“Our unicorns have fallen into this sudden coronavirus ravine. But some of them will use this crisis to grow wings,” SoftBank founder and CEO Masayoshi Son said during the company’s earnings conference call on May 18. Of the 88 companies that SoftBank Vision Fund — a $100 billion fund headed by Son — invests in, 15 companies will go bankrupt and another 15 will likely perform well, Son said. The rest, according to him, will just about survive, without generating significant gains. SoftBank was already reeling from a failed Uber IPO and the WeWork debacle, when it was battered by the pandemic.
“The situation is exceedingly difficult,” Son said and agreed that he is unlikely to pull in investors for another Vision Fund. Instead, SoftBank will continue to make startup investments with its own money, with more caution than in the past. SoftBank said its Vision Fund lost 1.9 trillion yen ($17.7 billion) in FY19-20 after writing down the value of WeWork and Uber Technologies. “I already mentioned that we made a failure on the investing in WeWork, and I’ve been admitting that several times. I was foolish. I made a wrong decision,” Son said on the call. WeWork’s valuation is $2.9 billion, down by 90% over its peak valuation of $47 billion.
The company posted its worst ever annual operating loss of 1.36 trillion yen ($12.6 billion).
In India, SoftBank’s most significant investments are in Oyo Hotels, Ola Cabs, and Paytm. In late April, Oyo Hotels — in which SoftBank invested $1.5 billion in October 2019 — placed thousands of employees furlough in the US and several other markets outside of India, as the pandemic halved demand and revenue. Operations of cab aggregator Ola has been suspended since nearly two months of a nationwide lockdown. “When it comes to WeWork, OYO, those O2O [offline to online] type of business – off-line, online combined business model is also there amongst some investees. Region wise 40% in US, 40% in China and the remains, are the other areas,” Son said. SoftBank has also invested in Delhivery and PolicyBazaar in India.
SoftBank also said that Jack Ma, co-founder of Alibaba, will step down after 13 years as a director in SoftBank. Three new directors have been nominated.