Investment in Banjo – From Start Up To Major Force

Banjo was founded in 2011 by Damien Patton, and is sometimes called ‘the live internet’ as it lets those who are using this app experience unfolding events in real time. They can watch breaking news as well as live events through the eyes of people who are actually there. It works by collating content from social media such as Google Plus, EyeEm, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook as well as many more, collating all geo-tagged, publicly available content and indexing it by location, content and time.

It was initially intended to help app users to keep up with their friends, and in 6 months was being used by half a million people. By 2014, and following successive software upgrades, it had 6 million users.

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In May 2015, Banjo announced that it had successfully obtained funding of $100 million from Softbank, located in Japan. Softbank was established in 1981, has its headquarters in Tokyo and is now the 62nd largest organisation in the world.

Banjo needed investment to realise its ambition of creating a ‘crystal ball’ – a way of seeing everything that is trending across the whole planet in real time. It is hoping to harness the enormous power of social media by imposing order and structure on the vast banks of accumulating information.

The company has created a framework which divides the earth into 35 billion grid squares; each time something is shared publicly on social media which has been tagged with a location, it is classified and analysed. It plans to become the world’s leading real-time data platform, pushing far beyond existing boundaries.

The next blog post in this series from Mukesh Valabhji will examine Softbank’s investment strategy in more detail.

Board Member Mukesh Valabhji Takes a Look at New SoftBank Samurai Advertisement

Japanese internet and telecommunications giant SoftBank recently enlisted the skills of renowned master samurai Isao Machii to demonstrate the speed of their new mobile service Platinum Band LTE. Machii, known as The Modern Samurai throughout Japan, demonstrates his own super-human skills with the Katana sword by slicing through several objects travelling at high speeds – an orange fired at a speed of 80km/hour which he slices neatly in half, a fried prawn fired through a tube at 130km/hour and then a glowing red ball travelling at 150kn/hour, with the video necessarily slowed down so viewers can see what is happening. Board member of SoftBank’s PrinceVille Investments fund Mukesh Valabhji is one of many individuals highly impressed by the latest marketing campaign from SoftBank and the almost supernatural abilities of Isao Machii.

mukesh valabhji

The entrepreneurial Mukesh Valabhji has numerous business interests across the world and serves and has served in prominent positions on a variety of Boards throughout his career. These currently include his role on the SoftBank PrinceVille Investment board and Crimson Investments. His position with SoftBank has led Mukesh Valabhji towards further investment in start-up technology companies. These investments sit alongside his numerous property investments as founder and Chairman of Capital Management Group across commercial buildings, retail malls, hotels and resorts in a number of prime geographical locations, including the financial district of Singapore and Dubai as well as his native Seychelles, where how owns both the Capital City Building and the Intelvision Building, from where his Intelvision telecommunications, broadband and cable television operates.

Isao Machii, Modern Samurai

As such a well-known Japanese company it made sense for SoftBank to partner with an iconic Japanese figure such as Isao Machii for their Platinum Band LTE campaign. Isao Machii is one of the most renowned masters of the Iaijutsu sword style in Japan and the inventor of the Shushin-ryu Iaijutsu style. He teaches at the Kawanashi, Hyogo training venue Shushin-kan Iaido and to date holds no less than five Guinness World Records. These are: Fastest 1,000 Iaido Martial Arts Sword Cuts; Most Martial Arts Sword Cuts to One Mat; Most Sword Cuts in Three Minutes to Straw Mats (252); Fastest Tennis Ball Cut by Sword and; Fastest BB Pellet Cut by Sword. In a video which the pellet can only be seen properly when played in slow motion, Machii halves a BB gun pellet travelling at a speed of over 200km/hour! Dedicating his entire life to his craft, Machii demonstrates abilities which are beyond belief. Dr Ramani Durvasula witnessed the BB pellet decapitation and stated that this level of skill comes from processing things at a whole different sensory level. In the slowed down versions of Machii’s videos it can be seen that at the point of contact his eyes are clearly shut – Machii states that his extraordinary talent lies in being able not to watch the missile but to visualise the trajectory of the object depending on speed and environment and calculate where the object will be as it reaches his sword arc. Action happens faster than the average human can blink, hence the necessity of slowing videos down so watchers can observe what is happening. Japanese viewers may already recognise Isao Machii from other commercial roles demonstrating his impressive striking abilities including his portrayal as the ‘Fruit Ninja’ for last year’s Pillsbury Toaster Strudel advertisement.

