The lessons from Son Masayoshi’s super-sized tech experiment
孙正义超大规模科技实验的经验教训

回望愿景 A vision in hindsight-书迷号 shumihao.com

“IF I’M GOING to do a fund it has to be big enough to disrupt the whole technology world.” So declared Son Masayoshi four years ago, on a trip to the Middle East to drum up cash for a new investment vehicle to take on Silicon Valley’s venture capitalists (VCs). His Vision Fund eventually raised $98.6bn and bought stakes in some of the world’s most exciting companies, including ByteDance and Uber. Yet Mr Son’s mission has so far had mixed results. Performance has been soggy, despite a boom in tech stocks, as the strategy of pouring money into private firms has at times become rather like spoiling perpetual adolescents. Instead, the Vision Fund’s most striking legacy may be that it has marked the start of a new era in which American capital and startups no longer call all the shots.
“如果我要做一个基金,那它一定要够大,足以颠覆整个科技界。”四年前,孙正义在一次中东之行中如此说道。他去那里是为了给一个新投资工具筹集资金,以挑战硅谷的风险投资家。他的愿景基金最终筹得986亿美元,并购入了包括字节跳动和优步在内的一些全球最令人兴奋的公司的股份。不过到目前为止,孙正义这一目标取得的结果喜忧参半。尽管科技股大涨,该基金却业绩低迷,因为有的时候,向私营公司注资这一策略已变得很像在娇惯永远长不大的半大小子。愿景基金最引人注目的成就倒可能是开启了一个新时代:美国的资本和创业公司不再操控全局。

For decades an elite of VC funds in San Francisco have spotted promising startups and nurtured them to adulthood, in the form of a stockmarket listing or a takeover. The Vision Fund played by different rules. It dragged VC out of its Californian cul-de-sac. Its anchor investor was a Saudi Arabian sovereign-wealth fund, it was controlled from Tokyo and it paid as much attention to Asia’s tech scene as to America’s. It viewed capital as a weapon in a winner-takes-all struggle. By channelling vast sums to startups you could speed up time and help them reach critical mass more quickly while intimidating their rivals. The Vision Fund also tried to reinvent governance. It let firms stay in private hands for longer, as part of its global family of startups which could share ideas and co-operate or fight it out—the fund has bought stakes in 92 firms, some of which compete with each other.
几十年来,旧金山一批优质风投基金发掘有前途的创业公司,将它们培养成熟,让它们去上市或被收购。愿景基金的玩法不同。它把风投从加州的死胡同里拉了出来。它的主要投资方是沙特主权财富基金;它本身由东京办事处控制,对亚洲和美国的科技界报以同样多的关注。它将资本视为赢家通吃的争斗中的一种武器。向创业公司输送大量资金可以加快时间,帮助它们更快达到关键规模,并令竞争对手生畏。愿景基金也曾试图重塑公司治理。它让公司留在私人手中更久,作为愿景全球创业公司家族的一份子,这些公司可以分享创意、合作或一较高下。该基金已购买了92家公司的股份,其中一些公司彼此竞争。

How has the experiment fared? Having invested $82.6bn, the Vision Fund has so far made net gains of $8bn. Mr Son’s optimism about tech was spot-on but his fund has lagged far behind the NASDAQ tech index, which has risen by 99% since May 2017, when the fund was officially launched. That underperformance reflects flaws in its strategy. Throwing cash at firms raised valuations and encouraged entrepreneurs to fight damaging price wars, from ride-sharing to food-delivery. Mr Son’s freewheeling view of governance was a mistake. Without the scrutiny of public markets, egotistical founders went astray, most obviously at WeWork, a property firm. Bad bets had cost the Vision Fund $14.5bn by June this year. It proved hard to get the portfolio of firms to co-operate, or merge, especially given geopolitical tensions.
这场实验进展如何?愿景基金已投资826亿美元,迄今获得80亿美元的净收益。孙正义对科技股的乐观情绪完全正确,但他的基金却远远落后于纳斯达克科技股指数,该指数自2017年5月愿景基金正式推出以来已上涨99%。这种欠佳的表现反映了战略上的缺陷。向企业砸钱推高了它们的估值,并促使从拼车到外卖领域的创业者大打价格战,造成破坏性的后果。孙正义无为而治的治理观是个错误。没有公共市场的审视,妄自尊大的创始人误入歧途,最明显的例子就是房地产公司WeWork。截至6月,失算的押注已使愿景基金损失145亿美元。事实证明,让它投资的众多企业相互合作或合并很难,尤其是在地缘政治紧张的情况下。

The tech industry is now rushing in a different direction, taking firms public so they can raise capital from diverse sources and face the discipline of institutional investors. Of the top 30 “unicorns”—private tech firms worth over $1bn—in 2018, over half have listed or are about to, including Ant Group and Airbnb. Many have used alternative techniques to go public, such as direct listings, which avoid the clunky initial-public-offering process. Mr Son’s fund will benefit as its firms leap into the public market at high valuations. But his second fund, Vision Fund 2, reflects a chastened reality, with only $3bn of assets and 13 investments so far, many of them small.
科技行业如今正急冲冲地朝另一个方向前进:将公司上市,这样就可以从多种渠道筹集资金,并接受机构投资者的约束。2018年的前30家“独角兽”(估值超过10亿美元的私营科技公司)中,超过一半已经上市或即将上市,包括蚂蚁集团和爱彼迎。许多公司已另寻他法上市,比如可避免繁琐的IPO程序的直接上市。随着孙正义的基金所投资的公司以高估值进入公开市场,该基金将获益。但从他的第二只基金愿景基金2期来看,现实已经受到不佳业绩表现的影响。迄今为止,该基金的资产只有30亿美元,投资13笔,其中许多规模很小。

Although it has failed to turn tech investing into alchemy, the Vision Fund has shown that the VC establishment does not have a monopoly in dealmaking—so far this year 82% of VC deals in America have involved non-traditional investors, including sovereign-wealth funds and companies. And most important, by taking a global view and placing giant bets in India, South-East Asia and China, it has underlined that the future of technology lies as much in Asia as on America’s west coast. Like many startups, the Vision Fund has helped change the world—just not in the way it originally expected to.■
尽管愿景基金未能将科技投资转化为炼金术,但它显示出促成交易并非风投机构的专利——今年以来,包括主权财富基金和企业在内的非传统投资者参与了美国82%的风投交易。最重要的是,愿景基金放眼全球,在印度、东南亚和中国押下重注,突显了技术的未来不仅在美国西海岸,也在亚洲。和许多创业公司一样,愿景基金帮助改变了世界——只不过不是以它最初预想的方式。