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.

Mukesh Valabhji

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.

Mukesh Valabhji Looks at the Latest Spree of SoftBank Investments

Japan’s SoftBank has been on a global spending spree in recent months, in particular in autumn of last year when the mobile giant invested almost USD$1 billion in the space of just six weeks into companies outside of Japan. Maverick CEO Masayoshi Son spearheaded the series of investments after having told investors at an earnings presentation that he wanted SoftBank to become like the goose that laid the golden egg.

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Golden Egg Investments

Working on predictions that India and China will become the top two economies over the next few decades, SoftBank invested approximately a billion US dollars in companies in those two regions over a short space of time and has announced plans to sink as much as $10 billion in Indian enterprises over the next ten years. The largest investment from the November spree was the $627 million for Indian online shopping portal Snapdeal. Son pointed to the huge success of SoftBank’s investment in Chinese shopping portal Alibaba as inspiration for this, noting that the $20 million share purchased in 2000 was valued at around $86 billion in September of last year. SoftBank has also invested $460 million in two taxi apps – GrabTaxi and Ola – and $7 million in Altaeros Energies. Altaeros is an MIT spin-off designing kite-like airborne wind turbines. While in the grand scheme of things this investment is relatively small, a spokesman for SoftBank stated that it would likely open up further opportunities. The devices, which generate more than double the amount of electricity of similar sized turbines on the ground and stay aloft at approximately 2,000 feet, have the potential to lift other equipment such as telecommunications into the skies. This potential for combining with telecommunications or surveillance technology could be the beginning of big things for the mobile giant.

SoftBank Capital PrinceVille Investments

The venture arm of SoftBank is also making a series of investments in technology growth-stage businesses through the $250 million PrinceVille Fund. The Fund, managed by a board including Mukesh Valabhji, will be providing between $10 and $20 million to twelve to fifteen companies looking to expand into the Asian market, with focus on areas such as cloud computing, social media, gaming, ecommerce, mobile apps and online advertising. The companies in question will also be able to benefit from the vast network of investors, advisors and vendors under the SoftBank umbrella throughout Asia. Mukesh Valabhji brings a wealth of investment experience to the table, including in telecommunications and media with the Seychelles cable television, VOIP and broadband company Intelvision and in prime commercial real estate, hospitality ventures and trading across the globe.

Under the leadership of Masayoshi Son, SoftBank has been able to announce that net income for the six month period leading up to September 30th 2014 was already up 37% from the same time period the previous year. Some of the most successful investments spearheaded by Son include cumulative investment in internet companies including Yahoo Japan, GungHo video games and UTStarcom telecommunications infrastructure, turning USD$3.2 billion into $96.7 billion. While critics have pointed to the disappointing performance of recently acquired US carrier Sprint Corp, Son remains unruffled, stating that his style of decision making is based on forecasts for the next ten, twenty or even thirty years. The man who introduced the iPhone to Japan has never been afraid of taking risks and this can be seen in the plans to sell Pepper, a ground-breaking robot for domestic communications, for only a similar price to that which you might expect to pay for a high end PC next year. Pepper, developed by Aldebaran Robotics, has been working for the past few months as a retail assistant, helping to sell Nestle coffee machines and the brand new iPhone 6 in Japan.

Masayoshi Son was named 45th in the 2013 list of the World’s Most Powerful People from Forbes Magazine. He has a personal fortune of $13.6 billion, making him the second richest person in Japan, despite having the dubious distinction of being the individual who has lost the largest amount of money in history in 2000, when the dot com crash cost him approximately $70 billion. The maverick CEO is also known for his environmental concerns and philanthropy. After the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, Son engaged in huge investments in solar panels across Japan and publicly criticized the nuclear industry, while in the wake of the 2011 Tohoku tsunami and earthquake Son pledged not only an immediate ten billion yen to support victims but also his own remaining salary until the date of his retirement.

See our next post about Mukesh Valabhji exploring planned SoftBank transformation.

Mukesh Valabhji Explores New $250 Million Taxi Booking Service Investment from Japan’s SoftBank

GrabTaxi, founded in 2012 in Malaysia, has become the latest investment of Japanese internet and telecommunications giant SoftBank. The internet and media arm of SoftBank has sunk $250 million into the taxi hailing app, making it the largest investor to date and taking the estimated value of the company to $1 billion. GrabTaxi currently operates across seventeen cities in six countries in Southeast Asia. Other investors to support the fast-growing taxi hailing network this year have been Tiger Global Management in the US and Vertex Venture Holdings, a subsidiary of the Singapore government investment arm Temasek.

Mukesh Valabhji

The GrabTaxi Network

GrabTaxi is currently considered to be the taxi hailing app with the largest network in Southeast Asia. Covering six countries, GrabTaxi (also known as MyTeksi) has over 60,000 taxi drivers registered, serving 500,000 active users, defined as those who use the service a minimum of once per month and 2.5 million downloads. Users can access the same app to hail the nearest taxi in seventeen major cities in the six countries – Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia – as well as view information including estimated fares for their journey, details about the driver and car that will be picking them up such as vehicle registration number and photograph plus trackable taxi rides. A spokesperson for GrabTaxi said that the latest series of investments will be used to fund campaigns to recruit more drivers to the network as well as staffing and marketing campaigns to enable the firm to compete against some of the biggest global players in the market. In terms of passenger numbers, bookings, driver network and usage GrabTaxi are the biggest players in the field, although street hailing is still the strongest competition. The firm will be concentrating on regional expansion and on fortifying efforts in existing locations in order to compete effectively with other taxi hailing apps in the area such as Uber.

