SoftBank-backed Lemonade files to go public

Lemonade, a heavily-backed startup that sells renters and homeowners insurance to consumers, filed to go public today. The company (backed by SoftBank, part of the Sequoia empire, General Catalyst and Tusk Venture Partners, among others) releasing its financial results helps shed light on the burgeoning insurtech market, which has attracted an ocean of capital in recent quarters.

TechCrunch covered a part of the insurtech world earlier this year, asking why insurance marketplaces were picking up so much investment, so quickly. Lemonade is different from insurance marketplaces in that it’s a full-service insurance provider.

Indeed, as its S-1 notes:

By leveraging technology, data, artificial intelligence, contemporary design, and behavioral economics, we believe we are making insurance more delightful, more affordable, more precise, and more socially impactful. To that end, we have built a vertically-integrated company with wholly-owned insurance carriers in the United States and Europe, and the full technology stack to power them.

Lemonade is pitching that it has technology to make insurance a better business and a better consumer product. It is tempting. Insurance is hardly anyone’s favorite product. If it could suck marginally less, that would be great. Doubly so if Lemonade could generate material net income in the process.

Looking at the numbers, the pitch is a bit forward-looking.

Parsing Lemonade’s IPO filing, the business shows that while it can generate some margin from insurance, it is still miles from being able to pay for its own operation. The filing reminds us more of Vroom’s similarly unprofitable offering than Zoom’s surprisingly profitable debut.

The numbers

Lemonade is targeting a $100 million IPO according to its filings. That number is imprecise, but directionally useful. What the placeholder target tells us is that the company is more likely to try to raise $100 million to $300 million in its debut than it is to take aim at $500 million or more.

So, the company, backed by $480 million in private capital to date, is looking to extend its fundraising record, not double it in a single go. What has all that money bought Lemonade? Improving results, if stiff losses. Let’s parse some charts that the company has proffered and then chew on its raw results.

First, this trio of bar charts that are up top in the filing:

Gross written premiums (GWP) is the total amount of revenue expected by Lemonade for its sold insurance products, notably discounting commissions and some other costs. As you’d expect, the numbers are going up over time, implying that Lemonade was effective in selling more insurance products as it aged.

The second chart details how much money the company is losing on a net basis compared to the firm’s gross written premium result. This is a faff metric, and one that isn’t too encouraging; Lemonade’s GWP more than doubled from 2018 to 2019, but the firm’s net losses per dollar of GWP fell far less. This implies less-than-stellar operating leverage.

The final chart is more encouraging. In 2017 the company was paying out far more in claims than it took in from premiums. By 2019 it was generating margin from its insurance products. The trend line here is also nice, in that the 2018 to 2019 improvement was steep.

And then there’s this one:

This looks good. That said, improving adjusted EBITDA margins that remain starkly negative as something to be proud of is very Unicorn Era. But 2020 is alive with animal spirits, so perhaps this will engender some public investor adulation.

Regardless, let’s dig into the numbers. Here’s the main income statement:

Some definitions. What is net earned premium? According to the company it is “the earned portion of our gross written premium, less the earned portion that is ceded to third-party reinsurers under our reinsurance agreements.” Like pre-sold software revenue, premium revenue is “earned pro rata over the term of the policy, which is generally.” Cool.

Net investment income is “interest earned from fixed maturity securities, short term securities and other investments.” Cool.

The two numbers are the company’s only material revenue sources. And they sum to lots of growth. From $22.5 million in 2018 to $67.3 million in 2019, a gain of 199.1%. More recently, the company’s Q1 results saw its revenue grow from $11.0 million in 2019 to $26.2 million in 2020, a gain of 138.2%. A slower pace, yes, but from a higher base and more than large enough for the company to flaunt growth to a yield-starved public market.

Now, let’s talk losses.

Deficits

We’ll talk margins a little later, as that bit is annoying. What matters is that Lemonade’s cost structure is suffocating when compared to its ability to pay for it. Net losses rose from $52.9 million in 2018 to $108.5 million in 2019. More recently, a Q1 2019 net loss of $21.6 million was smashed in the first quarter of 2020 when the firm lost $36.5 million.

