One of the important lessons I’ve learned over the past 20 years of startup life is that if you’re going to become a tech entrepreneur or investor, expect to fail. Like most folks, I don’t like failing, but understanding that it’s part of the process and that it can lead to eventual big success has helped soften the blow. Friendster, the first social network (yes, there was a market leader years before Facebook!), was one of the more painful startup setbacks I’ve experienced in my life.

The team at Gimlet Media recently did a fantastic job re-telling the Friendster story and why it failed to become the $400B company that Facebook is today. As you’ll hear on the podcasts, I was the fourth employee at Friendster and have quite a bit to say, especially in Part 2, about the valuable lessons I learned from that experience. You can listen to the full story here: Friendster: Part 1 and Friendster: Part 2 podcasts.

As the podcasts note, many of us from the early Friendster days have been fortunate to go on to do amazing things in the tech industry, even after such a massive failure. John Doerr, famed investor of Kleiner Perkins and early Friendster investor has since backed big hits like Slack, Uber and Twitter; Reid Hoffman who also was an early investor and advisor, went on to be cofounder of Linkedin and a successful partner at Greylock Partners; the founder of Friendster, Jonathan Abrams and first employee, Kent Lindstrom have both become successful angel investors and have started the well-funded tech startup, Nuzzel; and, after I left Friendster, I was fortunate to join Michael and Xochi Birch to launch Bebo which sold three years later to AOL for $850M and then founded my own venture fund, Maven Ventures, in 2008. For more detail on my personal lessons from the Friendster experience, see this post I wrote a few years ago. I’m grateful to be able to share these valuable lessons every day with the talented startup founders we invest in at Maven and help them avoid critical mistakes as they’re on their path to creating their own successful billion dollar businesses.

Today marks an exciting milestone for the autonomous driving industry. Embark is officially launching, unveiling its self-driving truck to the world. Embark has developed software that enables trucks to drive from exit-to-exit on the freeway without any human input. With this public launch, Embark is one of just three companies (and the only startup) that has gained approval by the State of Nevada to begin testing trucks on public roads. You can see the Embark truck in action in this incredible video.

Maven Ventures led the Embark Seed round. I believe that autonomous vehicles will rival the internet as one the most transformative technologies of our lifetime. Maven was one of the earliest believers and investors in autonomous vehicle tech, starting with our seed investment in Cruise in 2014. Cruise sold to GM last year, as reported for more than $1B. Even with a massive exit, I knew this was still a nascent industry and there would be other valuable autonomous startups built in the coming years. I also saw an opportunity to leverage the knowledge and industry relationships I had built as a board observer at Cruise to help other autonomous vehicle startups achieve similar success.

I first learned of the Embark team through Cruise. CEO and co-founder Alex Rodrigues and his teammates were at the University of Waterloo, a hotbed of tech talent, and were highly sought-after recruits to join the Cruise team. Instead, they decided to drop out of school and launch their own company, which was accepted by YCombinator (the same accelerator program as Cruise). At YC, they built a prototype vehicle, a golf cart-style shuttle for large private grounds such as universities. We were instantly impressed by the founders’ work ethic, talent, and ability to deliver such a great product so quickly with a very small team.

We learned that their passionate, capable founding team already had many years of experience building autonomous technology. They showed us videos of the self-driving robots they had built for high-profile university competitions going back to when they were just 13. Alex also demonstrated a unique balance of youth and maturity, and of vision and practically, that is reminiscent of many of the Valley’s most successful CEOs. So, while we weren’t completely sold on their initial focus on the private shuttle market, we decided to lead their Seed round last March.

Our teams started working together very closely and, soon after our investment, we started discussing the broader market for autonomous vehicles and Alex’s other passions. It became clear that highway driving would be the most straightforward arena for autonomous operation, and the Embark team had been thinking a lot about the trucking industry. The $700B trucking and freight industry would likely be the first to deploy fully self-driving vehicles, even as early as 2018. In addition to a huge market opportunity, there was a massive need. There is currently a shortage of over 100K+ truck drivers nationally, and, with a workforce that is heavily weighted toward baby boomers, that shortage is only expected to grow as boomers retire. Moreover, there are a dozen deaths per day caused by accidents involving semi-trucks, many or all of which could be eliminated by computer-driven trucks. The more I learned, the more I identified with this important and inspiring vision. Soon after we got involved, we fully supported Alex’s decision to commit to trucking, and Embark as you know it today was born.

A lot has happened since then. While the Embark team was working under the radar, Otto launched, hired 90 engineers from Google, got a truck to deliver some beer, and sold to Uber for a reported $700M. This news further validated our thinking and the opportunity ahead of us, and comparatively, the Embark team has been able to accomplish their launch much more efficiently. They’re an incredible group of talented engineers, bringing together years of experience at organizations like SpaceX, Audi’s self-driving group, Stanford AI, and Carnegie Mellon.

From YC, to their combo garage-office which houses the Embark team and a 15,000 pound commercial truck, to their live tests in Nevada, there has been some incredible progress in one year. But Embark is just getting started. They still have much to accomplish before the entire country and world experience the full benefits of self-driving truck technology. Embark will be closing additional funding shortly and expanding the team. If you’re as excited as we are to be part of this incredible journey, where autonomous technology will improve and save lives, as well as help fill a massive need in the trucking industry, we hope you’ll join us on the “Big Blue” ride!

For more Embark news:

Embark aims for self-driving trucks on freeways -SFGate

Embark launches self-driving truck tech to ease driver fatigue on long highways-VentureBeat

Embark’s self-drving truck is ready to assist human drivers -TechCrunch