SoftBank Group Corp. is a Japanese multinational conglomerate holding company headquartered in Tokyo. The company owns stakes in Softbank Corp.
SoftBank was founded in September 1981 as a SOFTBANK Corp. by then-24-year-old Masayoshi Son, originally as a computer parts store. They went into the publishing business in May 1982 with the launches of the Oh! PC and Oh! MZ magazines, about NEC and Sharp computers respectively. Oh!PC had a circulation of 140,000 copies by 1989. It would go on to become Japan's largest publisher of computer and technology magazines and of trade shows.
The roots of SoftBank's mobile communications arm date back to the formation of Japan Telecom in 1984. The Digital Phone Group (デジタルホン, DPG, three local companies) mobile phone division was formed in 1994, and J-PHONE Co., Ltd. (J-フォン) was formed in 1999 by the merging of DGP with Digital TU-KA Group (DTG, six local companies, not to be confused with TU-KA). Japan Telecom owned a stake of 45.1%.
In 1994 the company went public and was valued at $3 billion. SoftBank agreed in September 1995 to purchase U.S.-based Ziff Davis publishing for $2.1 billion.
SoftBank bought COMDEX from The Interface Group on 1 April 1995 for $800 million, and ZDI on 29 February 1996. SoftBank sold COMDEX to Key3Media, a spin-off of Ziff Davis, in 2001.
In the nineties Son made large forays into Internet services. In 1996, SoftBank made a joint venture with rising American internet company Yahoo!, creating Yahoo! Japan, which would go on to become a dominant site in the country.
SoftBank's corporate profile includes various other companies such as Japanese broadband company SoftBank BB, data center company IDC Frontier, gaming company GungHo Online Entertainment, and the publishing company SB Creative. SBI Group is a Japanese financial services company that began in 1999, as a branch of SoftBank. Ymobile Corporation is another telecommunications subsidiary of SoftBank, established in 2014. In 2010, SoftBank founded Wireless City Planning (WCP), a subsidiary that will see the development of TD-LTE networks throughout Japan. SoftBank also operate SoftBank Capital, a US-based venture capital company. The COMDEX expo in the US was owned by SoftBank from 1995 to 2001. Since 2005, SoftBank also owns the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks professional baseball team. SoftBank also operates in the eco-power industry through its SB Energy subsidiary.
In October 1999, SoftBank became a holding company. In 2000, SoftBank made its most successful investment ever – $20 million to a then fledgling Chinese Internet venture Alibaba. This investment turned into $60 billion when Alibaba went public in September 2014.
In October 2001, the British mobile phone group Vodafone increased its share to 66.7% of Japan Telecom and 69.7% of J-Phone. On 1 October 2003, the name of the company and the service brand was officially changed to Vodafone, with the division called Vodafone K.K. or Vodafone Japan. The growth and success of the company during this period is due in large part to then president Bill Morrow.
However, in January 2005, Vodafone Japan lost 58,700 customers and in February 2005 lost 53,200 customers, while competitors NTT DoCoMo gained 184,400 customers, au by KDDI gained 163,700, and Willcom gained 35,000. While as of February 2005, DoCoMo's FOMA 3G service had attracted 10 million subscribers and KDDI's 3G service had attracted over 17 million subscribers, Vodafone's 3G service only attracted 527,300 subscribers. Vodafone 3G failed to attract subscribers because Vodafone cut back investments in 3G services in Japan in 2002/3; handsets did not fully match needs and preferences of Japanese customers. At the end of February 2005, Vodafone Japan had 15.1 million customers, and by end of October 2005, the number of subscribers had fallen by 103,100 to 14.996 million, while during the same period NTT DoCoMo had gained 1.65 million customers and KDDI/AU had gained 1.82 million customers. At the end of October 2005, NTT DoCoMo had 17.6 million 3G customers, KDDI/AU had 19.8 million 3G customers, and Vodafone-Japan had 1.9 million 3G customers, i.e. Vodafone-Japan gained about 4.8% of Japan's 3G market.
