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Slack narrows losses, displays healthy revenue growth

Posted by on May 31, 2019 in Accel, Airbnb, Andreessen Horowitz, Earnings, economy, Finance, initial public offering, Kleiner Perkins, operating systems, slack, Softbank, SoftBank Group, Spotify, t.rowe price, TC, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission | 0 comments

Workplace messaging powerhouse Slack filed an amended S-1 with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday weeks ahead of a direct listing expected June 20.

In the document, Slack included an updated look at its path to profitability, posting first-quarter revenues of $134.8 million on losses of $31.8 million. Slack’s Q1 revenues represent a 67% increase from the same period last year when the company lost $24.8 million on $80.9 million in revenue.

For the fiscal year ending January 31, 2019, the company reported losses of $138.9 million on revenue of $400.6 million. That’s compared to a loss of $140.1 million on revenue of $220.5 million the year prior.

Slack is in the process of completing the final steps necessary for its direct listing on The New York Stock Exchange, where it will trade under the ticker symbol “WORK.” A direct listing is an alternative approach to the stock market that allows well-known businesses to sell directly to the market existing shares held by insiders, employees and investors, instead of issuing new shares. The method lets companies bypass the traditional roadshow process and avoid a good chunk of Wall Street’s IPO fees.

Spotify completed a direct listing in 2018; Airbnb, another highly valued venture capital-backed business, is rumored to be considering a direct listing in 2020.

Slack is currently valued at $7 billion after raising $1.22 billion in VC funding from investors, including Accel, which owns a 24% pre-IPO stake, Andreessen Horowitz (13.3%), Social Capital (10.2%), SoftBank, T. Rowe Price, IVP, Kleiner Perkins and many others.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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India’s Ola spins out a dedicated EV business — and it just raised $56M from investors

Posted by on Mar 1, 2019 in Ankit Jain, Asia, Automotive, Bhavish Aggarwal, carsharing, Co-founder, Collaborative Consumption, Companies, didi, Didi Chuxing, DST Global, electric vehicle, Flipkart, funding, Fundings & Exits, head, India, ola cabs, Sachin Bansal, Sequoia, Softbank, SoftBank Group, Steadview Capital, temasek, Tencent, tiger global, transport, Uber, United States | 0 comments

Ola, Uber’s key rival in India, is doubling down on electric vehicles after it span out a dedicated business, which has pulled in $56 million in early funding.

The unit is named Ola Electric Mobility and it is described as being an independent business that’s backed by Ola. TechCrunch understands Ola provided founding capital, and it has now been joined by a series of investors who have pumped Rs. 400 crore ($56 million) into Ola Electric. Notably, those backers include Tiger Global and Matrix India — two firms that were early investors in Ola itself.

While automotive companies and ride-hailing services in the U.S. are focused on bringing autonomous vehicles to the streets, India — like other parts of Asia — is more challenging thanks to diverse geographies, more sparse mapping and other factors. In India, companies have instead flocked to electric. The government had previously voiced its intention to make 30 percent of vehicles electric by 2030, but it has not formally introduced a policy to guide that initiative.

Ola has taken steps to electrify its fleet — it pledged last year to add 10,000 electric rickshaws to its fleet and has conducted other pilots with the goal of offering one million EVs by 2022 — but the challenge is such that it has spun out Ola Electric to go deeper into EVs.

That means that Ola Electric won’t just be concerned with vehicles, it has a far wider remit.

The new company has pledged to focus on areas that include charging solutions, EV batteries, and developing viable infrastructure that allows commercial EVs to operate at scale, according to an announcement. In other words, the challenge of developing electric vehicles goes beyond being a ‘ride-hailing problem’ and that is why Ola Electric has been formed and is being capitalized independently of Ola.

An electric rickshaw from Ola

Its leadership is also wholly separate.

Ola Electric is led by Ola executives Anand Shah and Ankit Jain — who led Ola’s connected car platform strategy — and the team includes former executives from carmakers such as BMW.

Already, it said it has partnered with “several” OEMs and battery makers and it “intends to work closely with the automotive industry to create seamless solutions for electric vehicle operations.” Indeed, that connected car play — Ola Play — likely already gives it warm leads to chase.

“At Ola Electric, our mission is to enable sustainable mobility for everyone. India can leapfrog problems of pollution and energy security by moving to electric mobility, create millions of new jobs and economic opportunity, and lead the world,” Ola CEO and co-founder Bhavish Aggarwal said in a statement.

“The first problem to solve in electric mobility is charging: users need a dependable, convenient, and affordable replacement for the petrol pump. By making electric easy for commercial vehicles that deliver a disproportionate share of kilometers traveled, we can jumpstart the electric vehicle revolution,” added Anand Shah, whose job title is listed as head of Ola Electric Mobility.

The new business spinout comes as Ola continues to raise new capital from investors.

Last month, Flipkart co-founder Sachin Bansal invested $92 million into the ongoing Series J round that is likely to exceed $1 billion and would value Ola at around $6 billion. Existing backer Steadview Capital earlier committed $75 million but there’s plenty more in development.

A filing — first noted by paper.vc — shows that India’s Competition Commission approved a request for a Temasek-affiliated investment vehicle’s proposed acquisition of seven percent of Ola. In addition, SoftBank offered a term sheet for a prospective $1 billion investment last month, TechCrunch understands from an industry source.

Ola is backed by the likes of SoftBank, Tencent, Sequoia India, Matrix, DST Global and Didi Chuxing. It has raised some $3.5 billion to date, according to data from Crunchbase.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Grab raises fundraising target to $5B as Southeast Asia’s ride-hailing war heats up

Posted by on Dec 28, 2018 in Asia, Automotive, booking holdings, Business, carsharing, China, consumer internet, funding, Fundings & Exits, go-jek, Google, grab, Indonesia, malaysia, Meituan-Dianping, Microsoft, New Years Day, Singapore, Softbank, SoftBank Group, Southeast Asia, Tencent, Thailand, Toyota, transport, Uber, vietnam, yamaha motors | 0 comments

Southeast Asian ride-hailing firm Grab is aiming to start the new year with a bang and an awful load of bucks. The company, which acquired Uber’s local business earlier this year, is planning to raise as much as $5 billion from its ongoing Series H round, up from an original target of $3 billion, a source with knowledge of the plan told TechCrunch.