Indeed, Lemonade only appears to lose more money as time goes along. So how is the company turning so much growth into such huge losses? Here’s a hint:

This is messy, but we can get through it. First, see how operating revenue is different than the GAAP revenue metrics we saw before? That’s because it’s a non-GAAP (adjusted) number that means the “total revenue before adding net investment income and before subtracting earned premium ceded to reinsurers.” Cool.

That curiosity aside, what we really care about is the company’s adjusted gross profit. This metric, defined as “total revenue excluding net investment income and less other costs of sales, including net loss and loss adjustment expense, the amortization of deferred acquisition costs and credit card processing fees,” which means gross profit but super not really, is irksome. Given that Lemonade is already adjusting it, it’s notable that the company only managed to generate $5.4 million of the stuff in Q1.

Recall that the company had GAAP revenue of $26.2 million in that three-month period. So, if we adjust the firm’s gross profit, the company winds up with a gross margin of just a hair over 20%.

So what? The company is spending heavily — $19.2 million in Q1 alone — on sales and marketing to generate relatively low-margin revenue. Or more precisely, Lemonade generated enough adjusted gross profit in Q1 2020 to cover 28% of its GAAP sales and marketing spend for the same period. Figure that one out.

Anyway, the company raised $300 million from SoftBank last year, so it has lots of cash. “$304.0 million in cash and short-term investments,” as of the end of Q1 2020, in fact. So, the company can sustain its Q1 2020 operating cash burn ($19.4 million) for a long time. Why go public then?

Because like we wrote this morning (Extra Crunch subscription required), Vroom showed that the IPO market is open for growth shares and SoftBank needs a win. Let’s see what investors think, but this IPO feels like it’s timed to get out while the getting is good. Who can get mad at that?

Google and Walmart’s PhonePe establish dominance in India’s mobile payments market as WhatsApp Pay struggles to launch

In India, it’s Google and Walmart-owned PhonePe that are racing neck-and-neck to be the top player in the mobile payments market, while Facebook remains mired in a regulatory maze for WhatsApp Pay’s rollout.

In May, more than 75 million users transacted on Google Pay app, ahead of Walmart -owned PhonePe’s 60 million users, and SoftBank -backed Paytm’s 30 million users, people familiar with the companies’ figures told TechCrunch.

Google still lags Paytm’s reach with merchants, but the Android -maker has maintained its overall lead in recent months despite every player losing momentum due to one of the most stringent lockdowns globally in place in India. Google declined to comment.

Paytm, once the dominant player in India, has been struggling to sustain its user base for nearly two years. The company had about 60 million transacting users in January last year, said people familiar with the matter.

Data sets consider transacting users to be those who have made at least one payment through the app in a month. It’s a coveted metric and is different from the much more popular monthly active users, or MAU, that various firms use to share their performance. A portion of those labeled as monthly active users do not make any transaction on the app.

India’s homegrown payment firm, Paytm, has struggled to grow in recent years in part because of a mandate by India’s central bank to mobile wallet firms — the middlemen between users and banks — to perform know-your-client (KYC) verification of users, which created confusion among many, some of the people said. These woes come despite the firm’s fundraising success, which amounts to more than $3 billion.

In a statement, a Paytm spokesperson said, “When it comes to mobile wallets one has to remember the fact that Paytm was the company that set up the infrastructure to do KYC and has been able to complete over 100 million KYCs by physically meeting customers.”

Paytm has long benefited from integration with popular services such as Uber, and food delivery startups Swiggy and Zomato, but fewer than 10 million of Paytm’s monthly transacting users have relied on this feature in recent months.

Two executives, who like everyone else spoke on the condition of anonymity because of fear of retribution, also said that Paytm resisted the idea of adopting Unified Payments Interface. That’s the nearly two-year-old payments infrastructure built and backed by a collation of banks in India that enables money to be sent directly between accounts at different banks and eliminates the need for a separate mobile wallet.

