SPACs, or special purpose acquisition companies, are all the rage right now, and people are emerging from all corners to raise them.
Among the latest entrants — and someone who might be of interest to Silicon Valley watchers — is Emil Michael, a former Uber executive and top lieutenant to former CEO Travis Kalanick. Earlier today, Michael registered plans with the SEC to raise $250 million in an IPO for a blank-check company that will broadly acquire a company in the tech sector.
IPO Edge had reported earlier today that the SPAC might be in the works.
The filing lists as special advisors a bit of a rogue’s gallery, including Shervin Pishevar, an early Uber investor and advisor to the company who left his previous venture firm after being accused by multiple women of sexual misconduct; Alphabet’s former executive chairman (and erstwhile playboy) Eric Schmidt; and Betsy Atkins, a founder of Ascend Communications and investor who has served on so many boards that last year she wrote a book about it. Indeed, among her other roles currently, she’s on the boards of Volvo, Wynn Resorts, and Oyo Hotels.
Michael was a senior vice president of field operations at Tellme Networks, then later served as COO of the startup Klout before landing at Uber, where he was a senior vice president of business for nearly four years.
He gained prominence in the role but also some disrepute after he publicly made comments about hiring opposition researchers to quiet journalists critical of the company and following a later report that he had attended an “escort bar” in Seoul with other Uber executives, including Kalanick. Indeed, when he left the company in 2017, Uber declined to say whether he left of his own accord.
Despite — or perhaps even because of — his trajectory at Uber, Michael was reportedly vetted at one point for the position of Secretary of Transportation after Donald Trump was elected president. Now, he apparently sees a way to jump back into tech by using a SPAC to take public a still privately held company.
Certainly, we’re seeing the same trend with a small but growing number of tech companies, including electric vehicle makers, such as the troubled Nikola, and the electric-truck maker Hyliion, which revealed plans in August to go public through a reverse merger into a SPAC. (Nikola is already publicly traded; Hylion’s deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter.)
Companies in other sectors of the economy are seemingly up for grabs, too. Just yesterday, Hims, a direct-to-consumer company that sells health products and services targeted at young men and women, revealed that it will go public by merging with a SPAC sponsored by Oaktree Capital Management.
Last month, Opendoor, a home buying and selling platform, separately agreed to go public via a reverse merger with Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings Corp II, one of numerous SPACs that has been successfully raised by investor Chamath Palihapitiya.
And in late August, Desktop Metal, a Burlington, Ma.-based maker of 3D metal printing systems, agreed to go public via a reverse merger with a SPAC formed last year by veteran telecom investor Leo Hindery, called Trine Acquisition Corp.
Michael has a bit more M&A experience than some who are beginning to take an interest in SPACs. For example, he was involved in selling Uber’s China business in 2016 to rival Didi Chuxing in exchange for a stake in the company.
According to Kristi Marvin, a former investment banker who now runs the data site SPACInsider, she’s having, and hearing about, conversations with a much wider range of people interested in launching SPACs than in past years — and not all of them are necessarily equipped to manage the vehicles.
“You ask, ‘Have you ever acquired a company for $500 million or more? Do you have operating experience in the vertical that you’re targeting? Do you understand the reporting requirements involved?’ Often,” she says, “the answers are no.”
(Correction: an earlier version of this story did not list Shervin Pishevar as an advisor; we’d missed his involvement when scanning the filing originally.)