Grab declined to comment for this story.

That Series H round has been open since June. Already, it has seen participation from the likes of Toyota, Microsoft, Booking Holdings and Yamaha Motors who have pushed it close to the original $3 billion target. Prior to raising $150 million from Yamaha, Grab said the round stood at $2.7 billion. While it is true that the company first announced that it was “on track to raise over $3 billion by the end of 2018,” it is not public knowledge that it has set its sights as high as $5 billion.

A big part of that expansion is a planned investment from SoftBank’s Vision Fund which, as TechCrunch reported last week, is aiming to pump up to $1.5 billion into the business. Adding that to the $3 billion total appears to leave a further $500 million allocation for other investors to take up.

Grab is already the most capitalized startup in Southeast Asia’s history having raised around $6.8 billion to date from investors, according to data from Crunchbase. The company was last valued at $11 billion — when Toyota invested the initial $1 billion in this Series H six months ago — and it is unclear how much that valuation will increase when the round is completed.

The company is also one of the widest reaching consumer internet companies in Southeast Asia, a region of 650 million consumers. Grab claims over 130 million downloads and more than 2.5 billion completed rides to date, while it has expanded into fintech and it is going beyond ride-hailing app to offer Southeast Asia a ‘super app’ in the mold of Meituan in China. On the financial side, Grab is assumed to not yet be profitable. But it has said that it made $1 billion in revenue and that it projects that the figure will double in 2019.

Buying Uber’s business made it the dominant ride-sharing operator in the region — a position that saw it pay fines in Singapore and the Philippines — but Uber’s exit also saw Go-Jek, a rival in Indonesia, step up and expand its business into new markets. Go-Jek — which is backed by the likes of Tencent, Meituan and Google — entered Vietnam in August and it has recently launched in Thailand and Singapore as it bids to step into Uber’s shadow.

With Go-Jek aiming to raise $2 billion of its own, it certainly looks like Grab’s extension of its already-enormous Series H round is aimed at increasing its war chest as the competition intensifies in post-Uber Southeast Asia.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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SoftBank’s Vision Fund is preparing to invest $1 billion in Grab

Posted by on Dec 21, 2018 in Asia, booking holdings, China, didi, funding, Fundings & Exits, grab, India, Indonesia, Microsoft, series h, Singapore, Softbank, SoftBank Group, Southeast Asia, Toyota, Uber, Vision Fund, vodafone, yamaha motors | 0 comments

SoftBank’s Vision Fund is set to continue its recent spree of investments in Asian tech unicorns. The mega fund — which is targeted at $100 billion — is planning to invest upwards of $1 billion into Southeast Asia’s ride-hailing leader Grab, two sources with knowledge of the plan told TechCrunch. The investment could reach as much as $1.5 billion, one source added.

A SoftBank representative did not respond to a request for comment. Grab declined to comment.

The Vision Fund has made significant investments in three billion-dollar Asian companies in recent months. That includes backing India’s OYO as part of a $1 billion round (which included money from Grab) in September, writing a $2 billion check for Korea’s Coupang in November and co-leading a $1.2 billion round for Tokopedia in Indonesia alongside Alibaba earlier this month.

There is a pattern that SoftBank appears to be following here.

In all three cases, the Japanese company was an existing investor and, having transferred its stakes to the Vision Fund, it then doubled down and invested again via the Vision Fund itself. That’s also the plan for this Grab deal, TechCrunch understands.

SoftBank’s most recent financial report, filed in November, explains that it plans to move its stakes in ride-hailing firms Uber, China’s Didi, India’s Ola and Grab over to the Vision Fund. But that hasn’t happened yet and it isn’t clear when it will.

“The Company expects that the necessary procedures will be made in the future to obtain applicable consent from limited partners of the Fund and regulatory approvals for the transfer,” it explained in the report, which doesn’t include a projected timeframe.

One source told TechCrunch that the investment in Grab is contingent on that equity transfer being made, as was the case with Tokopedia and Coupang, which saw SoftBank-owned stakes transferred to the fund in Q3 of this year.

Grab CEO and co-founder Anthony Tan [Photographer: Ore Huiying/Bloomberg/Getty Images]

While we don’t know how long that wait will be, Grab is hardly short on cash. The Singapore-based company is putting the final touches to its Series H fund which is focused on raising a total of $3 billion. It has already received significant contributions from Toyota, Microsoft, Yamaha Motors, Booking Holdings and a range of institutional investors.

Grab operates across eight markets in Southeast Asia, where it claims over 130 million downloads and more than 2.5 billion completed rides to date. The company acquired Uber’s business earlier this year in a deal that saw the U.S. company pick up a 27.5 percent stake in Grab and turn their rivalry into a partnership. The merger deal, however, was criticized by regulators and, in Singapore, the pair were fined a total of $9.5 million for violating anti-competition laws.

Grab is Southeast Asia’s highest-valued tech startup, having commanded an $11 billion valuation through this Series H round. It isn’t clear how much that figure will increase if, as and when this Vision Fund investment closes. The company has raised around $6.8 billion to date from investors, according to data from Crunchbase.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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With today’s IPO sinking, a year of highs and lows for SoftBank

Posted by on Dec 19, 2018 in alibaba, Apple, ARM, Artificial Intelligence, Asia, Automotive, Didi Chuxing, Earnings, Finance, Flipkart, Government, Hardware, Masayoshi Son, nvidia, Saudi Arabia, SoftBank Group, Softbank Vision Fund, Sprint, TC, Uber, Venture Capital, Zume Pizza, Zymergen | 0 comments

If there was a word that dominated startup and tech news coverage this year, it was SoftBank. The Japanese telecom conglomerate’s Vision Fund pushed out a prodigious amount of capital this year — quite literally billions of dollars — into companies as diverse as a molecular manufacturer (Zymergen) and a robotic pizza delivery business (Zume Pizza). It was a year of highs as its Flipkart transaction produced billions in returns, as well as a year of incredible lows, what with the crisis over Saudi Arabia’s murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Saudi Arabia is the largest investor in the Vision Fund.

