SoftBank shook up the venture capital world with its unprecedented $100 billion Vision Fund, and the speculation continues around its follow-up.
The fund hasn’t quite closed $100 billion — it is mighty close… — but that hasn’t stopped reports of a sequel from surfacing for the last 18 months. SoftBank has mown through its allocation at speed, dealmaking increased to a record speed in Q1 despite controversy while its hiring has intensified, but the latest chatter suggests that a number of the fund’s key backers are lukewarm at the prospect of a return act.
The Wall Street Journal this weekend reported that Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which anchored the Vision Fund with a $45 billion investment (but also provides the controversy), and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board are among those that “plan to make limited or no contributions” to the follow-up vehicle.
Sources told the Journal that a key factor is that many of these funds have disintermediated SoftBank to create their own vehicles that make late-stage investments in a more direct way. That cuts out the management fees to third-parties, and it gives the fund managers total control.
One wonders whether the criticism of PIF, which is controlled by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who has been strongly linked with the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, an outspoken critic of the regime, is part of the equation here. It isn’t mentioned in the report. The Vision Fund’s links to Khashoggi death hasn’t bothered startups offered access to billions, at least those in Asia that TechCrunch has probed over the issue.
SoftBank supremo Masayoshi Son has given the outside world a glimpse at the Vision Fund’s performance, which shows impressive gains on paper, but still the Journal reports that some investors are concerned a lack of transparency. Son pledged to provide a public update on the Vision Fund once per year on SoftBank’s annual earnings day; that’s a move that could provide greater transparency and, in the short term, potentially encourage an IPO for the fund itself, which has been rumored.
The Vision Fund refuted the Journal’s claims, calling them “misleading and even inaccurate.”
In the meanwhile, the Vision continues along at speed. In May alone it backed five ventures: India-based grocery startup Grofers, DoorDash, Germany’s GetYourGuide, lender Greensill Capital and GM Cruise.