Peak raises $75M for a platform that helps non-tech companies build AI applications

As artificial intelligence continues to weave its way into more enterprise applications, a startup that has built a platform to help businesses, especially non-tech organizations, build more customized AI decision making tools for themselves has picked up some significant growth funding. Peak AI, a startup out of Manchester, England, that has built a “decision intelligence” platform, has raised $75 million, money that it will be using to continue building out its platform as well as to expand into new markets, and hire some 200 new people in the coming quarters.

The Series C is bringing a very big name investor on board. It is being led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2, with previous backers Oxx, MMC Ventures, Praetura Ventures, and Arete also participating. That group participated in Peak’s Series B of $21 million, which only closed in February of this year. The company has now raised $118 million; it is not disclosing its valuation.

(This latest funding round was rumored last week, although it was not confirmed at the time and the total amount was not accurate.)

Richard Potter, Peak’s CEO, said the rapid follow-on in funding was based on inbound interest, in part because of how the company has been doing.

Peak’s so-called Decision Intelligence platform is used by retailers, brands, manufacturers and others to help monitor stock levels, build personalized customer experiences, as well as other processes that can stand to have some degree of automation to work more efficiently, but also require sophistication to be able to measure different factors against each other to provide more intelligent insights. Its current customer list includes the likes of Nike, Pepsico, KFC, Molson Coors, Marshalls, Asos, and Speedy, and in the last 12 months revenues have more than doubled.

The opportunity that Peak is addressing goes a little like this: AI has become a cornerstone of many of the most advanced IT applications and business processes of our time, but if you are an organization — and specifically one not built around technology — your access to AI and how you might use it will come by way of applications built by others, not necessarily tailored to you, and the costs of building more tailored solutions can often be prohibitively high. Peak claims that those using its tools have seen revenues on average rise 5%; return on ad spend double; supply chain costs reduce by 5%; and inventory holdings (a big cost for companies) reduce by 12%.

Peak’s platform, I should point out, is not exactly a “no-code” approach to solving that problem — not yet at least: it’s aimed at data scientists and engineers at those organizations so that they can easily identify different processes in their operations where they might benefit from AI tools, and to build those out with relatively little heavy lifting.

There have also been different market factors that have also played a role. Covid-19, for example, and the boost that we have seen both in increasing “digital transformation” in businesses, and making e-commerce processes more efficient to cater to rising consumer demand and more strained supply chains, have all led to businesses being more open to and keen to invest in more tools to improve their automation intelligently.

This, combined with Peak AI’s growing revenues, is part of what interested SoftBank. The investor has been long on AI for a while, but it has been building out a section of its investment portfolio to provide strategic services to the kinds of businesses that it invests in. Those include e-commerce and other consumer-facing businesses, which make up one of the main segments of Peak’s customer base.

“In Peak we have a partner with a shared vision that the future enterprise will run on a centralized AI software platform capable of optimizing entire value chains,” Max Ohrstrand, senior investor for SoftBank Investment Advisers, said in a statement. “To realize this a new breed of platform is needed and we’re hugely impressed with what Richard and the excellent team have built at Peak. We’re delighted to be supporting them on their way to becoming the category-defining, global leader in Decision Intelligence.”

Longer term, it will be interesting to see how and if Peak evolves to be extend its platform to a wider set of users at the organizations that are already its customers.

Potter said he believes that “those with technical predispositions” will be the most likely users of its products in the near and medium term. You might assume that would cut out, for example, marketing managers, although the general trend in a lot of software tools has precisely been to build versions of the same tools used by data scientists for these tell technical people to engage in the process of building what it is that they want to use. “I do think it’s important to democratize the ability to stream data pipelines, and to be able to optimize those to work in applications,” he added.

#ai, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #automation, #business-process-management, #ceo, #e-commerce, #enterprise, #europe, #funding, #kfc, #manchester, #mmc-ventures, #nike, #partner, #peak, #peak-ai, #pepsico, #science-and-technology, #series-b, #softbank-group, #softbank-vision-fund, #software-platform, #tc, #united-kingdom, #vodafone

Turkey’s first decacorn: Trendyol raises $1.5B at a $16.5B valuation

Trendyol, an e-commerce platform based in Turkey, has raised $1.5 billion in a massive funding round that values the company at $16.5 billion. General Atlantic, SoftBank Vision Fund 2, Princeville Capital and sovereign wealth funds, ADQ (UAE) and Qatar Investment Authority co-led the round. 

The deal marks SoftBank’s first in the country.

The new financing also makes Trendyol Turkey’s first decacorn, and among the highest-valued private tech companies in Europe. It comes just months after strategic — and majority — backer Alibaba invested $350 million in the company at a $9.4 billion valuation.

Founded in 2010, Trendyol ranks as Turkey’s largest e-commerce company, serving more than 30 million shoppers and delivering more than 1 million packages per day. It claims to have evolved from marketplace to “superapp” by combining its marketplace platform (which is powered by Trendyol Express, its own last-mile delivery solution) with instant grocery and food delivery through its own courier network (Trendyol Go), its digital wallet (Trendyol Pay), consumer-to-consumer channel (Dolap) and other services.

Trendyol founder Demet Suzan Mutlu said the new capital will go toward expansion within Turkey and globally. Specifically, the company plans to continue investing in nationwide infrastructure, technology and logistics and toward accelerating digitalization of Turkish SMEs. She said the company was founded to create positive impact and that it intends to continue on that mission.

Evren Ucok, Trendyol’s chairman,  added that part of the company’s goal is to create new export channels for Turkish merchants and manufacturers.

Melis Kahya Akar, managing director and head of consumer for EMEA at General Atlantic, said that Trendyol’s marketplace model — ranging from grocery delivery to mobile wallets — “brings convenience and ease to consumers” in Turkey and internationally.

“Turkey is one of the fastest growing economies in the world and benefits from attractive demographics, with a young population that is very active online,” wrote General Atlantic’s Kahya Akar via e-mail. “We expect its already sizable e-commerce market –$17 billion in 2020 – to continue to grow meaningfully on the back of growing online penetration. We think Trendyol is ideally positioned to meet the needs of consumers in Turkey and around the world as the company expands.”

A 2020 report by JPMorgan found that e-commerce represented only 5.3% of the overall Turkish retail market at the time but that Turkish e-commerce had notched impressive leaps in revenues in recent years: 2018 alone saw the market jump by 42%, followed by 31% in 2019. As of 2020, 67% of the Turkish population were making purchases online.

#alibaba, #apps, #demet-suzan-mutlu, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #europe, #food-delivery, #funding, #fundings-exits, #general-atlantic, #qatar-investment-authority, #recent-funding, #softbank, #softbank-vision-fund, #startups, #trendyol, #turkey, #venture-capital

Human Interest raises $200M at a $1B valuation, plans for an IPO

Less than six months after raising $55 million in a Series C round of funding, SMB 401(k) provider Human Interest today announced it has raised $200 million in a round that propels it to unicorn status.

The Rise Fund, TPG’s global impact investing platform, led the round and was joined by SoftBank Vision Fund 2. The financing included participation from new investor Crosslink Capital and existing backers NewView Capital, Glynn Capital, U.S. Venture Partners, Wing Venture Capital, Uncork Capital, Slow Capital, Susa Ventures and others. 

Over the past year, the San Francisco-based company has raised $305 million. With the latest financing, it has now raised a total of $336.7 million since its 2015 inception.

The company admittedly has an IPO in its sights, as evidenced by the appointment of former Yodlee CFO Mike Armsby to the role of CFO at Human Interest.

Human Interest’s digital retirement benefits platform allows users “to launch a retirement plan in minutes and put it on autopilot,” according to the company.  It also touts that it has eliminated all 401(k) transaction fees.

Demand for 401(k)s by SMBs appears to be at an all-time high, with Human Interest reporting that its sales tripled over the last year. The company has also more than doubled its headcount over the last 12 months to 350 employees.

The startup said it is seeing strong adoption in verticals that have not previously had retirement benefits, including construction, retail, manufacturing, restaurants, nonprofits, and hospitality. For example, over the past three quarters, Human Interest has seen 4.5x customer growth in the restaurant sector. Since the start of the pandemic, Human Interest has experienced 2x higher enrollment growth among hourly workers than salaried workers, and hourly worker assets have tripled.

“Promoting financial health is a core investment pillar for The Rise Fund. Human Interest delivers one of the most compelling solutions to the persistent problem that roughly half of Americans will not have enough savings when they reach retirement age,” said Maya Chorengel, co-managing partner at The Rise Fund, in a written statement. “Despite recent legislation, primarily at the state level, legacy programs have not, to date, produced the same participant outcomes as Human Interest.”

The company said it will be using its new capital to expand its network of integrations and partnerships with financial advisors, benefits brokers and payroll companies. It also expects to, naturally, do some hiring –– another 200 employees by year’s end, primarily in its product, engineering, and revenue teams.

The 401(k) for SMB space is heating up as of late. In June, competitor Guideline also raised $200 million in a round led by General Atlantic. 

#crosslink-capital, #finance, #funding, #fundings-exits, #glynn-capital, #human-interest, #recent-funding, #san-francisco, #softbank, #softbank-vision-fund, #startups, #susa-ventures, #uncork-capital, #venture-capital, #wing-venture-capital

WebOps platform Pantheon raises $100M from SoftBank Vision Fund

WebOps SaaS platform Pantheon, which started out as a Drupal and WordPress hosting service many years ago, today announced that it has raised a $100 million Series E round solely funded by the Softbank Vision Fund. With this round, Pantheon has now reached unicorn status, with a valuation of over $1 billion.

Pantheon co-founder and CEO Zack Rosen told me that the company wasn’t under any pressure to raise. “It really just helps us accelerate everything that we’re doing,” he said. “We didn’t need the funding. We had plenty of cash in the bank. We were planning to raise in a year or two years down the road. But we have a lot of conviction in and where this industry is going and our customers’ needs are pretty apparent, so we just used this as an opportunity to pull things in by six months to a year and accelerate all the things that were already on our operational plans for the company.”