But the Vision Fund is only part of the SoftBank story this year. The company’s mobile unit started trading today on the Tokyo Stock Exchange (ticker: 9434), the second largest IPO of all time after Alibaba, raising $23.6 billion. But after weeks of pushing the stock to Japanese retail stock investors, those same consumers dumped the stock upon its debut, dropping by 15% from its debut at ¥1,463 to its close at ¥1,282. That’s the second worst IPO performance this decade for a Japanese company.

Highs and lows come with any ambitious project, and certainly for Masayoshi Son, the founder and chairman of SoftBank Group, nothing — not even piles of debt — will stand in his way.

Today, Arman and I wanted to look back at SoftBank’s year, and so we’ve compiled ten areas for analysis around the group’s telco business, its Vision Fund, and its other major investments (Sprint, Nvidia, Arm, and Alibaba).

SoftBank: The Telecom

1. Its IPO did what it had to do (raising money), but bad early performance will be a challenge for 2019

Ken Miyauchi, president and chief executive officer of SoftBank Corp., strikes the trading bell during the company’s listing ceremony at the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) in Tokyo, Japan, on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018. Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg via Getty Images

At its core, SoftBank Group is fundamentally a telecom, and the third-largest player in the Japanese market. Masayoshi Son has for years wanted to transform SoftBank from a mature telco player into a leading investment house for funding the next-generation of technology companies.

There’s just one problem: SoftBank is sitting on piles of debt. As Arman and I wrote about a few weeks ago:

The bigger number though is sitting on the liabilities side of the company’s balance sheet. As of the end of September, SoftBank had around 18 trillion yen, or about $158.8 billion of current and non-current interest-bearing debt. That’s more than six times the amount the company earns on an operating basis, and just slightly less than the public debt held by Pakistan.

And though SoftBank’s sky-high debt balance tends to be a secondary focus in the company’s media coverage, it’s a figure that SoftBank’s top brass is well aware of, and quite comfortable with. When discussing the company’s financial strategy, Softbank CFO Yoshimitsu Goto stated that the company is in the early stages of a transition from a telco holding company to an investment company, and as a result is “likely to be perceived as a corporate group with significant debt and interest payment burden” with what is “generally considered a high level of debt.”

Those debt loads have made corporate maneuvering quite complicated. And so the company decided to put its mobile telco unit up for public trading as a means of getting a fresh injection of capital and continue its transformation into an investment shop. By raising $23.6 billion today, the company did just that.

The 15% drop in value on its debut though shows that the market has yet to fully buy into Son’s vision for where SoftBank is heading. That lowered price will make the corporate financial math around debt tougher, and will be a key theme for 2019.

2. The Japanese government wants to increase competition in the telco space, putting massive pressure on SoftBank’s financials

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images

Japan’s telco market is quite dormant, with mature, oligopolistic companies charging some of the highest prices on the planet for mobile service. Japan’s government also doesn’t auction off spectrum, which has saved telcos billions of dollars in direct cash costs, helping them to become reliable profit-generating juggernauts.

That cozy world is being shattered by the policy of Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, who has made increasing competition in the industry a major policy initiative. That includes putting 5G spectrum up for what will essentially be a competitive auction, demanding lower prices from telcos, and opening the market to new entrants like Rakuten (see #3 below).

As a result, incumbents like NTT DoCoMo have announced rate cuts of up to 40 percent on mobile services, while warning investors that it may take five years for the company to return to current profitability. Those announcements caused stock traders to dump Japanese telco shares this year, shedding $34 billion in the days following the announcements.

At a time when SoftBank most needs its cash flow to pay off its debt, the world is rapidly moving against it. The company has insisted that it can keep revenues and profits stable and even grow into the competition, but the announcements from its larger competitors dump cold water on its claims. SoftBank’s profits surged in its last quarter, but mostly from its Vision Fund investments rather than its core telco business.

3. Rakuten’s entrance into the Japanese mobile service market will scramble the traditional three-way oligopoly

Hiroshi Mikitani, owner of Rakuten. BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

One of the big news stories for SoftBank came from ecommerce giant Rakuten, which announced that it will launch a new mobile service in Japan starting as early as next year. As Arman and I wrote about at the time:

Though a new entrant hasn’t been approved to enter the telco market since eAccess in 2007, Rakuten has already gotten the thumbs up to start operations in 2019. The government also instituted regulations that would make the new kid in town more competitive, such as banning telcos from limiting device portability.

Rakuten’s partnerships with key utilities and infrastructure players will also allow it to build out its network quickly, including one with Japan’s second largest mobile service provider, KDDI.

Rakuten has obvious built-in advantages as the second largest ecommerce company in Japan following Amazon, and that will put pressure on other incumbents — including SoftBank — to meet its prices or to compete with more marketing dollars to reach customers. Again, we see a tough road ahead for SoftBank’s telecom business at a very vulnerable time for its balance sheet.

SoftBank: The Vision Fund

4. The Vision Fund actually got bigger this year

Photo by Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

The Vision Fund’s massive vision got just a bit bigger this year. When the fund announced its first close in May 2017, it set a target final fund size of $93 billion. In 2018 though, the Vision Fund received another $5 billion in commitments. When we add the $6 billion already committed for SoftBank’s Delta Fund, which is a separate vehicle used to alleviate conflicts around the company’s Didi investment, Masayoshi Son now has more than a $100 billion at his disposal.

But that’s not all! The Vision Fund has also been rumored to be raising $4 billion in debt so that it can fund startups faster (picking up on that debt theme yet?). Its LPs, which include Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, and Apple, are given time to fund their commitments to the Vision Fund, and so the fund wants to have cash in the bank so that it can fund its investments faster. Debt structures in the fund are complicated, to say the least.

Masayoshi Son has repeatedly said that he wants to raise a $300 billion Vision Fund II, possibly as soon as next year, eventually ramping to $880 billion in the coming years. Whether the company’s debt load and controversy over Saudi Arabia (see #6 below) will allow that vision to come to pass is going to be a major question for 2019.