On 28 January 2005, SoftBank became the owner of the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, a Nippon Professional Baseball team. On 17 March 2006, SoftBank announced its agreement to buy Vodafone Japan, giving it a stake in Japan's $78 billion mobile market. In April 2006, they bought a 23% stake of Betfair, an Internet betting exchange. In August 2006, SoftBank sold all its shares of SBI Group to a subsidiary of SBI's holding company, making SBI independent. On 1 October 2006, Vodafone Japan changed its corporate name, mobile phone brand name, and its mobile phone domain name to SoftBank Mobile, SoftBank, and [mb.softbank.jp], respectively.
Vodafone changed the name of its multimedia data services from J-Sky to Vodafone live!, and used J-Sky's principles and technologies and business models to introduce the WAP-based Vodafone live! in Vodafone's other markets. Thus Vodafone live! has its origin in J-Phone's J-Sky. At the end of February 2005, Vodafone live! had 12.907 million subscribers in Japan. By end of October 2005 the number of Vodafone live! subscribers had fallen by 138,000 to 12,769,600.
In March 2006, Vodafone began discussing the sale of the Vodafone Japan unit to SoftBank. Vodafone was unable to satisfy customers, as Japanese users tend to have preferences not seen in other markets. Handsets had user interfaces that differed too much from the Japanese interface, and did not have as many features as competing companies. This led to the loss of more customers and Vodafone's decision that the market was no longer profitable.
On 17 March 2006, Vodafone Group announced it had agreed to sell its holding of Vodafone Japan (Vodafone K.K.) to SoftBank for about 1.75 trillion Japanese yen (about US$15.1 billion). On 14 April 2006, SoftBank and Vodafone K. K. jointly announced, that the name of the company will be changed to a "new, easy-to-understand and familiar" company name and brand. It was announced in a press conference on 18 May 2006, that the new name would be "SoftBank Mobile Corp.", effective 1 October 2006. SoftBank started the rebranding around 14 June 2006.
Since May 2006, SoftBank's marketing and commercials have principally revolved around "Otosan sujan karki", the canine patriarch of the otherwise human "Shirason, Kaito" family. "Otosan" translates to father, and the character, a Hokkaido dog, indeed acts as the father of the family, along with the son "Kojiro" (starred by Dante Carver), mom "Masako" (Kanako Higuchi), and daughter "Aya" (Aya Ueto). The advertising series proved to be highly popular: CM Research Center ranked the Otousan adverts as the most popular in Japan between 2007 and 2012, based on monthly surveys of 3,000 randomly selected adults in Japan.
On 4 June 2008, SoftBank Mobile announced partnership with Apple and brought the iPhone (3G) to Japan later in 2008. SoftBank Mobile was the only official carrier of the iPhone in Japan until the release of iPhone 4S in 2011 when it became available on au by KDDI as well.
On 28 January 2008, it was announced that SoftBank and Tiffany & Co. collaborated in making a limited 10 model-only cellphone. This cellphone contains more than 400 platinum diamonds, totaling more than 20 carats. The cost is said to be more than 100,000,000 yen.
On 3 February 2010, SoftBank acquired 13.7% in Ustream with the option to increase shares to 30% by July 2011. On 1 October 2010, Ayumi Hamasaki became the commercial spokesperson.
On 15 October 2012, SoftBank announced plans to take control of American Sprint Nextel by purchasing a 70% stake for $20 billion. On 6 July 2013, the United States Federal Communications Commission approved SoftBank's acquisition of the Sprint Corporation for $22.2 billion for a 78% ownership interest in Sprint. The acquisition involved payment of $17.2 billion in cash to Sprint shareholders, with the balance $5 billion as capital contribution. The transaction was financed by way of cash and a bridge loan from a consortium of banks. On 6 August 2013, SoftBank bought 2% more shares of Sprint Corporation, increasing its ownership stake in the company to 80%.