Image Credits: Pantheon

As Rosen noted, the role of company websites has changed quite a bit since Pantheon launched almost a dozen years ago. While originally, they were mostly about brand building and having a publishing channel, these days, they are directly tied to revenue. “The majority of buying decisions get made before anyone talks to a customer these days,” Rosen said. “All the research is getting done — hopefully — on your company’s website. Any link in an advertisement or link in an email is going to route that customer back to the website. That’s your most important digital product. And so marketers are really starting to think about it like that.”

So while hosting and publishing may be solved problems, driving revenue through a company’s website — and measuring that — is where Pantheon sees a lot of opportunities going forward. Though at the core of the company’s offering, of course, is still its serverless hosting platform and developers remain its core audience. But it’s the collaboration between the marketing teams and developers that is driving a lot of what the company is now investing in. “In order to deliver a best-in-class digital experience — and be able to iterate it every single day and work with designers and developers and website owners and project managers — you need a system of record for that work. You need a solid workflow for those teams,” Rosen noted.

Companies, he argues, are looking for a solid SaaS platform that provides them with those workflows, in addition to the high-performance hosting, CDNs and everything else that is now table stakes for hosting websites. “[Teams] want to stop thinking about this stuff,” he said. “They just want a partner — like any other SaaS application, whether it’s Stripe, Twilio or Salesforce. They just want it to work and not to worry about it. And then, once you have that taken care of, then you can move up into the things that really drive the outcomes these teams care about.”

As for raising from the SoftBank Vision Fund, which features the likes of ByteDance, Perch, Redis Labs, Slack and Arm among its investments (and, infamously, WeWork), Rosen said that Pantheon had its choice of firms, but at the end of the day, SoftBank’s team turned out to be “huge believers in this category,” he said, and could help Pantheon reach the scale it needs to define the WebOps category.

“Digital transformation has accelerated the movement to the cloud for essential business infrastructure. By automating workflows and do-it-yourself with its SaaS offering, we believe Pantheon’s leading platform is transforming how modern website experiences are created,” said Vikas Parekh, Partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers. “We are excited to partner with Zack and the Pantheon team to support their ambition of helping organizations embrace a new and better way of building websites that deliver results.”

#as-a-service, #bank, #club-penguin, #computing, #drupal, #pantheon, #partner, #redis-labs, #saas, #salesforce, #serverless-computing, #softbank-vision-fund, #software, #software-as-a-service, #stripe, #tc, #technology, #twilio, #wework, #wordpress, #zack

Forto raises $240M in funding round led by Softbank, taking its valuation to $1.2Bn

Freight technology startup, Forto, which we most recently covered when it raised $50 million late last year, is upping the stakes.

It’s now raised $240 million in a round led by Softbank Vision Fund 2 to expand its trade shipments between China and Europe. Forto manages shipping containers from origin to destination. Softbank is also hedging its bets after investing in China’s Full Truck Alliance (YMM.N), which plans a $20 billion IPO.

That means Forto’s valuation close to $1.2 billion, after it’s raised a total of $360 million. Also participating in the round were new investors Citi Ventures and G Squared. Existing investors including Northzone, Cherry Ventures and Unbound also took part, Forto said.

German logistics startups are proliferating. Trucking specialist Sennder, a digital road freight forwarder, raised $160 million in Series D financing earlier this year.

Forto says it has 2,500 clients, including Home 24 and German supermarket chain Edeka, and ships up to 10,000 containers a year by sea, rail and air.

#cherry-ventures, #china, #citi-ventures, #companies, #europe, #northzone, #softbank, #softbank-group, #softbank-vision-fund, #tc, #telecommunications, #vodafone

Indian logistics giant Delhivery raises $277 million ahead of IPO

Delhivery, India’s largest independent e-commerce logistics startup, has raised $277 million in what is expected to be the final funding round before the firm files for an IPO later this year.

In a regulatory filing, the Gurgaon-headquartered startup disclosed it had raised $277 million in a round led by Boston-headquartered investment firm Fidelity. Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC, Abu Dhabi’s Chimera, and UK’s Baillie Gifford also participated in the new round, a name of which the startup didn’t specify.

The new round valued the 10-year-old startup at about $3 billion. Delhivery — which also counts SoftBank Vision Fund, Tiger Global Management, Times Internet, The Carlyle Group, and Steadview Capital among its investors — has raised about $1.23 billion to date. The startup didn’t comment on Sunday.

Delhivery began its life as a food delivery firm, but has since shifted to a full suite of logistics services in over 2,300 Indian cities and more than 17,500 zip codes.

It is among a handful of startups attempting to digitize the demand and supply system of the logistics market through a freight exchange platform.

Research and image: Bernstein

Its platform connects consigners, agents and truckers offering road transport solutions. The startup says the platform reduces the role of brokers, makes some of its assets such as trucking — the most popular transportation mode for Delhivery — more efficient, and ensures round the clock operations.

This digitization is crucial to address the inefficiencies in the Indian logistics industry that has long stunted the national economy. Poor planning and forecasting of demand and supply increases the carrying costs, theft, damages, and delays, analysts at Bernstein wrote in a report last month about India’s logistics market.

Delhivery, which says it has delivered over 1 billion orders, works with “all of India’s largest e-commerce companies and leading enterprises,” according to its website, where it also says the startup has worked with over 10,000 customers. For the last leg of the delivery, its couriers are assigned an area that never exceeds 2 sq km, allowing them to make several delivery runs a day to save time.

Indian logistics market’s TAM (total addressable market) is over $200 billion, Bernstein analysts said.

The startup said late last year that it was planning to invest over $40 million within two years to expand and increase its fleet size to meet the growing demand of orders as more people shop online amid the pandemic.

#asia, #baillie-gifford, #chimera, #delhivery, #fidelity, #funding, #gic, #india, #logistics, #rivigo, #softbank, #softbank-vision-fund, #tiger-global, #tiger-global-management, #times-internet

Volvo to supply Chinese ride hailing giant Didi with autonomous driving cars

As the autonomous driving race in China heats up, Didi is rushing to expand its car fleets by picking Swedish automaker Volvo, an old partner of Uber, as its ally.

Didi said on Monday it will be using the XC90 SUVs of Volvo, which has been owned by Chinese auto company Geely since 2010, for its network of robotaxis in the long term. Didi created a subsidiary dedicated to autonomous driving last year and the unit has since raised about $800 million from investors including SoftBank Vision Fund and IDG Capital. The subsidiary now has over 500 employees.

Didi started out as a ride-share app in 2012 and gobbled up Uber China in 2016. It now offers a range of mobility services including taxi hailing, ride-hailing, carpooling, shared bikes and scooters, as well as financial services for drivers. The company is seeking a valution north of $100 billion in an initial public offering, Reuters reported last month.

Didi’s autonomous driving arm has been testing robotaxis for the past two years in China and the United States, but Volvo’s XC90 model will be the first to adopt Didi’s freshly minted self-driving hardware system called Gemini, which contains sensors like short, mid and long-range lidars, radars, cameras, a thermal imager; a fallback system; and remote assistance through 5G networks.

Didi said that its Gemini platform, coupled with Volvo’s backup functions including steering, braking and electric power, will eventually allow its robotaxis to remove safety drivers. If any of the primary systems fails during a ride, Volvo’s backup systems can act to bring the vehicle to a safe stop.

Didi is competing against a clutch of well-funded robotaxi startups in China, such as Pony.ai and WeRide, which are busy tesing in major Chinese cities and California while splurging on R&D expenses to reach Level 4 driving. AutoX, another Chinese robotaxi company, announced last week that it will be using Honda’s Accord and Inspire sedans for its test drives in China. The edge of Didi, some suggest, is the mountains of driving data accumulated from its ride-hailing business spanning Asia, Latin America, Africa and Russia.

Rising electric automakers like Nio and Xpeng have also joined in the race to automate vehicles, making bold claims that they, too, will be able to remove safety drivers soon. Meanwhile, traditional car manufacturers don’t want to fall behind. BAIC, a state-owned enterprise, for instance, is adding Huawei’s advanced automation system and smart cockpit to its new electric passenger cars.

#accord, #artificial-intelligence, #asia, #automation, #automotive, #autox, #china, #didi, #idg-capital, #robotaxi, #robotics, #self-driving-cars, #softbank, #softbank-vision-fund, #transportation, #uber, #volvo, #volvo-cars, #xpeng

From pickup basketball to market domination: My wild ride with Coupang

A month ago, Coupang arrived on Wall Street with a bang. The South Korean e-commerce giant — buoyed by $12 billion in 2020 revenue — raised $4.55 billion in its IPO and hit a valuation as high as $109 billion. It is the biggest U.S. IPO of the year so far, and the largest from an Asian company since Alibaba’s.

But long before founder Bom Kim rang the bell, I knew him as a fellow founder on the hunt for a good idea. We stayed in touch as he formed his vision for what would become Coupang, and I built it alongside him as an investor and board member.

As a board member, I’ve observed a brief quiet period following the IPO. But now I want to share how exactly our paths intersected, largely because Bom exemplifies what founders should aspire to and should seek: big risks, dogged determination, and obsessive responsiveness to the market.

Bom fearlessly turned down an acquisition offer from then-market-leader Groupon, ferociously learned what he didn’t know, made a daring pivot even after becoming a billion-dollar company, and iteratively built a vision for end-to-end market dominance.

Why I like talking to founders early

In 2008, I met Bom while playing a weekend game of pickup basketball at Stuyvesant High School. We realized we had a mutual acquaintance through my recently-sold startup, Community Connect Inc. He told me about the magazine he had sold and his search for a next move. So we agreed to meet up for lunch and go over some of his ideas.

To be honest, I don’t remember any of those early ideas, probably because they weren’t very good. But I really liked Bom. Even as I was crapping on his ideas, I could tell he was sharp from how he processed my feedback. It was obvious he was super smart and definitely worth keeping in touch with, which we continued to do even after he relocated to go to HBS.

I soon began investing in and incubating businesses, starting mostly with my own capital. When I got a call from an executive recruiter working for a company in Chicago called Groupon — who told me they were at a $50 million run rate in only a few months — I became fascinated with their model and started talking to some of the investors, former employees, and merchants.

