Cruise co-founder Kyle Vogt raised $150 million for household robot startup

Entrepreneurs

Vogt, who resigned from the self-driving car company amid a crisis just six months ago, landed a $550 million valuation for a new company that wants to sell robots for personal uses like cleaning your house.
Kyle Vogt cofounded Twitch and Cruise, two companies that achieved billion-dollar exits in sales to Amazon and General Motors, respectively. © 2023 BLOOMBERG FINANCE LP

Kyle Vogt, who resigned as CEO of embattled robotaxi company Cruise six months ago, has raised $150 million in funding for a new robotics startup, sources told Forbes.

Pitched to investors under the name The Bot Company, the new startup’s post-money valuation is $550 million, two of the people said. Major investors on the round include Spark Capital and Nat Friedman, the former GitHub CEO who now runs a large AI-focused fund, per four sources.

Vogt, who has a pair of billion-dollar exits as cofounder of live streaming service Twitch (to Amazon in 2014) and Cruise (to General Motors in 2016), cofounded the new company with Luke Holoubek, a former Cruise engineer and technical advisor, and Paril Jain, a longtime Tesla AI employee.

Jain was most recently a leader on the team in charge of the autopilot system on Tesla vehicles.

Vogt declined a request for comment, while Spark and Friedman had not responded at the time of publication.

The startup is making a play at building hardware and software for at-home robots that can do things like housekeeping and laundry, six sources said. The company is considering human-shaped robots, as well as other form factors, according to a source with direct knowledge.

The business idea involves selling the robots directly to consumers and giving users the ability to shape the robot’s functionalities and features by submitting requests through a Discord-like chat server, according to three people.

That could be subject to change, per two sources, as the months-old company pitched investors primarily on a conceptual vision and is not yet generating revenue.

But the founders’ pedigree working on self-driving vehicles at Cruise and Tesla has direct applicability to the technical challenge behind standalone robots, industry observers said.

In tackling robotics, Vogt is entering a field that has benefitted from a dramatic investment boom in recent months.

Venture capitalists are increasingly betting that the performance improvements AI has seen in the last two years for generating text, images, videos and audio will also carry over to the physical world in the shape of robots.

Perhaps the biggest beneficiary so far is Figure AI, which in January announced a collaboration with BMW and the following month landed a $2.6 billion valuation from the likes of Microsoft, Nvidia, OpenAI and Jeff Bezos.

Though none of its humanoid robots have been deployed and Forbes observed during a recent interview at company offices that they still struggle to walk reliably, cofounder Brett Adcock said he expected his robots to be on the production line at a BMW auto factory in 12 to 18 months.

While the robotics sector is still in its infancy, a growing number of companies are tackling different parts of the technology, with venture capitalists taking bets on what part of the robot tech stack will be most valuable.

Companies like Figure and 1X, which raised $100 million in January, are attempting to build general-purpose hardware and software. Some like Physical Intelligence (raised $70 million in March) and Skild (in talks for $300 million, per The Information) are focusing on just the software.

Others are building smaller, non-humanoid robots, like Collaborative Robotics, which raised $100 million last month. Like Vogt’s consumer-oriented venture, others are making vertical plays, as with Agility Robotics, though it’s focusing on industrial use cases.

The company is a fresh start for Vogt, who’s long been interested in robotics. As a grade schooler in Kansas, he competed on the robot combat TV show BattleBots.

While at MIT, he interned at iRobot, creator of the Roomba. He came aboard at Twitch after pitching the other cofounders on a live-streaming camera, Vox reported.

He left to start Cruise in 2013, spending two stints as CEO — first pre-acquisition, then again in 2021.

Under Vogt’s stewardship, Cruise moved fast to scale up its self-driving operations as it raced against rivals like Alphabet subsidiary Waymo.

That drew ire over safety concerns from critics until matters bubbled over in October 2023 when a Cruise vehicle “dragged” a pedestrian for 20 feet, sending her to the emergency room in critical condition.

In the subsequent weeks, the California Department of Motor Vehicles revoked Cruise’s permits; the company voluntarily paused other operations in Arizona and Texas; and GM halted production of a Cruise autonomous van that had been in the works for years.

Vogt resigned his post in November. Since then, a California judge said Cruise had “misled” a state regulatory agency about the October incident.

In January, Cruise published the findings of an independent investigation by law firm Quinn Emanuel which determined that the company’s “failings” could be attributed to reasons including “poor leadership” and “a fundamental misapprehension of Cruise’s obligations of accountability and transparency to the government and the public.”

On Monday, the company announced it was resuming operations in Arizona with a human driver in each car to monitor safety.

This article was first published on forbes.com and all figures are in USD.

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