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Softbank’s Masayoshi Son’s Entrepreneurial Journey – From Japanese Immigrant To Being The Richest Man In Japan

The Roller Coaster Yet Inspiring Ride of Softbank's Mr. Masayoshi Son

Not that we have a dearth of success stories, but now and then there are some stories worth knowing. One such story is of Son.

The renowned richest man in Japan, he is the founder of Softbank and an aggressive investor. Having funded the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, buying the American mobile carrier Sprint and now having funded Snapdeal, he seems to be eyeing the Indian e- industry closely. After having invested in Snapdeal, Mr Son exclaimed, “I strongly believe that Snapdeal has the potential to be like the Alibaba of India.”

With 3 huge investments (Snapdeal, Ola & Scoopwhoop) in a matter of a single month in India, Softbank has created a flutter amongst the tech and ecommerce space in India. And this investment spree is not going to end anytime soon, as they have pledged to invest a whopping $10 Billion in India.

Here is a look at the man who made Softbank what it is today – Mr. Masayoshi Son

The Forbes Magazine included Mr Son consecutively in their list of “The world’s most powerful people” in the recent years. Soon after Alibaba took over the Wall Street, the mere mention of Softbank gave the market a bullish run. Since then cover stories of this man have hit many publications. In a matter of a decade, Masayoshi’s tryst with investing earned him the nickname “Japanese Buffet”

Coming from a Korean background, Mr Son moved to California to finish his schooling and graduated later from the University of California. It is told that back then he vowed to produce atleast 1 entrepreneurial idea each day as per the advice of some prominent entrepreneurs who reined the Silicon Valley.

In awe with micro chips, he patented a translating device which he then sold to Sharp Electronics for $1 million. Given the beginner’s luck surfaced, he knew the Silicon Valley was immensely saturated with entrepreneurial talent.

He needed a new ground to test his entrepreneurial skills, so he moved back to Japan. Keen on continuing in the software industry, Mr Son became a software distributor and set up Softbank in 1981– the only distributor selling American software in Japan.

To be a part of the software industry, he acquired 40% stake in Yahoo in the 1990’s when it was still a local search engine. The whole stock plunged in the market when the dotcom crash hit the market wiping 98% of it’s market value.

To recover from the big loss, he set on to explore the telecom territory; by then his net worth was reduced to paltry $180m!

What the Japanese then saw was that Softbank had established itself better than other telecom players in the industry. Bracing for a reckless drive with an aggressive attitude, he did what many investors would call crazy. He borrowed enormous funds and reinvested it in different sectors. Looking at his dare devil dealings, sources say that many employees left questioning the going concern of Softbank. Just before the millennium, Softbank had diversified stakes in more than 130 countries!

Figuratively speaking, by 2000, Softbank had acquired stakes in 600 enterprises in 130 countries and had a stunning market capitalization of $184billion!

Inspite of all the wealth creation, Softbank suffered hugely due to the dotcom crash where most of the e-players were affected and the worst of all for Softbank was Yahoo’s stock price hitting the rock bottom because most of the funds that went in as investments were borrowed funds.

In an amazing turn of events, even though Mr Son had suffered huge losses, Softbank could easily control more than 50% of software distribution market in Japan and 85% of the Japanese web traffic. It still retained it’s American stake in e-commerce recovering companies such as Buy.com, People PC, E*Trade etc.

Undeterred by his own stock’s downfall, he still announced he’d still invest in the e-commerce space. Knowing that, desperate times call for desperate measures; to get back into business he chose high speed broadband.

The Japanese telecommunications still recalls his little crazy act in his office. “If you don’t help me, I’m going to pour gasoline all over myself right here and set myself on fire with this $1 lighter”, he shouted. And yes, the official gave in eventually.

Known for his 19 hour work day, he borrowed heavily to buy Vodafone Japan in 2006 and turned it into a cash cow in a matter of 2 years. Most of the inventions and marketing strategies were his own. Re assessing his interest in e-commerce brought back him to Yahoo. Jerry Yang and Mr.Son connected instantly given their similar ethnicity and by 2008, Softbank owned 40% of Yahoo Japan. Yahoo being hugely operational in the east Asia, brought Softbank to meet a company that would rise to prominence through Alibaba, Taobao was Yahoo Japan’s e-commerce rival engine which was later acquired by Alibaba.

Mr.Son impressed with Alibaba’s likeminded strategies didn’t waste a minute to strike the deal. Even though the Softbank has a 34% stake, the operational decisions have been left to Mr. Jack Ma. Mr Son also brought into the Japanese Market the Apple iPhone in 2008. Japanese users who were already enjoying tomorrow’s technology did not budge for the global trendsetter. But with Mr. Son marketing the iPhone, Apple had a 72% Smartphone market share, almost doubling the consignments by the end of 2010.

Thanks to Mr.Son’s Yahoo Broadband, now 90% of the Japanese households enjoy high speed connectivity at low rates. Adamant and determined to make it big has been his strategy all along. Conveying a message to all the procrastinators and wannabes, he says,” They are the losers in battle. When you meet with them, they give all kinds of excuses. They blame the government; they blame the weather! Don’t give excuses for how tough the battle is, and how tough the handicap is—we always fight”

For all those who feel his accomplishments are over rated, forget the actual execution, just think of doing business in a country that has the least number of start ups in the world. The Japanese population, though rich in R&D, still lingers to the traditional belief of sticking with the ancestral business establishers. Mr Masayoshi, an Korean immigrant, mostly disliked in Japan did what many would consider impossible.

Where there is a will, there is a way. And if there’s no way, you make a way! Time to re-inspire yourself and get to work!

Image: Bloomberg


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Vaishnavi Kanekal: An aspiring globetrotter & CA in the making, feel like there couldn’t be a more exciting time to be alive and happening.
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