SoftBank Capital PrinceVille Investment Fund

SoftBank PrinceVille Investments, of which Mukesh Valabhji serves as a board member, closed a US$250 million fund in 2013. This fund is to assist growth-stage technology companies introduce their brands and products to the fast-growing Asian market, along with expert advice and support from the existing SoftBank network of technology companies in the region. The mature mobile market in Asia along with millions of potential new customers experiencing a rise in disposable income makes the Asian market particularly appealing for start-ups and growth-stage technology businesses. Without local knowledge and funding, however, it can prove difficult for overseas-based companies to crack the market, which is where the SoftBank Capital PrinceVille fund comes in. With backers including Yahoo Japan, Alibaba Group and MediaTek Inc., the beneficiaries of the Fund are provided with both the financial and organisational backing to support entrance into the market and rapid early growth.

SoftBank and IBM Robot Collaboration Explored by Mukesh Valabhji

mukesh valabhjiCognitive computing could soon be coming to Japan after the announcement from SoftBank of a partnership with IBM, bringing the ‘brains’ of IBM’s supercomputer Watson to SoftBank’s social, friendly personal robot called Pepper. Watson has been under development at IBM since 2006 and is a giant, room-sized computer able to process vast quantities of information to produce artificial intelligence. Since being publicly introduced in 2011 Watson has been able to learn enough to beat the top grand champions from the Jeopardy game show. IBM and SoftBank will now be working together to programme Watson to be able to speak, listen and think in Japanese. Pepper was introduced in June of last year and through repeated interactions with humans is able to recognise and analyse tones of voice and facial expressions to identify and understand emotions. As a board member of SoftBank Capital PrinceVille Investments and with broad experience of investing in technology start-ups and innovative tech companies, Mukesh Valabhji is particularly interested in what this collaboration could mean for the role of technology in business and the global impact that this will have.

Mukesh Valabhji serves on a number of boards on top of his position with SoftBank PrinceVille Investments, including Crimson Investment. He has also established several of his own companies throughout his life, from the Seychelles Marketing Board to his latest venture, Capital Management Group. An entrepreneur and professional investor, Mukesh Valabhji has interests in large numbers of properties in several countries, from Samsung Hub and the Finexis Building in Singapore to the latest luxury resort and spa complex in the Seychelles under the Six Senses brand, due to open to the public later this year.

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Pepper the Friendly Robot

It is anticipated that robotic technology will become more commonplace and that we will gradually begin to incorporate it into many facets of our lives, including our homes as well as places of business. This will require engineers to develop new ways to present this technology to consumers, ensuring that our interactions with the AI are perceived positively. Pepper is a personal robot designed to become a genuine companion to owners. Standing at 1.2m tall, Pepper has a wheeled base, two arms and a 10.1 inch tablet screen mounted in the chest area. He was created with the aim of making people happy through positive interactions – a social rather than functional household robot.

The main goals of Pepper as he interacts with humans are to help people grow emotionally, facilitate relationships, well-being and kindness and have fun while encouraging contact with the outside world. The name ‘Pepper’ was chosen to express a sparkling personality and facilitate ease of pronouncement across a variety of global languages. While in the minds of his makers robots are genderless and people are able to project a male or female persona onto Pepper as they wish, in the SoftBank shop Pepper is referred to as ‘he’, being more personal than ‘it’. At present Pepper can speak four languages – Japanese, English, Spanish and French – although makers Alderbaran will shortly be introducing more languages as well as new behaviours and additional capabilities to further facilitate interaction.

Watson the Supercomputer

The partnership with IBM enabled Pepper to speak Japanese. Watson is IBM’s huge cognitive computer built to mirror the learning processes of humans, being a cognitive framework that combines observation, interpretation, evaluation and decision-making. Watson is able to take in huge amounts of data from all the sources humans use to communicate, from Tweets to comprehensive research reports. The difference between Watson and humans is not how that information is processed but simply how fast – Watson is able to process vast quantities of information in seconds without being bound by memory or volume.

The main challenge now is getting Watson to understand the Kanji Japanese written system, which contains 6,879 graphical characters. Watson will begin by being ‘taught’ an annotated set of quarter of a million words, which it will then transform into 10,000 diagrammed sentences – where the subject, verb, object and context are identified. Following this any mistakes made by Watson will be corrected and a further 250,000 words taught, with Watson able to learn from its past mistakes. Once a million words are fully understood, researchers will be able to help Watson understand the language and how it should be used in its entirety.