5. Seriously: is there any company not getting a multi-hundred million dollar term sheet from SoftBank these days?

Photo by Alessandro Di Ciommo/NurPhoto via Getty Images

SoftBank dominated headlines throughout 2018 with a steady cadence of monster investments across geographies and industries. Based on data from regulatory filings, Pitchbook, and Crunchbase, SoftBank and its Vision Fund led roughly 35 investment rounds, with total round sizes aggregating to roughly $30 billion, or over $40 billion when including investments in Uber and Grab, which were announced in 2017 but didn’t close until early 2018.

Surprisingly, SoftBank’s latest filings indicate that as of the end of September, the Vision Fund had only deployed roughly $33 billion, or about one-third the total fund, though the actual number might be quite a bit larger. SoftBank has led twelve rounds since September, including buying a $3 billion dollar warrant for WeWork and finalizing a large round that included secondary shares into Chinese news aggregator ByteDance.

In addition to investing directly through its Vision Fund, SoftBank also regularly makes and holds investments at the group level, with the intention of selling or transferring shares to the Vision Fund at a later date. As a result, SoftBank currently holds around $27.7 billion in investments that sit outside the Vision Fund, including the company’s stakes in Uber, Grab and Ola which it expects to eventually transfer to the Vision Fund pending LP and regulatory approvals. Assuming it plans to move the majority of these investments to the Vision Fund, SoftBank might have already deployed close to half the fund.

For all of that money flowing out the door though, there are limits even to the Vision Fund’s ambitions. Just today, the Wall Street Journal reported that LPs are pushing back against a plan to buy out a majority of WeWork, which would push the Vision Fund’s investment in the co-working startup to $24 billion. From the article:

Some of the people said that [Saudi Arabia’s] PIF and [Abu Dhabi’s] Mubadala have questioned the wisdom of doubling down on WeWork, and have cast doubt on its rich valuation. The company is on track to lose around $2 billion this year, and the funds have expressed concern that WeWork’s model could leave it exposed if the economy turns, some of the people said.

If the investment went through, WeWork would represent roughly a quarter of the fund’s capital, an astonishing level of concentration for a venture fund. Its a bold, concentrated bet, exactly the kind of model that entices Son.

6. The Vision Fund generated its first massive returns with Flipkart, Guardant and Ping An, with a huge roster to come

Photo by AFP/Getty Images

In just the first full year of operations, the Vision Fund has already begun to see the fruits of its investments with several portfolio company exits.

It made a spectacular return on Indian ecommerce startup Flipkart, where SoftBank realized a $1.5 billion gain on its $2.5 billion investment in just about a year. Walmart, which bought a 77% stake in Flipkart as part of its ambitious overseas strategy, valued the company at $21 billion.

Flipkart may have been the year’s largest highlight for the Vision Fund, but it wasn’t the only liquidity the fund saw. Its pre-IPO investment in Ping An Health & Technology Co, which produces the popular Chinese medical app Good Doctor, debuted on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, and Guardant Health, which makes blood tests for disease detection, went public in October to rabid investor enthusiasm.

While those early wins are positive signs, the proof of the Vision Fund’s thesis will come early next year, when companies like Uber, Slack and Didi are expected to go public. If the returns prove favorable, then the fundraise for Vision Fund II may well come together quickly. But if the markets turn south and complicate the roadshows for these unicorns, it could complicate the story of how the Vision Fund exits out of these high-flying investments.

7. Murder is wrong. That makes the math for SoftBank really hard.

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

The tech media world went into a frenzy over Saudi Arabia’s horrific and horrifically public killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. That put enormous pressure on SoftBank and its Vision Fund, where Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) is the largest LP with a $45 billion commitment.

There have been strong calls for Masayoshi Son to avoid Saudi Arabia in future fundraises, but that is complicated for one simple reason: there are just not that many money managers in the world who can a) invest tens of billions of dollars into firms backing risky technology investments, and b) are willing to ignore SoftBank’s massive debt stack and existential risks.

So SoftBank faces a tough choice. It can have its fund, but will need to get money from unsavory people. That might be fine — after all, Saudi Arabia is also the largest investor in Silicon Valley. Or it can walk away and try to find another LP that might replace the Kingdom’s huge fund commitment.

If the Vision Fund’s numbers look good after the early IPOs in 2019, I can imagine it being able to paper around Saudi Arabia’s commitment with a broader set of LPs that might be intrigued with technology investing and trust the numbers a bit more. If the IPOs stall though, whether because of internal company challenges à la pre-Dara Uber or broader market challenges, then expect a next fundraise to feature Saudi Arabia prominently, or for no fundraise to take place at all.

SoftBank: The Other Stuff

8. Good news on SoftBank’s Sprint side with its merger with T-Mobile looking like it will move forward

CEO of T-Mobile US Inc. John Legere and Executive Chairman of Sprint Corporation Marcelo Claure. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Since SoftBank acquired Sprint for $20 billion back in 2013, Sprint’s heavy debt balance has led to lackluster performance and the downgrade of SoftBank’s credit ratings to junk, where they’ve remained since.

After initial discussions stalled in 2017, SoftBank reinitiated merger discussions with T-Mobile’s German parent, Deutsche Telekom in 2018, eventually reaching an agreement for a Sprint/T-Mobile merger that would see SoftBank’s ownership stake fall from just over 80% of Sprint to just 27% of the combined entity.

Despite the poor track record for telco deal approvals and the increased scrutiny of cross-border M&A from U.S. regulators, SoftBank’s proposed merger recently received key approvals from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Defense. Part of that agreement came when SoftBank agreed to eliminate Huawei equipment from its infrastructure. While the deal still needs approval from the Federal Communications Commission, the road forward seems to be relatively clear.

If the deal ultimately goes through, SoftBank will no longer have to consolidate Sprint financials with its own and can instead report only its owned share of Sprint financials (and debt expense), improving (at least the optics of) SoftBank’s balance sheet.

9. SoftBank’s massive bet on Nvidia could be a $3 billion winner even as Nvidia faces crash

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

SoftBank became Nvidia’s fourth largest shareholder in 2017 after building up a roughly $4 billion stake in the company’s shares. As I detailed last week, Nvidia’s stock has gone into free fall over the past two months, as the company faces geopolitical turmoil, the loss of a huge revenue stream with the collapse in crypto, and an increasingly competitive battle in the next-generation application workflow space.

