Tag Archives: Japan

SoftBank May Launch Third Vision Fund

Masayoshi Son’s Softbank Group may launch a third, massive venture fund. From a report that broke this morning in The Wall Street Journal:

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Global tech investor SoftBank Group Corp. is considering the launch of a new giant startup investment fund, part of a plan to turn a new leaf after the poor performance at its two earlier funds, according to people familiar with discussions at the company. 

SoftBank, led by Chief Executive Officer Masayoshi Son, has been hit particularly hard by the rout in tech valuations that began last fall, posting a record $23 billion loss in the three months ending in June. 

The first two Vision funds, massive at $99 billion and $56 billion respectively, have not performed well. The first is up just 20% since its launch in 2017, while the second has lost nearly 20%.

Massive bets on WeWork, Didi Global, and others have soured, leaving the funds with huge losses.

But if we look at Softbank’s performance more closely, the picture begins to brighten.

Vision Fund 1 is at least in the black. And since it was launched in 2017, it has about another 5 years on its fund life.

That’s a lot of time to notch big gains.

Vision Fund 2’s performance looks awful, until you realize it’s only 3 years old. It’s common for venture funds to lose money early on, as poor performers go bust.

The big winners usually take longer to mature.

But the Vision funds have one big thing against them: size. A venture fund is expected to at least triple in 10 years to justify the risk.

That’s hard enough with a small fund, but when you’re sitting on $100 billion, it’s almost impossible.

If you own 10% of companies you invest in, you have to find companies that will generate $3 trillion of value in 10 years. That’s more than the entire market cap of Apple.

Even if you own 20%, you still need to find a Google. In every fund.

Companies like Apple and Google are rare, coming along perhaps once a decade. The idea that you’ll find one every few years and be able to get major ownership is unlikely.

Another problem with having so much capital is that you have to write tons of huge checks, fast. It’s venture capital meets Brewster’s Millions.

This means writing giant checks at high valuations with minimal oversight. After all, who has time to attend all those board meetings when you’ve got billions more to deploy?

Big investors have been lured by the siren song of venture capital for years, from Softbank to Tiger Global. They see the big returns and think “What if I could get returns like that on my $100 billion?”

The problem is that venture capital doesn’t scale that big.

Done right, Vision Fund 3 could be a huge success.

Valuations are down and capital is scarce. This is especially true at the late stage, Softbank’s specialty.

Son could have his pick of deals, making gains so large any past failures are forgotten. But he’d be wise to keep the fund small.

Son has had some incredible successes — Alibaba, DoorDash, Uber. He may be struggling now, but something tells me he’ll make a comeback.

Would you invest in Vision Fund 3? Why or why not?

Leave a comment at the bottom and let me know!

More on tech:

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John Doerr’s Biggest Mistake

Giving Investors What They Need to Say Yes

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Photo: Masayoshi Son


Hamutaro: Anime’s Cutest Character?

My wife, who is from Japan, recently showed me a cartoon. It may be the cutest thing in the known universe:

The star: the adorable Hamutaro! Hamutaro is an enchanting little hamster who has all sorts of adventures.

In this opening song, you can see him running around the globe, playing on his wheel, and enjoying his favorite food: sunflower seeds.

If you’re wondering what they’re saying, here’s some of it, filtered through my mediocre Japanese:

“Hamutaro runs quickly.”

“His favorite is sunflower seeds.”

“Hamutaro is sleepy.”

I’ve never been into anime, but Hamutaro just might change that!


More fun stuff:

The Awesome Video Series That’s Sweeping Japan Now

The Hamster Crypto Trader That’s Outperforming Me

Cute Animals Online: My Top 5

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This Video Will Make You Smile

Last night, my wife and I watched the newest episode of the adorable Japanese video series Pui Pui Molcar. I’ve mentioned this series before here, and this week’s video was their best yet! The video is below. If you’re stressed, take a couple minutes and enjoy!

Pui Pui Molcar, Episode #5

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The Awesome Video Series That’s Sweeping Japan Now

This weekend, my wife introduced me to an adorable little video series ]that’s become all the rage lately in her home country of Japan. The stop-motion animations feature little guinea pig cars that have adventures, and the sounds are recorded from actual guinea pigs! We’ve enjoyed relaxing in the evenings with these cute videos. Each takes countless hours to make and a new one is uploaded to this YouTube channel every week.

