Sometimes it’s darkest before it’s … pitch black.
Things are going from bad to worse at SoftBank. Since January 2019, Vision Fund firms have laid off over 10,700 employees — more than 2x the workforce of Twitter. And last year will soon be the good old days.
August turned into the mother of all summer bummers for the Vision Fund (let’s stop putting numbers on it, as this is the first and last fund from SoftBank). SoftBank was likely hoping Oyo’s growth would be the antibiotic to what ails the current portfolio. However, Oyo is about to become a heat shield for We as it turns into the new problem child — not smoking pot behind the gym, but crashing dad’s car into a Chick-fil-A.
The destruction of capital won’t be as dramatic, as SoftBank has “only” invested $1.5 billion into the Indian budget hotel chain vs. the $17 billion Masa set on fire at the desk rental firm. But the externalities catalyzed by SoftBank’s unique brand of terrible judgment will be greater. The imminent meltdown of the budget hotel firm could cast a pall across the Indian venture ecosystem, best described as “in its fragile teen years.” Last year, India birthed 7 unicorns, bringing the total to 24, a distant third to 203 in the US and 206 in China.
Thirty years ago there was a legitimate debate about who would be the next superpower, China or India. Both boasted an emerging young workforce the world hadn’t seen before and an appreciation for education and science. China had already established serious chops in manufacturing and was beginning to reap the fruit of coordinated infrastructure investments. India boasted a software boom, a sizeable English-speaking population, and the world’s largest democracy. Only the latter turned out to be a bug, not a feature. China’s autocratic rule, despite what we’ve been taught in civics, lent itself to moving fast, breaking things, and enacting state-sponsored IP theft on a scale best described as (wait for it) Chinese.
India’s innovation ecosystem is fragile, and Oyo is about to take a dump in the reputation pond for other promising Indian firms. Oyo has brought SoftBank’s unique brand of stupid with, according to great reporting from the NYT, corruption posing as naiveté. It’s malfeasance from a firm overseen by a 26-year-old who has been handed $3.2 billion, a mediocre idea, and tremendous pressure to be the next Airbnb. When poor judgment looks for quick fixes, corruption can rear its head.
At Oyo, we’re seeing a category concept (budget hotels) frankensteined by capital and consensual hallucination between SoftBank and a charismatic 26-year-old.
- Lightspeed Ventures and Sequoia Capital getting out of Dodge: selling 50% of their stake for $1.5 billion. SoftBank and founder Ritesh Agarwal pumping in more money.
- SoftBank has been smoking its own supply as the lead investor in every round since 2015.
- The firm is accused of using free lodging as bribes to avoid investigation from authorities.
- Agarwal has borrowed against his own shares to lever up, increasing the pressure to win at any cost.
- Oyo exaggerates the number of rooms available internationally.
- Reviews = sh*t.
At WeWork the lines between vision, bullshit, and fraud became increasingly narrow. However, there was no evidence of fraud, just a cult leader who read the situation perfectly and shaped a $2.5 billion commission from a $39 billion loss of other people’s money. It’s worse at Oyo. The pressure to grow, at any cost, coupled with the poor judgment of SoftBank and the (understandable) immaturity of a 26-year-old have thrust Oyo past fraud to bribery. This is the definition of corruption, and could taint the Indian unicorn economy and further damage the Vision Fund — now in palliative care, walking from signed term sheets.
We have, in this blog, covered the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame of catastrophic investing gestalt at SoftBank. Other Oyo mistakes are more pedestrian and violate basic tenets of brand strategy. Oyo aims to create the first truly budget hotel brand. This will not work.
A global brand is a set of intangible associations surrounding a product or service that permeate geographic boundaries. Great brands are hard to create; global brands are a feat of epic proportions that (pre-Google/Facebook) took generations to build. The vast body of global brands herd around a finite number of cohorts who look, feel, and smell the same globally:
- Technology: CTOs wear polo shirts with corporate logos, are out of shape, and buy Salesforce, Huawei, and Microsoft products.
- Media/Fashion: Teens rebel against their parents and society, wear Adidas, and listen to Rihanna.
- Luxury: Wealthy people send their kids to Ivy League schools, avoid taxes, wear Hermés, and vacation in St. Barths.
The only truly global hotel brands are luxury brands (The Four Seasons, Aman, Mandarin Oriental). The cohort purchasing budget hotels is heterogenous and runs counter to the notion that it’s possible to scale a budget hotel brand to achieve venture-like returns. The hospitality business is a mix of 2 kinds of capital: hard (properties) and soft (people). With a workforce that’s quintupled in the last 12 months, managing to any standard other than chaos is near impossible.
As we predicted in January 2019, a SoftBank firm (WeWork) would be in the news for all the wrong reasons. The same is true for 2020. WeWork was more of a spectacle, as the flowing hair and titanic capital destruction will make for great scripted television. But the downfall of Oyo will be historic. Sequoia and Lightspeed (both current investors) selling shares to SoftBank, deceptive practices, and a 26-year-old founder who borrows against his shares all add up to a sell signal for the ages. Trust is the core asset of any financial services firm (bank, hedge fund, VC fund), and SoftBank is becoming Lehman Brothers minus the IQ.
