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Founder, funder explain deal behind Luminar's $8B 'blank check' market debut (Video)

By Cromwell Schubarth – TechFlash Editor, Silicon Valley Business Journal
Dec 3, 2020 Updated Dec 3, 2020, 3:09pm PST

Luminar Technologies Inc. CEO Austin Russell and billionaire investor Alec Gores say the reason they went public in an $8 billion "blank check" merger this week is simple — it was the most efficient way to drive the lidar company to its future potential.

Russell and Gores expanded on that in an interview that was shown at the Silicon Valley Business Journal's Upstart Tech Trends 2021 virtual event Thursday morning, the same day that Palo Alto-based Luminar went public and rang the opening bell on the Nasdaq exchange.

"Luminar has an amazing leader in Austin, who I got to know every well," Gore said. He heads the Los Angeles private equity firm behind the special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) that Palo Alto-based Luminar merged with.

"We had to make sure he can execute on his vision," he added. "His technology, in my opinion, is way ahead of anyone else's."

Russell said he considered taking on a strategic investment or doing a traditional IPO but changed his mind after hearing Gores' SPAC pitch.

"The first time I heard about SPACs was, I think, a couple of years back," Russell said. "That's when it was an interesting concept and it made sense as a mechanism, but it just really never had the traction, sponsors or credibility to really take off."

Alec Gores, the Gores Metropoulos Inc. SPAC he created, and a growing number of companies that successfully went public this year in "blank check" mergers changed his mind.

"There are only so many people who can write a $500 million or $600 million check," Russell said. "That's why I think you're seeing new EV (electric vehicle) companies or others who are pre-product or pre-revenue get out there as a way to fund initial parts of the business. It definitely can make a lot of sense."

Russell and Gores, in the video attached to this story, expand on, among other things, their merger, whether the record number of SPAC IPOs this year is a bubble and why Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk is wrong when he says self-driving cars don't need lidar.
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