Pui pui is a onomatopoeia for the sound guinea pigs make. You needn’t speak Japanese or be familiar with Japan to enjoy the series, but those who do/are will notice a few funny tidbits. The restaurant in this video is based on Jonathan’s, a popular (and excellent) family restaurant chain in Japan. But the video renders it Molsan’s, based on “morumotto”, the Japanese word for guinea pig, and “san,” which is like Mr.

Have fun! 🙂

Where I Was Last New Year’s

We have made it through a challenging year. And now I’m starting to reflect. Lately, I find myself thinking back to where I was last New Year’s, and where I’ll be next one.

As this year began, I was walking up the steps of a beautiful shrine in Tokyo, Japan in perfect blue sunlight. Just ahead of me were my wife and my sister-in-law, with her newborn in her arms. We made the traditional New Year’s Day visit to the shrine, where they asked for blessings for the coming year. Me, I mostly just looked around in wonder at the beautiful shrine and the clear blue above.

Today, my wife is in Japan again with her family, my family. I cannot be there by law. They won’t be doing the shrine visit this year because of the crowds. But they still plan to eat sushi at the same place we went to last year. 🙂

My little nephew is walking now. He actually remembered my wife! I wonder if he’ll remember me. Even if he doesn’t, we can start making new memories together.

At the beginning of 2020, I could never have predicted how this year would unfold. But here we are. We survived and we have new hope heading into 2021. We have not recovered everything we’ve lost…I cannot be in my second home with my wife’s family, nor can I go see my mother or grandmother. But the difficult days are, at last, numbered.

Where will I, where will we, be next new year’s? I don’t know. But I think we will have beaten this. And we will be feeling great joy at being together once again!

Until then, don’t give up the fight.

What International Travel Is Like Right Now

So I’m a bachelor again…at least until Sunday.

On Saturday evening, I loaded my wife’s luggage onto a bus and kissed her through my mask…very 2020! She headed to JFK Airport, bound for her home country of Japan for the first time in a year.

Yes, you can travel overseas during a pandemic…if you’re very, very patient. Her flight was delayed by 8 hours. Once they finally let her on, the plane was almost empty and no one was sitting anywhere nearby. The lack of passengers and the powerful air filtration systems means flying is not nearly as dangerous as most people think. You’re a lot more likely to get COVID at the supermarket.

She arrived in Tokyo after midnight. Next came a required COVID test. She waited an hour or two for the results, and then was free to leave the airport.

One problem: it was the middle of the night, so no transportation was available. She thought she’d have to wait another 6 hours or so until a car service could pick her up. People who have just come from overseas are barred from using public transit, even with a negative COVID test, which strikes me as extreme.

Her brother saved the day by renting a car and picking her up. I didn’t even know he had a license! Soon, she was with her mom having coffee at a new cafe in their neighborhood. She later tortured me with pictures of beautiful dumplings they had for lunch.

This trip was actually the second one she booked…she had booked another on Air Canada that was cancelled. They refuse to provide a refund. The only option they give is rebooking on itineraries that take days to reach Japan. I strongly recommend avoiding Air Canada at all costs. She wound up going with ANA at a price around double what we paid last year.

Given the enormous number of delayed and cancelled flights, her friend who works for ANA strongly recommended booking a direct flight. My wife took her advice and was glad she did.

Being with her family is restorative for her, but for me, I’m not going abroad until all restrictions are lifted. The combination of delayed and cancelled flights, long waits, and high costs are enough to keep me close to home.

“File:Boeing 787 N1015B ANA Airlines (27611880663) (cropped).jpg” by pjs2005 from Hampshire, UK is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

I Went to Japan’s Magical Kingdom of Eyeglasses

I’ve worn glasses since I was four years old…30 years. As I write this, I’m wearing what is probably the best pair I’ve ever owned. They cost me about $50 and the eye exam was free.