Paytm’s delays in adopting the standard left room for Google and PhonePe, another early adopter of UPI, to seize the opportunity.

Paytm, which adopted UPI a year after Google and PhonePe, refuted the characterization that it resisted joining UPI ecosystem.

“We are the company that cherishes innovation and technology that can transform the lives of millions. We understand the importance of financial technology and for this very reason, we have always been the champion and supporter of UPI. We, however, launched it on Paytm later than our peers because it took a little longer for us to get the approval to start UPI based services,“ a spokesperson said.

A sign for Paytm online payment method, operated by One97 Communications Ltd., is displayed at a street stall selling accessories in Bengaluru, India, on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017. Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Missing from the fray is Facebook, which counts India as its biggest market by user count. The company began talks with banks to enter India’s mobile payments market, estimated to reach $1 trillion by 2023 (according to Credit Suisse), through WhatsApp as early as 2017. WhatsApp is the most popular smartphone app in India with over 400 million users in the country.

Facebook launched WhatsApp Pay to a million users in the following year, but has been locked in a regulatory battle since to expand the payments service to the rest of its users. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said WhatsApp Pay would roll out nationwide by end of last year, but the firm is yet to secure all approvals — and new challenges keep cropping up. WhatsApp declined to comment.

PhonePe, which was conceived only a year before WhatsApp set eyes to India’s mobile payments, has consistently grown as it added several third-party services. These include leading food and grocery delivery services Swiggy and Grofers, ride-hailing giant Ola, ticketing and staying players Ixigo and Oyo Hotels, in a so-called super app strategy. In November, about 63 million users were active on PhonePe, 45 million of whom transacted through the app.

Karthik Raghupathy, the head of business at PhonePe, confirmed the company’s transacting users to TechCrunch.

Three factors contributed to the growth of PhonePe, he said in an interview. “The rise of smartphones and mobile data adoption in recent years; early adoption to UPI at a time when most mobile payments firms in India were betting on virtual mobile-wallet model; and taking an open-ecosystem approach,” he said.

“We opened our consumer base to all our merchant partners very early on. Our philosophy was that we would not enter categories such as online ticketing for movies and travel, and instead work with market leaders on those fronts,” he explained.

“We also went to the market with a completely open, interoperable QR code that enabled merchants and businesses to use just one QR code to accept payments from any app — not just ours. Prior to this, you would see a neighborhood store maintain several QR codes to support a number of payment apps. Over the years, our approach has become the industry norm,” he said, adding that PhonePe has been similarly open to other wallets and payments options as well.

But despite the growth and its open approach, PhonePe has still struggled to win the confidence of investors in recent quarters. Stoking investors’ fears is the lack of a clear business model for mobile payments firms in India.

PhonePe executives held talks to raise capital last year that would have valued it at $8 billion, but the negotiations fell apart. Similar talks early this year, which would have valued PhonePe at $3 billion, which hasn’t been previously reported, also fell apart, three people familiar with the matter said. Raghupathy and a PhonePe spokesperson declined to comment on the company’s fundraising plans.

For now, Walmart has agreed to continue to bankroll the payments app, which became part of the retail group with Flipkart acquisition in 2018.

As UPI gained inroads in the market, banks have done away with any promotional incentives to mobile payments players, one of their only revenue sources.

At an event in Bangalore late last year, Sajith Sivanandan, managing director and business head of Google Pay and Next Billion User Initiatives, said current local rules have forced Google Pay to operate without a clear business model in India.

Coronavirus takes its toll on payments companies

The coronavirus pandemic that prompted New Delhi to order a nationwide lockdown in late March preceded a significant, but predictable, drop in mobile payments usage in the following weeks. But while Paytm continues to struggle in bouncing back, PhonePe and Google Pay have fully recovered as India eased some restrictions.

About 120 million UPI transactions occurred on Paytm in the month of May, down from 127 million in April and 186 million in March, according to data compiled by NPCI, the body that oversees UPI, and obtained by TechCrunch. (Paytm maintains a mobile wallet business, which contributes to its overall transacting users.)

