Tesla wants to go public. But the electric car company, loved by California celebrities and nerds alike, had to first bare all to the SEC. So now we know Tesla is funded by a mysterious front company linked to Google.
Tesla registered with the SEC on Friday. Buried in the copious paperwork is the name of a very interesting "Series C" and "Series E" stockholder: Amphitheatre LLC. We first flagged this entity as a possible Google front when it invested in a zeppelin company started by Google advisor Esther Dyson. The same zeppelin company was later hired by 23AndMe, the Google-funded and -housed genetic testing firm co-founded by the wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin.
Ampitheatre LLC may well have been acquired by Google along with the company INV Tax Group when Google bought its eight-building headquarters at 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway and 1200-1500 Crittenden Lane in Mountain View. Ampitheatre LLC and INV Tax Group, then believed affiliated with Goldman Sachs, had been the shell companies that held the buildings.
It's hard to imagine why a real estate holding vehicle is now investing in zeppelins and electric cars if it's not controlled by Google. California records are little help; they show the LLC still registered to "INV Tax Group, 180 Maiden Lane, 40th floor," an address once linked to Goldman Sachs in a building now used by a wide array of companies.
Google's a logical investor, anyway, since its founders are already Tesla customers (see picture of Brin in his Tesla, left, by Zach Graves) and investors. Co-founder Larry Page even reportedly "jet pools" with Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and Google has an "electric car" section reserved in its parking lot (see picture at top by Tristan Nitot). It wouldn't be the first time Google co-invested with its founders; it followed Brin into his wife's 23AndMe.
Whether the Google honchos had their financial judgment clouded by the fact that they personally made it to the front of Tesla's fiercely competitive waiting list is something for Google shareholders to decide.
In so doing, they might consider another nugget buried in Tesla's S-1: The company has not yet stabilized its notoriously volatile executive ranks. Among the recent departures is general counsel Jonathan Sobel, formerly of Yahoo. Sobel started in September; he was gone by December. One tipster claims friction with Musk was to blame. The bigger question is whether Musk can forge more stable relationships with his co-workers going forward. Only time will tell. We'll be watching, and we bet Google will be, too.