AR Startup Magic Leap Raises $793.5M Series C At $4.5B Valuation Led By Alibaba

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Magic Leap has been successful in keeping a lot of its technology under wraps — the augmented and virtual reality technology company has yet to release a product — but its fundraising has been an open secret. Today, however, one part of it is finally being confirmed: the startup announced that it has raised $793.5 million in a Series C round of funding, at a valuation that a spokesperson tells us was $3.7 billion pre-money, and $4.5 billion post-money.

That’s right: a $4.5 billion valuation, with a commercial product yet to launch.

This latest investment was led by China’s e-commerce powerhouse Alibaba, with participation also from existing investors Google and Qualcomm Ventures. Other new investors in this round are a who’s-who of finance with a little dose of entertainment: they include Warner Bros, Fidelity, J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley, T. Rowe Price and Wellington Management Co. (Am I the only one surprised that Disney is not even partly involved?)

Today’s announcement doesn’t give us any peek into when we might finally see a product launch from the company — we are asking the question, though. What we do get is a basic description, from the founder of how Magic Leap, of how the startup proposes to fit its tech into the current mix of digital media.

“Here at Magic Leap we are creating a new world where digital and physical realities seamlessly blend together to enable amazing new experiences. This investment will accelerate bringing our new Mixed Reality Lightfield experience to everyone,” said Rony Abovitz, Founder, President, and CEO of Magic Leap, Inc. in a statement. “We are excited to welcome Alibaba as a strategic partner to help introduce Magic Leap’s breakthrough products to the over 400 million people on Alibaba’s platforms.”

As part of the round, Alibaba’s Joe Tsai will join Magic Leap’s board.

“We invest in forward-thinking, innovative companies like Magic Leap that are developing leading products and technologies,” said Joe Tsai, Executive Vice Chairman at Alibaba. “We believe Alibaba can both provide support to and learn from such a partner, and we look forward to working with the Magic Leap team.”

The Alibaba participation, apart from being financial, seems to me that it could potentially have strategic elements, too: one of the larger barriers for more growth in e-commerce is the disconnect between buying physical items but being unable to see them with your own eyes.

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Better AR experiences could be one way of giving people a closer look at what they are buying in the virtual world — see the video above and imagine that instead of a cute elephant, the object in your hands is a camera, or a piece of jewellery, or a bathing suit that you can subsequently ‘try on’. It could even be used to create virtual “stores” where people could walk along aisles to browse and shop as they do in the real, physical world.

If the funding sounds insane — especially in today’s climate where some of the most promising tech startups are getting marked down, and we hear many canaries telling us that there is more to come — from what I understand, there is a method to this madness.

Magic Leap has already been working for years on its technology. That work is not just about writing code, but about processing power and essentially creating completely new environments to develop and test what is being developed. It’s probably still a gamble, and as with all else in tech at some point what costs a fortune will drop drastically in price, but for now this is the price of entry for something that holds the promise of being transformational — or so the thinking goes.

Other investors in the company include Legendary Entertainment, KKR, Vulcan Capital, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Andreessen Horowitz, Obvious Ventures, and others. Prior to this round, Magic Leap had raised $592 million.