Google Pay, which only supports UPI payments, facilitated 540 million transactions in May, up from 434 million in April and 515 million in March. PhonePe’s 454 million March figure slid to 368 million in April, but it turned the corner, with 460 million transactions last month. An NPCI spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

PhonePe and Google Pay together accounted for about 83% of all UPI transactions in India last month.

Industry executives working at rival firms said it would be a mistake to dismiss Paytm, the one-time leader of the mobile payments market in India.

Paytm has cut its marketing expenses and aggressively chased merchants in recent quarters. Earlier this year, it unveiled a range of gadgets, including a device that displays QR check-out codes that comes with a calculator and USB charger, a jukebox that provides voice confirmations of transactions and services to streamline inventory management for merchants.

Merchants who use these devices pay a recurring fee to Paytm, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, co-founder and chief executive of the firm told TechCrunch in an interview earlier this year. Paytm has also entered several businesses, such as movie and travel ticketing, lending, games and e-commerce, and set up a digital payments bank over the years.

“Everyone knows Paytm. Paytm is synonymous with digital payments in India. And outside, there’s a perceived notion that it’s truly the Alipay of India,” an executive at a rival firm said.

China Roundup: SoftBank leads Didi’s $500M round and Meituan crosses $100B valuation

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch’s China Roundup, a digest of recent events shaping the Chinese tech landscape and what they mean to people in the rest of the world. Last week, we had a barrage of news ranging from SoftBank’s latest bet on China’s autonomous driving sector to Chinese apps making waves in the U.S. (not TikTok).

China tech abroad

The other Chinese apps trending in America

TikTok isn’t the only app with a Chinese background that’s making waves in the U.S. A brand new short-video app called Zynn has been topping the iOS chart in America since May 26, just weeks after its debut. Zynn’s maker is no stranger to Chinese users: it was developed by short-video platform Kuaishou, the nemesis of Douyin, TikTok’s Chinese sister.

The killer feature behind Zynn’s rise is an incentive system that pays people small amounts of cash to sign up, watch videos or invite others to join, a common user acquisition tactic in the Chinese internet industry.

The other app that’s been trending in the U.S. for a while is News Break, a hyper-local news app founded by China’s media veteran Jeff Zheng, with teams in China and the U.S. It announced a heavy-hitting move last week as it onboards Harry Shum, former boss of Microsoft AI and Research Group, as its board chairman.

Alibaba looks for overseas influencers

The Chinese e-commerce giant is searching for live-streaming hosts in Europe and other overseas countries to market its products on AliExpress, its marketplace for consumers outside China. Live-streaming dancing and singing is nothing new, but the model of selling through live videos, during which consumers can interact with a salesperson or session host, has gained major ground in China as shops remained shut for weeks during the coronavirus outbreak.

In Q1 2020, China recorded more than 4 million e-commerce live-streaming sessions across various platforms, including Alibaba. Now the Chinese giant wants to replicate its success abroad, pledging that the new business model can create up to 100,000 new jobs for content creators around the world.

Oppo in Germany

Oppo announced last week its new European headquarters in Düsseldorf, Germany, a sign that the Chinese smartphone maker has gotten more serious on the continent. The move came weeks after it signed a distribution deal with Vodafone to sell its phones in seven European countries. Oppo was also one of the first manufacturers to launch a 5G commercial phone in Europe.

Chinese tech stocks return

We speculated last week that Hong Kong might become an increasingly appealing destination for U.S.-listed Chinese tech companies, many of which will be feeling the heat of tightening accounting rules targeting foreign companies. Two firms have already taken action. JD.com and NetEase, two of China’s biggest internet firms, have won approvals to list in Hong Kong, Bloomberg reported, citing sources.

China tech back home

SoftBank doubles down on Didi

Massive losses in SoftBank’s first Vision Fund didn’t seem to deter the Japanese startup benefactor from placing bold bets. China’s ride-hailing giant Didi has completed an outsized investment of over $500 million in its new autonomous driving subsidiary. The financing led by SoftBank marked the single-largest fundraising round in China’s autonomous driving sector.

