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Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son. Photo: Alessandro Di Ciommo/Nurphoton via Getty Images

SoftBank Vision Fund is now regularly employing a dual-class stock structure on its investments in big U.S. tech startups, in order to reduce the prospect of national security reviews by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).

Why it matters: SoftBank Vision has always been subject to CFIUS scrutiny, most notably on its Uber investment, but there are new concerns that it could increase substantially if Senate Republicans successfully impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia, which committed around $45 billion of Vision Fund's $100 billion.

What they're saying: Here is how The Information's Alfred Lee described the process, in a piece published just prior to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi:

"SoftBank has split some recent venture capital deals into two parts: an initial component to acquire a voting stake just under the 10% threshold that normally would trigger a regulatory review, and a second component that involves the acquisition of non-voting shares, which tend not to be closely scrutinized by regulators."

What's happening: Once CFIUS either chooses not to review the deal or does review and grant approval, SoftBank then has the option to convert some or all of its non-voting shares into voting shares, thus giving it the control it really wanted in the first place.

  • Lee identified this structure being used in Vision Fund deals for Cohesity ($250m), Getaround ($300m) and Light ($121m).
  • Axios, with the help of Lagniappe Labs, has also found it being used in a similarly-sized deal for robotics software company Automation Anywhere ($300m) and also in a much larger transaction: The $1.1 billion investment in smart windows company View.

Speaking of SoftBank ... We simply do not yet know if the Saudi situation has negatively impacted Vision Fund's ability to do deals. Most of the recently-announced transactions were negotiated prior to the recent controversy, as Vision Fund deals are known to have a pretty long gestation period (in part because Masa usually needs to meet face-to-face with the CEOs).

  • The bottom line: We might not really have a quantitative answer until we see (or don't see) announced deal activity early next year.

Go deeper: Davos in the Desert's biggest name keeps quiet on Saudi allegations

Go deeper

Buffett eyes slow U.S. progress, but says "never bet against America"

Warren Buffett in New York City in 2017. Photo: Daniel Zuchnik/WireImage

Warren Buffett called progress in America "slow, uneven and often discouraging," but retained his long-term optimism in the country, in his closely watched annual shareholder letter released Saturday morning.

Why it matters: It breaks months of uncharacteristic silence from the 90-year-old billionaire Berkshire Hathaway CEO — as the fragile economy coped with the pandemic and the U.S. saw a contentious presidential election.

Restaurant software meets the pandemic moment

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Food delivery companies have predictably done well during the pandemic. But restaurant software providers are also having a moment as eateries race to handle the avalanche of online orders resulting from severe in-person dining restrictions.

Driving the news: Olo filed last week for an IPO and Toast is rumored to be preparing to do the same very soon.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
3 hours ago - Technology

How the automation economy can turn human workers into robots

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

More than outright destroying jobs, automation is changing employment in ways that will weigh on workers.

The big picture: Right now, we should be less worried about robots taking human jobs than people in low-skilled positions being forced to work like robots.