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How SoftBank’s Vision Fund turned losses into gold this summer

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It’s hard to think back to the Vision Fund era today, given the oddities that 2020 has brought. But SoftBank’s gravity-bending investment vehicle only stopped investing last September, ending its disbursement of huge blocks of cash from a total committed capital pool worth nearly $99 billion.

The Vision Fund was a wrecking ball, smashing into any company it chose with a big check and demands for rapid growth. By the time it was done investing, the first Vision Fund had deployed around $100 million every day of its existence, according to TechCrunch calculations.


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But even before SoftBank and eccentric leader Masayoshi Son were done cutting checks, things were going awry. TechCrunch compiled a list of issues that cropped up inside the portfolio in 2019, including layoffs at the overstuffed Wag, Uber’s lackluster IPO, turmoil at Brandless, the enormous WeWork IPO fiasco and its ensuing chaos, executive changes at Compass, layoffs at Fair and Katerra and OneConnect’s IPO fizzle.

2020 picked up where 2019 had left off, with more issues at OYO, layoffs at Zume Pizza and some public flak for breaking terms sheets.

By this April, SoftBank admitted that it was on track to take stiff losses from its Vision Fund portfolio, which, when combined with other investing losses, pushed the company into a rare loss for the year.

And then things got better: SoftBank’s Vision Fund had a much better last six months than you probably guessed, and we need to understand why.

So, into the data we go, to have some laughs at the art that SoftBank cannot leave out of its reporting, and learn a bit about what changed for the Vision Fund family.

A comeback

Before we get to the turnaround, we need to understand how much damage the Vision Fund caused its parent company earlier this year.

To grok the impact that the Vision Fund’s rough patch caused SoftBank Group during the 12-month period ending March 31, 2020, we can glean all that we need from a single chart. Here’s SoftBank Group’s net income through its fiscal 2019:

The period’s loss stands out like a sore thumb.

What drove the deficit? A ¥1.9 trillion segment loss from the Vision Fund, produced by declines in the “fair values of Uber and WeWork and its three affiliates,” along with the fair value of “other portfolio companies decreas[ing] significantly in the fourth quarter primarily due to the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.”

It was brutal and humiliating to have raised so much money and invested it with such confidence only to have so many deals go sideways.

At the end of its fiscal 2019, SoftBank Group reported that the Vision Fund held 88 investments that had cost it $75.0 billion. The whole group was worth $69.6 billion, “excluding exited investments.”

Fast forward to the company’s most recent report, covering the following six months — a period ending as September came to a close — and it’s hard to compare the two sets of results: SoftBank Group was back in the black, posting solid year-over-year gains from the same period of its preceding fiscal year.

Of course, SoftBank Group is far more than the Vision Fund — the company is a Japanese conglomerate with a huge telecom business that makes lots of money. But we care about its startup investing performance, so how did the Vision Fund itself impact its numbers in the six months concluding in September 2020?

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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Pinterest tests online events with dedicated ‘class communities’

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Pinterest is getting into online events. The company has been spotted testing a new feature that allows users to sign up for Zoom classes through Pinterest, while creators use Pinterest’s class boards to organize class materials, notes and other resources, or even connect with attendees through a group chat option. The company confirmed the test of online classes is an experiment now in development, but wouldn’t offer further details about its plans.

The feature itself was discovered on Tuesday by reverse engineer Jane Manchun Wong, who found details about the online classes by looking into the app’s code.

Currently, you can visit some of these “demo” profiles directly — like “@pinsmeditation” or “@pinzoom123,” for example — and view their listed Class Communities. However, these communities are empty when you click through. That’s because the feature is still unreleased, Wong says.

When and if the feature is later launched to the public, the communities would include dedicated sections where creators will be able to organize their class materials — like lists of what to bring to class, notes, photos and more. They could also use these communities to offer a class overview and description, connect users to a related shop, group chat feature and more.

Creators are also able to use the communities — which are basically enhanced Pinterest boards — to respond to questions from attendees, share photos from the class and otherwise interact with the participants.

When a user wants to join a class, they can click a “book” button to sign up, and are then emailed a confirmation with the meeting details. Other buttons direct attendees to download Zoom or copy the link to join the class.

It’s not surprising that Pinterest would expand into the online events space, given its platform has become a popular tool for organizing remote learning resources during the coronavirus pandemic. Teachers have turned to Pinterest to keep track of lesson plans, get inspiration, share educational activities and more. In the early days of the pandemic, Pinterest reported record usage when the company saw more searches and saves globally in a single March weekend than ever before in its history, as a result of its usefulness as a online organizational tool.

