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SoftBank reportedly plans to lend employees as much as $20 billion to invest in its VC fund

SoftBank reportedly plans to lend employees as much as $20 billion to invest in its VC fund

August 17, 2019

SoftBank has a plant to loan up to $20 billion to its employees, including CEO Masayoshi Son, for the purposes of having that capital re-invested in SoftBank’s own Vision venture fund, according to a new report from the Wall Street Journal. That’s a highly unusual move that could be risky in terms of how much exposure SoftBank Group has on the whole in terms of its startup bets, but the upside is that it can potentially fill out as much as a fifth of its newly announced second Vision Fund’s total target raise of $108 billion from a highly aligned investor pool.

SoftBank revealed its plans for its second Vision Fund last month, including $38 billion from SoftBank itself, as well as commitments from Apple, Microsoft and more. The company also took a similar approach to its original Vision Fund, WSJ reports, with stakes from employees provided with loans totalling $8 billion of that $100 billion commitment.

The potential pay-off is big, provided the fund has some solid winners that achieve liquidation events that provide big returns that employees can then use to pay off the original loans, walking away with profit. That’s definitely a risk, however, especially in the current global economic client. As WSJ notes, the Uber shares that Vision Fund I acquired are now worth less than what SoftBank originally paid for them according to sources, and SoftBank bet WeWork looks poised to be another company whose IPO might not make that much, if any, money for later stage investors.

http://imwunl.com

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Every TC Sessions: Enterprise 2019 ticket includes a free pass to Disrupt SF

Every TC Sessions: Enterprise 2019 ticket includes a free pass to Disrupt SF

August 14, 2019

Shout out to all the savvy enterprise software startuppers. Here’s a quick, two-part money-saving reminder. Part one: TC Sessions: Enterprise 2019 is right around the corner on September 5, and you have only two days left to buy an early-bird ticket and save yourself $100. Part two: for every Session ticket you buy, you get one free Expo-only pass to TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2019.

Save money and increase your ROI by completing one simple task: buy your early-bird ticket today.

About 1,000 members of enterprise software’s powerhouse community will join us for a full day dedicated to exploring the current and future state of enterprise software. It’s certainly tech’s 800-pound gorilla — a $500 billion industry. Some of the biggest names and brightest minds will be on hand to discuss critical issues all players face — from early-stage startups to multinational conglomerates.

The day’s agenda features panel discussions, main-stage talks, break-out sessions and speaker Q&As on hot topics including intelligent marketing automation, the cloud, data security, AI and quantum computing, just to name a few. You’ll hear from people like SAP CEO Bill McDermott; Aaron Levie, Box co-founder; Jim Clarke, director of Quantum Hardware at Intel and many, many more.

Customer experience is always a hot topic, so be sure to catch this main-stage panel discussion with Amit Ahuja (Adobe), Julie Larson-Green (Qualtrics) and Peter Reinhardt (Segment):

The Trials and Tribulations of Experience Management: As companies gather more data about their customers and employees, it should theoretically improve their experience, but myriad challenges face companies as they try to pull together information from a variety of vendors across disparate systems, both in the cloud and on prem. How do you pull together a coherent picture of your customers, while respecting their privacy and …

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India’s Reliance Jio inks deal with Microsoft to expand Office 365, Azure to more businesses; unveils broadband, blockchain, and IoT platforms

India’s Reliance Jio inks deal with Microsoft to expand Office 365, Azure to more businesses; unveils broadband, blockchain, and IoT platforms

August 12, 2019

India’s Reliance Jio, which has disrupted the local telecom and features phone businesses in less than three years of its existence, is now ready to aggressively foray into many more businesses.

In a series of announcements, the subsidiary of India’s largest industrial house Reliance Industries today said it will commercially launch its fiber-optic broadband business next month, an IoT platform on January 1, 2020, and “one of the world’s biggest blockchain networks” in the next 12 months.