Inspired, and as a new parent, I decided to launch a similar daily-deal business for families: Instead of skydiving and go-kart racing, we offered deals on kids’ music classes and birthday party venues. While I was working on this idea, John Ason, an angel investor in Diapers.com, said I should meet with the founder and CEO Marc Lore. By the end of the meeting, Marc and I etched a partnership to launch DoodleDeals.com co-branded with Diapers.com. The first deal did over $70,000 — great start.

I’ve observed a brief quiet period following the IPO. But now I want to share how exactly our paths intersected, largely because Bom exemplifies what founders should aspire to and should seek: big risks, dogged determination, and obsessive responsiveness to the market.

All that time, I kept in touch with Bom. In February 2010, we were catching up over lunch at the Union Square Ippudo, and he asked if I had heard of Buywithme, a Boston-based Groupon clone. He hadn’t yet heard about Groupon, so I explained the business model and shared the numbers. He thought something similar might transfer well to South Korea, where he was born and his parents still lived.

This kind of conversation is exactly why I love working with founders early, even before the idea forms: You learn a lot about them as they explore, wrestle with uncertainty, and eventually build conviction on a business they plan to spend the next decade-plus building. Ultimately, success comes down to founders’ belief in themselves; when you develop the same belief in them as an investor, it is pretty magical. I was starting to really believe in Bom.

The idea gets real — and moves fast

I'm not Korean — I am ethnically Chinese — so Bom put together slides on the Korean market and why it was perfect for the daily-deal model. In short: a very dense population that’s incredibly online.

I’m not Korean — I am ethnically Chinese — so Bom put together slides on the Korean market and why it was perfect for the daily-deal model. In short: a very dense population that’s incredibly online. Image Credits: Ben Sun

I told Bom he should drop out of business school and do this. He said, “You don’t think I can wait until I graduate?” I responded, “No way! It will be over by then!”

First-mover advantage is real in a business like this, and it didn’t take Bom long to see that. He raised a small $1.3 million seed round. I invested, joined the board. Because of my knowledge of the deals market and my entrepreneurial experience, Bom asked me to get hands-on in Korea — not at all typical for an investor or even a board member, but I think of myself as a builder and not just a backer, and this is how I wanted to operate as an investor.

Once he realized time was of the essence, Bom was heads down. For context, he was engaged to his longtime girlfriend, Nancy, who also went to Harvard undergrad and was a successful lawyer. Imagine telling your fiancée, “Honey, I am dropping out of business school, moving to Korea to start a company. I will be back for the wedding. Not sure if I will ever be coming back to the U.S.”

I emailed Bom, saying: “Bom — honestly as a friend. Enjoy your wedding. It is a real blessing that your fiancée is being so supportive of you doing this. Launching a site a few weeks before the wedding is going to be way too distracting and she won’t feel like your heart is in it. Launching a few weeks later is not going to make or break this business. Trust me.”

Bom didn’t listen. He launched Coupang in August 2010, two weeks before the wedding. He flew back to Boston, got married, and — running on basically no sleep — sneaked out for a 20-minute nap in the middle of his reception. Right after the wedding, he flew back to Seoul. Nancy has to be one of the most supportive and understanding partners I have ever seen. They are now married and have two kids.

Jumping on new distribution, turning down an acquisition offer

#asia, #ben-sun, #column, #coupang, #e-commerce, #ec-column, #ec-consumer-applications, #ec-ecommerce-and-d2c, #ecommerce, #groupon, #livingsocial, #softbank, #softbank-vision-fund, #south-korea, #tc

Trading platform eToro to go public via SPAC merger in $10B deal

Multi-asset investing and trading platform and Robinhood competitor eToro announced Tuesday it will go public via a merger with SPAC FinTech Acquisition Corp. V in a massive $10.4 billion deal.

Once the transaction closes sometime in the third quarter, the combined company will operate as eToro Group Ltd. and is expected to be listed on the Nasdaq exchange.

The 14-year-old Israeli company was founded on a “vision of opening up capital markets.” It launched its platform in the U.S. just over two years ago and has seen rapid growth as of late. Last year, eToro said it added over 5 million new registered users and generated gross revenues of $605 million, representing 147% year over year growth. In January alone, the company added over 1.2 million new registered users and executed more than 75 million trades on its platform. That compares to 2019 when monthly registrations averaged 192,000 and 2020, when they grew to 440,000.

eToro said its platform is capitalizing on a number of secular trends such as the rise of digital wealth platforms, growing retail participation and mainstream crypto adoption. The company no doubt benefitted from the recent rise in retail investment interest, and in consumer investment apps and services specifically, which resulted from the so-called ‘meme stock’ activity that began with Redditors trading GameStop stock in order to frustrate institutional short-sellers.

The platform, which spans “social” stock trading and cryptocurrency exchange, in November 2019 acquired Delta, the crypto portfolio tracker app. eToro claims to be one of the first regulated platforms to offer cryptoassets. Its platform is regulated in the U.K., Europe, Australia, the U.S. and Gibraltar.

The transaction includes commitments for a $650 million common share private placement from leading investors including ION Investment Group, SoftBank Vision Fund 2, Third Point LLC, Fidelity Management & Research Company LLC and Wellington Management. The overall $10.4 billion implied equity value of the merger arrangement includes an implied enterprise value for eToro of $9.6 billion.

eToro currently has over 20 million registered users across 100 countries, and its social community is rapidly expanding due to the growth of its total addressable market, supported in part by secular trends such as the growth of digital wealth platforms and the rise in retail participation.

It expects to receivedapproval from FINRA for a broker dealer license, with plans to launch stocks in the U.S. in the second half of 2021. In a written statement, FinTech V chairman Betsy Cohen said that its sponsor platform Fintech Masala seeks out companies “with outsized growth, effective controls and excellent management teams.”

“eToro meets all three of these criteria,” she added. “In the last few years, eToro has solidified its position as the leading online social trading platform outside the U.S., outlined its plans for the U.S. market, and diversified its income streams. It is now at an inflection point of growth, and we believe eToro is exceptionally positioned to capitalize on this opportunity.”

#australia, #betsy-cohen, #broker, #cryptocurrency, #cryptocurrency-exchange, #etoro, #europe, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #finra, #fintech, #gamestop, #ing-group, #money, #robinhood, #softbank, #softbank-vision-fund, #spac, #tc, #third-point-llc, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #wellington-management

WeWork is apparently doing better, not that SoftBank wants you to talk about that

SoftBank’s earnings always leads to a bonanza of news. One storyline that has dominated the company’s earnings over the past few years that has all but disappeared though is WeWork.

The co-working company, which saw its scorching-hot flame dim a few years ago and which has been parlayed into such books as Billion Dollar Loser, is all but invisible in SoftBank’s presentations these days. The company, despite being one of the largest investments in the company’s $98.6 billion Vision Fund, is not mentioned in the firm’s quarterly update, and the company’s investor presentation also has no mention of the company. (Its logo does appear on the portfolio page, although it is buried with all the other logos).

Yet, for all the doom that has been emanating from WeWork, from its financial shenanigans to dealing with the workplace in a post-COVID-19 world, results apparently are better than what might be expected.

Buried in the footnotes of SoftBank’s earnings report today is some good news related to WeWork. The Japanese telco conglomerate recognized improvements of $1.36 billion in various credit facilities for WeWork compared to its figures in the first three months of 2020.

Given WeWork’s instability, SoftBank had set aside large sums of capital to cover the rent and mandatory loan payments of WeWork in order to shore up the company’s financial picture. However, “mainly due to the improvement in the credit risk of WeWork” according to SoftBank, the risk profile of those loans has improved quite a bit, and the company no longer feels the need to offer as much of a financial buffer as it did nine months previous.

Now, that could just be some innovative accounting engineering, but that improvement in WeWork’s performance mirrors rumors heard in recent weeks that the company is expected to once again attempt to head to the public markets.

Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that WeWork was looking to go public via SPAC for a rumored price of $10 billion. No deal has yet been announced, and while SoftBank is in the process of raising two more SPACs for a grand total of three, it is unlikely to merge WeWork through its own vehicles.

While that $10 billion market cap is far below some of the most bullish prices that WeWork was pumping investors on back during its roadshow in September 2019, it nonetheless shows that the company may not be the financial albatross it was two years ago.

#real-estate, #softbank, #softbank-vision-fund, #venture-capital, #wework

SoftBank kills half the performance incentive for its Vision Fund execs

SoftBank reported earnings today, including the performance of its $98.6 billion Vision Fund. The numbers were enticing given the recent exit of DoorDash, which returned billions to SoftBank and represents one of its first truly blockbuster investments out of the fund. The company has now seen 18 investments exit, including 10 fully exited and eight that are now trading on the public markets.

Yet, tucked away deeply in the company’s earnings statement was a note that the company has cut the performance incentive earmarked for the Vision Fund’s leadership in half, from $5 billion to $2.5 billion.

That $5 billion incentive scheme was controversial when news of it was first reported by publications like the Financial Times back in April 2018. In the model, SoftBank essentially loaned its employees money to buy into the Vision Fund, a structure that was designed to accelerate the closing of the fund’s $100 billion fundraise. The company first added language about the incentive scheme in its 2018Q2 earnings, writing:

On October 19, 2018, SoftBank Vision Fund completed an interim closing with additional committed capital of $5 billion. This brought the total committed capital of the Fund to $96.7 billion. The additional committed capital is intended for the installment of an incentive scheme for operations of SoftBank Vision Fund.

Since then, the company has had consistent language about the $5 billion figure in every quarterly earnings report. However, in today’s latest earnings for fiscal 2020Q3, the company noted that the incentives are now “$2.5 billion (decreased from the previous $5.0 billion).”

The incentive scheme for SoftBank has been a huge point of discussion for industry observers. Four top executives at SoftBank — Rajeev Misra, Marcelo Claure, Katsunori Sago and Ken Miyauchi have collectively been loaned $600 million to buy into the Vision Fund, according to a report two weeks ago in the Financial Times. Some of that money was derived from the $5 billion (now $2.5 billion) incentive scheme, although it isn’t clear if all that money was earmarked exclusively from this particular pool.