How did I pay 1/10th of what some of you are paying? I went to Zoff, an outstanding eyeglasses store that’s omnipresent in Japan and rapidly expanding throughout Asia.

I went in, sat down right away with an extremely polite young man, and looked into a machine I’ve never seen before in America. It showed a small picture and gave an instant estimate of my prescription. The employee, who was little more than 20, took me through just a couple standard “is this lens better?” questions and then produced tester glasses for me to try.

His estimates were dead on, and I saw beautifully. In a couple of days, I picked up my new glasses (along with a pair of prescription sunglasses I also ordered). I paid about $50 equivalent, or around 5,000 yen, per pair. Eye exam: $0.00.

How can Zoff sell so cheaply? The employees, like those in most countries aside from the US, are not optometrists. But they are well trained and extraordinarily nice and this, my 3rd pair of Zoff’s now, is first rate as always. I bought my latest pairs in January 2020 (you know, before the world stopped), and they’re still going strong!

US law requires an optometrist to examine you and issue a prescription. Japanese law does not. It has good company: Germany, the UK, Italy, and countless other nations. Is everyone in these countries seeing poorly and dying of rare eye ailments the optometrist didn’t catch? Doubt it.

But we insist on Americans seeing an optometrist, who goes to school for 8 years and commands an average wage of $106,000, largely to diagnose rare eye problems. However, how many people are deterred from buying newer glasses with a more appropriate prescription due to the high cost? Then they don’t get the new glasses or the optometry exam either. It’s a lose-lose, and we’re letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

I suggest a different model: regulate the way Japan and countless other leading nations do. Let people get their glasses and contacts without a prescription, and they can see an optometrist from time to time, like how they see any other doctor.

What if ibuprofen required a prescription from a doctor the way eyeglasses do? There would be a lot of untreated pain and unnecessary suffering. We don’t do that, and yet, people still get check-ups. Is this about the patient, or is it really about regulatory capture?

My experience at Zoff was so good that I e-mailed them to thank them for their excellent work. They responded promptly (in English!) saying that they would congratulate the employees and “praise them firmly.” That kind of made it sound like they were in trouble, but I understood what they meant. 🙂

Zoff is doing a wonderful thing in providing real care to those who need it at an affordable price, while also giving great opportunities to a young and hardworking staff. I can’t think of a better way to do business.

My Family in Japan Saw Me on TV!

My wife is from Japan and in our five years of marriage, I’ve become very close with her family. But, given today’s restrictions, I can’t see them any time soon.

But they saw me! My wife’s mother and sister watch New Amsterdam, a hospital drama shot in New York City. I appeared in this episode as an EMT, my first time acting. I’m only a background actor (also known as an extra), but it was a very fun experience!

I really enjoyed seeing how a TV show is made from the inside. Also, perhaps due to its high ratings, New Amsterdam has incredible food. Sushi, filet of sole, unbelievable!

The second season of New Amsterdam is now available in Japan and recently, my sister-in-law texted me to let me know her and her mother saw me pushing a stretcher and immediately knew it was me! It makes me really happy to be able to share something fun I’m doing with them. It also makes me feel closer to them since at least they’re seeing me in some way.

My in-laws had actually seen me on TV before. In my first full day ever in Japan in 2014, I happened to be on the national news. I was walking here, and a news program was filming a feature on increasing tourism in Japan. I had no idea they were there but my head wound up prominently visible in the footage. My wife was miffed that despite a lifetime in Japan, she had never been on TV! Her modest stature excluded her even from this shot. She still awaits her chance at stardom.

Interesting little tidbit from that episode of New Amsterdam: the actor on the other end of that stretcher was pushing it very quickly and the stretcher was extremely heavy. We had maybe 2 inches of clearance behind one of the main characters, a very nice lady named Janet Montgomery.

I kept trying to slow the stretcher down before we take out this very small lady. In this episode, she’s pretending to walk with a cast, and we didn’t need her to wind up in a real one!

After this episode, I did another day on New Amsterdam, an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and an episode of Netflix’s The Politician. It’s an enjoyable hobby.

Shows are still filming in NYC but only very few, and the safety situation concerns me, so it’ll probably be months before I return. But I look forward to it!