The broadband service, called Jio Fiber, is aimed at individual customers, small and medium sized businesses, as well as enterprises, Mukhesh Ambani, Chairman and Managing Director of Reliance Industries, said at a shareholders meeting Monday. The service, which will be available starting September 5, will offer free voice calls, high-speed internet and start at Rs 700 per month. It will also offer costlier plans that support gigabit speeds.

Continuing its tradition to woo users with significant offers, Jio said customers who opt for the yearly-plan of Giga Fiber will be provided with the set top box and an HD or 4K TV at no extra charge. A premium tier, which will be available next year, will allow customers to watch many movies on the day of their public release.

The Giga Fiber broadband service, which through some tiers also offers access to TV channels, will bundle games from many popular studios including Microsoft Game Studios, Riot Games, Tencent Games, and Gameloft, it said.

Ambani said more than half a million customers have already been beta testing the broadband service, which was first unveiled last year. In the coming months, Jio plans to expand the service to 20 million homes and 15 million business in 1,600 towns.

Partnership with Microsoft

The company also announced a 10-year partnership with Microsoft to leverage the Redmond giant’s …

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Competition among alternative protein players gets hot as companies beef up with new deals

Competition among alternative protein players gets hot as companies beef up with new deals

August 11, 2019

The competition for control of the burgeoning market for burger replacements (and other alternatives to animal proteins) continues to heat up.

Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods the two leading contenders for top purveyor of plant-based patties (and other formulations) have spent most of the typically sleepy summer months jockeying for the position as top supplier to a food industry suddenly ravenous for alternatives to traditional meat product.s

As soon as the first Impossible Whoppers came off the flame broilers at Burger King, Beyond Meat was announcing a new fast food chain supply deal of its own with Subway.

Through that agreement the publicly traded provider of plant-based products will be grinding up meatless meatballs for Subway’s new vegetarian option to the classic meatball sub.

Subway will roll out meatless meatballs in 685 of its franchise locations in the U.S. and Canada starting in September.

Not to be outdone, Impossible Foods came swinging back with some a new partnership with the institutional food prep giant Sodexo. At roughly 1,500 Sodexo locations food slingers at healthcare facilities and corporate and university cafeterias will unveil new options like Impossible Foods-based sausage muffin sandwiches, sausage gravy and biscuits, steakhouse burgers and creole burgers.

Image courtesy of Sodexo

“Sodexo is committed to providing customers with more plant-forward and sustainable options as part of their diet,” said Rob Morasco, senior director culinary development, Sodexo, in a statement. “We are excited to expand our menu to include the Impossible Burger’s flavorful blend, which will be featured in several new products this fall.”

Set against this meatless horserace for national food service dominance, other plant-based providers have launched to take the startup direct-to-consumer approach to satisfy vegetarian cravings for other types of food substitutes.

It was partially in response to this furor over the vegetarian …

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Democratic Presidential nominees are ignoring the issue of our cybersecurity infrastructure

Democratic Presidential nominees are ignoring the issue of our cybersecurity infrastructure

August 11, 2019

With the long battle for the Democratic nominee for president in 2020 firmly underway, more than 20 political hopefuls are talking about spreading the fruits of a solid economy to millions of middle-class Americans who may have missed the good times, implementing Medicare for all to solve financial healthcare pitfalls, and free college education.

One would-be candidate – Jay Inslee, the governor of the state of Washington – is talking almost exclusively about the need to address climate change far more quickly and far more seriously.
But what has not been discussed by any of them, even briefly, is the stunning existential threat to our critical national security and the entire well-being of the U.S. posed by mounting and painful cyber breaches of infrastructure and other targets. If no would-be candidates can acknowledge the significance and magnitude of the cyber threat – let alone put forward a strategy and plan to defend against the threat – it’s hard to take them seriously as prospective national leaders.
I’m hardly the only one with this view. “When we think about existential threats, government has to understand that electricity doesn’t reside in its own silo and that if something happens to (companies like) us, it would have a potentially cataclysmic impact on finance as well,” utility Southern Company CEO Tom Fanning recently told Fox Business.
Specifically, consider just a few examples of what is going on every day:
 