SoftBank’s pullback on incentives for the Vision Fund is seemingly a response to the fund’s overall lackluster performance and the fund’s disastrous investment in WeWork, which led to wide losses at the telecom group. While more recent performance has been much better for the fund, eliminating some of those incentives should improve overall performance of the fund and ultimately SoftBank’s bottom line.

Vision Fund I has stopped investing in new companies as of last year. A second fund has $10 billion in capital — all from SoftBank itself — and has been making regular investments. The Vision Fund has also been raising SPACs, including two new ones it announced late last week.

#softbank, #softbank-vision-fund, #venture-capital

SoftBank and the late-stage venture capital J-curve

SoftBank had some good data to report overnight with its third-quarter earnings, which covers the last quarter of 2020 through December 31. The company’s first Vision Fund reported large gains driven by DoorDash, where the company’s $680 million investment blew up to just shy of $9 billion — a 13.2x return in SoftBank’s math. While not the first exit from the fund nor the first high-returning exit SoftBank has had, it is the first exit that meaningfully shakes up the prognosis for the Vision Fund’s returns.

Now seems as good a time as any to ask a question we first started pondering when SoftBank launched the Vision Fund way back in 2017: what does a return profile look like at such a late stage of investment?

Early-stage venture capital has a return profile dubbed the “J-curve.” Given a cohort of startups in a venture portfolio, the failures of that cohort tend to materialize quite quickly. Those startups can’t raise money, and thus, they run out of runway and either die or are sold off. That means that the losses from those investments are recognized by investors right away. Meanwhile, the successful startups keep growing and raising venture capital, but funds won’t realize their gains for potentially a decade or more. Thus, the J-curve describes the early years of a fund where the losses are visible but the future gains have not yet materialized.

The Vision Fund pioneered a much more muscular form of traditional mezzanine (pre-IPO) capital, where it would barge into a company’s cap table with big dollars and high valuations with the dream that these companies would go big. While not true of all of the Vision Fund’s investments, many of these startups were quite mature with serious revenues where the alternative to mezzanine capital was an IPO.

That brought up an interesting fund construction question: the sort of immediate failures that create the J-curve for early-stage investors shouldn’t presumably exist at later stages, where startups are less risky investments. Sure, some startups may grow more slowly than other companies and exit for a middling return, but few startups should actually fail entirely.

So what does the SoftBank data look like today and what can it tell us about late-stage fund performance?

SoftBank Vision Fund I made a total of 92 investments from summer of 2017 to mid 2020, of which 10 have fully exited, and 8 are now traded on the public markets. According to SoftBank, 25 of its Fund I portfolio companies received another venture capital round in calendar year 2020 as well, giving the firm some upticks in its fair-market valuation.

#late-stage-venture-capital, #softbank, #softbank-vision-fund, #venture-capital

SoftBank files for a double scoop of SPAC

The SPAC mania continues unabated, with new SPACs being filed with the SEC on an almost hourly basis at times.

SoftBank, the Japanese telecom conglomerate which has also been running the gigantic Vision Fund and its successor, doesn’t want to be left out. Yesterday, it filed back-to-back SPAC registration statements for two new blank-check companies.

SVF Investment Corp 2 is $200 million and SVF Investment Corp 3 is a $350 million vehicle. Both SPACs have a standard roughly 15% over-allotment option, which means that their final sizes will likely end up at $230 million and $400 million respectively assuming that the underwriters take their option (number three has a slightly smaller over-allotment if you’re checking my math).

One interesting component of both SPACs is that they have what is known as a forward purchasing agreement connected to SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2. That agreement allows the second Vision Fund to purchase shares into these SPACs when they begin their business combinations with their target startups, essentially giving it the right to buy into the mergers. The Vision Fund has a $100 million agreement with SVF 2, and a $150 million agreement with SVF 3.

As with all SPACs, a registration statement is merely a filing of an intention to raise money, although these days, the vast majority of filings are later consummated.

As the numbering indicates, SoftBank had an earlier SPAC that it filed in December and officially closed on January 7 of this year. That vehicle targeted a total fundraise of $604 million including the underwriters’ over-allotment option. It also included a $250 million forward purchase agreement with the second Vision Fund similar to these latest two vehicles.

What are these SPACs looking for? Well, according to the filings, “We intend to identify, acquire and manage a business in a technology-enabled sector where our management team have differentiated experience and insights. Relevant sectors may include, but are not limited to, mobile communications technology, artificial intelligence, robotics, cloud technologies, software broadly, computational biology and other data-driven business models, semiconductors and other hardware, transportation technologies, consumer internet and financial technology.”

That seems to cover a lot, but just in case, the filings note that “However, we may consummate a transaction with a business in a different or related industry.” So basically anything.

There is no timeline yet for when the SPACs could potentially close, but typical timing is 4-8 weeks given market averages.

#finance, #softbank, #softbank-vision-fund

Vision Fund backs Chinese fitness app Keep in $360 million round

As Chinese fitness class provider Keep continues to diversify its offerings to include Peloton-like bikes, health-conscious snacks among other things, it’s bringing in new investors to fund its ambitions.

On Monday, Keep said it has recently closed a Series F financing round of $360 million led by SoftBank Vision Fund. Hillhouse Capital and Coatue Management participated in the round, as well as existing investors GGV Capital, Tencent, 5Y Capital, Jeneration Capital and Bertelsmann Asia Investments.

The latest fundraise values the six-year-old startup at about $2 billion post-money, people with knowledge told TechCrunch. Keep said it currently has no plans to go public, a company spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Keep started out in 2014 by providing at-home workout videos and signed up 100 million users within three years. As of late, it has served over 300 million users, the company claims. It has over time fostered an ecosystem of fitness influencers who give live classes to students via videos, and now runs a team of course designers, streaming coaches and operational staff dedicated to its video streaming business.

The company said its main revenue driver is membership fees from the 10 million users who receive personalized services. It’s also expanding its consumer product line. Last year, for instance, the firm introduced an internet-connected stationary bike that comes with video instructions like Peloton . It’s also rolled out apparel, treadmills and smart wristbands.

The company launched foreign versions of its Keep app in 2018 as it took aim at the overseas home fitness market. It was posting diligently on Western social networks including Instagram, Facebook and Twitter up until the spring of 2019.

According to Keep, the purpose of the latest funding is to let it continue doing what it has focused on in recent years: improving services and products for users and serving fitness professionals against a backdrop of the Chinese government’s campaign for “national fitness.”

“We believe fitness has become an indispensable part of Chinese people’s everyday life as their income rises and health awareness grows,” said Eric Chen, managing partner at SoftBank Vision Fund .

 

#5y-capital, #asia, #china, #coatue-management, #fitness, #funding, #ggv-capital, #health, #hillhouse-capital, #keep, #peloton, #softbank, #softbank-vision-fund, #tencent

SoftBank will reportedly file for a SPAC on Monday

SoftBank Investment Advisers may file as early as Monday to raise between $500 million and $600 million through an initial public offering of its first special purpose acquisition vehicle, reports Axios.

SoftBank Investment Advisers manages the two Vision Funds and may continue leaning into SPACs, with two more reportedly in the works.

The conglomerate first revealed its SPAC plans in October when SoftBank Investment Advisers chief executive officer Rajeev Misra said he was planning a SPAC while speaking at the Milken Institute Global Conference. An SPAC would give the Vision Fund another way of investing in private companies, and also allow the public to invest in SoftBank’s portfolio picks.

SPACs are blank-check companies created for the purpose of merging or acquiring other companies, and have gained popularity this year as an alternative to traditional stock market debuts.

While this would be SoftBank’s first SPAC, one of its portfolio companies, real-estate platform OpenDoor, recently went public through an SPAC. Another one of its investments, Indonesian e-commerce giant Tokopedia, is also considering going public through a SPAC backed by Richard Li and Peter Thiel, after putting its IPO plans because of the pandemic.

#asia, #fundings-exits, #japan, #softbank, #softbank-investment-advisers, #softbank-vision-fund, #spac, #tc

Brazilian lending company Creditas raises $255 million as Latin America’s fintech explosion continues

Creditas, the Brazilian lending business, has raised $255 million in new financing as financial services startups across Latin America continue to attract massive amounts of cash.

The company’s credit portfolio has crossed 1 billion reals ($196.66 million) and the new round will value the company at $1.75 billion thanks to $570 million raised in outside financing over five rounds.

Creditas is the latest company to benefit from a boom in financial services startup investing across the region. As the year dawned, venture investments into fintech startups in Latin America had grown from $50 million in 2014 to top $2.1 billion in 2020 across 139 deals, according to a report from CB Insights.

Investors in the round include new investors like LGT Lightstone, Tarsadia Capital, Welington Management, e.ventures, and an affiliate of Advent International, Sunley House Capital. Previous investors including SoftBank Vision Fund 1, SoftBank Latin America DFund, VEF, Kaszek, Vemtires and Amadeus Capital Partners also returned to put more money into the company.

“Creditas is still in the early innings of penetrating the huge untapped secured lending market in Brazil and Mexico” says Paulo Passoni, Managing Partner of Softbank Latam fund, in a statement.

The company’s growth is a testament both to the need for new lending products across Latin America and the perspicacity of investors like Kaszek Ventures, whose portfolio has included several massive wins from bets on startups tackling financial services in Latin America.

“The journey since our investment in the Series A has been absolutely extraordinary. The team has executed on its vision, and Creditas has evolved into an asset-light ecosystem that resolves key financial needs of its customers throughout their lifetimes”, says Nicolas Szekasy, Managing Partner of Kaszek Ventures, in a statement.

Another big winner is Redpoint’s e.ventures fund, which has focused on investments in Latin America for the last several years.

“By empowering Brazilians to take control of their lending needs at reasonable rates, Creditas creates a beloved consumer product that will drive significant value for customers and investors. Having been involved since the seed stage through Redpoint e.ventures, we’re thrilled to support the company with our Global Growth Fund as well, as they change the Brazilian fintech landscape,” said Mathias Schilling, co-founder and Managing Partner of e.ventures.

Creditas has plans to use the cash to expand its home and auto lending as well as a payday lending service based on customers’ salaries and a retail option to sell through buy now, pay later loans based on a customer’s salary.

