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SoftBank’s Michael Ronen isn’t worried about automation displacing workers

  • Posted by admin on March 7, 2018

SoftBank’s $ 100 billion Vision Fund has naturally attracted curiosity due to its mammoth size. Managing partner Michael Ronen told the crowd at VentureBeat’s Blueprint conference in Reno, Nevada that the lowest round the fund will invest in is $ 100 million. In 2017, SoftBank invested in 16 companies in the U.S.

But what’s equally as intriguing about SoftBank’s investment thesis is that it’s deploying capital to ridesharing companies like Didi and Uber, as well as delivery platforms like DoorDash — companies that are changing the way Americans make money.

“With Uber, there’s lots of discussion about what it does to communities — but at a very basic form, it allowed a lot of people on a full-time or part-time basis to make a living or augment their living,” Ronen told the crowd.

However, the inevitable deployment of self-driving cars means that many of the jobs that Uber created may also be destroyed. Ronen is unsurprisingly optimistic about how SoftBank’s portfolio companies will change the world. In a conversation with VentureBeat CEO Matt Marshall, Ronen mentioned Amazon and “what it has done to make commerce available to everyone in the world” as an example of what kind of an effect he thinks SoftBank’s portfolio companies can have.

Yes, a huge injection of capital ensures with near certainty that that company will gobble up a huge market share  — but Ronen argues that it will also bring opportunities to deploy that product to more places across the U.S.  “It used to be that if you wanted to get the big entertainment and products in the world, you had to live in the big city,” Ronen said. “Now you can get anything online, can consume any form of entertainment online.”

He also cited Amazon Web Services as a positive development that has allowed more companies to start up without spending a huge amount of money on a cloud provider.

Other SoftBank investments that are poised to disrupt traditional industries through automation include Plenty, an indoor-farming startup, and insurance startup Lemonade.

“In some of [these investments] — distribution centers, logistics, will all bring a lot of growth. Some of that will be at the expense of old mechanical jobs,” Ronen acknowledged. “Where are those jobs going to go? I don’t know, but my sense is that there are other things happening in this economy … still a lot of things in the world that require human intelligence.”

Ronen — echoing the views expressed by Sequoia’s Michael Moritz and Y Combinator’s Sam Altman in recent op-eds — says that China has become an innovation powerhouse, and one that SoftBank is keeping a close eye on.

“What’s happening in China … cannot be described in words,” Ronen said.

You can check out Ronen’s full talk at VentureBeat’s Blueprint conference here.


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