WeWork was an opportunistic infection highlighting the poor judgment of SoftBank. Oyo is the beginning of the end for Vision 1 as its brand moves from incompetent to malefactor.
Regulators, the media, and investors have turned a blind eye to climate change, teen depression, and the weaponization of elections. Financial losses will reunite them with their conscience. SoftBank is about to become subject to the scrutiny big tech deserves but obfuscates with investor returns.
Life is so rich,
life is so rich. signing off and remaining calm.
This is wealth redistribution. Softbank is aggregating toxic middle east/Asian capital and redistributing it to the masses. I’m all for it!
Vision Fund’s largest LPs are Middle Eastern. Much of the that money was already dirty in a way. So it’s kinda coming full circle now 🙂
I think this is funny and brilliant. Loved the last paragraphs. Isn’t SoftBank a blessing in disguise?
I worked with oyo for 3 months and left in December 2019. What you have written is absolutely correct. They have little room for diligence in their work.
Prof Galloway, you NEED to take a look at SoftBank’s other massive Indian venture, PayTM. Something gives me the feeling that what you’ll find there could be as bad (if not worse) than Oyo.
Great article. Sad how India has so unperformed it’s potential, but the economy and the tourism industry are taking a hit – and the government is making the problem worse by focusing on targeting minorities to pander to their racist base rather than constructing sound economic policies. Let’s hope Oyo is not a symbol of India’s broader economic hopes, at least in the near-term.
Agree a hundred percent.
“Trust is the core asset of any financial services firm (bank, hedge fund, VC fund), and SoftBank is becoming Lehman Brothers minus the IQ.” – This was GOLD! 🙂
At the end of the day – the biggest difference between WeWork and OYO is that WeWork’s experience is awesome while OYO is a cr*ppy experience on a good day. That is why WeWork will survive despite ownership problems and OYO’s meltdown is imminent.
This is true.
Pls mail relevant news
The attitudes of their employees and management who can’t be bothered to do their job and try to squeeze you for more money than posted online make more sense in light of this article. It can’t help that India is having an economic and tourist slump.
Well that’s what happens when start doing another man’s job… OYO a great idea but badly implemented… The founder should have had a clearer vision for his company… He should have had professional set of people to run the hotels for one… IT guys running hotels… IT guys guys chasing numbers without having a clue about sales pitch…. Hotels are run by professional hoteliers (period)…. OYO will make an interesting case study of how to ruin your plan…The greed tone at the top without having the competence to hold it …
Wt about the 26yo who’s running the deal?
Why so serious. The OYO HOTELS are cheap and being real: You very much get what you pay for. The Indian Owners are Stupid and Boy Not People Person’s. That’s the issue
OYO hotel owners are not stupid. They were hooked by the minimum guarantees and upfront payments. Once those commitments were flouted, the game unraveled. OYO is seeing a churn in hotels who are on the platform and / or respect bookings. This is owing to hidden penalties, non-payment of dues and what not.
In India Inc these guys are a History. Many police complaints are there that include the founder Ritesh Agarwal.
I just posted and it reads 9 hours ago, may be the blog ‘THINKS’ the world lives on the East Coast of the US, because I live in Dubai which is 9 hours ahead of NY. Please fix this bug.
After raising the funding, entrepreneurs should leave the implementation to professional managers and focus on overall policy. Oyo is a great idea implemented poorly, and that’s where I differ with you Scott.
Kill the goddamned GIFs. They are extremely annoying, detracting from the content, destroying the mood. Bad as Trump’s tweets.
Nothing is as bad as Trump’s tweets. I like the animated gifs usually, but I’m not sure I understand this week’s.
@Brian I believe it is Adam Neuman morphing into Ritesh Agarwal.
I like the GIFs
100% accurate. Thank god I’m getting out before this ship explodes and sinks, dragging thousands with it…
USA is ugly too?
The OYO founder reminds me of Dinesh’s cousin in HBO Silicon Valley who started the Bro app. How is is possible that people (and the know-all investors) still fall for a person like this??
Charisma is a hell of a drug. Never underestimate it’s ability to overcome the brightest brains. Google “dysrationalia”.
Don’t forget about Softy’s investment in that wacky robot pizza delivery thing.
When I read about it I was like “Galloway gonna be going to town on Softbank”, and here we are lol 🙂
Or Wag (did he cover that already?). We are still waiting on Compass and Opendoor to unravel. Scott can write a book, a chapter for each Softy portfolio company.
SoftBank has been an icon for wilful investment. It will interesting to see if it’s fall sets off others. Scott in your analysis, I’m surprised you did not mention the growth, and reach of the French based Accor.
Yell yeah Big Dog! My man, laying down the truth!
You, again, nail it, Scott which is why I read your stuff. Give it a 9.9…because you don’t say gestalt enough…otherwise a 10.0
Stop saying gestalt on every fucking post
Great read. Great insight.
Great cover as always. Please do the fake fintechs in UK (Monzo, Revolut) with negative margin models next
Would also be interested in hearing your thoughts on this Scott. Don’t forget N26
@Ryan and companies like Crossover