The company is also looking to expand to other markets, with an eye toward establishing a foothold in the Mexican market as well.

Founded in 2012, when the founders worked out of a 5 squre meter office on Berrini Avenue in Sao Paulo, the company now boasts a robust business with hundreds of employees and a business resting on a secured lending marketplace and independent home and auto lending operations.

The company also released quarterly results for the first time, showing losses narrowing from 74.9 million Brazilian reals to 40.5 million reais in the year ago quarter.

#advent-international, #amadeus-capital-partners, #brazil, #creditas, #e-ventures, #economy, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #kaszek-ventures, #latin-america, #managing-partner, #mexico, #sao-paulo, #softbank, #softbank-group, #softbank-vision-fund, #tc

Early DoorDash investor dismisses “froth” talk, says company could grow 10x from here

[The stunning debut of the food delivery company DoorDash on the public market this week has plenty of people puzzled. While undeniably fast-growing, the unprofitable delivery company that has come under fire numerous times over its employment practices, and its IPO, like that of other gig-economy companies, leaves a lot of economic issues unresolved.

So why is a company that lost $667 million in 2019 and $149 million in the first nine months of 2020 — during a period of hypergrowth because of the pandemic —  being valued at $55.8 billion by public market investors? Have they lost their minds?

Saar Gur thinks he has answers to such questions. Gur, a longtime general partner with the early-stage venture firm CRV, was able to write a check to DoorDash in its earliest rounds, including its seed, Series A and Series B financings, and he suggests the firm’s stake in the business will return multitudes of the CRV fund from which those checks came. In short, he’s very far from biased. However, in a call earlier today, he painted a picture of DoorDash wherein it not only becomes profitable but is 10 times larger than it is today based on how it evolves from here. Our conversation has been edited lightly for length and clarity.

TC: You wrote a seed check to DoorDash. Did you seek out the company or did the team pitch CRV?

SG: I went on this hunt, looking for Tony. [Rival delivery service] Postmates had started two-and-a-half to three years earlier, and I thought the founder was great [but I wasn’t sure about investing]. Another company, Fluc, was run by this very scrappy entrepreneur, Adam, who was getting some buzz in Palo Alto, and I was quite curious and met the team because we were in the food business and knew a lot of restaurant owners; my wife was a food entrepreneur and built this chain of homemade yogurt stores called Fraiche,

So I emailed my friend Misty, who was the general manager at the time of Oren’s Hummus on University Avenue [in Palo Alto[ and said, ‘We’re looking this company, Fluc, and we’d love to get your thoughts.’ And she said, ‘The team is Fluc is okay; their technology is better [than some others], but they don’t understand our problems in a way that’s truly helpful to us. You should talk to these kids out of Stanford at DoorDash.’

If there’s any skill in investing, it’s not just confirmation bias of investing in Fluc [whose founders later moved on] but we did like a hard pivot and chased down the DoorDash team. We met them at Fraiche in Palo Alto,  and from that moment, it’s like we were finishing each other’s sentences.

TC: What did you talk about?

SG: The team from day one just talked about building a logistics company. For example, they understood Oren’s Hummus, which at that time was quite popular but had limited front-of-house seating and a big kitchen in the back. And [cofounder and CEO] Tony [Xu] and [cofounder turned VC] Evan Moore said at the time said, we want to target customers of popular concepts that have limited [seating] and extra kitchen capacity, and to integrate directly with the kitchen so we don’t have to interact with front-of-the-house staff.

At the time, Postmates had pivoted from waiting in line to get you a iPhone to delivering food, including from Fraiche, but they would send someone to your store, place the order and wait. DoorDash instead put an iPad

TC: You’ve said that CRV missed out on Uber, that Travis Kalanick left your offices and headed over to Benchmark, where he told you right afterward that they wouldn’t let him leave until he signed a term sheet. Do you think Uber could or should have been DoorDash? I met with Travis in 2011, before DoorDash was founded, and he called Uber a logistics company and told me it would deliver food and a lot of other things. Given DoorDash’s dominant market share, do you think Uber waited too long to jump into deliveries? 

SG:  The original Uber was not at all about food; it was that ride hailing hadn’t changed. Its Series A deck was a picture of a guy holding his hand up and trying to hail a taxi, with no real vision about food — at least at least that’s my recollection. Over time, it became Uber for everything.

But in terms what happened, DoorDash launched in Palo Alto. A number of other companies were in San Francisco, and Tony and the team had to decide whether to launch in San Francisco as its next major city or whether to launch somewhere else. And after a number of discussions that I was a part of, they focused on San Jose. Most people don’t know, but San Jose is something like the 10th largest city in the United States and its layout is much more similar to other mid-tier cities and suburban America than it is to San Francisco. I think that was one key strategic decision. At the time, [larger rivals] GrubHub and Seamless had been proven [the model] in dense cities. It was really not obvious that it would work in San Jose or any suburb.

TC: Clearly, investors are excited about what DoorDash has built — so excited that its stock went crazy yesterday. Are you, like Bill Gurley, frustrated that money was left on the table by its underwriters? Do you think traditional IPOs are broken?

SG: I actually started my career at Lehman Brothers on the investment banking team, and so having seen the IPO process, while I can appreciate [frustration that a] company left some money on the table based on the pricing, the tactical challenge [is that] it’s very hard to predict. You know what the market will bear once it moves to retail investors.

What’s exciting to me is [that] DoorDash is raising money because they are just getting started. I do think this could be a $500 billion-plus company. There’s so much to be excited about. As for the capital-raising event, I think it’s hard for the bankers to know where it will land with the broader market, so I’m not as negative as maybe some others.

TC: Five-hundred billion dollars is a big number. How do you get there?

SG: Let’s just start with food delivery. DoorDash’s suburban market share has grown to more than 60% and its overall U.S. market share is over 52%, so they’ve won the market in food delivery. And if you look at the [Chinese shopping platform] Meituan and other global food delivery businesses, that alone paints a path where DoorDash should be [valued at] $100 billion, assuming they continue to execute on the path that they’re on.

But the bigger story to me that I think many folks don’t understand is, if you go back to U.S. Postal Service, it used to take two weeks to get a letter. Then FedEx launches and all of a sudden the, the mail seems slow. The [net promoter score] was really high for the USPS until FedEx launched, or [think of] dial-up [internet access] which was great until [we had] broadband.

What we’re seeing is that consumers prefer immediacy and this magic ability to press a button and have ice cream delivered in under 25 minutes or milk, and you start to layer [items on] from there. We’ve partnered with Macy’s in December, for example, so if you buy a shirt or a dress, you can now have it at your house in an hour. When you look at the infrastructure that DoorDash has built to deliver on that vision, that’s where this company looks more like Amazon .

That’s dreaming the dream, and that’s a very different business than ride-sharing and Uber’s core business.

TC: You’re comparing DoorDash to Amazon, which is a much more capital-intensive business with lots of hard assets. Do you see DoorDash moving in that direction? Relatedly, what kinds of acquisitions would DoorDash be potentially interested in making?

SG: The company is always focused on technology first. DoorDash Drive is a product that many people don’t understand but it powers merchants that don’t want to roll out their own delivery network. Say you go to Walmart.com and order a bunch of groceries. DoorDash is powering those deliveries. Macy’s wants to roll out one-hour delivery. DoorDash Drive is allowing them to do that. DoorDash also now has a product that’s purely like a SaaS business that enables larger chains that want to control the whole experience of delivery with their own drivers to do that. Jimmy Johns [a sandwich chain] is ow running its entire order and deliver business with their own drivers, using DoorDash software.

There are parts of DoorDash that are a true software business, just like AWS, and there are parts of it that are capital-intensive, like Dashmart [that rolled out this summer and which are convenience stores are owned and operated by DoorDash]. Will they buy 7-Eleven or something like that? We saw [deliver startup] goPuff acquire BevMo last month; it’s not out of the question that there might be a reason to do that. With Dashmart, they already can see a lot of stuff based on data that people want to have immediately.

You know, I guess related to the answer question, and I don’t even know what it stands for but I know Uber at some point was looking into ghost kitchens, maybe like hadn’t had a stake in one in France. Is that something that doordash would potentially get into the business of like owning and running these so that it can also just, and I apologize that I’m not better versed in this but I don’t know, I don’t know if it’s got sort of like close relationships or owns anything like that already.

TC: DoorDash has also ventured into the ghost kitchen market, opening a facility in Redwood City, south of San Francisco. Could this become a bigger initiative?

SG: I think it’s definitely in the zone. DoorDash can use data and say, you know, you don’t need to build another Long John Silver or Taco Bell [to get closer to some of your customers]; you use our Redwood City Kitchen.We can already show you the data that [highlights how] deliveries that might take an hour could be turned into 15 minutes. They’re really facilitating the revenue growth of these concepts.

There’s another set of entrepreneurs where they can use the data to say, for example, ‘Hey, there is no pizza restaurant in Palo Alto, so we’re just going to launch Saar’s Pizza Company to fill that hole and do it cost effectively because we don’t need to build a location out with seating and all the building codes involved serving customers in person.

TC: In the meantime, one reads stories of restaurateurs who complain about the fees involved in working with DoorDash.

SG: Having been a restaurant owner, I can tell you, even for my wife, who has a Wharton MBA, it’s very hard to keep track of all the numbers. You feel like everyone is screwing you; it’s just it’s really hard to run a small business. So it’s not based on great data or even if it is, if you view that DoorDash is adding incremental revenue, and if you understand the concept of marginal profit, then you should continue to sell things as you can make money on the margins of the food and you have the excess kitchen capacity. 

If you look, that’s why DoorDash has signed [roughly] 45 of the top 50 quick-service restaurants. Those are quantitative groups and they wouldn’t do it do it for as long as they have and invest in these partnerships if it wasn’t working.

But there’s always going to be a sticker shock.

TC: Regarding these quick-service restaurants and ghost kitchens, these systems are so efficient that the concern is that these mom-and-pop restaurants get wiped out. How do you think about that concern?