The capital will give Didi a huge boost in the race to win the autonomous driving race, where it is a relative latecomer. It’s competing with deep-pocketed players that are aggressively testing across the world, including the likes of Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu, and startups such as Momenta, NIO and Pony.ai.

Marriage of e-commerce and live streaming

Speaking of live-streaming e-commerce, two of China’s biggest internet companies have teamed up to exploit the new business model. JD, the online retailer that is Alibaba’s long-time archrival, has signed a strategic partnership with Kuaishou — yes, the maker of Zynn and TikTok’s rival in China.

The collaboration is part of a rising trend in the Chinese internet, where short video apps and e-commerce platforms pally up to explore new monetization avenues. The thinking goes that video platforms can leverage the trust that influencers instill in their audience to tout products.

Meituan hit record valuation

Despite reporting an unprofitable first quarter, Meituan, a leader in China’s food delivery sector, saw its shares reach a record high last week to bring its valuation to over $100 billion.

Notion got banned in China, briefly

Notion, the fast-growing work collaboration tool that recently hit a $2 billion valuation and has attracted a loyal following in China, was briefly banned in China last week. It’s still investigating the cause of the ban, but the timing noticeably coincided with China’s annual parliament meeting, which began last week after a two-month delay due to COVID-19. Internet regulation and censorship normally toughen around key political meetings in the country.

SoftBank led $500M investment in Didi in China’s biggest autonomous driving round

The race to automate vehicles on China’s roads is heating up. Didi, the Uber of China, announced this week an outsized investment of over $500 million in its freshly minted autonomous driving subsidiary. Leading the round — the single largest fundraising round in China’s autonomous driving sector — is its existing investor Softbank, the Japanese telecom giant and startup benefactor that has also backed Uber.

The proceeds came through Softbank’s second Vision Fund, which was reportedly lagging in fundraising as its Fund I recorded massive losses in part due to the collapsing valuation of WeWork.

As China’s largest ride-hailing provider with mountains of traffic data, Didi clearly has an upper hand in developing robotaxis, which could help address driver shortage in the long term. But it was relatively late to the field. In 2018, Didi ranked eighth in kilometers of autonomous driving tests carried out in Beijing, far behind search giant Baidu which accounted for over 90% of the total mileage that year.

It’s since played aggressive catchup. Last August, it spun off its then three-year-old autonomous driving unit into an independent company to focus on R&D, building partnerships along the value chain, and promoting the futuristic technology to the government. The team now has a staff of 200 across its China and U.S. offices.

As an industry observer told me, “robotaxis will become a reality only when you have the necessary operational skills, technology and government support all in place.”

Didi is most famous for its operational efficiency, as facilitating safe and pleasant rides between drivers and passengers is no small feat. The company’s leadership hails from Alibaba’s legendary business-to-business sales team, also known as the “Alibaba Iron Army” for its ability in on-the-ground operation.

On the tech front, the subsidiary is headed by chief executive Zhang Bo, a Baidu veteran, and chief technology officer Wei Junqing, who joined last year from self-driving software company Aptiv.

The autonomous segment can also benefit from Didi’s all-encompassing reach in the mobility industry. For instance, it’s working to leverage the parent company’s smart charging networks, fleet maintenance service and insurance programs for autonomous fleets.

The fresh capital will enable Didi’s autonomous business to improve safety — an area that became a focal point of the company after two deadly accidents — and efficiency through conducting R&D and road tests. The financing will also allow it to deepen industry cooperation and accelerate the deployment of robotaxi services in China and abroad.

Over the years, Didi has turned to traditional carmakers for synergies in what it dubs the “D-Alliance,” which counts more than 31 partners. It has applied autonomous driving technology to vehicles from Lincoln, Nissan, Volvo, BYD, to name a few.

