Grab the Defibrillator

Hail Masayoshi Son, Fearless Unicorn Veterinarian

It probably won't be the last time SoftBank's chief saves the day.
Photographer: Aleutie/Getty Images

A week ago, SoftBank Group Corp.'s Masayoshi Son was talking about walking away from his planned Uber investment.

Son said he may instead invest in Uber Technologies Inc.'s biggest rival, Lyft Inc. If both stocks were publicly traded, one could imagine Uber plummeting, and Lyft rising.

Most people saw those comments for what they were: a negotiating ploy by Son to force Uber's hand. Kudos to the Japanese billionaire, though, because it worked. Now SoftBank and others get their sought-after $1 billion stake, with an option to buy another $9 billion from existing shareholders.

Intensive Care

There are a lot of mega-unicorns out there. Some will be in need of veterinary assistance

Source: CB Insights

It was a long and tortuous negotiation that involved Uber founder and former chief Travis Kalanick, among others, as Bloomberg's Eric Newcomer outlines. As various dissections of the sale are done over coming weeks, it's important to remember one thing: This whole transaction couldn't have been done without Son, his huge appetite and the billions of dollars at his fingertips.

With Uber's $68 billion valuation in doubt, Son is playing unicorn veterinarian. Few others would be brave enough to prop that up, and there's little chance existing shareholders (including staff) will be able to exit now at a price anywhere near that level.

Son has established himself as the savior of overpriced startups. It's not his own money, of course, rather funds given to him by Middle Eastern governments, cash-rich technology firms and shareholders of his own publicly listed telecom group.

At the same time, any trepidation Silicon Valley VCs have toward SoftBank's Vision Fund sucking up the best opportunities, and raising prices, can be mitigated. Instead of being the over-funded Goliath bidding up the cost of new investments, venture capitalists can look to the Vision Fund as a lucrative exit strategy for when traditional channels like IPOs or M&A don't pan out.

In nabbing this deal, Son has a hand in four of the world's 11 largest startups, according to data compiled by CB Insights, including Uber's Chinese rival and former foe Didi Chuxing. And he has another $90 billion to deploy in big, expensive world-changing ventures.

Investors in those remaining highly priced companies should start making calls to Tokyo. After all, it's not like Son is short of animal spirit.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

    To contact the author of this story:
    Tim Culpan in Taipei at tculpan1@bloomberg.net

    To contact the editor responsible for this story:
    Katrina Nicholas at knicholas2@bloomberg.net

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