SG: I think we are social beings and we look for experiences [and] breaking bread with someone is not going away. I think smarter brands will — just like what we see in retail with physical locations and online locations — [be both offline and online]. Smarter concepts will understand how to build those brands across channels. And then I you know I still think that the Saisons of the world and the French Laundry will only continue to to do well post COVID as people look for these experiences of how to be together and share food, which is a passion of many folks.

TC: How does DoorDash itself become profitable? 

SG: If you check the facts, this summer the company was actually profitable. Not only that, they gave $120 million dollars, or they give credit, to other small businesses, in support of COVID, so had they not done that, they actually would have produced quite a bit of cash.

With run a company like DoorDash, you have to sell a big vision and be able to recruit, but you also need to be highly quantitative, and Tony has always been able to spit out numbers that are like accurate and set goals that are very quantitative. And while they they’re not profitable in the newer markets [because they are growing], they’ve got the cohorts to show you not only how they’re profitable in older markets but how their profitability expands over timein those markets. At any point, they could kind of slow their growth and become more profitable, but that’s not the playbook.

#amazon, #crv, #doordash, #ecommerce, #food, #fundings-exits, #ghost-kitchens, #ipo, #on-demand-delivery, #real-estate, #saar-gur, #sequoia-capital, #softbank-vision-fund, #tc, #venture-capital

If you didn’t make $1B this week, you are not doing VC right

The only thing more rare than a unicorn is an exited unicorn.

At TechCrunch, we cover a lot of startup financings, but we rarely get the opportunity to cover exits. This week was an exception though, as it was exitpalooza as Affirm, Roblox, Airbnb, and Wish all filed to go public. With DoorDash’s IPO filing last week, this is upwards of $100 billion in potential float heading to the public markets as we make our way to the end of a tumultuous 2020.

All those exits raise a simple question – who made the money? Which VCs got in early on some of the biggest startups of the decade? Who is going to be buying a new yacht for the family for the holidays (or, like, a fancy yurt for when Burning Man restarts)? The good news is that the wealth is being spread around at least a couple of VC firms, although there are definitely a handful of partners who are looking at a very, very nice check in the mail compared to others.

So let’s dive in.

I’ve covered DoorDash’s and Airbnb’s investor returns in-depth, so if you want to know more about those individual returns, feel free to check those analyses out. But let’s take a more panoramic perspective of the returns of these five companies as a whole.
First, let’s take a look at the founders. These are among the very best startups ever built, and therefore, unsurprisingly, the founders all did pretty well for themselves. But there are pretty wide variations that are interesting to note.

First, Airbnb — by far — has the best return profile for its founders. Brian Chesky, Nathan Blecharczyk, and Joe Gebbia together own nearly 42% of their company at IPO, and that’s after raising billions in venture capital. The reason for their success is simple: Airbnb may have had some tough early innings when it was just getting started, but once it did, its valuation just skyrocketed. That helped to limit dilution in its earlier growth rounds, and ultimately protected their ownership in the company.

David Baszucki of Roblox and Peter Szulczewski of Wish both did well: they own 12% and about 19% of their companies, respectively. Szulczewski’s co-founder Sheng “Danny” Zhang, who is Wish’s CTO, owns 4.9%. Eric Cassel, the co-founder of Roblox, did not disclose ownership in the company’s S-1 filing, indicating that he doesn’t own greater than 5% (the SEC’s reporting threshold).

DoorDash’s founders own a bit less of their company, mostly owing to the money-gobbling nature of that business and the sheer number of co-founders of the company. CEO Tony Xu owns 5.2% while his two co-founders Andy Fang and Stanley Tang each have 4.7%. A fourth co-founder Evan Moore didn’t disclose his share totals in the company’s filing.

Finally, we have Affirm . Affirm didn’t provide total share counts for the company, so it’s hard right now to get a full ownership picture. It’s also particularly hard because Max Levchin, who founded Affirm, was a well-known, multi-time entrepreneur who had a unique shareholder structure from the beginning (many of the venture firms on the cap table actually have equal proportions of common and preferred shares). Levchin has more shares all together than any of his individual VC investors — 27.5 million shares, compared to the second largest investor, Jasmine Ventures (a unit of Singapore’s GIC) at 22 million shares.

#affirm, #airbnb, #altos-ventures, #brian-chesky, #doordash, #entrepreneurship, #founders-fund, #roblox, #softbank-vision-fund, #startups, #venture-capital

Getaround raises a $140 million Series E amid rebound in short-distance travel

Amid a rebound in short-distance travel, Getaround, a Silicon Valley car rental startup, has raised some new money to meet demand. The startup, which allows customers to instantly rent cars near them in over 100 cities, announced today that it has raised $140 million in a Series E deal, bringing its total known venture funding to $600 million.

The Series E deal was led by PeopleFund with new investors including Reid Hoffman’s and Mark Pincus’ Reinvent Capital, AmRest founder Henry McGovern, Pennant Investors, VectoIQ partners Steve Girsky, Mary Chan, and Julia Steyn also deploying capital. Participating prior investors include SoftBank Vision Fund, Menlo Ventures, and more.

The money comes after the car-sharing service faced its own set of hurdles before and during the coronavirus pandemic. In January, the startup reportedly laid off 150 employees, reducing field operations and the size of numerous global teams. In March, bookings dropped 75%, according to CEO Sam Zaid. Getaround laid off 100 employees. Zaid pointed to struggles within SoftBank, which did a $300 million Series D round in the company in mid-2018, as part of the reason.

Now, Zaid says that “Softbank has been an extremely supportive partner to Getaround at every critical stage of our journey this year including in January and through COVID,” in a statement to TechCrunch. The investor, noted above, participated in the latest financing.

The pandemic seems to have gone from a pain point to an opportunity for growth at Getaround. After the March layoffs, Getaround saw demand for its service come back in May: people didn’t want to fly because of the risk of catching COVID-19, but they didn’t mind driving. Getaround focused on contactless access to passenger cars and improving the platform. As short-distance travel to local joints became a more attainable option for those seeking a way to travel, Getaround found green shoots. By July 1, Getaround rehired all of its furloughed employees, according to Zaid.

Zaid estimates that Getaround has seen worldwide revenue more than double from its pre-COVID baseline and says gross margins have continued to improve. The financing, which was raised in the summer, will be used to help the business invest in car technology, bring on new partners, and reach global profitability.

Getaround, per Zaid, currently has over 6 million users globally.

Getaround isn’t alone in benefitting from consumers’ new travel tastebuds. Airbnb, which cut 1,900 jobs or 25% of its entire global workforce, is finding hope in focusing on local rentals. In June, according to the WSJ, Airbnb entirely redesigned its website and algorithm to show travelers where they could rent in their neighborhoods. The travel company is rumored to be going public in November.

Along with the financing, Getaround announced four new executives: Head of North American business Dan Kim, who formerly worked as the head of Airbnb plus and head of global sales and delivery at Tesla; CFO Laura Onopchenko, who is the former CFO of NerdWallet; vice president of people and culture Tia Gordon, formerly the director of people operations at Google; and vice president of customer experience Ruth Yankoupe, former vice president of Customer Experience at OYO.

#carsharing, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #getaround, #sam-zaid, #softbank-vision-fund, #startups, #tc

Caroline Brochado and Sophia Bendz on the boom in Europe’s early- and growth-stage startups

As part of Disrupt 2020 we wanted to look at the contrasting positions of both early and later-stage investing in Europe. Who better to unpack this subject than two highly experienced operators in these fields?

After a career at Spotify and then as a VC at Atomico, Sophia Bendz has rapidly gained a reputation in Europe as a keen early-stage investor. She recently left Atomico to pursue her early and seed-stage passion with Cherry Ventures. Bendz is a prolific angel investor, with a total of over 44 deals in the last 9 years. Her angel investments include as AidenAI, Tictail, Joints Academy, Omnius, LifeX, Eastnine, Manual, Headvig, Simple Feast, and Sana Labs. She is known for being a champion of the femtech space, and her angel investments in that space include Clue, Grace Health, Daye, O School, and Boost Thyroid.

Carolina Brochado, the former Atomico partner and most recently a partner at SoftBank Vision Fund’s London office, recently joined EQT Ventures to help launch EQT’s Growth fund, which is positioned between Ventures and Private Equity. Brochado led investments in a number of promising companies at Atomico,  including logistics company OnTruck, health tech company Hinge Health and restaurant supply chain app Rekki.

After establishing that these two knew each other while at Atomico, I asked Bendz why she headed back into the seed stage arena.

“I’m a trained marketeer and storyteller by heart… What makes me excited is new markets opportunities, people, culture, teams. So with that, in combination with my angel investing, I think I’m better suited to be in the earlier stages of investing. When I was investing before joining Atomico, I said to myself, I want to learn from the best, I want to see how it’s done how you structure the process and how you think about the bigger investments.”

Brochado says the European ‘cat is out of the bag’ as it were:

When I first moved to Europe in 2012 and first joined Atomico, after having been at a very small startup, there was still a massive gap in funding and Europe versus the US. I think you know the European secret is no longer a secret, and you have incredible funds being started at that early stage seed and series A, and because I was here in 2012, I’ve seen the amazing pipeline of growth companies that are coming up the curve, how the momentum of those companies is accelerating and how the market cap of those businesses are growing. And so I just became super excited about helping those businesses scale… I just you now felt like bridging that gap in between ass really exciting and.

One of the perennial topics that come up time and time again is whether or not founders should go with VC partners who have previously been operators, versus those with a finance background.

“Looking back, my years at Spotify, we had great investors, but there were not many of them that had the experience of scaling a big company,” Bendz said. “So, I’m happy to give [a startup] more than just the check in a way that I would have wished I had a sounding board when I was 25 and tackling that challenge at Spotify.”

Brochado concurred: “Having operators in the room is just is an incredible gift I think to a fund and at certain levels, having people that understand you know different forms of financing and different structures can also be incredibly helpful to founders who may not necessarily have that background. So I think that the funds that do it best have that diversity.”