Now, SoftBank is reportedly looking to sell its Nvidia shares for possible profits of around $3 billion. As Bloomberg reported, that’s because the acquisition was built as a “collar trade” that protected SoftBank against a drop in Nvidia’s share price (a good reminder that even when a stock loses half of its value, it is entirely possible for people to still make money).

The opportunity though is that SoftBank almost certainly still wants to continue to play in the next-generation AI chip space, and needs to find another vehicle for it to hitch a ride on.

10. ARM could be the saving grace of chips for SoftBank

Masayoshi Son, CEO of Japanese mobile giant SoftBank, and Stuart Chambers, Chairman of British chip designer company ARM Holdings, are pictured outside 11 Downing street in central London. NIKLAS HALLE’N/AFP/Getty Images

In 2016, SoftBank made its biggest purchase ever when it acquired system-on-a-chip designer ARM Holdings for $32 billion. ARM’s designs were dominant among smartphones, which at the time was seeing rapid adoption and growth worldwide.

The good news hasn’t stopped since, although ARM has had to pivot its strategy in 2018 to adapt to changing market dynamics. Apple, which has seen its next-generation iPhone sales stalling, has been rumored to be moving to using ARM chips for a wider array of its products, including its Mac lineup. Beyond that expansion, ARM is now increasingly designing chips for the data center, and engaging in next-generation markets around artificial intelligence and automotive. ARM’s CEO has said that he sees a path to doubling revenues by 2022, which shows a healthy clip of growth if that pans out.

There are headwinds though. Consolidation in the semiconductor space has been a theme the past two years, and that will allow the surviving companies to be more ferocious competitors against ARM. Up-and-coming startups could also crimp the company’s growth in next-generation workloads, a risk shared with other incumbents like Nvidia.

That said, ARM seems to be in a much more strategic position than Nvidia these days, as ARM has managed to maintain its linchpin role, and that should ultimately roll up to a valuation that SoftBank will be excited about.

11. Alibaba is putting heavy pressure on SoftBank’s balance sheet

Jack Ma, businessman and founder of Alibaba, at the 40th Anniversary of Reform and Opening Up at The Great Hall Of The People on December 18, 2018 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Andrea Verdelli/Getty Images)

While SoftBank has slowly been cashing in after winning big on its early backing of Alibaba, the company’s ownership stake still sits at roughly 29%.

SoftBank’s Alibaba ties have helped the company fuel its incessant appetite for leverage, with SoftBank using its stake in Alibaba as collateral for an $8 billion off-balance sheet loan, which prevented additional downgrades of Softbank’s credit. But a tougher macro backdrop and slowing sales growth have caused Alibaba to follow the precipitous decline of other Chinese tech stocks in 2018, falling nearly 20% year-to-date and 30% in the last 6 months.

That decline means tens of billions of dollars of losses for SoftBank’s already overstretched balance sheet, and as with many of these stories, will make financing its vision challenging in 2019.

And so we get back to the core theme of 2018 for SoftBank: debt, leverage, and financial wizardry in pursuit of a bold transformation into a technology investment firm. That transformation has certainly not been smooth, but it has moved forward bit by bit. If SoftBank can navigate the changes in the Japanese telco market, exit some major investments in its Vision Fund, and manage its big commitments in Sprint and Alibaba, it will reach its destination, with a few ultimately superficial bruises along the way.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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SoftBank Corp shares drop 14% on their first day of trading, but it’s still one of the largest IPOs ever

Posted by on Dec 19, 2018 in Fundings & Exits, IPO, Japan, softbank corp, SoftBank Group, TC, Vision Fund | 0 comments

SoftBank Corp’s initial public offering today started with a bang before trailing off into a whimper, with the stock falling 14.5 percent during its first day of trading on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

The company is the mobile unit of conglomerate SoftBank Group, whose holdings also include Sprint and the $100 billion Vision Fund.

Shares of SoftBank Corp opened at 1,463 yen, below the 1,500 yen the company had set for its IPO price (instead of a range), and closed at 1,282 yen. It offered 160 million shares, or about a third of the total held by parent company SoftBank Group. Despite a bumpy first day of trading, SoftBank Corp raised a total of 2.65 trillion yen (about $23.5 billion), making it Japan’s largest ever IPO and placing it just behind Alibaba’s record-setting $25 billion debut on the New York Stock Exchange in 2014 (SoftBank Group is one of Alibaba’s largest shareholders).

According to Bloomberg, 90 percent of the investors who bought SoftBank Corp shares at the 1,500 yen opening price were individuals, who the company had targeted with an unusual marketing campaign.

Factors that may have dampened investor enthusiasm include a network outage earlier this month triggered by a shutdown of Ericsson equipment due to expired software certificates (O2 customers in Great Britain were also affected).

The outage underscored other concerns about SoftBank Corp’s telecommunications infrastructure. According to a Nikkei report published last week, the company has decided to stop using hardware from Huawei Technologies due to security concerns and replace them over the next several years with equipment by Ericsson and Nokia.

While the company claims the hardware swap isn’t expected to cost a lot of money, it will also need to deal with more competition next year. SoftBank Corp’s rivals are currently NTT DoCoMo and KDDI, but Rakuten will launch cellular service in October 2019, making it Japan’s fourth mobile network operator.

Furthermore, SoftBank Group also carries massive debt that totaled 18 trillion yen (about $160 billion) as of the end of September, more than six times the amount it earns on an operating basis. This means the Vision Fund is especially reliant on Saudi Arabia’s sovereign fund, which contributed $48 billion, making it the fund’s largest investor.