The collaboration between Watson and Pepper will initially fulfil specific business needs and demands, principally in the fields of healthcare, banking, education, insurance and retail. While consumers in the west have been more reluctant to embrace new AI technology in the home compared to those in Asia, the potential for their use in commercial environments looks much more promising.

Mukesh Valabhji Explores Planned SoftBank Transformation

Mukesh ValabhjiThe Japanese multimedia and telecommunications giant SoftBank Corp. announced in May of this year a planned series of changes designed to transform the company from a strong Japanese business with control of global assets into a truly global corporation with the aim of creating sustainable long term growth. The changes will include taking a systematic approach to the ongoing support of the diverse group of entrepreneurs and transformation of operating assets currently in place among other things. Chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son commented that this bold move, which will likely take several years to fully implement, has come about to combat the fact that many technology companies begin to face decline after the first three decades due to over-reliance on founders and an inability to keep up with changing business models and evolving technologies.

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Foundation Steps for Transformation

To build the foundation for the necessary changes the following steps were planned and implemented throughout June and July of 2015:

  • On June 19th Nikesh Arora moved from his position of SoftBank’s Vice Chairman to take over the new roles of President & COO and Representative Director. SoftBank will remain under the leadership of Masayoshi Son while the domestic telecommunications business of SoftBank Mobile Corp will continue under President and CEO Ken Miyauchi.
  • On July 1st SoftBank Corp. changed its name to SoftBank Group Corp. or SBG, in order to clearly identify its new position as a holding company seeking to drive future developments on a global scale, including all assets managed and owned by the Group.
  • On the same date all group assets were consolidated under the SBG brand, including SoftBank Mobile Corp., Alibaba Group Holding Limited, Yahoo Japan Corporation and all other investments of former SoftBank Internet & Media, Inc. (now known as SB Group US, Inc.) both current and past.

About Mukesh Valabhji

Mukesh Valabhji is a Seychellois entrepreneur and investor with a number of past and ongoing business interests across the world. As a member of the board of SoftBank PrinceVille Investments, this work has led to his interest in other technology start-up companies. Mukesh Valabhji also serves on the Advisory Board of Crimson Investment alongside his numerous other activities. In 1985 he founded the Seychelles Marketing Board, serving as Managing Director for some 21 years before stepping down to form his current enterprise, Capital Management Group. In its heyday the SMB brought in some 20% of the GDP of the Seychelles and was the single biggest employer and enterprise in the country.

While Mukesh Valabhji has business interests across the globe he remains prominent in his home country, spearheading or advising on a number of investment and entrepreneurial activities. These include Intelvision, one of the largest providers of internet, broadband, VoiP, telecommunications and cable television in the Seychelles and the Intelvision Building. A group of offshore investors being advised by Mukesh Valabhji are currently funding the soon to be opened Six Senses luxury spa and resort on the private island of Félicité later this year. Outside of his home country Mukesh Valabhji is a prominent investor in commercial real estate and property, with investments including the Building by Daman in Dubai, the Samsung Hub building in the financial district of Singapore and a range of further commercial properties, hotels and retail malls in a variety of countries.

SoftBank PrinceVille Investments Fund

SoftBank PrinceVille Investments, of which Mukesh Valabhji is a Board Member, focuses on providing funding and local market expertise and support to tech companies at the growth stage with its latest £250 million fund. The main aim of the Fund, which closed in February 2013, is to encourage innovative technology companies across sectors such as social media, consumer and enterprise mobile, e-commerce, cloud computing and online advertising, to expand into the rapidly growing Asian market backed by strong partners such as Yahoo Japan and the Alibaba Group.

Spotlighting Recent SoftBank Investments

SoftBank has already begun to make a rapid series of investments across Asia that reflect its growing interest in going global and make it increasingly difficult for the company to be seen simply as a Japanese telecom business. Recent investments include $1 billion into Coupang, an e-commerce leader based in Korea, $210 million and $627 million respectively for India’s Ola and Snapdeal, $600 million for Kuadi Dache in China and $250 million invested in GrabTaxi operating across Southeast Asia among others. With the plans for global transformation well underway, investments such as these solidify the position of SoftBank as a respected global investor with international potential.