On 3 October 2012, the take over of competitor eAccess was announced, and was completed in January 2013. On 1 July 2013, SoftBank announced that Willcom became a wholly owned subsidiary effective 1 July 2013, after termination of rehabilitation proceedings. eAccess was merged with Willcom, which resulted in a new subsidiary and brand from Yahoo! Japan, Ymobile Corporation.
In 2013, the company brought a controlling stake in French company Aldebaran Robotics, which was rebranded SoftBank Robotics. In 2014, teams from both companies co-designed Pepper, a humanoid robot. In 2015, SoftBank increased its stake to 95% of Aldebaran Robotics.
In December 2018, SoftBank invested in a startup called ParkJourney. The startup was invested in 2013 and deals with monetizing parking lots. After the investment round general valuation of the ParkJourney reached $1 billion.
In October 2013, SoftBank acquired 51% stake in Supercell for a reported $2.1 billion. Later on 25 October 2014, they invested $210 million in OlaCabs, $627 million in Snapdeal with 30% stake in the company on 28 October 2014, and a $100 million investment in Housing.com with 30% stake in the company in November 2014.
In 2015, SoftBank acquired DramaFever. In May 2015, Masayoshi Son said he would appoint Nikesh Arora, a former Google executive, as Representative Director and President of SoftBank. Arora has been heading SoftBank's investment arm. On 1 June 2015, SoftBank acquired additional 22.7% stake in Supercell, increasing its total stake to 73.2% and becoming the sole external shareholder of the company. In June 2015, SoftBank announced it would invest US$1 billion in the Korean e-commerce website Coupang as part of its overseas expansion plans.
In 2015, SoftBank, along with some other companies in Japan, offered a baby bonus for employees who have children. The payments range from US$400 for a first child to US$40,000 for a fifth child.
In July 2015, SoftBank announced the renaming of the company from SoftBank Corp. to SoftBank Group Corp. Meanwhile, SoftBank Mobile was renamed to SoftBank Corp., the now former name of the company as a whole. On 16 February 2016, SoftBank announced they would repurchase a record 14.2% of shares, valued at $4.4bn, in order to boost investor confidence. On 31 March 2016, they announced they would sell shares worth $7.9 billion of their stake in Alibaba Group. On 21 June 2016, SoftBank sold its 84% stake in Supercell for reported US$7.3 billion to Tencent. On 3 June 2016, Softbank agreed to sell most of its stake in GungHo Online Entertainment (approximately 23.47%) for about $685 million, which would thus end Softbank's majority ownership of the company, resulting in Gungho no longer being an associate of Softbank. The offer was accepted by Gungho and completed by 22 June, thus allowing Gungho to become an independent company.
SoftBank Corp. (ソフトバンク株式会社, Sofutobanku Kabushikigaisha) is SoftBank's telecommunications subsidiary, providing both mobile and fixed-line services. It was previously called SoftBank Mobile until July 2015, with the Group's merger of SoftBank BB Corp., SoftBank Telecom Corp. and Ymobile Corporation to reflect its new status of providing fixed-line and ISP operations.
In June 2016, Nikesh Arora stepped down as president of SoftBank amidst pressure from investors. Board member Ron Fisher and Baer Capital Partners founder Alok Sama stepped in to manage Arora's overseas investment duties. Just a month later, Son announced the company's largest deal ever to buy British chip designer ARM Holdings for more than US$32 billion. This acquisition was completed on 5 September 2016.
On 6 December 2016, after meeting with US President-elect Donald Trump, chief executive Masayoshi Son announced SoftBank will be investing US$50 billion in the United States toward businesses creating 50,000 new US jobs.
