Fortune has learned that Rubicon Global, an Atlanta-based waste management startup, has acquired RiverRoad Waste Solutions, a New Jersey-based waste and recycling company. RiverRoad confirmed the deal, though financial terms weren’t disclosed.
This is a rather surprising move as Rubicon has long marketed itself as the “Uber for trash,” and being a waste brokerage is a descriptor that the company has long resisted. RiverRoad Waste is a registered waste broker, meaning the company brokers agreements between business customers and trade waste removal companies.
You may remember Term Sheet’s coverage of Rubicon Global from last year. At the time it had raised new funding that valued the tech company at $1 billion. Armed with about $200 million in total venture funding at the time and a shiny new “unicorn” status, Rubicon claimed it was disrupting the $60 billion garbage industry with its proprietary technology.
In October, I reviewed multiple pitch decks presented to potential investors and spoke with former employees, former and current executives, potential investors who met the team and evaluated the company, and waste industry analysts. My research (as well as Bloomberg’s) raised concerns about the company’s growth and tech capabilities. One investor who passed on the company several times told me that Rubicon seemed like “a trash brokerage business masquerading as a tech company.” (You can read the full story here.)
With the new acquisition, it’s worth watching whether Rubicon pivots to a more traditional, brokerage business or whether it stays course as a sophisticated, high-growth startup.
Here’s an update on what has happened since we last wrote about Rubicon:
— More funding: It raised $65 million in funding from The New Zealand Super Fund, a $38 billion fund backed by New Zealand’s government. This is the second tranche of a larger round. The first tranche was a $50 million strategic investment from Mexican private equity firm Promecap. A detail that made me (and some of the VCs I spoke with) pause: While notable investors have participated, including Goldman Sachs, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Promecap, not a single top-tier VC firm chose to invest in a tech company valued at more than a billion dollars.
— Executive departure: Rubicon hired former Cars.com executive Elaine Richards as its new president in December. Her departure was announced on July 3, after a total of seven months on the job to “pursue other business opportunities,” according to a Rubicon press release. In her place, Rubicon hired Kim Rumph, who has served on the company’s board for the last three years. As noted previously, the company has experienced high executive turnover. Three chief operating officers have left since 2014, according to Bloomberg. Sources told me the company has also cycled through multiple chief financial officers.
— At the ‘pre-IPO stage:’ Rubicon has hinted at an IPO since 2015 when Rubicon CEO Nate Morris told Fortune that its new CFO (who was only at the company for five months, according to LinkedIn) “could help position this business to be a public business in the near future.” That didn’t happen, and Rubicon went on to raise new rounds of funding.
In its most recent Series E press release, Mark Fennell, the NZ Super Fund’s acting chief investment officer, confirmed Rubicon is at a “pre-IPO” stage, saying it’s glad to “support growth companies such as Rubicon that, while established from a technology point of view, are pre-IPO.”
A Rubicon Global spokesperson declined to comment.
As I’ve said before, Rubicon is not a trivial startup—it’s valued at more than a billion dollars, with hundreds of millions of dollars raised and a history of talking seriously about an IPO. The company is a reminder that big ambitions, positive press, and slick marketing are not enough to stop investors and reporters from asking the hard questions.
This article originally ran in Term Sheet, Fortune’s newsletter about deals and dealmakers. Sign up here.