Masayoshi Son’s Vision Fund has poured billions into startups around the world, but so far made zero investments in his home country of Japan. SoftBank Group Corp. is now hiring an investment professional whose job would be to change that.
SoftBank Investment Advisers, a unit that operates the Vision Fund, is looking to fill an investment vice president position in Tokyo, according to a job listing posted on LinkedIn. The new person will “research and recommend companies for SoftBank to invest in or acquire in Japan,” it said. A Vision Fund spokesman confirmed that the company is hiring for the role.
Son, who frequently rails against the Japanese government’s cautious approach to ride-hailing and home-sharing, has shied away from big investments in domestic startups. SoftBank’s portfolio covers more than 300 companies spread over three different funds and countries ranging from Indonesia to Brazil. The U.S. accounted for about a third of its total value, while China and the rest of Asia hold nearly half.
“What’s most depressing is of all the Vision Fund investments, not one is in a Japanese company,” SoftBank Chief Financial Officer Yoshimitsu Goto told investors on an earnings call last week. “We really hope that Japanese entrepreneurs will create more companies we could invest in.”
Japan has come a long way from the time when you needed about ¥11 million in capital to register a company and venture investment was virtually nonexistent. Still, the country lags far behind its Asian neighbors and the U.S. when it comes to creating major private startups. There are nearly 800 so-called unicorns in the world, according to CB Insights, with about 400 in the U.S., more than 150 in China and fewer than 40 in India. Only six made the list from Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, the same number as Hong Kong.
Many tech companies in Japan go public well before they reach the $1 billion valuation mark because the country has lenient listing requirements for small, high-growth businesses. That meant slim pickings for SoftBank’s first Vision Fund, whose smallest deals were $100 million or so and the biggest in the billions. But its successor, Vision Fund 2, has been cutting smaller checks and investing in earlier stages of a company’s growth.
While the new position in the Vision Fund’s Tokyo office is a relatively junior one, it does reflect the company’s greater emphasis on the country, according to a person familiar with the matter. The new role will report to Kentaro Matsui, a former managing partner who last year transitioned to a senior advisory role at SoftBank Group, the person said, asking not to be identified discussing internal matters.
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