On 30 January 2017, the Wall Street Journal wrote that SoftBank Group was "weighing an investment of well over $1 billion in shared-office space company WeWork Cos., in what could be among the first deals from its new $100 billion technology fund." On 20 March SoftBank bought a $300m stake in WeWork. On 14 February 2017, SoftBank Group agreed to buy Fortress Investment Group LLC for $3.3 billion. In February 2017, it was announced that Social Finance Inc. was close to raising $500 million from an investor group led by Silver Lake, and also including Softbank. On 28 March 2017, the Wall Street Journal reported that SoftBank Group Corporation had approached Didi Chuxing Technology Co. about investing $6 billion to help the ride-hailing firm expand in self-driving car technologies, with the bulk of the money to come from SoftBank's planned $100 billion Vision Fund.
On 18 May 2017, it was reported that Softbank had completed its single largest investment in India to date, investing $1.4 billion in Paytm. At the time, Softbank was also working on a takeover of Flipkart's Snapdeal. On 10 August 2017, Softbank invested $2.5 billion into Flipkart.
On May 27, 2017 Softbank and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia (PIF), the kingdom's main sovereign wealth fund, partnered to create the Softbank Vision Fund, the world's largest private equity fund with a capital of $93 billion. Softbank Group will contribute $28 billion to the investment fund, of which $8.2 billion will come from the sale of approximately 25% of British multinational Arm Holdings shares. Saudi Arabia is the main investor in the fund: its Public Investment Fund (PIF) will inject $45 billion into the Vision Fund over 5 years, becoming its largest investor in terms of volume. Other investors include Apple, Qualcomm, ARM, Foxconn, Sharp, Larry Ellison and Mubadala. The latter will invest $15 billion dollars in the fund, targeting artificial intelligence, communications infrastructure, financial technology, consumer internet, mobile computing and robotics. Through Softbank Vision Fund, CEO Masayoshi Son explained his intent to invest in all companies developing technologies in line with the global artificial intelligence trends, including various sectors such as finance or transportation. In July 2019, SoftBank announced the creation of a "Vision Fund 2", excluding participation from the Saudi Arabia government, and including investors Apple, Foxconn, Microsoft and others. The fund is reported to focus on AI-based technology and reach an investment of approximately $108 billion, of which $38 billion would be its own.
On 8 June 2017, Alphabet Inc. announced the sale of Boston Dynamics (robotics companies whose products include BigDog) to SoftBank Group for an undisclosed sum.
On 25 August 2017, SoftBank finalized a $4.4 billion investment in WeWork
On 24 October 2017, Softbank Group's CEO Masayoshi Son announced the group would collaborate with Saudi Arabia to develop Neom, the new high-tech business and industrial city of the Saudi Kingdom.
On 14 November 2017, Softbank agreed to invest $10 billion into Uber. On 29 December 2017, it was reported that SoftBank-led consortium of investors had secured a $9 billion investment into Uber. The deal, to close in January 2018, will leave SoftBank as Uber's biggest shareholder, with a 15 percent stake. The deal was secured after Uber shareholders voted to "sell their shares to the Japanese conglomerate at a discounted price." Beyond SoftBank, consortium members included Dragoneer, Tencent, TPG and Sequoia.
On 14 January 2018, Softbank's Vision Fund announced to invest $560 million in the German used-car sales portal Auto1 .
On 1 March 2018, Softbank's Vision Fund lead a $535 million investment in DoorDash.
In May 2018, CEO Masayoshi Son revealed during an earnings presentation that Walmart reached a deal to buy Flipkart.
In September 2018, Saudi government officials announced that a planned $200 billion project with SoftBank Group to build the world's biggest solar-power-generation project would be put on hold.
On 27 September 2018, Softbank announced investment of $400 Million in Home-Selling Startup Opendoor.
In November 2018, SoftBank announced it will make an IPO with the cost of share $13.22 (which is 1,500 yen). The offer of the shares was going to last for a month. Regarding the number of shares, total value of SoftBank will reach $21.15 billion, which would be the second largest IPO ever made.
In December 2018 SoftBank announced its intention to invest $1 billion on ride-hailing startup Grab. Some sources said that the total amount of investment could reach $1,5 billion.