Google Ventures Drops 9-Figure Investment into Uber Car Service

By Steve Anderson August 23, 2013

Google Ventures apparently has a taste for vehicles on demand, as new reports indicate that the investment arm of Google has dropped fully $250 million into Uber, the on-demand car (and occasional helicopter) service. This by itself would be sufficiently noteworthy for anyone, but tack on the additional interest from other investors, as well as the total valuation of Uber, and the whole picture raises even more eyebrows.

Google Ventures' $250 million is huge, of course, but that's just part of the story. A set of other investors, led by private-equity firm TPG, brought in $110 million, giving the newest round of investment a total infusion of $360 million, and giving Uber a total valuation, at last report, of around $3.5 billion. Again, also a huge consideration in its own right, but perhaps even more noteworthy is just how involved Google Ventures got.

Google Ventures, at last report, has an annual commitment of putting $300 million dollars in investment in play. It's essentially put nearly all of its annual egg for the year into the one basket that is Uber, and that's got more than a few hackles up. Reports suggest that this was something of a personal issue, as Google Ventures put in that kind of money in part on the direct intervention of Larry Page, Google's CEO, but the question is being asked on several fronts: why is Google going in on Uber so hard?

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Some quarters are drawing a couple points together and getting an exciting new whole therein: consider that Google has been running efforts in engineering the self-driving car for some time now, and consider further what a self-driving car would be able to do if it was used extensively in a business that provides vehicles on demand for users. Calling in an Uber black car, and having it arrive without a human to drive it, could be a very useful tool in a lot of places, not to mention the savings involved in not having to tip for same. But the actual usefulness of the self-driving car is still somewhat in doubt, and in many cases having a human behind the wheel as a backup system, if nothing else, is still necessary.

But there are other possibilities afoot here as well: consider Uber cars operating as delivery services; consider an Amazon analogue in which products aren't shipped via UPS over the course of several days, but are instead shipped out immediately by someone getting in a car and driving it out. This reportedly happened in tests of Google Shopping Express out in the San Francisco Bay area, and Uber's recent ice cream truck tests had some exciting possibilities in this field as well.

There will be challenges involved in such development, of course, as cities like New York have bans against pre-arranged rides and the like at last report, but Google has quite a bit of political muscle, and if Google can work around such bans, then Google Ventures-backed Uber gets a lot more room to roam in some major markets. Using the cars as delivery vehicles also may have some potential for value, especially if it can shave some time off of shipping times. There are plenty of possibilities inherent in a development like this, and Google may see a few that we haven't even considered yet. Either way, Google putting in a major backing like this suggests that it has big plans for Uber, and seeing just what those are should be quite exciting.

Edited by Alisen Downey

Contributing TechZone360 Writer

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