SoftBank is in discussions about investing $15 billion to $20 billion in WeWork, giving it a majority stake in the coworking-space company, according to a Wall Street Journal report on Tuesday.
The deal — a massive investment in a private company even by the dizzying standards of Silicon Valley — would effectively give Japan's SoftBank control of the fast-growing office-sharing company.
And it would cement the SoftBank chairman Masayoshi Son's position as the dominant power in the modern tech economy, with everything from the semiconductors that power smartphones to telecommunications networks in his empire.
The discussions to invest in WeWork are ongoing, and a deal is not guaranteed, according to the Journal report, which cited anonymous sources. Representatives of SoftBank and WeWork did not immediately return Business Insider's requests for comment.
Billions of dollars and lots of skeptics
It's not clear what valuation SoftBank would give WeWork in the majority-stake deal. Business Insider reported in June that Rajeev Misra, the chief executive of SoftBank's Vision Fund, told a conference that WeWork was seeking to raise new funds at a valuation of $35 billion, up sharply from its 2016 valuation of $20 billion. He did not say whether SoftBank was participating in the round.
WeWork, which was founded eight years ago, has attracted billions in capital to fund its business fitting up and leasing out building space as shared offices. The company has expanded to 22 countries and is on track to generate more than $2 billion in revenue this year.
But the company's rapid expansion and multiple diverse acquisitions mean it's burning money. Skeptics worry that WeWork's core proposition of taking on long leases, doing up office spaces, and then subleasing them doesn't justify its huge valuation.
The company lost hundreds of millions of dollars in the first six months of the year, according to media reports, and its losses in the UK nearly tripled, according to recent filings seen by Business Insider. That said, WeWork's European flagship building in London turned a profit in 2017, a vindication of what the company claims is a viable business model.
SoftBank's investment would most likely be through its $92 billion Vision Fund, which is backed by Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi wealth funds as well as SoftBank's own capital, The Journal reported. The technology-focused Vision Fund already made a $4.4 billion investment in WeWork last August, giving it a 20% ownership stake in the company.
SoftBank's largest investment to date in a venture-backed startup was $7.7 billion for 15% ownership in Uber, according to The Journal.