Election malfeasance. We hear daily outrage about threats
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SoftBank pumps $2B into Indonesia through Grab investment, putting it head to head with Gojek

SoftBank pumps $2B into Indonesia through Grab investment, putting it head to head with Gojek

July 29, 2019

Grab — the on-demand transportation app worth $14 billion that is the Uber of Southeast Asia — today announced how it would be using some of the $7 billion or so that it has raised to date: $2 billion provided by SoftBank is being earmarked Grab’s operations in Indonesia — the biggest economy in Southeast Asia — over the next five years, to help it go head-to-head with local rival Gojek.

Specifically, Grab said it and SoftBank met with Indonesian government officials and have agreed to use the money to help modernise the country’s transportation infrastructure and economy with the development of an electronic vehicle “ecosystem”, new geo-mapping solutions, and the establishment of a second headquarters for Grab in Jakarta focused on R&D for Indonesia and the wider region, to sit alongside its existing HQ in Singapore.

Grab has confirmed that this investment news does not affect the company’s valuation as it’s not fresh funding — although it looks like it might lead to another, new SoftBank injection in Grab, too.

“I’d like to invest more… We would invest (in) Grab more, and also encourage to invest more in other companies,” SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son said in a press conference earlier today. “We will create a second headquarters of Grab in Indonesia, and become 5th unicorn and also invest $2b through Grab. On top of that, we will invest more.”

Grab last raised money just four weeks ago, $300 million from Invesco as part of a larger, ongoing Series H that it wants to use in part for acquisitions. That round is already at around $4.5 billion, with SoftBank having already put in just under $1.5 billion. This $2 billion is on top of that previous round, the company said today.

The company’s last reported valuation from a …

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Hit indie game Cuphead is headed to Tesla vehicles in August

Hit indie game Cuphead is headed to Tesla vehicles in August

July 27, 2019

Tesla’s games library is getting bigger, and the latest announced title is probably a familiar one to gaming fans: Cuphead. This indie game was released in 2017 for Xbox One and Windows after making a big debut in 2013, attracting a lot of attention thanks to its hand-drawn, retro Disney-esque animation style.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed that Cuphead would be getting a Tesla port sometime in August, replying to a post in which Tesla announced its latest addition to the in-car arcade library: Chess. The game will run at 60fps on the in-car display, Musk added, noting that while 4K isn’t supported for Tesla’s screens, the game “doesn’t need” that high resolution.

Cuphead has since been released for both macOS and Nintendo Switch, and has gained critical acclaim for its challenging gameplay in addition to its unique graphic style. The game works with one or two players (which Tesla cars also now support via gamepad controllers for some other titles) and basically involves side-scrolling run-and-gun action punctuated by frequent boss fights.

Musk continued on Twitter regarding the Cuphead port that it will use a Unity port for Tesla’s in-car OS, which is already done, and currently they’re in the process of refining the controls. A limit of available onboard storage will be solved by allowing added game storage via USB, so that Tesla owners will be able to add flash drives to hold more downloaded games.

Earlier this month, Netflix announced that it would be developing an animated series based on Cuphead, and the game has sold over 4 million copies world-wide so far. Tesla launched Tesla Arcade last month as a dedicated in-car app to host the growing collection of games it’s brought to …

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Startups Weekly: SoftBank’s second act

Startups Weekly: SoftBank’s second act

July 27, 2019

Hello and welcome back to Startups Weekly, a weekend newsletter that dives into the week’s noteworthy startups and venture capital news. Before I jump into today’s topic, let’s catch up a bit. Last week, I noted some challenges plaguing mental health tech startups. Before that, I wrote about Zoom and Superhuman’s PR disasters.

Remember, you can send me tips, suggestions and feedback to [email protected] or on Twitter @KateClarkTweets. If you don’t subscribe to Startups Weekly yet, you can do that here.

Anyway, onto the subject on everyone’s mind this week: SoftBank’s second Vision Fund.

