In 1981 Masayoshi Son built a company inspired by a photograph of an Intel microprocessor that he saw in a science magazine at university. Thirty-seven years, one initial public offering and several M&A deals later, the billionaire founder of Japanese telco company SoftBank rocked the private equity industry by forming the biggest fund in history – the SoftBank Vision Fund, which has an unprecedented planned $100 billion war chest for technology deals.
The Vision Fund was launched in October 2016 and held a first close on over $93 billion in just seven months. Backers of Son’s colossal fund include the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund, Mubadala Investment Company, Apple and Foxconn, among others.
Over the course of 2017, Son has made big and bold investments and taken stakes in visual computing company NVIDIA, San Francisco-based indoor farming company Plenty, office messaging service Slack and AI-based driving systems developer Brain Corporation, as well as investment manager Fortress Investment Group – altogether deploying about one-third of the capital, according to the firm’s latest financials.Blackstone’s Stephen Schwarzman, calls Son “bold, sleepless and aggressive” while Oaktree Capital’s Howard Marks questions the structure of his Vision Fund. But no matter. Son is convinced the future is all about artificial intelligence, internet of things and emerging technologies, and he is building what he believes will be the historic private equity fund that will transform the future.
Son’s giant fund might merely be the tip of the iceberg. He is already thinking of follow-on raises to the Vision Fund. Speaking to Nikkei in October last year, Son said the “Vision Fund is just the first step and ¥10 trillion ($88 billion; €72 billion) is simply not enough.” Son plans to expand the scale, with Vision Funds 2, 3, and 4 launched every two years, as part of his grand vision for SoftBank to “keep growing for 300 years”.