Saudi Arabia’s sovereign fund, called the Public Investment Fund, is run by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been implicated by Turkish officials and the United State’s Central Intelligence Agency in the planning of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. Crown Prince bin Salman has denied involvement in the killing, but the situation still calls into question the future of Saudi Arabia’s involvement with SoftBank, especially since Crown Prince bin Salman said in October that Saudi Arabia plans to invest another $45 billion in the second Vision Fund.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Indonesia e-commerce leader Tokopedia raises $1.1B from Alibaba and SoftBank’s Vision Fund

Posted by on Dec 12, 2018 in alibaba, alibaba group, analyst, Asia, Business, Central Intelligence Agency, chairman, China, E-Commerce, eCommerce, economy, financial services, funding, Fundings & Exits, Indonesia, Jamal Khashoggi, journalist, Lazada Group, Masayoshi Son, Mohammed Bin Salman, online marketplaces, Prince, Saudi Arabia, Sequoia, Softbank, SoftBank Group, softbank ventures korea, Southeast Asia, taobao, TC, Tencent, Trump administration, Vision Fund | 0 comments

Indonesia-based e-commerce firm Tokopedia is the latest startup to enter the Vision Fund after it raised $1.1 billion Series G round led by the SoftBank megafund and Alibaba.

SoftBank and Alibaba are existing investors in the business — the Chinese e-commerce giant led a $1.1 billion round last year, while SoftBank recently transitioned its shareholding in Tokopedia to the Vision Fund. That latter detail is what held up this deal which had been agreed in principle back in October, TechCrunch understands.

Tokopedia didn’t comment on its valuation, but TechCrunch understands from a source that the deal values the company at $7 billion. SoftBank Ventures Korea and other investors — including Sequoia India — also took part in the deal. It has now raised $2.4 billion from investors to date, with SoftBank first joining in 2014 when it led a $100 million round.

The deal comes weeks after SoftBank made a $2 billion investment in Coupang, Korea’s leading e-commerce firm, at a valuation of $9 billion. Like Tokopedia, Coupang countered SoftBank as an investor before its stake transitioned to the Vision Fund.

Founded nine years ago, Tokopedia is often compared to Taobao, Alibaba’s hugely successful e-commerce marketplace in China, and the company recently hit four million merchants. Tokopedia said it has increased its GMV four-fold, although it did not provide a figure. Logistics are a huge issue in Indonesia, which is spread across some 17,000 islands. Right now, it claims to serve an impressive 93 percent of the country, while it said that one-quarter of its customers are eligible for same-day delivery on products. That’s also notable given that it operates a marketplace, which makes coordinating logistics more challenging.

The firm plans to use this new capital to develop its technology to enable more SMEs and independent retailers to come aboard its platform. On the consumer side, it is developing financial services and products that go beyond core e-commerce and increase its captive audience of consumers.

Indonesia’s super app

Despite this new round, CEO and co-founder William Tanuwijaya told TechCrunch that there are no plans to expand beyond Indonesia, which is Southeast Asia’s largest economy and the world’s fourth most populous country with a population of over 260 million.

“We do not have plans to expand beyond Indonesia at this moment. We will double down on the Indonesia market to reach every corner of our beautiful 17,000-island archipelago,” Tanuwijaya said via an emailed response to questions. (Tokopedia declined a request for an interview over the phone.)

William Tanuwijaya, co-founder and chief executive officer of PT Tokopedia, gestures as he speaks during a panel session on the closing day of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Friday, Jan. 26, 2018. World leaders, influential executives, bankers and policy makers attend the 48th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos from Jan. 23 – 26. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

That Indonesia-only approach is in contrast to Go-Jek, the Indonesia-based ride-hailing firm which is rapidly expanding across Southeast Asia. Go-Jek has already moved into Vietnam, Singapore and Thailand with doubtless more plans in 2019.

But Go-Jek and Tokopedia do share similarities in that they have both expanded beyond their central business.

Go-Jek has pushed into on-demand services, payments and more. In recent times, Tokopedia has moved into payments, including mobile top-up, and financial services, and Tanuwijaya hinted that it will continue its strategy to become a ‘super app.’

“We will go deeper and serve Indonesians better – from the moment they wake up in the morning until they fall asleep at night; from the moment a person is born, until she or he grows old. We will invest and build technology infrastructure-as-a-services, in logistics and fulfillment, payments and financial services, to empower businesses both online and offline,” Tanuwijaya added.

Vision Fund controversy

But, with the Vision Fund comes controversy.

A recent CIA report concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The prince manages Saudi Arabia’s PIF sovereign fund, the gargantuan investment vehicle that anchored the Vision Fund through a $45 billion investment.

SoftBank chairman Masayoshi Son has condemned the killing as an “act against humanity” but, in an analyst presentation, he added that SoftBank has a “responsibility” to Saudi Arabia to deploy the capital and continue the Vision Fund.

“We are deeply concerned by the reported events and alongside SoftBank are monitoring the situation closely until the full facts are known,” Tanuwijaya told us via email, although it remains unclear exactly what Tokopedia could (or would) do even in the worst case scenario.

Given that the Trump administration seems focused on continuing the status quo with Saudi Arabia as a key ally, the situation remains in flux although there’s been plenty of discussion around whether the Saudi link makes the Vision Fund tainted money for founders.

Son himself said recently that he hadn’t heard of any cases of startups refusing an investment from the Vision Fund, but he did admit that there “may be some impact” in the future.

Tanuwijaya didn’t directly address our question on whether he anticipates a backlash from this investment. The Vision Fund’s recent deal with Coupang doesn’t appear to have generated a negative reaction.

Even the involvement of Alibaba throws up other questions, given that it owns Lazada — which is arguably Southeast Asia’s most prominent e-commerce service.

Unlike Tokopedia, Lazada covers six markets in Southeast Asia, it is focused on retail brands and it maintains close links to Alibaba’s Taobao service, giving merchants a channel to reach into the region. According to sources who spoke to TechCrunch earlier this year, Tokopedia’s management was originally keen to take money from Alibaba’s rival Tencent, but an intervention from SoftBank forced it to bring Alibaba on instead.

Tanuwijaya somewhat diplomatically played down the rivalry and any rift, insisting that there is no impact on its business.

“Tokopedia is an independent company with a diversified cap table,” he said via email. “No single shareholder owns the majority of the company. We work closely with our shareholders’ portfolio companies and tap into available synergies.”

