A reading guide to Reliance Jio, the most important tech company in the world

Over the past few months, COVID-19 has brought much of the fundraising community to a standstill. However, amidst it all India’s hyper0growth telco Reliance Jio Platforms has put its fundraising efforts into full gear.

Over the past three months, Jio has raised over $15.5 billion from a cohort of investors that include prominent financial institutions like KKR and Silver Lake Partners, massive sovereign wealth funds like Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, and some of the biggest names in tech including Facebook.

The recent deals have cemented Mukesh Ambani’s ambition to make his oil-to-retails giant Reliance Industries (India’s most valuable firm) a top homegrown internet giant.

On Friday, he said he plans to publicly list Reliance Jio Platforms and Reliance Retail, the largest retail chain in the country — also controlled by him — in the next five years.

As Reliance Jio Platforms, which has become the India’s top telecom operator with over 388 million subscribers in less than four years, continues its funding spree, at Extra Crunch we are doubling down on our focus on covering everything Jio from here and out.

As we’ve attempted to get up to speed on the company, we’ve compiled a supplemental list of resources and readings that we believe are particularly helpful for learning the story of Jio, which remains a mysterious firm to many.

Arm’s financials and the blurring future of the semiconductor sector

Amidst the blitz of SoftBank earnings news today comes the financials for all of SoftBank’s subsidiaries, which includes Arm Holdings, the most important chip design and research company in the world that SoftBank bought for $32 billion back in 2016. Arm produces almost all of the key designs for the chips that run today’s smartphones, including Apple’s A13 Bionic chip that powers its flagship iPhone. In all, 22.8 billion chips were shipped globally last year using Arm licenses according to SoftBank’s financials.

It’s a massively important company, and its finances show a complicated picture for itself — and the semiconductor industry at large.

We sat down with Arm Holding’s CEO Simon Segars last year to discuss the company’s growing appetite for ambitious research, fueled by SoftBank dollars and the bullish vision of the conglomerate’s chairman Masayoshi Son:

The first Vision Fund is officially done investing (and spent $100M every day of its existence)

There is a flurry of news out of SoftBank this morning, which announced its Fiscal Year 2019 (ending March 31, 2020) financial results overnight. It’s been a bad year for the Vision Fund, with huge losses at WeWork and Uber due to corporate incompetence, intrigue, and of course, COVID-19.

But buried a bit in the footnotes of its financial statements is a note that the first Vision Fund officially closed its doors to new investments way back in September 2019 — having exhausted all of its investible capital.

Per the notes, on September 12, 2019, the managing entity that owns the first Vision Fund determined that the fund had spent 85% of its capital, with the remainder reserved for follow-on investments and covering mandatory disbursements and fund management fees. That triggered the early ending of the fund, which was otherwise contractually allowed to invest until November 20, 2022.

To put that in perspective: the Vision Fund, which announced its first close on May 20, 2017, raised a total of $98.6 billion according to SoftBank’s documents.

Which means that the fund spent $83.8 billion on investments and fees in just about 845 days.

That’s just shy of $100m per day.

Every day.

(Including weekends.)

The company last year unveiled its plans to launch a second, even larger Vision Fund totaling $108 billion — but fundraising has been slow according to reports, and that’s not likely to change given some of the other top line numbers SoftBank unveiled today about its Vision.

The Vision Fund officially lost $17.4 billion in value according to SoftBank’s financials for the year ending this past March 31. The year before, SoftBank had registered a positive gain in the Vision Fund’s value of $12.8 billion, which means that the damage of this year’s performance has completely wiped out all gains the fund had made in the previous year.

But the real shock is the performance of the fund’s underlying portfolio companies. The Vision Fund currently has 88 active portfolio companies that have not exited. Of those, 19 investments saw a gain in combined value of $3.4 billion according to SoftBank, while 50 companies saw a decline in value aggregating to $20.7 billion in losses. 19 portfolio companies were left unchanged in value.

