Is SoftBank LATAM's startup kingmaker?
Inspired by one of its Latin American lieutenants, the Japanese giant took the Latino startup world to a new dimension.
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The Vision Fund: hubris or genius?
Anyone unfamiliar with the story of Masayoshi Son, Softbank’s iconic founder, probably gasped at the announcement of the so-called Vision Fund. This $100B VC fund launched in 2017 didn’t catch many eyes for just being the largest VC fund in history: it caught many eyes by trumping established VC funds such as Sequoia Growth Fund III by a factor of 10.
For the uninitiated, this move seemed exuberant, preposterous, and even irresponsible given that this was Softbank’s first foray into the VC fund world. For avid followers of Masayoshi Son on the other hand, this was the logical next step in the Japanese tycoon’s unquenchable ambition.
Son is mostly known for a couple of feats of arms such as turning a $20M Alibaba investment into a $60B stake, yielding a handsome 300,000% return. Other achievements include gaining exclusive rights for SoftBank to distribute the iPhone in Japan, before Steve Jobs even thought about commercializing it. Such a prescient and bold move is all the more impressive as it came just a couple of years after Son lost $70B during the dot-com bubble.
The LATAM component
Softbank’s irruption into the LATAM startup scene started with one man, Marcelo Claure. Originally from Bolivia, the former Softbank executive found the lack of Latino/a entrepreneurs pitching the Vision Fund frustrating. SoftBank had already dipped its toes into LATAM through investments in Brazilian startups Loggi and 99, with the latter ending up being acquired by Didi. Claure wanted to take his firm’s involvement in his home continent to the next level.