Didi has secured open-road testing licenses in three major cities in China as well as California. It said last August that it aimed to begin picking up ride-hailing passengers with autonomous cars in Shanghai in a few months’ time. It’s accumulated 300,000 kilometers of road tests in China and the U.S. as of last August.

The headline of this article was corrected on May 29, 2020.

Clubhouse proves that time is a flat circle

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

First, a big thanks to everyone who took part in the Equity survey, we really appreciated your notes and thoughts. The crew is chewing over what you said, and we’ll roll up the best feedback into show tweaks in the future.

Today, though, we’ve got Danny and Natasha and Chris and Alex back again for our regular news dive. This week we had to leave the Vroom IPO filing, Danny’s group project on The Future of Work and a handwashing startup (?) from Natasha to get to the very biggest stories:

  • Brex’s $150 million raise: Natasha covered the latest huge round from corporate charge-card behemoth Brex. The party’s over in Silicon Valley for a little while, so Brex is turning down your favorite startup’s credit limit while it stacks cash for the downturn.
  • Spruce raises a $29 million Series B: Led by Scale Venture Partners, Spruce is taking on the world of real estate transactions with digital tooling and an API. As Danny notes, it’s a huge market and one that could find a boost from the pandemic.
  • MasterClass raises $100 million: Somewhere between education and entertainment, MasterClass has found its niche. The startup’s $180 yearly subscription product appears to be performing well, given that the company just stacked nine-figures into its checking account. What’s it worth? The company would only tell Natasha that it was more than $800 million.
  • Clubhouse does, well, you know. Clubhouse happened. So we talked about it.
  • SoftBank dropped its earnings lately, which gave Danny time to break out his pocket calculator and figure out how much money it spent daily, and Alex time to parse the comedy that its slideshow entailed. Here’s our favorites from the mix. (Source materials are here.)

And at the end, we got Danny to explain what the flying frack is going on over at Luckin. It’s somewhere between tragedy and farce, we reckon. That’s it for today, more Tuesday after the holiday!

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Beware mega-unicorn paper valuations

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

There’s a famous old post going around Twitter this week by entrepreneur and developer David Heinemeier Hansson (@DHH). DHH is a critic of certain elements of the startup world, especially wild valuations. This entry from him is, in my view, a classic of the genre.

The post in question is titled “Facebook is not worth $33,000,000,000,” and was written back in 2010.

You can already imagine who might find the post irksome — namely folks who are in the business of putting capital into high-growth companies. This sort of snark, though not precisely recent, is a good example of how posts like the Facebook entry are read on Twitter.

If you take a moment to actually read DHH’s blog, however, you’ll find that the first part of his argument is that selling a minute slice of a company at a high price, thus “revaluing” the company at a new, stratospheric valuation, is a little silly. DHH didn’t like that by selling a few percentage points of itself, Facebook’s worth was pegged at $33 billion. We’ve seen some similarly-small-dollar, high-valuation rounds recently that could be scooted into the same bucket.

It’s a somewhat fair point.

But what struck me this morning while re-reading the DHH piece was that his second two points are useful rubrics for framing the modern, post-unicorn era. DHH wrote that profits matter, companies are ultimately valued on them, and that companies that don’t scale financial results as they add customers (or users) aren’t great.

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:

As Jack Ma and SoftBank part ways, the open and globalized era of tech comes ever closer to an end

It would be one of the greatest startup investments of all time. Masayoshi Son, riding high in the klieg lights of the 1990s dot-com bubble, invested $20 million dollars into a fledgling Hong Kong-based startup called Alibaba. That $20 million investment into the Chinese e-commerce business would go on to be worth about $120 billion for SoftBank, which still retains more than a quarter ownership stake today.

That early check and the rise, fall, and rise of Son and Alibaba’s Jack Ma helped to cement an intricately connected partnership that has endured decades of ferocious change in the tech industry. Ma joined SoftBank’s board in 2007, and the two have been tech titans together ever since.

So it is notable and worth a minute of reflection that SoftBank announced overnight that Jack Ma would be leaving SoftBank’s board after almost 14 years.