It’s not uncommon for early-stage funds to see huge loss ratios of this sort, but it is extraordinarily rare within the context of a late-stage fund. Considering that these valuations were almost certainly assessed before COVID-19 fully unleashed its damage on the global economy, having 57% of portfolio companies drop in value in just one year is insane, particularly given that most of them were headed toward some form of exit in the short-to-medium term given their stage.

That’s not to say that there aren’t bright lights in the portfolio, or some realized wins. But ultimately, a portfolio is only as good as its parts, and right now, those parts don’t look all that good.

How 6 top VCs are adapting to the new uncertainty

As the global economy grinds to a halt, every business sector has been impacted, including the linked worlds of startups and venture capital.

But how much has really changed? If you read VC Twitter, you might think that nothing has changed at all. It’s not hard to find investors who say they are still cutting checks and doing deals. But as Q1 venture data trickles in, it appears that a slowdown in VC activity is gradually forming, something that founders have anecdotally shared with TechCrunch.

To get a better handle on how venture capitalists are approaching today’s market, TechCrunch corresponded with a number of active investors to learn how their investment selection process might be changing in light of COVID-19 and its related disruptions. We wanted to know how their investing cadence in Q1 2020 compared to the final quarter of 2019 and the prior-year period. We also asked if their focus had changed, how valuations have shifted and what their take on the LP market is today.

We heard back from Duncan Turner of SOSV, Alex Doll of TenEleven Ventures, Alex Niehenke of Scale Venture Partners, Paul Murphy of Northzone, Sean Park of Anthemis and John Vrionis of Unusual Ventures.

We’ll start with the key themes from their answers and then share each set of responses in detail.

Three key themes for raising in 2020

The VCs who responded haven’t slowed their investing pace — yet.

There’s likely some selection bias at work, but the venture capitalists who were willing to answer our questions were quick to note that they wrote a similar number of checks in Q1 2020 as in both Q4 2019 (the sequentially preceding quarter) and Q1 2019 (the year-ago quarter). Some were even willing to share numbers.

Leading VCs discuss how COVID-19 has impacted the world of digital health

In December 2019, Extra Crunch spoke to a group of investors leading the charge in health tech to discuss where they saw the most opportunity in the space leading into 2020.

At the time, respondents highlighted startups in digital therapeutics, telehealth and mental health that were improving medical practitioner efficiency or streamlining the distribution of care, amongst a variety of other digital health markets that were garnering the most attention.

In the months since, the COVID-19 crisis has debilitated national healthcare systems and the global economy. Weaknesses in healthcare systems have become clearer than ever, while startups and capital providers have struggled to operate while wide swaths of the market effectively shut down.

Given significant volatility and the rapid changes seen in the worlds of healthcare, venture and startups broadly, we wanted to understand which inefficiencies might have been brought to light, what new opportunities might exist for founders looking to reduce friction in healthcare systems, how digital health startups have been impacted and how health tech investing as a whole has changed.

We asked several of the VCs who participated in our last digital health survey to update us on how COVID-19 is impacting digital health startups and broader healthcare systems around the world:

Annie Case, Kleiner Perkins

Our current unprecedented global crisis has put a spotlight on digital health. In the last few weeks alone, we have seen what feels like a decade’s worth of societal and regulatory changes that require digital health companies to step up and embrace new challenges and opportunities.

Leading VCs discuss how COVID-19 is impacting real estate & proptech

Several months ago, we surveyed more than 20 leading real estate VCs to learn about what was exciting them most in the real estate tech sector and hear their opinions on proptech trends like co-working, flexible office space and remote office space.

Since we published our survey, COVID-19 has flipped the real estate sector on its head as more companies move toward mandatory remote work, retail businesses are forced to temporarily shut their doors and high-traffic properties thin out. Suddenly, the traditionally predictable world of real estate is more chaotic and unclear than ever.

