It’s fair to say that Masayoshi Son, the CEO of Softbank, had a busy 2016.
In July, the maverick founder who loves to buy businesses decided to splash £24bn on ARM Technologies, the Cambridge based maker of the chips used in most Android powered smartphones, laptops, smart TVs and desktops.
In the end he had to ask the British government for approval of the deal; in one of her first acts as Prime Minister, Theresa May gave the deal her blessing, provided Son made good on his promises to double the number of staff employed in the UK by 2021, and to retain Cambridge as the firm’s Global Headquarters.
Next, Son headed to Riyadh where he persuaded the deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, to help him launch a $100bn technology fund.
Yes, you read that right. £100 billion.
Originally, it was understood that the fund would be investing in European start-ups, with a particular focus on the UK, but in December, Mr Son paid a visit to Trump tower, where he promised the Donald $50bn worth of investment into US tech startups.
Aged 59, and quickly gaining a reputation as one of the world’s most extravagant deal makers, Mayasoshi Son announced at the end of the year that he had scrapped all of his plans for retirement.
It seems increasingly likely that the first investment made by this mega-lithic fund will be to acquire a stake in Wework, the co-working space providers with the simple business model – rent chunks of space in huge office buildings, and sub-let it to startup hipster tenants for a premium, whilst creating a strong sense of community and togetherness, and running events and networking sessions as frequently as possible.
It’s gone down a storm in the UK – London now has 17 separate Wework premises, and the company are also successful in New York, where the management team are based, and in Israel, Brazil, Canada, Paris, Hong Kong, Berlin, and Mexico too.
The company is currently valued at around £14 billion, and Softbank are looking to invest a reported £1 billion. Neither company has said much about the rumoured deal; Wework’s last fundraise happened in October 2016 – they raised a Series F worth $260m, to bring total funding to $1.69bn.
Could they be due another billion? With reports suggesting the likes of Apple, Oracle founder Larry Ellison, and the government of Abu Dhabi are all willing to contribute to Son’s fund, Wework could cement their place at the Tech startups top table if the deal goes through.
And the knock-on effect should be felt by the whole of London’s co-working community – get ready for enhanced networking and events – and maybe another free beer tap or two – one of Wework’s signature features are its free beer dispensers, which often seem to be on the blink when we come to visit!