'The last person I felt this with was Jack Ma' — SoftBank's Masayoshi Son reportedly compared WeWork's Adam Neumann to Alibaba's founder

GettyWeWork cofounder and former CEO Adam Neumann

  • SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son reportedly told WeWork’s cofounder and former boss Adam Neumann that he reminded him of Alibaba’s founder, the driving force behind Son’s most successful investment ever.
  • “The last person I felt this with was Jack Ma,” Neumann recalled Son saying to him before WeWork’s IPO collapsed, Neumann was pushed out, and SoftBank bailed out his startup, according to Fast Company.
  • “When Masa chose to invest in me for the first time, he only met me for 28 minutes. OK?” Neumann told the magazine in January
  • He said Son drew up the terms of a $US4.4 billion investment on an iPad in the back of his car, and the pair signed at the bottom.
  • Read more WeWork stories here.

SoftBankCEO Masayoshi Son reportedly told WeWork’s cofounder and former boss Adam Neumann that he reminded him of Alibaba‘s founder, the driving force behind Son’s most successful investment ever.

“The last person I felt this with was Jack Ma,” Neumann recalled Son saying to him before WeWork’s IPO collapsed, Neumann was pushed out, and SoftBank bailed out his startup, according to Fast Company.

Ma turned a $US20 million investment from Son in 2000 into Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant with a market capitalisation north of $US480 billion today.

Son and Neumann’s relationship began at an event called Startup India in January 2016, Fast Company reported. The SoftBank chief was scouting for visionary founders ahead of the launch of the Japanese conglomerate’s $US100 billion Vision Fund, and he had dinner with Neumann after seeing him on stage.

The next significant moment was Son’s visit to WeWork’s Manhattan headquarters in December 2016. He arrived two hours late and informed Neumann he only had 12 minutes for a tour, Fast Company reported.

However, Son was so taken with the charismatic founder that he invited him to tag along for a car ride, drew up the terms of a $US4.4 billion investment on an iPad in the back seat, and both men signed at the bottom, the magazine said.

“When Masa chose to invest in me for the first time, he only met me for 28 minutes. OK?” Neumann told Fast Company in January of this year. WeWork secured a $US47 billion valuation in a private financing round led by SoftBank in the same month.

Son might retract his comparison of Neumann to Ma given what has happened since.

After WeWork filed to go public in August, investors railed against its unproven business model, mounting losses, limited governance, and Neumann’s controversial behaviour.

WeWork faced the prospect of a public valuation as low as $US10 billion, and potentially raising less than the $US3 billion needed to unlock $US6 billion in promising bank financing.

As a result, it scrapped its IPO and Neumann stepped down. Running short of cash, it accepted a $US9.5 billion rescue deal from SoftBank last month, which included a $US1.7 billion leaving package for Neumann.

SoftBank “over-evaluated Adam,” Son told analysts this month, after the WeWork fiasco sparked his company’s first quarterly loss in 14 years.

One analyst asked whether Son’s fondness for Neumann hurt his investing judgment.

“About loving Adam too much,” Son replied, “I learned a harsh lesson.”

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