Electric Aviation Launches Its First Billionaire: Joby Founder JoeBen Bevirt

While electric air taxi startups may still be a while away from picking up first passengers, the sector has already produced its first billionaire: JoeBen Bevirt (CEO of Joby Aviation).

Santa Cruz-based shares opened trading Tuesday on the New York Stock Exchange at $10.90. The company has a market capitalization totaling $6.8 billion. Bevirt, 47 years old, now owns a fortune of $1.08 billion. According to SEC filings, he controls 98.7 million shares.

It’s a massive milestone for Bevirt. He’s been working hard since 2009 to build an aircraft that can take off vertically and land like a helicopter in tight urban areas. This will allow him to transition to flying on wings like an airliner, which will help city dwellers speed over traffic-snarled roads. Bevirt spent most of his seminal work developing the aircraft secretly at a ranch he owns in Santa Cruz Mountains of northern California. This ranch is near where Bevirt grew up. The community embraced his vision, but the amount of money he now has to work with was unimaginable.

Bevirt was raised on a remote island called Last Chance. He was part of an off-the-grid community, where members grew their food. His mother was Paula Fry; his father was Ron Bevirt; Gurney Norman was Gurney’s husband. They are known for their acid parties, Magic Bus trips, and other mischiefs of the 1960s. Bevirt is named for JoeBen, the fictional character from a Pranksters novel. He claims that Ken Kesey treated him as a godson.

Bevirt said to Forbes last school year that he thought of building a flying vehicle when he was in second grade while struggling up the steep 4.5-mile climb home from school. Bevirt laughed and said, “It wasn’t a long hill.”

Bevirt studied engineering at Stanford University and the University of California at Davis. He has a better chance of realizing his dream with the $1.1billion that Joby Aviation acquired from the merger of Reinvent Technology partners and Joby Aviation’s private share sale.

Joby claims that it’s done more than 1,000 remote piloted test flights with prototypes of its five-seat, lithium-powered aircraft. It also claimed last month that it flew one to 150 miles on one charge. This is the maximum range Joby is currently trying to achieve, and the longest electric taxi hopefuls have ever claimed to be able to accomplish.

Joby now has to prove the aircraft’s safety and security to the Federal Aviation Administration. In 2023, the company plans to obtain certification.

Toyota Motor has made a significant investment in Joby’s manufacturing. It has invested around $400 million. Paul Sciarra (Pinterest cofounder) was a key investor in Joby’s 2013 seed round. Sciarra joined the company to serve as executive chair. His stake in Joby, worth $653.6million at Tuesday’s closing, is already worth $653.6million. Jeff Skoll, a billionaire, also invested in Joby’s Capricorn Investment Group.

Along with Reinvent Tech Partners cofounder Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn) and Zynga ZNGA+0.7% founder Mark Pincus, Joby executives and significant investors designed the reverse merge with unusually long restrictions to sell their shares. This was done to shield the company’s short-term focus on Wall Street. Hoffman and Pincus also committed themselves to the mentoring role for the company over a more extended period.

Bevirt and Sciarra are the current owners of about 80%. The Reinvent team and they have lockups that cover five years. Stock will be released in tranches each year. Reinvent’s founders will get full vesting only once the share price has reached $50. This would mean that there is over $30 billion in market capitalization.

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Adam Collins
Adam writes about technology, business and economics. With master's degree in Economics, he's presented six papers in international conferences. As a solivagant in the constant state of fernweh, curiosity is the main weapon in his arsenal.

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