Jiajun Zhu is the cofounder of Nuro, a robotics company based in Mountain View, California that develops fully hands-free, self-driving delivery vehicles. Founded in 2016 by Zhu and his fellow former Google teammate, Dave Ferguson, Nuro recently hit the headlines after its flagship R2 model started making autonomous pizza deliveries in Houston after a successful team-up with Domino’s Pizza. If the idea of getting your Margherita delivered to your door by an autonomous delivery bot appeals, you’re in luck – if Zhu’s ambitions play out, you’ll soon be getting everything from pizzas to prescriptions delivered with no delivery fees, no tips, and no drivers. Find out more about the Nuro CEO with these ten things you didn’t know about Jiajun Zhu.
1. He has a degree in computer science
Trying to get your kids to stick at their studies when so many CEOs and business leaders are proving that being a college dropout is no barrier to success is tricky. Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Larry Page, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg all left college long before they could pick up their diplomas. Billionaire entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel has even set up a $100,000 scholarship fund that rewards college students if they quit their degrees. But the life of a college dropout wasn’t for Zhu. After school, he earned a place at Fudan University, graduating with a BA in Computer Science in 2005. He subsequently went on to earn his MA in Computer Science from the University of Virginia.
2. He interned at Intel
Zhu’s first taste of the working world came in 2004 when he spent 5 months as a visiting student at Microsoft Research Asia. His next business experience came in 2005 when he spent the four months between earning his BA at Fudan University and beginning his graduate studies at the University of Virginia as a software engineer intern at Intel.
3. He joined Google in 2008
With his Master’s degree in hand, Zhu began looking for full-time employment in 2008. He quickly found a position at Google, where he was offered the role of principal software engineer. During his initial period with the company, he was instrumental in the development of various large-scale 3D computer vision projects at Google Maps.
4. He led Google’s self-driving car project
After proving his worth at Google Maps, Zhu was selected as one of the founding team members of the tech giant’s autonomous car effort. As part of his responsibilities, he led a team of researchers and engineers working on creating the perception technology needed to allow self-driving cars to see and react to the physical world. According to his LinkedIn profile, he also oversaw the creation of a large-scale simulation system that was used to simulate millions of miles of driving every day.
5. He founded Nuro in 2016
While working at Nuro, Zhu met Dave Ferguson. After beginning his career at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute (as home to Uber’s autonomous car research and development lab, Carnegie Mellon is considered to be at the very center of innovation in the field of autonomous motoring), Ferguson had joined Google’s self-driving project as a principal computer-vision and machine-learning engineer in 2011, several years after Zhu. The pair bonded and in 2016, they decided to break away from Google to found Nuro, a company dedicated to creating an entirely hands-free self-driving car.
6. He’s planning to change the world
No one could accuse Zhu of lacking drive, nor his vehicles of lacking ambition. By developing a fully hands-free self-driving car, Zhu doesn’t just want to make grocery runs easier, he wants to change the world. Speaking via Medium, he outlined the massive impact he believes autonomous cars will have. “We are designing systems and vehicles that can deliver goods directly to consumers, a solution that will take cars off the road and have a huge impact environmentally, socially, and personally. Imagine a future in which items can be delivered for free, on-demand, by autonomous vehicles. What we are building will make everyday tasks easier and more cost-effective. It will dramatically improve quality of life and lessen the number of cars on the road. It will change the world,” he says.
7. He hopes to eliminate delivery fees
The COVID pandemic saw more and more of relying on take-outs and deliveries to get by. And as we all know by now, all those delivery fees and tips soon start to stack up. If Zhu has his way, no will need to miss out on necessary services in the future because of high delivery costs. If its projects develop as planned, Nuro hopes to improve accessibility by scrapping delivery fees entirely. “We know that many underserved communities do not have access to grocery stores,” he tells Business Insider. “That’s why we built Nuro, to make it easier, more affordable, and accessible for people to get groceries, food, prescriptions, and other things they need.”
8. He’s transforming business
Zhu’s claim that he believes Nuro will change the world may sound a little grand, but the scale of his ambitions and the unique working culture he’s created at Nuro have clearly impressed industry insiders. In 2020, Business Insider showed its faith in him by selecting him to their prestigious list of the ‘100 People Transforming Business.’ If that wasn’t enough of a compliment, he’s also been voted to Linkedin’s ‘Top Professionals 35 and Under’ and named as a Forbes ’40 Under 40′ honoree for 2020.
9. He thinks focus is key
Starting a start-up is challenging. Running one that’s now achieved a value of over $1 billion is even more so. So, how does Zhu cope with the challenges and manage to keep his eye on the prize? According to an interview with bizjournals.com, it’s by keeping his focus on what will be, rather than what has already been. “Every day there are new challenges to overcome,” he says. “I try to not think about what has already occurred, and only focus on what is ahead of us.”
10. His kids help him relax
Whenever the stresses and strains of running a growing company get too much, Zhu falls back on his family. As a committed family man, he cites taking bike rides with his kids as his number one activity and stress-reliever.