A college student’s joke turned into a $4 billion company

Six years ago, before he became one of the youngest CEOs in history, college student Alex Rodriguez had to make the difficult decision to either continue or drop out to pursue an ambitious project with two classmates.

in a a report Published by the American “CNBC” website, writer Tom Huddleston says that the idea that started as a joke between 3 students in the field of “mechatronics” engineering, has developed into a leading global company today.

Rodriguez, who is currently 26, viewed the idea of ​​leaving the university as “a kind of risk”, and he and his colleagues at the Canadian University of Waterloo identified two possible scenarios for the success of their project to produce self-driving cars.

“Either you learn a lot, it doesn’t work and you go back to school,” Rodriguez says of the possibilities he was considering during that time. “Or it goes well, and you end up doing what you hoped you’d do after school anyway, which is starting a great project at An interesting sector.

The three students decided to drop out in late 2015 with about $10,000 from their parents and $25,000 in entrepreneurship prize from the university.

The three founded Embark in San Francisco, which produces self-driving trucks and has 200 employees. The company went public last November, and is currently valued at more than $4 billion.

pioneering idea

In the summer of 2015, Rodriguez and co-founders Brandon Muak and Michael Skopian decided to build a self-driving golf cart in the garage of the Rodriguez family’s home in Calgary.

Rodriguez remembers joking his two colleagues that their future could end at Y Combinator, the famous tech incubator in Silicon Valley, and the three of them laughed at the idea.

Rodriguez participated in robotics competitions from a young age, and at the age of 14 tried to build a self-driving lawnmower. At university, he deepened his understanding of technology by studying mechatronics, a major that includes the study of mechanical, electronic and electrical engineering.

The three developed their ideas with the help of their families, who gave them money for an $1,800 golf cart, an $8,000 LIDAR sensor, and a place to work in the Rodriguez family’s garage. Rodriguez’s godfather, a former employee of a GPS company, helped them borrow $30,000 worth of GPS.

In July 2015, the trio showcased their golf cart in a competition at the University of Waterloo and won first prize, taking home $25,000 from the university’s investment fund. Students celebrated with a rickshaw ride around the campus, and the university described the event as one of Canada’s first self-driving rides.

The three students applied to Y Combinator and were accepted into the Sponsorship Center for the 2016 Startup category, and had to leave the university to implement their project.

This was “very normal” in Silicon Valley, Rodriguez says, but not typical in Calgary. “My parents had to explain to people there that I didn’t drop out of college,” he says.

first way

At Y Combinator, the three switched from producing vans to developing software for large, self-driving trucks, and it was the right decision. Last month Wedbush estimated that spending in the industry would reach more than $750 billion over the next five years.

The startup was able to raise $2.1 million from early-stage investors, and has grown over the past years, raising more than $317 million before it went public last month, according to Crunchbase estimates.

These investments have aided the development of self-driving truck technology, and in 2018, an EMPARK robotic truck made the first autonomous coast-to-coast voyage in the United States, with a driver ready to take the wheel if needed.

Skopin left the company in 2017, while Mwak continues to work with Rodriguez as Embark’s chief technology officer. The company’s current market value is about $4 billion, and its shares have fallen by 5% since its IPO.

Embark is not the only startup in this sector that has risen in value to billions of dollars. Luminar, founded by Austin Russell, 25, has achieved similar success.

fierce competition

Apart from the impressive success he achieved in a short period of time, Rodriguez is expected to face fierce competition from other leading companies in the coming period.

This year, other companies that specialize in the self-driving truck industry have been announced to go public, including TuSimple last April and Aurora Innovation last November.

Rodriguez believes Embark will be able to outsmart its competitors by launching fleets of self-driving trucks across the United States by 2024 that will not require a driver behind the wheel.

Trucks powered by Embark’s autonomous driving software are set to begin shipping cargo between Houston and San Antonio next year.

Rodriguez says he has no regrets about dropping out early. “We told ourselves this is an amazing opportunity, this technology is unbelievably cool. If we wait 3 years until graduation, the opportunity will be missed,” he says.

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