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LiDAR startup Luminar hires former Fitbit and Apple execs

Kirsten Korosec
LiDAR company Luminar and its whiz founder Austin Russell burst onto the

LiDAR company Luminar and its whiz founder Austin Russell burst onto the autonomous vehicle startup scene last April after operating for years in secrecy. Now, Luminar has nabbed two high-profile hires that signal its grander ambitions in the race to develop and deploy autonomous vehicles.

Luminar announced Thursday it has hired Fitbit executive Bill Zerella as its chief financial officer and Tami Rosen as chief people officer. Both have years of experience in their respective arenas. Zerella was CFO of Fitbit for four years. He has held the CFO position in various other companies, including wireless communications company Vocera and Force10 Networks, and telecom equipment firm Infinera.

His specialty is helping burgeoning startups scale up in revenue as well as operationally to hit high-volume hardware and software products. He also has helped companies navigate the path to an IPO. During his stint at Fitbit, Zerella led the largest consumer electronics IPO in history.

Rosen also has a long and fruitful HR career, including 16 years at Goldman Sachs and a role as senior director of human resources at Apple . She was most recently vice president of people at Quora.

Rosen will need to rely on her deep experience. The explosion of companies working on autonomous vehicle technology has firms competing for a limited pool of talent. HR will be a keystone to Luminar's plans to scale, and to the broader transformation of the future of transportation, Rosen told TechCrunch.

"It really takes looking at how you build a strong culture, one that's inclusive and motivates the workforce and that can be key for us to hit these ambitious goals," Rosen said.

LiDAR, or light detection and ranging radar, measures distance using laser light to generate a highly accurate 3D map of the world around the car. LiDAR is considered by many automakers and tech companies an essential piece of technology to safely roll out self-driving cars.

Russell has argued that companies have been wrongly focused on the price and should instead work on LiDAR's performance. That's where Luminar started.

The company built its LiDAR from scratch, a lengthy process that resulted in a simpler design and better performance. Now the company is working on reducing the cost through its own smart engineering and good old-fashioned economies of scale.

That's where Zerella and Rosen come in. Russell has built out the tech, grown the company to about 400 employees over three locations, made a strategic acquisition of Black Forest Engineering and landed partnerships with Toyota Research Institute and most recently Volvo. Luminar also has a 136,000-square-foot manufacturing center in Orlando, Florida.

Zerella and Rosen aim to take Luminar further.

"Last year it was all about demonstrating how the technology was coming together, adopting some of these initial commercial partners, building out the production facility," Russell told TechCrunch in an interview ahead of the announcement. "Now it all comes down to execution and scale."