This growth has continued throughout the year. In October, Pinterest’s stock jumped on strong earnings after the company beat on revenue and user growth metrics. The company brought in $443 million in revenue, versus $383.5 million expected, and grew its monthly active users to 442 million, versus the 436.4 million expected. Outside of the coronavirus impacts, much of this growth was due to strong international adoption, increased ad spend from advertisers boycotting Facebook and a surge of interest from users looking for iOS 14 home screen personalization ideas.

Given that the U.S. has failed to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control, many classes, events and other activities will remain virtual even as we head into 2021. The online events market may continue to grow in the years that follow, too, thanks to the kickstart the pandemic provided the industry as a whole.

“We are experimenting with ways to help creators interact more closely with their audience,” a Pinterest spokesperson said, when asked for more information.

Pinterest wouldn’t confirm additional details about its plans for online events, but did say the feature was in development and the test would help to inform the product’s direction.

Pinterest often tries out new features before launching them to a wider audience. Earlier this summer, TechCrunch reported on a Story Pins feature the company had in the works. Pinterest then launched the feature in September. If the same time frame holds up for online events, we could potentially see the feature become more widely available sometime early next year.

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SpaceX targeting next week for Starship’s first high-altitude test flight

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SpaceX looks ready to proceed to the next crucial phase of its Starship spacecraft development program: A 15km (50,000 feet) test flight. This would far exceed the max height that any prior Starship prototype has achieved so far, since the current record-setting hop test maxed out at around 500 feet. Elon Musk says that SpaceX will look to make its first high-altitude attempt sometime next week.

This tentative date (these are always subject to change) follows a successful static test fire of the current SN8 generation prototype — essentially just firing the test spacecraft’s Raptor engines while it remains stationary on the pad. That’s a crucial step that paves the way for any actual flight, since it proves that the spacecraft can essentially hold together and withstand the pressures of active engines before it leaves the ground.

SpaceX’s SN8 prototype is different from prior versions in a number of ways, most obviously because it has an actual nosecone, along with nose fins. The prototypes that did the short test hops, including SN6, had what’s known as a mass simulator up top, which weighs as much as an actual Starship nose section but looks very different.

Musk added that the chances of an SN8 high-altitude flight going to plan aren’t great, estimating that there’s “maybe a 1/3 chance” given how many things have to work correctly. He then noted that that’s the reason SpaceX has SN9 and SN10 ready to follow fast, which is a theme of Starship’s development program to date: building successive generations of prototypes rapidly in parallel in order to test and iterate quickly.

We’ll likely get a better idea of when the launch will take place due to alerts filed with local regulators, so watch this space next week as we await this major leap forward in SpaceX’s Starship program.

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Police case filed against Netflix executives in India over ‘A Suitable Boy’ kissing scene

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Netflix, which has invested more than $500 million to gain a foothold in India in recent years, is slowly finding out just about what all could upset some people in the world’s second-largest internet market: Apparently everything.

A police case has been filed this week against two top executives of the American streaming service in India after a leader of the governing party objected to some scenes in a TV series.

The show, “A Suitable Boy,” is an adaptation of the award-winning novel by Indian author Vikram Seth that follows the life of a young girl. It has a scene in which the protagonist is seeing kissing a Muslim boy at a Hindu temple.

Narottam Mishra, the interior minister of the central state of Madhya Pradesh, said a First Information Report (an official police complaint) had been filed against Monika Shergill, VP of Content at Netflix and Ambika Khurana, Director of Public Policies for the firm, over objectionable scenes in the show that hurt the religious sentiments of Hindus.

“I had asked officials to examine the series ‘A Suitable Boy’ being streamed on Netflix to check if kissing scenes in it were filmed in a temple and if it hurt religious sentiments. The examination prima facie found that these scenes are hurting the sentiments of a particular religion,” he said.

Gaurav Tiwari, a BJP youth leader who filed the complaint, demanded an apology from Netflix and makers of the series (directed by award-winning filmmaker Mira Nair), and said the film promoted “love jihad,” an Islamophobic conspiracy theory that alleges that Muslim men entice Hindi women into converting their religion under the pretext of marriage.

Netflix declined to comment.

In recent days, a number of people have expressed on social media their anger at Netflix over these “objectionable” scenes. Though it is unclear if all of them — if any — are a Netflix subscriber.

The incident comes weeks after an ad from the luxury jewelry brand Tanishq — part of the 152-year-old salt-to-steel conglomerate — which celebrated interfaith marriage received intense backlash in the country.

For Netflix, the timing of this backlash isn’t great. The new incident comes days after the Indian government announced new rules for digital media, under which the nation’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting will be regulating online streaming services. Prior to this new rule, India’s IT ministry oversaw streaming services, and according to a top streaming service executive, online services enjoyed a great degree of freedom.

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