Bendz is passionate about investing in female founders and femtech: “It’s such a massive business opportunity that is completely untapped. We’ve seen it many times when you have a female investment partner [that] the pipeline opens up and you get more deal flow from female founders…. So I think we have a lot of work to do. I think it’s definitely improved a lot in the last couple of years but not enough… That is one of the drivers for why I put my money where my mouth is and invest in lifting the founders, but also because there are incredibly interesting business opportunities… There are so many opportunities and products or services that we will see being developed. When we have a more equal society, and more women, both building their own companies, coding and also investing… I can’t wait to see what that world will look like.”

Brochado’s view is that “even beyond founders… the best managers today are putting a lot of focus on this and I think what’s exciting is, I think we’re past the point where you have to explain to people why diversity matters.”

Is there a post-Series A chasm?

Bendz thinks: “We have more big funds in Europe [now]. We have a really solid ground here in Europe of a, b and c investors.”

Brochado said: “it’s definitely getting better. You don’t hear as many founders say that to do my Series B or my Series C I have to move to the Valley as you used to. But there’s a lot of room still for growth investors in Europe. I think Series B is the hardest round actually because, at seed or series A, you can raise on very early traction or the quality of the management team. At Series B the price goes up but the risk doesn’t necessarily go down as much. And so I think that’s where you really need investors who are sector or thematic focused, who can come with conviction and also some knowledge around the company to really propel that company forward.”

Did they both see European entrepreneurs still making silly mistakes, or has the ecosystem mastered?

Brochado thinks ten years ago was it was hard for European founders as a lot of the talent to scale companies was still in the US. “What you’ve seen is a lot of big companies grow up in Europe, a lot of people come back from the US, and so I think that pool of talent now is larger, which is very helpful. I don’t think it’s yet at the scale of where the US is. But it gives us, you know as investors, a great window of opportunity to help get some of that talent for our portfolio companies.”

The impact of COVID-19

Bendz thinks we will “see a much slower Spring, but… I think it has been overall a good exercise for some companies, and I have not seen a slower deal flow. I’ve actually done more Angel deals this Spring than I normally do… Some businesses have definitely accelerated their whole business concept because of COVID. Investments are being made even though we haven’t met the founders. We’re able to do everything remotely so I think the system is kind of adjusting.”

Brocado’s view is that at the growth stage “there’s been a flight to quality. So actually, the really great companies or the companies that are seeing great tailwinds or companies that will still be category-leading once [have] seen a lot of interest. It’s been a very busy summer, which usually it isn’t usually, particularly at the growth stage… I think a lot of money is still in the system, and has flown into technology. And so if you look at how tech in the public markets has performed it’s performed extremely well. And that includes European public companies and within tech.”

Watch the full panel below.

#angel-investor, #atomico, #carolina-brochado, #cherry-ventures, #economy, #eqt-ventures, #europe, #hinge-health, #o-school, #ontruck, #partner, #softbank-vision-fund, #sophia-bendz, #spotify, #startup-company, #tc, #united-states, #vc-partners, #venture-capitalists

WeWork’s chairman says it expects to have positive cash flow in 2021

After aggressive cost-cutting measures, including mass layoffs and selling several of its businesses, WeWork’s chairman expects the company to have positive cash flow in 2021. Marcelo Claure, who became WeWork’s chairman after co-founder Adam Neumann resigned as chief executive officer last fall, told the Financial Times that the co-working space startup is on target to meet its goal, set in February, of reaching operating profitability by the end of next year.

Claure is also chief operating officer of SoftBank Group, which invested $18.5 billion in the co-working space, according to leaked comments made by Claure during an October all-hands meeting.

SoftBank said in April that it would lose $24 billion on investments, with one of the main reasons being WeWork’s implosion last year. The company’s financial and management issues brought its valuation down from as much as $47 billion at the beginning of 2019 to $2.9 billion in March, according to a May report by CNBC.

In addition to the layoffs, WeWork sold off businesses including Flatiron School, Teem and its share of The Wing. Claure told the Financial times that WeWork also cut its workforce from a high of 14,000 last year to 5,600.

Neumann resigned as CEO in September, reportedly at the behest of SoftBank, over concerns about the company’s financial health and his behavior. Then the company postponed its IPO filing. The next month, SoftBank took ownership of WeWork as part of a financing package.

Claure is credited with orchestrating a turnaround at Sprint, cutting losses and increasing its stock price in 2015, three years after it was acquired by SoftBank. He has served as SoftBank Group’s COO since 2018.

Despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced many people to work from home, Claure said that companies have been leasing spaces from WeWork to serve as satellite offices close to where employees live. But he also said that revenues were flat during the second-quarter because many tenants terminated their leases or stopped paying rent.

#real-estate, #softbank-group, #softbank-vision-fund, #tc, #wework

Chinese online learning app Zuoyebang raises $750M

Zuoyebang, a Beijing-headquartered startup that runs an online learning app, said on Monday it has raised $750 million in a new financing round as investors demonstrate their continued trust in — and focus on — Asia’s booming edtech market.

U.S. investment firm Tiger Global and Hong Kong-based private equity firm FountainVest Partners led the six-year-old startup’s Series E financing round. Existing investors including SoftBank’s Vision Fund, Sequoia Capital China, Xiang He Capital, Qatar Investment Authority also participated in the round, which brings the startup’s to-date raise to $1.33 billion.

As we have previously noted in our coverage, Zuoyebang’s app helps students — ranging from kindergarten to 12th-grade — solve problems and understand complex concepts.

The app, which offers online courses and runs live lessons, also allows students to take a picture of a problem, upload it to the app, and get its solution. The startup claims it uses artificial intelligence to identify the question and its answer.

Zuoyebang has amassed 170 million monthly active users, about 50 million of whom use the service each day, the startup said in a post (in Chinese). More than 12 million of these users are paid subscribers, it said.

The announcement today further illustrates the opportunities investors are seeing in the online education sector in Asia. Last week, Indian edtech giant Byju’s announced it had received fresh funds from Mary Meeker’s fund, Bond.

SoftBank counts Zuoyebang among its 88 portfolio startups that have demonstrated growth in recent quarters. Zuoyebang was founded by Baidu in 2015. A year later the Chinese search giant spun off Zuoyebang into an independent startup.

Zuoyebang competes with a handful of startups in China, including Yuanfudao, which offers a similar service. In March, Yuanfudao said it had secured $1 billion in a financing round led by Tencent and Hillhouse Capital. The startup was valued at $7.8 billion at the time. Reuters reported earlier this month that Zuoyebang could be valued at $6.5 billion in the new financing round.

According to research firm iResearch, the online education market in China could be worth $81 billion in two years.

#apps, #asia, #baidu, #education, #funding, #qatar-investment-authority, #sequoia-capital-china, #softbank, #softbank-vision-fund, #tiger-global, #vision-fund, #zuoyebang

SoftBank confirms it may sell some of its T-Mobile stake

SoftBank Group confirmed today it is considering selling its T-Mobile U.S. shares.

Bloomberg reported last month that SoftBank was nearing an agreement to sell about $20 billion of its T-Mobile U.S. shares to investors including Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile’s controlling shareholder, in an effort to offset major losses from its investment business, including the Vision Fund.

In today’s notice, SoftBank Group, which owns about 25% of T-Mobile U.S. shares, said it is exploring transactions that could include private placements or public offerings and transactions with T-Mobile or its shareholders, including Deutsche Telekom AG, or third parties.

The potential sale would be part of SoftBank Group’s program, announced in March, to sell or monetize up to $41 billion in assets to reduce debt and increase its cash reserves. The company said, however, that it cannot assure any of the transactions involving T-Mobile shares will be completed.

#softbank-group, #softbank-vision-fund, #t-mobile, #tc

Cruise lays off 8% of workforce amid COVID-19, puts resources towards engineering

Cruise, the self-driving car subsidiary of GM that also has backing from SoftBank Vision Fund, automaker Honda and T. Rowe Price & Associates, is laying off nearly 8% of its more than 1,800-member workforce today as it tries to reduce costs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The layoffs will affect employees in Cruise’s product, marketing and rideshare business units, according to a memo sent by Cruise CEO Dan Ammann and viewed by TechCrunch. Bloomberg was the first to report the cuts.

Employees who are laid off will be offered severance and their healthcare benefits will be paid for by the company through the end of the year, according to the memo.

Cruise spokesman Milin Mehta confirmed the cuts.

“In this time of great change, we’re fortunate to have a crystal clear mission and billions in the bank. The actions we took today reflect us doubling down on our engineering work and engineering talent,” Mehta, said in an emailed statement.

The layoffs are part of a broader strategy outlined in the memo to shift resources to where its needed most during the COVID-19 pandemic. Cruise is also closing its Pasadena, Calif. office, where it worked on lidar. The lidar team will be moved to the San Francisco office.

Even as layoffs occur, Cruise will continue hiring engineers, according to the memo.

The company will “continue to hire aggressively in the most critical areas within engineering, which right now means doubling down on senior leadership and senior IC roles to further support out improving core tech objective,” Ammann wrote in the memo. “From here we expect to recruit and grow across our engineering teams for the balance of the year.”

#automotive, #bank, #california, #contents, #cruise, #dan-ammann, #employment, #honda, #labor, #layoff, #lidar, #memo, #softbank, #softbank-vision-fund, #t-rowe-price, #techcrunch, #transportation

Cruise hires PG&E board chairman Jeff Bleich as chief legal officer

Cruise, the subsidiary of GM that also has backing from SoftBank Vision Fund, automaker Honda and T. Rowe Price & Associates, is turning to a heavy hitter to head up its legal team.

The autonomous vehicle technology company has hired Jeff Bleich, board chairman of utility Pacific Gas & Electric, as its chief legal officer. Bleich has a lengthy resume that includes a position as special counsel to former President Barak Obama and as a U.S. ambassador to Australia.

But it’s his legal career that Cruise is tapping into. Bleich was a partner during two stints for a collective 19 years at Los Angeles-based law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson. After leaving Munger in 2015, Bleich became partner at Dentons and led the firm’s global consulting group. Bleich left Dentons in March 2019 and was named board chair of PG&E a month later. During his three-decade career, Bleich has become a specialist in complex litigation with a particular interest. in cybersecurity, intellectual property and international disputes. He has also been awarded California Lawyer Attorney of the Year among others honors.

