When SoftBank launched its ambitious US$100 billion Vision Fund in 2017, it threatened threatened The Ken Will SoftBank’s Vision Fund turn us blind? Read more to reshape the startup investment landscape. With the largest VC fund ever, SoftBank made several huge punts on largely-unproven companies who in turn threatened to use this huge capital as a moat to obliterate competition.

Things didn’t quite pan out that way.

The unravelling of its US$10 billion bet in co-working startup WeWork and the paper losses recorded as a result of the Uber IPO led SoftBank to report a loss of US$18 billion in 2019. This was the largest loss in its 30-year history.

If that wasn’t bad enough in itself, SoftBank was further buffeted by the double whammy of activist shareholders gunning for governance reforms and the fall-out of the pandemic on key portfolio companies in the hospitality and ride-hailing sectors.

The broad negative sentiment and the run on its share price forced SoftBank into a massive share buyback. It also trimmed its stake in holdings such as Chinese conglomerate Alibaba and UK-based microchip designer Arm.

But just as it looked like SoftBank had painted itself into a corner, the tide turned again.

For the last fiscal, the company reported net profit of US$46 billion, the largest recorded for any Japanese firm. This was largely driven by the buoyancy in public equity markets, allowing SoftBank to record massive gains for its listed portfolio firms like South Korean e-commerce firm Coupang. SoftBank’s own share price has nearly doubled in value over the past year.

According to data provider PitchBook, the firm is on pace to participate in more VC deals in 2021 than ever before, having recorded 69 deals in the last six months.

In India too, SoftBank seems to have returned with a vengeance. Post its mega-exit of Flipkart in 2018, where it recouped US$4 billion on a US$2.5 billion investment made barely a year prior, SoftBank has operated largely under the radar. But in the last six months or so, the company has made a number of investments in India. In a press interview, SoftBank Vision Fund CEO Rajeev Misra hinted that the firm has deployed more than US$2 billion in India over the past six months and further said that “..over the last four years, we are the largest tech investor in India and will continue to be that way.”

While there have been no official statements yet, SoftBank is said to be in the process of finalising large investments in Flipkart and Swiggy. In the last few months, it has even catapulted four Indian startups—Meesho, Zeta, Mindtickle, and OfBusiness—to unicorn status.

But if you were tempted to believe that this indicates that SoftBank is back up on the top of the totem pole of India’s most influential VCs, there is a catch.

AUTHOR

Sumanth Raghavendra

Sumanth is a serial entrepreneur with more than eighteen years experience in running startups. He is currently the founder of Deck App Technologies, a Bangalore-based startup attempting to re-imagine productivity software for the Post-PC era. Sumanth’s columns appear regularly in leading publications. He holds MBA degrees from the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore and Thunderbird, The American Graduate School of International Management, USA.

View Full Profile

Read this story. Subscribe Now

This story is available across both editions. Subscribe to the one that’s most relevant for you. Questions?

Pick an edition

MOST POPULAR

Annual Subscription

12-month access to 200+ stories, archive of 800+ stories from our India edition. Plus our premium newsletters, Beyond The First Order and The Nutgraf worth Rs. 99/month or $2/month each for free.

Rs. 2,750

Subscribe
 

Quarterly Subscription

3-month access to 60+ new stories with 3-months worth of archives from our India edition. Plus our premium newsletters, Beyond The First Order and The Nutgraf worth Rs. 99/month or $2/month each for free.

Rs. 1,750

Subscribe
 

Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

Rs. 500

Subscribe
MOST POPULAR

Annual Subscription

12-month access to 150+ stories from Southeast Asia.

$ 120

Subscribe
 

Quarterly Subscription

3-month access to 35+ stories from Southeast Asia.

$ 50

Subscribe
 

Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

$ 20

Subscribe

Questions?

What is The Ken?

The Ken is a subscription-only business journalism website and app that provides coverage across two editions - India and Southeast Asia.

What kind of stories do you write?

We publish sharp, original and reported stories on technology, business and healthcare. Our stories are forward-looking, analytical and directional — supported by data, visualisations and infographics.

We use language and narrative that is accessible to even lay readers. And we optimise for quality over quantity, every single time.

What do I get if I subscribe?

For subscribers of the India edition, we publish a new story every weekday, a premium daily newsletter, Beyond The First Order and a weekly newsletter - The Nutgraf.

For subscribers of the Southeast Asia edition, we publish a new story three days a week and a weekly newsletter, Strait Up.

The annual subscription will get you complete, exclusive access to our archive of previously published stories for your edition, along with access to our subscriber-only mobile apps, our premium comment sections, our newsletter archives and several other gifts and benefits.

Do I need to pay separately for your premium newsletters?

Nope. Paid, premium subscribers of The Ken get our newsletters delivered for free.

Does a subscription to the India edition grant me access to Southeast Asia stories? Or vice-versa?

Afraid not. Each edition is separate with its own subscription plan. The India edition publishes stories focused on India. The Southeast Asia edition is focused on Southeast Asia. We may occasionally cross-publish stories from one edition to the other.

Do you offer an all-access joint subscription for both editions?

Not yet. If you’d like to access both editions, you’ll have to purchase two subscriptions separately - one for India and the other for Southeast Asia.

Do you offer any discounts?

No. We have a zero discounts policy.

Is there a free trial I can opt for?

We don’t offer any trials, but you can sign up for a free account which will give you access to the weekly free story, our archive of free stories and summaries of the paid stories. You can stay on the free account as long as you’d like.

Do you offer refunds?

We allow you to sample our journalism for free before signing up, and after you do, we stand by its quality. But we do not offer refunds.

I am facing some trouble purchasing a subscription. What can I do?

Please write to us at support@the-ken.com detailing the error or queries.