SoftBank’s Vision Fund — a $100 billion private equity fund that’s outspending almost every other player in start-up investing — seemed to come out of nowhere this year.
But for the company’s firebrand leader, Masayoshi Son, an ambitious vision was ordained at birth.
“You are a genius, No. 1 in Japan,” Son said his father told him as a child, according to a 1987 interview obtained by Bloomberg. “You’ll be a big shot.”
It proved to be prophetic: Son is now one of the world’s richest men. He’s using his fortune and his deep connections in the tech industry to back a series of massive investments designed to secure SoftBank’s place in the next century.
In the past year alone, SoftBank or the Vision Fund have invested in, acquired or partnered with WeWork, Arm, Foxconn, Alibaba Cloud and more. More deals, like the acquisition of Boston Dynamics and Fortress Investment Group, are still in the works.
Now, Softbank is getting ready to make a major investment in Uber, one of the most highly valued private tech companies int he world. This would double up with Son’s investment in Didi Chuxing, the majority owner of Uber’s China operations. It would also be another touch point with new Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, a board member of SoftBank-backed Fanatics.
Son has also invested in Grab, a ride-hailing company in Southeast Asia, and Ola, an India ride-hailing giant. (In 2016, top SoftBank executive Ming Maa joined Grab.)
Son has downplayed the role of his massive fund.
“The ‘gold rush,’ it’s just a money thing. It’s not important, it’s just a process. What is more important is human happiness. How do we help ourselves, humans, become happier?” Son said at the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia this year. “I’m a super optimist… There’s always a solution.”
Meanwhile, some entrepreneurs are running, not walking, to get Son on board at their company, according to Greg Wyler, founder of satellite tech company OneWeb. Softbank led a massive $1.2 billion round in the start-up less than a year ago.
“He has a thematic, deep understanding of technology — what global impact it has on people around the world, how their lives will be changed by technology,” Wyler told CNBC. “I can’t put him a bucket. Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg, they may be are similar in this way or that way. Bill Gates has a certain style. I can’t do that with Masa. He’s more of this all-seeing person.”