So, we went pencils down on fundraising for a time.”
When it got serious about raising $100 million this summer, Kodiak found a greater appetite from investors.
The upsized round brought in 20% more with investments from SIP Global Partners, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Battery Ventures, CRV, Muirwoods Ventures, Harpoon Ventures, StepStone Group, Gopher Asset Management, Walleye Capital, Aliya Capital Partners and others. Recent investments from Bridgestone Americas and BMW i Ventures were included.
The lead investor in the round asked to remain confidential, Burnette said.
Room to run
“You’re always fundraising,” Burnette said. “There’s always conversations with investors. That never stops. It’s not even stopping now. Investors are reaching out all the time. We were exploring the SPAC market. We were exploring opportunities but ultimately decided not to go that direction. We said this summer this is the direction we’re going to go.”
Coincidentally, Kodiak co-founder Paz Eshel decided to leave the company around that time for what Burnette said were personal reasons. He said the parting was amicable. Eshel’s LinkedIn profile still lists him as co-founder and COO.
“We’re always evaluating all of our options, whether that’s the SPAC market, whether that’s an IPO, whether that’s private funding,” he said.
Advances by TuSimple Holdings, the first autonomous trucking startup to go public, and a recently completed business combination by Aurora Innovation bode well for the field of startups. Embark Trucks expected to close its business combination Wednesday.
“A rising tide raises all boats, and I think Kodiak is in a very strong position, particularly as we’re the last now private AV trucking company with significant traction in the market,” Burnette said. “For private investors, that becomes an enticing opportunity.”
Efficient use of capital kept Embark in the game while others sought hundreds of millions via SPAC and, in TuSimple’s case, an IPO.
“We feel like this fundraise puts us in a position where we can really build this technology,” he said. “And we’ve always prided ourselves on our capital efficiency.”
Kodiak expects to add at least 85 new people, expand autonomous service capabilities coast to coast — it currently operates only in Texas — and add at least 15 new trucks, for a total of 25 or more autonomous vehicles, over the next 12 months.
In September, Kodiak unveiled its fourth-generation autonomous system, which uses a modular mirror pod design that incorporates camera, lidar and radar sensor.
Burnette said it is a nontechnical differentiator from competitors that potential fleet customers think about.
“Most traditional carriers are operations folks,” he said. “The first question they have is not ‘How does your lidar work?’ They ask, ‘How do you deal with maintenance issues in the field? How do I keep my fleet running when it’s an autonomous fleet?”
Instead of having to individually replace sensors, Kodiak offers a pre-calibrated sub assembly with a single connector that can be replaced by a non-AV-trained technician.
“It’s as easy as changing a tire,” Burnette said “When you talk to fleets and carriers about that kind of innovation, that’s when you see their eyes perk up and they get really excited.”