In some ways, perhaps the news shouldn’t be all that surprising. Jack Ma has been receding from many of his duties, most notably leaving the chairmanship of Alibaba last year.

Yet, one can’t help connect the various dots of news that hovers between the two companies and not realize that the partnership that has endured so much is now increasingly fraying, and due to forces far beyond the ken of the two dynamos.

On one hand, there is a pecuniary point: SoftBank has been rapidly selling Alibaba shares the past few years after decades of going long as it attempts to shore up its balance sheet amidst intense financial challenges. According to Bloomberg in March, SoftBank intended to sell $14 billion of its Alibaba shares, and that was after $11 billion in realized returns on Alibaba stock in 2019 from a deal consummated in 2016. It’s just a bit awkward for Ma to be sitting on a board that is actively selling his own legacy.

Yet, there is more here. Jack Ma has become a figure in the fight against COVID-19, and has burnished China’s image (and his own) of responding globally to the crisis. In the process, though, there has been blowback, as concerns about the quality of face masks and other goods have been raised by health authorities.

And of course, there is the deepening trade war, not just between the United States and China, but also between Japan and China. Japan’s government is increasingly looking for a way to find a “China exit” and become more self-sufficient in its own supply chains and less financially dependent on Chinese capitalism.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has been seeking out avenues of decoupling the U.S. from China. Overnight, the largest chip fab in the world, TSMC, announced that it would no longer accept orders from China’s Huawei following new export controls put in place by the U.S. last week and its announcement of a new, $12 billion chip fab plant in Arizona.

SoftBank itself has gotten caught up in these challenges. As an international conglomerate, and with the Vision Fund itself officially incorporated in Jersey, it has confronted the tightening screws of U.S. regulation of foreign ownership of critical technology companies through mechanisms like CFIUS. Its acquisition of ARM Holdings a few years ago may not have been completed if it had tried today, given the environment in the United Kingdom or the U.S.

So it’s not just about an investor and his entrepreneur breaking some ties after two decades in business together. It’s about the fraying of the very globalization that powered the first wave of tech companies — that a Japanese conglomerate with major interests in the U.S. and Europe could invest in a Hong Kong / China startup and reap huge rewards. That tech world and the divide of the internet and the world’s markets continues unabated.

SoftBank’s Q1 2020 earnings presentation mixes comedy and drama

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

Today we’re digging into SoftBank’s latest earnings slides. Not only do they contain a wealth of updates and other useful information, but some of them are gosh-darn-freaking hilarious. We all deserve a bit of levity after the last few months.

The visual elements we quote below come from SoftBank’s reporting of its own results from its fiscal year ending March 31, 2020. Much of the deck is made up of financial reporting tables and other bits of stuff you don’t want to read. We’ve cut all that out and left the fun parts.

Before we dive in, please note that we are largely giggling at some slide design choices and only somewhat at the results themselves. We are certainly not making fun of people who’ve been impacted by layoffs and other such things that these slides’ results encompass.

But we are going to have some fun with how SoftBank describes how it views the world, because how can we not? Let’s begin.

Data, slides

TechCrunch has a number of folks parsing SoftBank’s deck this morning, looking to do serious work. That’s not our goal. Sure, this post will tell you things like the fact that there are 88 companies in the Vision Fund portfolio, and that when it comes to unrealized gains and losses, the portfolio has seen $13.4 billion in gains and $14.2 billion in losses. $4.9 billion of gains have been realized, mind you, while just $200 million of losses have had the same honor.

And this post will tell you that the “net blended [internal rate of return] for SoftBank Vision Fund investors is -1%.”

Hell, you probably also want to know that Uber was detailed as Vision Fund’s worst-performing public company, generating a $1.46 billion loss for the group. In contrast, Guardant Health is good for a $1.67 billion gain, while 2019 IPO Slack has been good for $605 million in profits. Those were the two best companies in the Vision Fund’s public portfolio.

But what you really want is the good stuff. So, shared by slide number, here you go:

Slide 11:

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.