Well into the evening on Thursday, SoftBank announced a target of $108 billion for the Vision Fund 2. Yes, you read that correctly, $108 billion. SoftBank indeed plans to raise even more capital for its sophomore vehicle than it did for the record-breaking debut vision fund of $98 billion, which was majority-backed by the government funds of Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, as well as Apple, Foxconn and several other limited partners.

Its upcoming fund, to which SoftBank itself has committed $38 billion, has attracted investment from the National Investment Corporation of National Bank of Kazakhstan, Apple, Foxconn, Goldman Sachs, Microsoft and more. Microsoft, a new LP for SoftBank, reportedly hopped on board with the Japanese telecom giant as part of a grand scheme to convince the massive fund’s portfolio companies to transition to Microsoft Azure, the company’s cloud platform that competes with Amazon Web Services . Here’s more on that and some analysis from TechCrunch editor Jonathan Shieber.

News of the second Vision Fund comes as somewhat of a surprise. We’d heard SoftBank was having some trouble landing commitments for the effort. Why? Well, because SoftBank’s investments have included a wide-range of upstarts, including some uncertain bets. Brandless, a company into …

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Tesla has begun preparations for Model Y production at its Fremont factory

Tesla has begun preparations for Model Y production at its Fremont factory

July 24, 2019

Tesla has already started the preparations required to get production started on its forthcoming Model Y compact all-electric SUV, according to Tesla CEO Elon Musk . During his introductory comments on the automaker’s Q2 2019 earnings call, Musk noted that prep had started at its facility in Fremont, confirming a report from CNBC from March.

In Tesla’s first earnings call for 2019, Musk said that it was in the process of deciding between Fremont and its Gigafactory in Nevada for production of the Model Y, which is going to be based on the Model 3 platform and will share some of its componentry, something that Musk noted will help reduce its cost of production.

The Model Y, revealed in March, looks quite similar at first glance to the Model 3. It has a slightly higher profile, however, putting it in this compact SUV range. It has similar interior features to the Model 3, including the horizontal 15-inch touchscreen, and also features a panoramic roof more like its larger Model X premium all-electric SUV sibling. Pricing for the Model Y will begin at $39,000, and that version will have a 230-mile range. It’s currently planned to ship sometime in the fall of 2020.

Tesla should be able to get to around 7,500 to 8,000 Model Ys produced at Fremont by the end of the year, Musk confirmed in response to a question from an analyst on the call.

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Elon Musk says next Hyperloop competition will be in a six-mile, curved tunnel

Elon Musk says next Hyperloop competition will be in a six-mile, curved tunnel

July 22, 2019

Elon Musk planning to change up the Hyperloop student engineering competition that his company SpaceX has run for the past four years. Next year’s competition will be done in a tunnel that’s over six miles long, the SpaceX CEO said on Twitter on Sunday, with a curve instead of being in a straight line like the current, 3/4-mile test tunnel at SpaceX’s Hawthorne HQ.

That’s a big change, and one that it’s unclear how and where SpaceX will make it happen, given that the current test tunnel can support likely an additional “200 meters” according to Boring Company President Steve Davis speaking at this year’s Hyperloop Pod Competition finals earlier on Sunday.

Davis and Musk discussed extending the tunnel on stage, but it sounded like they were planning a relatively minor extension next year, with Musk musing that they’d likely be able to build a longer, Boring company-dug tunnel about three years from now for use in the annual student challenge.

“I don’t think we’ll have a long enough, straight enough underground tunnel a year from now but I think three years from now we definitely will,” Musk said during a Q&A at the competition. “So figure three years from now, we’ll at least have a couple miles […] now then you can really move.”

Musk also entertained the possibility of starting a new engineering competition around The Boring Co’s main mission: Tunnelling.

“We could maybe do a tunnelling competition, that might be good,” Musk said. “We’ll consider a tunnelling competition,” he concluded after a few seconds of thought.

“I think a tunnelling thing would be pretty exciting,” Musk said later in response to a follow-up question by one …

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