Each week, we sit down with a different member of AEye’s leadership team to discuss their role, their view of challenges and opportunities in the industry, and their take on what lies ahead.
This week, we talk with Founder and VP of Corporate Development, Jordan Greene.
1. Tell us about your role.
I head up our corporate development, partnerships and strategy, which means that I define our strategic initiatives, cultivate our sales channel partners, and drive fundraising processes. The majority of our investors are also our commercial partners, which is indicative of our synergistic role in the various market value chains. Our business model is predicated on enabling partners to be successful, and our technology design and automotive grade supply chain are a catalyst for the manufacturing, sales and integration partners for automotive, trucking, industrial, and more.
2. You’ve been instrumental in securing top tier venture and strategic investors. Tell us about your investment strategy.
We focus on an investment structure that consists of premier value-add lead financial investors and selectively culled strategic partners that we work closely with to fill out the round. Our Series A was led by Kleiner Perkins and our Series B was led by Taiwania, the sovereign wealth fund of Taiwan, and was filled out by Continental AG, Hella Ventures, LG Electronics, Aisin, Intel Capital, Subaru-SBI, and an undisclosed OEM.
Our strategic investors play a strong role in our commercial efforts, especially within the process-driven automotive, aerospace, and industrial markets that rely heavily on the existing supply chain. It is pivotal to work closely with partners in order to enter and thrive in these markets in particular. Every strategic investor participates in the development, production or purchasing of our products, and we are excited and pleased to have automotive and aerospace OEMs, as well as Tier 1 and two Tier 2 partners participate in our rounds. These investor relationships are invaluable as we expand our presence in the market.
3. You have spearheaded partnerships with several Tier 1 automotive suppliers, both from an investment and a go-to-market perspective. In fact, you lead the industry in Tier 1 partnerships. Why did you focus here, and what’s the impact of this strategic decision?
The automotive market has a well-defined production part approval process for which Tier 3, Tier 2, and Tier 1 suppliers have a proven track record of successfully selling to OEM customers. There are extensive processes for designing, producing, and qualifying these critical products, and it is both less risky and less capital intensive, with a far higher margin upside, to leverage partnerships and participate in the existing value chain than to try to displace hundreds of companies, many with more than a century of expertise.
Our strategy is to work with the Tier 3s and Tier 2s, making sure that multiple automotive suppliers exist for each critical subcomponent. We then partner with the Tier 1s, who act as the system integrators, assuming the responsibility of manufacturing, assembly, qualification and integration. The Tier 1s take on a big piece of the puzzle, acting as the responsible party to the OEM and assuming the production tooling, manufacturing, and D&D expenses, in addition to the exposure associated with extensive warranty and liability periods.
We recently announced a partnership with Continental, a global Tier 1 supplier with over 150 years of automotive experience, 25 of those with automotive LiDAR. It would be challenging for any startup to try to recreate those learnings and assume the investment and exposure, which is why we decided to take a much more pragmatic approach. We are an enabler to Tier 1s: We provide a reference architecture, an automotive grade supply chain and support for our Tier 1 partners from design throughout the entire OEM customer program. That strategy has been paramount to our success and a key component of our long-term vision as a company.
4. You’ve been named a “30 Under 30” and are the youngest member of a seasoned executive team. What impact, if any, has that had on your relationships with team members, and the way you collaborate with each other?
I’m very humbled to be surrounded by such knowledgeable and well-respected executives. It is an honor to work with each and every one of them, and it certainly makes my job easier as I approach investors, partners and customers.
My job is to define our role in a rapidly developing environment where we are seeing the democratization of assets, pioneered by the likes of Uber and AirBnB, and the emergence of autonomous functionality across a wide spectrum of industries. I think the frame of reference and insights that I bring to the table, combined with my team’s experience, is a powerful combination. I learn a great deal from them, and they are by far my greatest asset.
5. You’ve been with AEye since the very beginning in 2013. What’s the growth trajectory been like on the inside?
Luis (Founder, President and CTO) and I started in the equivalent of a Harry Potter broom closet office, so it has been incredible to watch AEye grow over the years. We have been very selective and intentional about the team and culture we have built, with a focus on transparency and agility. That focus ensures that information flows freely in all directions, including with our partners and customers, and has been key to addressing and solving problems quickly, instilling confidence with our partners, and allowing us to get to the “right” answers faster.
6. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen to the LiDAR industry since the company’s formation?
We started in aerospace and defense, and the DARPA Grand Challenge catalyzed advancements in mobility and automated driving. As the industry has evolved, business models have matured, and the near-term implementation of autonomous functionality in various verticals is becoming a reality. This shift in thinking is borne out in the constrained forms of autonomy coming to market today, including ADAS and hub-to-hub long-haul trucking.
It’s clear companies understand that: certain applications have a down-scoped technology problem, consumers are willing to pay for safety, and fleet operators can reduce costs and risk through automation. These are the markets that we believe will be the nearest high-volume opportunities and we are positioned well in the value chain to meet their demands.
7. What’s your favorite mode of transportation, and why?
It may seem cliché, but I like them all for different reasons. Riding a bike is very therapeutic – you experience a different world when you cruise along, feel the wind in your hair, see the beautiful scenery and take a path that can’t be traveled by car. But it’s just as fun to drive a fast sports car –it’s breathtaking to take a scenic route like California’s Highway 1 and carve the curvature of the coastline overlooking the ocean.
Unfortunately, all too often our driving experiences are unpleasant, as anyone who has experienced commuter hours in the Bay Area or any major metropolitan city can attest to. I used to commute to San Francisco when I lived in the East Bay: without traffic, it took 15 to 20 minutes, but with traffic, it could take up to 2 hours. When you experience the frustration of being gridlocked with nothing to do but bide your time, you quickly understand why automated driving is necessary.
Nevertheless, I don’t think we will ever see human-operated vehicles disappear. Like horses before them, cars will evolve from a means of transportation to a tool for leisure and sport, and there will always be opportunity for people like me to simply enjoy a good drive.