“Cruise is leading the way to change lives in a shift that is as important as the move from horses to cars,” Bleich said in a statement. “I am honored and inspired to be joining a team that is unrivaled in their focus on safety, accountability, and trust. That perspective is critical to scaling this extraordinary technology to everyone, everywhere.”

The autonomous vehicle industry is at a crossroads of sorts. The flood of startups that popped up several years ago is starting to recede. A handful of well-capitalized and partnered players have emerged, a group that includes Argo.ai, Aurora, Cruise and Waymo. Cruise has raised upwards of $7.25 billion.

Money is just part of the challenge. Companies hoping to commercialize autonomous vehicles to shuttle people and packages face a maze of legal hurdles, including protecting trade secrets, determining product liability and even squaring off against local, state and federal governments.

#australia, #automotive, #barak-obama, #california, #gm, #honda, #law-firms, #los-angeles, #president, #softbank, #softbank-vision-fund, #t-rowe-price, #tc, #transportation, #united-states

View, the dynamic glass company that raised $1.1 billion from SoftBank in 2018, is laying people off

View, a 13-year-old, Milpitas, Calif.-based company that makes dynamic glass designed to reduce heat and glare as well as lessen eyestrain, has cut an unknown number of employees, including at a plant in Olive Branch, Mississippi.

One employee of several years, an IT manager, wrote on LinkedIn that he was laid off owing to the pandemic. Another employee of the company for the better part of decade — an engineer and project manager — wrote on LinkedIn that he has also been laid off and that the company “really cleaned house.”

This individual added that several other “long timers” had also lost their jobs.

Efforts to reach former View employees was unsuccessful this afternoon. A request for help from the company’s head of communications also went unreturned today.

The company — which touts its glass as a way for real estate owners to attract commercial tenants as well to improve energy consumption by up to 20 percent —  is among a large stable of companies that raised enormous amounts of capital from SoftBank’s Vision Fund over the last two years.

The funding that was provided by the outfit — $1.1 billion in early November 2018 — was notable at the time in part because it included no other investors.

The round was also announced at a trying time for the Vision Fund —  roughly one month after the journalist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Instabul, Turkey, drawing unwanted scrutiny to both Saudi Arabia and to the Vision Fund.

As many industry watchers will know, the Japanese conglomerate had raised nearly half the capital for its massive Vision Fund from the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia. Though no one in Silicon Valley was willing to speak up at the time about the episode, SoftBank’s checks were presumably seen as radioactive in that moment to at least some founders.

Indeed, as the round was being announced, CEO Rao Mulpuri told Bloomberg that the deal predated Khashoggi’s murder, explaining that, “Obviously, what happened in the region there is quite concerning. But, at the same time, we’ve now built a relationship of getting to know SoftBank over a long period of time, and we are quite comfortable moving forward with this investment.”

View has been selling its glass to building owners and commercial real estate developers. On its site, it features a testimonial from a 14-person development firm in Utah named Cottonwood Partners, for example.

Real estate, as with transportation and fintech, has been a major area of interest for SoftBank. Other related portfolio companies include Katerra, a tech-driven construction company that had run into troubles well before this year, according to several reports by The Information, and Opendoor, the home-buying company that earlier today announced that it was laying off 35 percent of its employees.

Though the construction industry has been hard hit since the coronavirus first gripped the U.S. market and largely shut the nation down, it is still operating in some pockets, saved by the belief in some states and cities that certain projects constitute essential business.

Earlier this month, for example, crews were at work on apartment buildings just south of West Hollywood. Asked by the New York Times to explain, officials agreed the work was essential, while a spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department called what was happening “uncharted territory for all of us.”

Before SoftBank came onto the scene, View had raised about $800 million over the years, including from Corning, Madrone Capital Partners, TIAA Investments and a New Zealand sovereign wealth fund.

Heading into its current layoff, which was announced to employees yesterday, View had roughly 600 employees, according to LinkedIn.

#commercial-real-estate, #corning, #energy-management, #madrone-capital-partners, #real-estate, #softbank-vision-fund, #tc, #view

SoftBank expects $24 billion in losses from Vision Fund, WeWork, and OneWeb investments

The Japanese technology conglomerate SoftBank Group said it would lose a staggering $24 billion on investments made through its Vision Fund and bets on the co-working real estate company, WeWork, and satellite telecommunications company, OneWeb.

Ultimately, the company expects the losses to help generate a $7 billion total loss for the technology giant for the year as its ambitious bets on early stage companies come up short.

Over the past two years SoftBank and its founder Masayoshi Son have staked billions of (other people’s) dollars and its own fortunes on a vision that investments in machine learning technologies, robotics, and next generation telecommunications would reap of hundreds of billions in financial rewards.

While that was the vision that Son and his team sold, the reality was multiple billions of dollars invested into real estate investment plays like WeWork, OpenDoor, and Compass, and companies with direct-to-consumer merchandising plays like Brandless, pet supply businesses like Wag, and the food delivery business DoorDash. Add the hotel chain Oyo to the mix and the investment selection from the Vision Fund looks even less visionary.

Over the past year, several of its investments ran aground. Though none of them imploded as spectacularly as WeWork — whose valuation was slashed from over $40 billion to around $8 billion — many have struggled.

Brandless went bust earlier this year, and real estate investments in Compass along with investments in travel and tourism-related businesses like Oyo, have suffered in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak which has shuttered economies around the world.

While many SoftBank and SoftBank Vision Fund bets were made into companies that have failed, seem to be on that path, or perhaps may struggle in the economic downturn, not every wage is a clunker. The Vision Fund put lots of capital into Slack before it went public, and the company has caught a huge tailwind in the remote-work boom that we’re currently seeing in light of COVID-19.

Perhaps the most visionary of the SoftBank investments (and one not included in the Vision Fund) OneWeb, too, collapsed under the weight of its own capital-intensive vision for a network of satellites providing high-speed global telecommunications services. Zume, SoftBank’s robotic pizza delivery business, also folded.

The only reason why all of these gambles haven’t completely destroyed SoftBank is that the company still has a cash cow in its Alibaba stake and a relatively strong core business in telecommunications and semiconductor holdings.

“The difference in income before income tax is, in addition to the above, mainly due to the expected recording of non-operating loss totaling approximately JPY 800 billion for fiscal 2019 on investments held outside of SoftBank Vision Fund, including The We Company (WeWork) and WorldVu Satellites Limited (OneWeb),” the company said in a statement. “This will be partially offset by the gain relating to the settlement of variable prepaid forward contract using Alibaba shares recorded in the first quarter of fiscal 2019 and the dilution gain from changes in equity interest in Alibaba recorded in the third quarter of fiscal 2019, as well as an expected year-on-year increase in income on equity method investments related to Alibaba.”

Ultimately, it seems that Son was too enamored of the mythology he’d created around himself as a maverick and a visionary. To the detriment of his company’s outside shareholders and investors.

As Bloomberg noted in an op-ed earlier today:

Son’s insistence that startups grow faster than their founders planned, and strong-arm them into taking more money than they might have wanted, has turned into a burden. And that’s become a huge liability to investors in the Vision Fund and SoftBank, too.

By throwing cash around, dozens of startups became addicted to spending instead of building fiscal discipline into their business models. For years, it seemed like a sound strategy. By having more money than rivals, SoftBank-backed companies could win market share by offering bigger incentives, taking out more ads and luring the best talent.

Today, SoftBank has a major stake in sector leaders like Uber Technologies Inc., WeWork, Grab Holdings Inc. and Oyo. But climbing to number one doesn’t mean being profitable.

#alibaba, #alibaba-group, #companies, #compass, #doordash, #food-delivery, #fundings-exits, #masayoshi-son, #oneweb, #opendoor, #oyo, #real-estate-investment, #semiconductor, #softbank-group, #softbank-vision-fund, #tc, #telecommunications, #vision-fund, #vodafone, #wework

SoftBank’s debt outlook turns negative

Japanese telecom conglomerate SoftBank Group has faced a litany of bad news in recent weeks, including reported revelations from the Wall Street Journal that the head of its Vision Fund was using corporate espionage firms to sabotage his corporate peers and that activist hedge fund investor Elliott Management had invested in the company to try to force more transparency to its balance sheet and board of directors in a bid to drive its stock price higher.

The bad news just keeps coming though.

Today, S&P Global Ratings downgraded the group’s debt outlook to “Negative” from “Stable” while affirming the debt’s rating of BB+, which is generally considered somewhat speculative or non-investment grade.

In the note from the ratings agency, S&P said that it was particularly concerned about SoftBank’s share repurchase program, which would see cash liquidity decrease as it buys up shares from investors on the public markets. That program, which would encompass about $4.8 billion in share buybacks and was announced last week, “[raises] questions over its intention to adhere to financial management that prioritizes its financial soundness and the credit ratings on it.”

My colleague Arman and I have covered SoftBank’s debt obsession obsessively on TechCrunch, but we last conducted that analysis at the tail end of 2018 when markets were still soaring and SARS-CoV-2 had yet to be discovered.

Now though, SoftBank’s penchant for debt is running straight into one of the most harrowing moments in recent economic history.

SoftBank’s debt-fueled expansion is particularly notable in its Sprint and T-Mobile telecom merger, which was recently approved by U.S. antitrust authorities and included tens of billions of dollars of debt to consummate, as well as in the Vision Fund, where special provisions in the fund’s structure guarantees a minimal level of return to investors. As the Financial Times reported back in 2017:

That debt provided by the Vision Fund’s investors will be in the form of preferred units, which will receive to an annual coupon of 7 per cent over the fund’s 12-year life cycle.

Yet, with few IPOs likely on the horizon given the catastrophic fall in the markets the past few days, what will happen to liquidity in the Vision Fund, and how will it meet that 7% minimum target? Or how will the combined Sprint and T-Mobile win over customers in a quickly souring economy to pay off down its gargantuan debt load?

The upshot for SoftBank is that it offers a service most customers consider essential. That’s one of the reasons why its debt hasn’t seen a ratings downgrade: ultimately, consumers are still going to need their smartphones to work. But with the piles of debt adding up and the economy in tatters, its future is looking evermore hazy and dangerous.

#finance, #softbank-group, #softbank-vision-fund