“For example, Tokopedia works closely with both Grab — a SoftBank portfolio — and Gojek — a Sequoia portfolio. We see Lazada having a different business model than us: Lazada is a hybrid of retail and marketplace model, whereas Tokopedia is a pure marketplace. Lazada is [a] regional player, we are a national player in Indonesia,” he added.

Tokopedia has many similarities to Alibaba’s hugely successful Taobao marketplace in China

“How can we be less excited about this moment?”

At nearly a decade old, Tokopedia was one of the earliest startups to emerge in Indonesia. Famously, Tanuwijaya and fellow co-founder Leontinus Alpha Edison famously saw nearly a dozen pitches for venture capital rejected by VCs before they struck out and raised money.

Compared to now — and entry to the Vision Fund for “proven champions,” as Son calls it — that’s a huge transition, and that’s not even including the business itself which has broadened into financial products and more. But that doesn’t always sit easily with every founder. Privately, many will often concede that the ‘best’ days are early times during intense scaling and all-hands-to-the-pump moments. Indeed, Traveloka — a fellow Indonesia-based unicorn — recently lost its CTO to burnout.

Is the same likely to happen to Tanuwijaya, Edison and their C-level peers in the business?

Tanuwijaya compared the journey of his business to scaling a mountain.

“Leon and I are very excited entering our tenth year. When we first started Tokopedia, it was like seeing the tip of a mountain that is very far from where we stand. We promised ourselves that we were going to climb to the top of the mountain one day,” he told TechCrunch.

“The top of the mountain is our company mission: to democratize commerce through technology. Today, we have arrived at the base of the mountain. We can finally touch the mountain and we can start to climb it. With this additional capital, we have the tools and supplies to achieve our mission at a faster rate. Should we think whether we are burned-out and go home to rest, or should we climb our mountain? How can we be less excited about this moment?” he added.

Tokopedia has certainly become a mountain in itself. The startup is the third highest valued private tech company, behind only Grab and Go-Jek, at $11 billion and (reportedly) $9 billion, respectively, and the fairytale story is likely to inspire future founders in Indonesia and beyond to take the startup route. What happens to the Vision Fund and its PIF connection by then is less certain.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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SoftBank’s Vision Fund inches closer to $100B

Posted by on Dec 8, 2018 in Central Intelligence Agency, Column, Jamal Khashoggi, Mohammed Bin Salman, Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia, Securities and Exchange Commission, SoftBank Group, Softbank Vision Fund, TC, Venture Capital, Vision Fund, vodafone, White House | 0 comments

Much has been said about the SoftBank Vision Fund (SBVF), mostly in awe of the size of the investment vehicle.

It’s important to remember that the $100 billion number most often associated with the gargantuan fund is only a target. Today, however, the Vision Fund inched yet closer to that 12-figure goal as it continues to pour billions of dollars into technology companies around the world.

So far in 2018 the SoftBank Vision Fund has invested in more than 20 deals, accounting for over $21 billion in total investment. That sum didn’t all come from the Vision Fund of course — SoftBank’s Vision Fund typically invests alongside one or more syndicate partners who help fill out bigger rounds — but the amounts are nonetheless staggering. The chart below shows the Vision Fund’s investments since its inception in 2017.

In an annual Form D disclosure filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission this morning, SBVF disclosed that it has raised a total of approximately $98.58 billion from 14 investors since the date of first sale on May 20, 2017. The annual filing from last year said there was roughly $93.15 billion raised from 8 investors, meaning that the Vision Fund has raised $5.43 billion in the past year and added six new investors to its limited partner base.

In a financial report from November, SoftBank Group Corp disclosed (p. 21, Note 1) it has invested an additional $5 billion in the fund, which is “intended for the installment of an incentive scheme for operations of SoftBank Vision Fund.” It brings SoftBank’s total contribution to $21.8 billion, in line with original targets.

The most recent Form D also cites six more limited partners. Crunchbase News presumes that the $430 million in new capital we cannot source back to SoftBank came from those new partners. SoftBank declined to comment on who they are.

Uncertainty looms over Vision Fund 2

One of the primary challenges an investor as big as the Vision Fund faces is sourcing capital. SoftBank doesn’t have a lot of choice about who it can take on as limited partners. To fill out a $100 billion fund (or something larger), government-backed investors are some of the only market participants with the financial wherewithal to anchor its limited partner base. And, sometimes, international politics and venture finance collide.

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund committed $45 billion to the SBVF; it’s the single biggest backer of the fund. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is implicated in the extrajudicial torture, murder, dismemberment and disposal of Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in early October.

In November, TechCrunch reported that SoftBank would wait for the outcome of Khashoggi’s murder investigation before it decides on Vision Fund 2. New revelations this weekend close the window of reasonable doubt around bin Salman’s involvement in the murder.

This past weekend, The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency intercepted 11 messages sent between bin Salman and one of his closest aides, who allegedly oversaw the execution squad, in the hours before Khashoggi’s death. Amid mounting international and intelligence community consensus, though, the White House continues to defend Saudi Arabia.

Given these recent developments, it’s uncertain how SoftBank’s relationship with the Vision Fund’s principal backer will change going forward. Whether anything changes at all is itself an unknown at this point too.

SoftBank COO Marcelo Claure said there was “no certainty” of a follow-up fund back in mid-October.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Korean e-commerce firm Coupang raises $2 billion from SoftBank’s Vision Fund

Posted by on Nov 20, 2018 in Amazon, Asia, Beijing, Coupang, eCommerce, funding, Fundings & Exits, Jamal Khashoggi, Masayoshi Son, Mohammed Bin Salman, Seoul, Softbank, SoftBank Group | 0 comments

Just days after a CIA report concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, SoftBank’s Vision Fund — the gargantuan investment vehicle anchored by a $45 billion investment from Saudi Arabia’s PIF sovereign fund — is back in check-writing action.

Coupang, Korea’s largest e-commerce firm, revealed today that it has raised $2 billion from the Vision Fund. The investment is SoftBank’s largest since Khashoggi’s murder in October and it comes weeks after SoftBank’s existing stake in Coupang was transferred over the Vision Fund, as the firm has done with a number of its investments.

