Feb 1, 2018

SoftBank's "vision" thing

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata

SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son. Photo by Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

"What the hell?"

That was the opening question yesterday for SoftBank Vision Fund's Lydia Jett and Colin Fan, for a packed afternoon session at Upfront Summit in Los Angeles.

Bottom line: Jett and Fann argued that too much is being made of SVF's $100 billion size, and too little of the "vision" part.

More specifically, SoftBank CEO Masa Son's belief that the world is in a rare technological inflection point, and that large deal sizes are justifiable if you're thinking well beyond a 10-year investment horizon. More like a 30-year to 3oo-year timeframe.

  • Yes, that 300 figure was said repeatedly, so it wasn't just a one-time tongue slip.
  • I don't know how to put this more tactfully, so... There was some unsettling cult of personality stuff emanating from the stage, well beyond the typical belief in a founder's vision.
  • Masa personally meets with founders prior to SVF investing, more to gauge personality and ambition than to judge underlying tech or business fundamentals.
  • SVF has only lost out on two deals so far. We previously reported one was Stitch Fix, so here's an open call for the other's identity
  • $100 million is the "theoretical minimum" check size. SVF doesn't want control, but it also doesn't want to be a passive shareholder..
  • There was an interesting dichotomy yesterday: During a morning session I chaired on crypto investing, a lot was made about how buying startup tokens can be superior to buying equity, thanks to crypto's short-term liquidity flexibility (leaving aside custodial issues). SVF, however, is talking about investments that could take decades to exit. Most of the VC/LP audience, of course, continues to live in the vast middle ages.

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