“It’s not about taking a bunch of dollar bills and spreading them around.” So said SoftBank’s Deep Nishar over the weekend in conversation with Dan Primack of Axios at a Harvard University event.
I love these moments of perverse clarity, where an executive confronts the topic everyone in the industry is talking about, validates the assertion by denying it, and then offers vague evidence to the contrary. Nishar, a former product executive at Google and LinkedIn, is an investor now, one of several high-profile people SoftBank’s Masayoshi Son has deployed across the globe to spread around dollars—and seemingly every other currency imaginable.
Nobody doubts Son’s brilliance. An early investor in Yahoo and Alibaba, Son is trying to replicate that success with the $93-billion SoftBank VisionFund and other SoftBank investment vehicles. The problem is that the Vision Fund is a strange beast. It is so massive—its investors range from a Saudi sovereign wealth fund to Apple—that small stakes are impossible and large stakes will be tough to grow. The Vision Fund’s impact is so huge that the VC industry is spending much of its time figuring out what Son is up to.
The list of SoftBank’s recent investments is long: WeWork, FlipKart, Fanatics are just a few on the receiving end of billion-dollar investments. Slack collected $250 million most recently.
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Son also is placing bets on multiple horses, investing, for example, in Didi as well as, reportedly, Uber. (Nishar again: SoftBank’s approach is not “to bet on every odd number on the roulette table.”) Several press outlets suggested Son was seeding the ride-hailing market because competition is good for all. My take: An investor with stakes in multiple players will urge each to quit subsidizing rides and raise prices.
Privacy fail, Part I. After Congress in March repealed an Obama-era law restricting the sale of people’s web browsing history and other personal info, privacy advocates hoped that some major states might enact similar rules. But an effort to do so in California died at the end of last week, when telecom industry lobbyists prevailed on lawmakers not to vote on the bill and the legislature adjourned.
Privacy fail, the sequel. The great data breach at Equifax was not the first time the credit bureau was penetrated by hackers. The company’s computers were first hit in March in an attack not connected to the July breach that resulted in the theft of personal information of 143 million people. Possibly related, federal investigators have now opened a criminal probe into the stock sales of three top Equifax executives weeks before the July breach was made public, Bloomberg reports.
VR world. A day before Google unveils its new Pixel phones, Microsoft will show off its latest virtual and augmented reality gear. At the October 3 event in San Francisco, Microsoft could announce a version of its HoloLens headset for consumers.
TV World. Leading Internet set top box maker Roku wants to raise as much as $252 million in its upcoming IPO, increasing the target from $100 million, the company said in an updated securities filing on Monday. Current shareholders who are selling in the IPO would get about 43% of the money. And the rest? Roku says it “cannot specify with certainty all of the particular uses.”
Keeping it all in the family. Two years after stepping down as CEO of Cisco Systems, John Chambers says he is retiring as executive chairman of the company’s board, as well. Don’t expect much change in direction, however. Chambers successor and two-decade Cisco veteran, current CEO Chuck Robbins, will take over the top board post.
Crypto-peso. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto has a proposal to regulate bitcoin and other digital currencies that he plans to introduce to legislators later this month. The high-level proposal would give Mexico’s central bank authority to regulate the market, Reuters reports.
Everybody’s on board. Chinese Internet giant Tencent, which already owns 5% of Tesla, agreed to work with Guangzhou Automobile Group on Internet-connected cars and artificial intelligence-aided driving. The move follows similar efforts by competitors Alibaba and Baidu to get more involved in the automotive sector.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Autonomous cars, self-driving trucks, and even auto-piloted drones are beginning to seem inevitable, maybe even commonplace. But don’t forget about water transportation. Bloomberg’s Joshua Brustein has a deep dive (oof!) into the world of boats that won’t require human pilots on board. Companies that do some of the most shipping of stuff by water, like mining giant BHP Billiton, have already announced plans to start using driverless ships. In some ways, the challenge is simpler than designing autonomous land vehicles, according to MIT researcher Michael Benjamin:
Teaching a boat to drive itself is easier than conditioning a car in some ways. They typically don’t have to deal with traffic, stoplights or roundabouts. But water is unique challenge. “The structure of the road, with traffic lights, bounds your problem a little bit,” said Benjamin. “The number of unique possible situations that you can bump into is enormous.”
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BEFORE YOU GO
Speaking of the watery realm, scientists used to think of octopuses as solitary creatures, but that’s not the case in the “city” of Octlantis. The underwater rocky outcropping off the coast of Eastern Australia is home to more than a dozen of the cephalopods. It’s not far from a similar enclave discovered a few years earlier and dubbed Octopolis. Co-living isn’t easy for the creatures, who seem to constantly fight over territory. Maybe it’s time to start an intercity octopus softball league?