Changing from the highest-flying conglomerate and most famous capital vehicle to troubled icons of misplaced exuberance, it’s tough to be SoftBank and its Vision Fund today. Despite the occasional good story, it’s been a tough run for the pair.
But lost in the continuous drip of bad news concerning the Japanese firm and its globally backed, gravity-bending fund is the scale of its myriad problems. When taken into account as a group, however, it’s easier to see how many things have go south in rapid succession. So let’s do that.
What follows is a semi-comprehensive list of what’s gone wrong for SoftBank and the Vision Fund recently, starting in the second quarter of last year. You could go back further, but by my estimation, we’re picking up when things began to go sideways for a number of Vision Fund bets at once.
April, 2019: Layoffs at Wag! One of the SoftBank Vision Fund’s oddest bets, a $300 million bet on a dog-walking startup, ran into trouble last April when it executed its second round of layoffs.
May, 2019: Uber’s IPO disappoints. Uber’s IPO did not go well. After setting an initial $44 to $50 per-share IPO price range, the company failed to boost the interval, instead pricing at $45 per share. That valued the company at $75.46 billion (undiluted), far under what the company had hoped and bankers had intimated it might be worth. Uber then opened down, and is worth just $31.95 per share today, or about $54.5 billion. SoftBank had invested in the company at both $48 billion and $70 billion.
June, 2019: New CEO at Brandless . Another huge bet by SoftBank, Brandless, got a new CEO after losing its preceding chief executive in March due to “tensions with SoftBank.” That long of a CEO gap and the implied executive turmoil wasn’t great news for the company that SoftBank had purchased 40% of for $240 million. (Update: The $240 million figure represented several pieces of a multi-part investment; TechCrunch has learned that the Vision Fund put in a smaller $100 million investment.)
August-October, 2019: WeWork files, falls apart. WeWork fell apart during the third
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