Feb 24, 2021 - Economy

LinkedIn co-founder's SPAC bets on flying taxis

Illustration of an airplane in the air with a blank check flailing behind as a banner.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Reid Hoffman knows he isn't the first person who comes to mind when you hear "flying taxis."

Yes, but: The LinkedIn co-founder and venture capitalist insists that his latest deal is more than SPAC silliness, and that its success will be heavily reliant on the sorts of network effects that are in his historical wheelhouse.

Driving the news: Reinvent Technology Partners, a SPAC led by Hoffman and Zynga founder Mark Pincus, on Wednesday agreed to buy Joby Aviation, which has been developing its electric flying vehicles since 2009.

  • The deal values Joby at $6.6 billion, compared to a $2.6 billion mark when Toyota led a Series C investment in January 2020.
  • It includes an $835 million PIPE and additional investment from Uber, which sold its Uber Elevate unit to Joby late last year. Joby spent most of its first decade working on hardware, and the Uber assets will form the basis of its consumer/pilot software network.

The plan: Joby, which agreed to a certification basis with the FAA last year, hopes for actual certification in 2023 and to begin commercial flights in 2024.

  • It hasn't yet picked its inaugural city, but has begun preliminary discussions with candidates.
  • Flights could be for between 5–150 miles, initially via both Joby's own "skyports" and existing infrastructure (helipads, etc).
  • Paul Sciarra, Joby's executive chair and co-founder of Pinterest, tells Axios: "At the beginning we think we'd start a little under Uber Black pricing."
  • Sciarra adds that Joby's decision to manage its own fleet is a bit reminiscent of how Boeing originally created and operated United Airlines.

Go ahead, be skeptical. It remains difficult to picture an urban skyline pockmarked by eVTOLs ("The Fifth Element" notwithstanding). But Hoffman sincerely believes that's just a failure of imagination, particularly given that Joby's engineers seem to have solved the "noise" problem (video here, go to 1:45).

The bottom line: This is another instance of a SPAC giving retail investors an opportunity to invest in a revolutionary, pre-revenue company. Very high risks, very high rewards.

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