What are the short and long-term impacts of pandemic-induced volatility? Does this open up opportunities for proptech startups or shutter them? What does this mean from an investing point of view? We asked several of the VCs that participated in our last survey to update us on how COVID-19 is impacting real estate startups, non-proptech companies in general and the broader real estate market overall:

Christopher Yip, RET Ventures

Despite its banner year in 2019, proptech will not be immune to the pressures venture-backed companies face in a market pullback, and we are preparing ourselves and our portfolio companies for a bumpy year.

Where top VCs are investing in remote events

The novel coronavirus pandemic has rapidly moved companies into a remote-first world.

Nearly all of the world’s largest events have been canceled, put on pause or pivoted to online-only. In the tech world, event cancellations thus far have included SXSW, GDC, Mobile World Congress, Google I/O, Facebook F8, E3 and others.

As more and more hosts consider staging fully remote events as possible alternatives, we decided to take a deeper look into the venture-backed startups focused on supporting large-scale virtual gatherings, like Hopin and Run The World. To further understand the impact of COVID-19, we asked five leading VCs who have invested in or have knowledge of startups focused on remote events to update us on the state of the market and to share where they see opportunity in the sector:

Sarah Cannon, Index Ventures

Which trends in remote events/conferencing excite you the most from an investing perspective?

Where top VCs are investing in manufacturing and warehouse robotics

Robotics and automation tools are now foundational parts of warehouses and manufacturing facilities around the world. Unlike many other robotics and AI use cases, the technology has moved well beyond the theoretical into practice and is used by small suppliers and large companies like Amazon and Walmart.

There’s no doubt that automation will transform every step of the supply chain, from manufacturing to fulfillment to shipping and logistics. The only question is how long such a revolution will take.

There’s still plenty of market left to transform and lots of room for new players to redefine different verticals, even with many of the existing leaders having already staked their claim. Naturally, VCs are plenty eager to invest millions in the technology. In 2019 alone, manufacturing, machinery and automation saw roughly 800-900 venture-backed fundraising rounds, according to data from Pitchbook and Crunchbase, close to two-thirds of which were still early-stage (pre-seed to Series B) investments.

With our 2020 Robotics+AI sessions event less than two weeks away, we’ve decided to perform temperature checks across some of the hottest robotics sub-verticals to see which trends are coming down the pipe and where checks are actually being written. Just as we did with construction robotics last week, this time, we asked six leading VCs who actively invest in manufacturing automation robotics to share what’s exciting them most and where they see opportunities in the sector:

Rohit Sharma, True Ventures

Which trends are you most excited about in manufacturing/warehouse automation robotics from an investing perspective?

Where top VCs are investing in construction robotics

Venture capital has been flooding the various subverticals under the robotics umbrella in recent years, and the construction space is one of the largest beneficiaries.

Last November, we surveyed 13 of the top robotics-focused VCs to find out which areas of robotics are exciting them most going into 2020. One of the most common areas of attention respondents highlighted were startups focused on construction and manufacturing. In 2019 alone, the robotics space saw roughly 600 venture-backed fundraising rounds, while construction companies successfully raised roughly 200 venture rounds.

With our 2020 Robotics + AI sessions event on the horizon in early March, we’re diving back into the sector to learn about the attributes of construction attracting robotics VCs the most and which types of startups VCs are actually writing checks for in 2020. We asked 16 leading people who actively invest in construction robotics and work at firms spanning early to growth-stage to share what’s exciting them most and where they see opportunity in the sector:

 

Rohit Sharma, True Ventures

True Ventures has been investing in industrial automation broadly for 4+ years and focusing on founders who bring technology to market that eliminates repetitive manual labor and multiplies human productivity by automating routine tasks.

Where top VCs are investing in open source and dev tools (Part 2 of 2)

In part two of a survey that asks top VCs about exciting opportunities in open source and dev tools, we dig into responses from 10 leading open-source-focused investors at firms that span early to growth stage across software-specific firms, corporate venture arms and prominent generalist firms.

In the conclusion to our survey, we’ll hear from:

These responses have been edited for clarity and length.