The Signal #16: SoftBank and spider powers

from our July 27 newsletter, The Signal.  (Sign up for more installments here)



So, like, SoftBank is buying ARM.  We’ve gotten a fair bit of questions about this and so will comment here.

First and foremost, it can be helpful to think of SoftBank as an investment company that owns a telco, rather than a telco that makes investments.  This is a key point of differentiation. There is no carrier in the US market that allows for an apples-to-apples comparison with SoftBank. T-Mobile has similar spectrum; Verizon has bought AOL and Yahoo and Millennial Media; but SoftBank is SoftBank.  Sprint, while owned by SoftBank, is not like SoftBank.

SoftBank, in its guidance to investors on the acquisition (go here, accept the disclaimer, then read this deck), provides a deck that is worth reading. It clearly differentiates between its platform businesses (“operating assets”) and disruptive businesses (“investment assets”), as shown in the graphic here. Getting back to our point abovsoftbankbusinessportfolioe, this is a portfolio manager perspective on businesses.

BCG’s 2×2 matrix (growth share matrix) on businesses, which segments businesses into cash cows, stars, question marks, and dogs, is another way to look at these.  Platform businesses (cash cows): businesses that provide cash flow and are distribution platforms (read: SoftBank Mobile); and disruptive businesses (stars or question marks) are businesses with prospective exponential growth (read: Alibaba).  As you might guess, disruptive, high growth businesses can turn into operational assets, and Yahoo Japan is an example of that within SoftBank’s portfolio.

So which is ARM?   ARM’s revenue (about $1.5B in 2015, with operating profit of $500M) grew 15% YoY in 2014 and 2015. Healthy growth and margin that could produce “yield” for other businesses.  (And certainly more yield than cash would get in Japan.)

ARM also serves a vast and diverse set of customers.  Thus, vertical integration into SoftBank’s businesses, or altering its roadmap to favor SoftBank projects, could be counterproductive for the ARM business as a whole. Thus, it’s our view that SoftBank will support ARM’s operations as an independent company.

In other news, on Friday July 22 we attended the Japan-US Innovation Awards, presented by the Japan Society and Stanford’s Asia Technology Management Center.  In addition to award recipients Dropbox and Mercari, the event featured anexcellent group of showcase compaspiber north face.jpgnies visiting from Japan: Spiber (photo of prototype jacket for North Face), which makes spider-inspired biomaterials; Axelspace, which makes micro-satellites; Preferred Networks, which applies deep learning techniques in fields like robotics and automotive; Xenoma, makers of e-skin; and Floadia, makers of non-volatile memory.  With the exception of Preferred Networks, all were hardware startups, broadly defined, and even Preferred serves a list of industrial customers such as Fanuc and Toyota.

Hardware is alive and well, apparently.


– Team Blue Field



ソフトバンクの投資家向け資料にある図は、この構造をわかりやすく表現しています。ここでは、プラットフォーム事業(「Operating Assets」)と破壊的事業(「Investment Assets」)にはっきりと分類しています。これは、まさに「ポートフォリオ・マネージャー」の視点です。




ところで、7月22日には、ジャパン・ソサエティとスタンフォード大アジア技術経営センターの共催による「Japan-US Innovation Awards」イベントが開催されました。ドロップボックスとメルカリが受賞したほか、いくつかの日本の技術ベンチャーも展示を行いました。ほとんどの出展者がなんらかの「モノづくり」に関わっているのが印象的でした。



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