By Andrew J. Hawkins
October 13, 2016
Brent Callinicos has a reputation as one of the smartest financial minds in Silicon Valley. He helped spearhead Uber’s fastest years of growth as the ride-hailing startup’s chief financial officer, and served similar roles at Google and Microsoft. Now he’s heading to Hyperloop One, a futuristic transportation startup that has both a lot of potential and a lot of baggage.
Callinicos will serve as chief financial advisor to Hyperloop One CEO Rob Lloyd, as well as to the board of directors, the company announced Thursday. He was courted by company executive chairman Shervin Pishevar, who was also an early investor in Uber. In an interview with The Verge, Lloyd said Callinicos invested in the startup’s Series B fundraising round, and after relocating from the Bay Area to Los Angeles, decided to join the company officially. “We hope he can help us do the same things he helped Uber do in those early days,” he added.
The news of his hiring was coupled with an announcement that Hyperloop One had raised an additional $50 million, bringing its total funding to $160 million. Lloyd said that the cash will help his company’s plans to conduct a full-scale demonstration of the super-fast, tube-based transportation system in the first quarter of 2017.
“We’ll show the world that this amazing idea is a reality,” Lloyd said. “That’s the mission that’s galvanizing the company right now.”
Hyperloop One is also making two prominent additions to its board of directors: Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, chair of Dubai’s DP World, which operates the world’s third largest port; and Ziyavudin Magomedov, the Russian billionaire who runs the Summa Group, a port and oil business. Lloyd said these appointments augment Hyperloop One’s board with “significant experience in logistics and freight, in construction of large-scale projects, building ports, building railroads... and other complicated things.”
Sulayem was at the helm of Dubai World, the previous incarnation of DP World, which was forced to restructure after the 2008 global financial crisis due to insurmountable debt. Lloyd described Sulayem as a “hands-on chairman” who will help spearhead Hyperloop One’s freight business. (At the moment, the company is more focused on leveraging the super-fast, tube-based transportation system for the shipment of goods rather than people.)
Magomedov helped negotiate the recent signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the city of Moscow to explore connecting the city's transportation grid to the Hyperloop. The startup also has feasibility studies underway in Finland and Sweden, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Dubai, the Port of Los Angeles, and the UK. Both Magomedov and Sulayem are investors in Hyperloop One.
The hiring of Callinicos, the raising of $50 million, and the additions of a sultan and Russian oligarch to its board are meant to convey the message that Hyperloop One is a serious business working on a serious transportation project with global implications. But it also appears to be an attempt by the startup to shift the conversation away from the embarrassing and reputation-damaging lawsuit filed a few months ago by Hyperloop One’s former chief technology officer.
In his complaint, former CTO Brogan BamBrogan alleged that the company’s top executives, including Lloyd and Pishevar, engaged in financial misconduct, abuse, and, in the case of Pishevar’s brother Afshin, physical threats. Lloyd and Pishevar countersued, and both suits are now winding their way through the courts.
But Lloyd said he hardly thinks about the lawsuit these days, even though the allegations came out just a few months ago. “The unfortunate stuff of the summer is completely behind us and we’re on track to take this company to the next level,” he said. “No one even talks about it inside the company. We’re too busy.”
Despite all this activity, the world has still seen very little evidence that the Hyperloop, in which pods of passengers or freight would careen through a nearly airless tube at speeds up to 760 mph, is little more than vaporware. Hyperloop One's first open-air test in the Nevada desert in May featured a metal sled shooting down a train track at a little more than 100 mph. The other LA-based startup, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, has yet to conduct any public demonstrations.
But that could change in 2017, when Hyperloop One says it plans to show off the full-scale prototype it’s building in Nevada. Also in January, Elon Musk’s SpaceX will host a public test in California featuring hyperloop pods built by over a dozen high school and college engineering teams. In other words, the Hyperloop could be in for a very busy 2017.
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