No valuation was announced, but a source close to the deal told TechCrunch that it values Coupang at $9 billion post-money. This deal, which we understand is entirely new stock with no secondary sales, takes Coupang to $3.4 billion raised to date. Its last round was a $1 billion investment from SoftBank in 2015.

The deal is a massive validation for Coupang, which becomes the first Korean company to form a part of the Vision Fund, which SoftBank Chairman Masayoshi Son has championed as a network of global winners, but the link to the Khashoggi threatens to sour the achievement.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman is widely accused of ordering the killing of Washington Post reporter Khashoggi, an outspoken critic of the Saudi regime. A Saudi-led investigation exonerated the prince’s role; however, the CIA report released over the last week places the blame fairly squarely on his shoulders — while others in the Saudi royal family are reportedly plotting to replace the prince as the next in line to the throne.

Son himself condemned the killing as an “act against humanity” but, in a recent analyst presentation, he added that SoftBank has a “responsibility” to Saudi Arabia to deploy the capital and continue the Vision Fund.

The PIF’s role in Vision Fund — it is the largest single investor — has threatened to taint its efforts, with voices in Silicon Valley suggesting that many founders would prefer to take money from less-tainted sources. However, SoftBank has announced a number of deals in recent weeks — including a $375 million investment in robotic food-prep startup Zume and a $1.1 billion deal with glass maker View — which contradicts that. Son himself said he hadn’t heard of any cases of startups refusing an investment from the Vision Fund, but he did admit that there “may be some impact” in the future.

Those investments haven’t stopped Coupang from taking an investment from the Vision Fund, and announcing it publicly, too.

“The Vision Fund is a visionary fund [and] we’re proud to be selected to work in partnership with it,” Coupang CEO Bom Kim told TechCrunch in an interview.

Kim said he doesn’t expect a backlash from the investment, claiming that the tension around Khashoggi’s death “doesn’t represent us and doesn’t represent these companies.”

Taking a vast amount of money from a fund whose main backer is a country that (reportedly) murdered a journalist who dared criticize the regime isn’t a good look. But ultimately, it remains to be seen how that will shake out. As the world waits on a fuller investigation from the CIA and responses from the Saudi royal family and SoftBank’s Son, the incident certainly does have the potential to weigh on Coupang’s positive news.

Coupang CEO Bom Kim started the company in 2010; now it is valued at $10 billion. [Image via Coupang]

Operating relatively under the global radar, Coupang has become Korea’s largest e-commerce player, and it is actively looking to expand into other areas.

Founded in 2010, Kim claimed the company is “approaching” $5 billion in revenue for 2018 with 70 percent annual growth. One in every two adults in Korea have the Coupang app on their phone, the company claims. The company operates only in Korea, but it does have engineering outposts in Beijing, LA, Seattle, Shanghai, Silicon Valley and Seoul.

That impressive revenue number has increased 14x since 2014, which Kim accounts to a moment of clarity which saw the company’s focused redirected.

“We had plans to go public and had gotten pretty far along in the process but we realized that wouldn’t fulfill our vision,” Kim explained. “Instead, we saw an opportunity to make a long-term series of investments that would mean multi-year investment in tech platforms and infrastructure.”

That meant developing its own network of trucks and drivers, integrating technology at every level and making other changes to build the infrastructure and capacity to deliver items quickly to customers across Korea.

That’s helped Coupang roll out services like same-day delivery, overnight delivery and more. Coupang also has its own RocketPay payment service.

Kim explained that, for example, if a parent realized the night before school that their child needed a new rain jacket, they could receive it via Coupang before 7 am the next day if they ordered it before midnight. The overnight delivery service also includes fresh produce and “millions” of other items, he said. For that to happen, Coupang developed a cold chain logistics network in just one month.

Coupang said “millions” of customers use its service at least 50 times a year, i.e. on a weekly basis. Yes, it is a vague number and we don’t know what proportion of the overall customer base that represents, but it is an impressive snapshot nonetheless.

Kim revealed Coupang has “a lot of different plans” to spend this capital, although he declined to go into specific detail.

He didn’t rule out adjacent services like media — Amazon is, of course, a major name in video and music streaming — and he revealed that Coupang “intends to have a broad reach in more markets than just Korea,” although, again, there’s no information on which countries and when.

The plan to go public is also likely to be revived, with the U.S. a more likely destination than a domestic IPO, although Kim said there is “no specific timetable” for when that might happen.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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SoftBank’s Deepcore and accelerator Zeroth team up to hunt early stage AI opportunities

Posted by on Nov 19, 2018 in Accelerator, animoca, Artificial Intelligence, Asia, Business, deepcore, economy, Horizons Ventures, Japan, Li Ka-shing, machine learning, Softbank, SoftBank Group, Startup company, tak lo, tokyo, zeroth | 0 comments

Two early stage AI programs are joining forces because, even in the world of artificial intelligence, two heads are better than one.

Hong Kong-based accelerator Zerothwhich recently grabbed a majority investment from Animoca Brands — and Deepcore, a Japanese incubator and fund that is part of the SoftBank group, are pairing up to use their resources on deal sourcing and other collaboration around artificial intelligence.

The two seem complementary, with Deepcore focused on starting new ventures and investing in AI companies more generally, while Zeroth operates Asia’s first accelerator program targeted at AI and machine learning startups. It recently bagged $3 million through a deal that sees Animoca Brands take a 67 percent share stake in Deepcore’s operating business and provide a check for its investment arm.

SoftBank launched Deepcore earlier this year to give the organization a foothold in early AI projects. The company operates a co-working/incubation/R&D facility — Kernel Hongo — in addition to an investment arm called Deepcore Tokyo.

Zeroth was founded two years ago and it has graduated 33 companies from three batches to date, taking an average of six percent equity. Some of those graduates have gone on to raise from other investors, including Fano Labs (which is now Accosys) which took money from Horizons Ventures, the VC firm founded by Hong Kong’s richest man Li Ka-Shing, and Japan’s Laboratik. It has also made eight investments in blockchain startups.

“It’s very excited to see the Zeroth ecosystem grow,” founder Tak Lo told TechCrunch in a statement. “Ultimately, this ecosystem is about building more and more opportunities for our founders to build great companies.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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