SoftBank Investments

SoftBank has a strong reputation for investing in both start-ups and fast-growing businesses and is looking at present to invest some $10 billion in start-ups based in India. The past year has seen SoftBank invest $210 million in another taxi app, Ola, plus $627 million in Snapdeal, an online Indian shopping portal. The SoftBank PrinceVille Investment fund, of which Mukesh Valabhji serves on the board, is currently working to place $250 million into between twelve and fifteen growth stage companies looking to expand into the Asian market, with focus on technology companies. Mukesh Valabhji is a prominent global investor from the Seychelles with a number of interests across a variety of business sectors including real estate, hospitality, trading, media and telecommunications. The PrinceVille Fund will benefit businesses bringing social media, gaming, cloud computing, mobile apps, ecommerce and online advertising to Asian markets. In one of the biggest investment pledges in the renewable energy sector in India, SoftBank along with Foxconn and Bharti Enterprises have promised a sum expected to be around $20 billion in solar projects in India, generating a minimum of 20 gigawatts of energy under the remit of the newly-formed company SBG Cleantech. SoftBank will retain majority control of SBG, with Foxconn and Bharti Enterprises as minority stakeholders. Foxconn will also be helping with delivering the planned solar equipment for the project.

Mukesh Valabhji

A fourth-generation Seychellois, Mukesh Valabhji has a long and respected history of investing in a number of business sectors. One of his primary vehicles is the Intelvision cable television, broadband internet and telecommunications service in the Seychelles. He has also made many key investments in commercial real estate within the Seychelles, Singapore and Dubai including premium office strata in the Samsung Hub building within the Raffles Place financial district of Singapore and the Building by Daman in Dubai. A group of investors advised by Mukesh Valabhji are behind the new luxury Six Senses resort due to open on a private island in the Seychelles later this year. The resort will feature 5-star accommodation in premium condominiums and luxury branded residences, waterfront entertainment and dining facilities and much more. The Valabhji family have been involved for more than three-quarters of a century in trading businesses within the Seychelles, operating currently under the holding company of Abhaye Valabhji Pty Ltd, retailing across various lines of business including automobiles, furniture, Yamaha outboard engines, household appliances and much more. Abhaye Valabhji Pty Ltd is spearheaded by the brother of Mukesh Valabhji, Anil. Mukesh Valabhji has been working with SoftBank PrinceVille Investments, using his wealth of investment expertise to help generate further global investment in technology start-ups and growth companies.

See our previous post to find out what Japan’s Softbank Corp names their new president.

Japan’s SoftBank Corp Names New President

Japan’s SoftBank Corp announced the appointment of Nikesh Arora, previous head of investments, as president in a management reshuffle. Arora has also been named as a potential candidate to take over as CEO from Masayoshi Son at a time when the telecommunications giant is looking to step up international expansion. The reshuffle will also include the move for Ken Miyauchi from president and CEO of SoftBank Mobile Corp to director of the company and the resignations from the board of Yoshimitsu Goto and Kazuhiko Fujihara on June 19th of this year. Board member of SoftBank PrinceVille Investments (whose major investor is SoftBank Group) Mukesh Valabhji will retain his current position. Mukesh has a number of business interests including further telecommunications investment in Intelvision in the Seychelles and investment in real estate, hospitality and trading interests across the globe. Mukesh has also being exploring a new $250 million taxi booking service investment from Japan’s SoftBank.

Nikesh Arora

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Nikesh Arora was hired by SoftBank Corp in July 2014 to head up a brand new unit, SoftBank Internet and Media Inc. Coming from a leading role at Google Inc., Arora has enjoyed much success and recognition throughout his career. In 2012, he was able to boast being one of the most powerful and well-paid executives at Google, with earnings that year of $51 million in combined cash and stock. Billionaire CEO of SoftBank Masayoshi Son who relinquished the post of president to make way for Arora said of the young executive that he was a “strong candidate” for the future leadership of SoftBank Corp, although he was careful to add that he had no plans to retire anytime soon.

Arora has previously worked in a number of senior roles from vice-president to CEO, president to director. His experience lies mainly in internet and telecommunications sectors, having worked not only for Google Inc. but also for T-Mobile and T-Motion, Sprint Corporation and several investment firms early in his career.

Sprint Corp Acquisition by SoftBank Corp

The news of the management reshuffle at SoftBank Corp came at a time when a sluggish economy within Japan saw the Group struggling to make the 2013 acquisition of Sprint Corp profitable. The $20 billion acquisition is now forcing SoftBank to consider looking overseas to create more potential for growth. The long-haul revamp of the Sprint network has so far cost thousands of jobs and thousands of subscribers into the bargain, with stiff competition from larger rivals from the US such as Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T further exacerbating the problem. Nikesh Arora was appointed director of Sprint Corp in November 2014 alongside his role as CEO of SoftBank Internet and Media Inc.

SoftBank Investments

SoftBank has made a series of investments in recent years, including $600 million in Kuadi Dache, a Chinese taxi-hailing app operated by Travice Inc., $250 million in Legendary Entertainment, a privately-held movie studio in Hollywood and the acquisition of the largest content portal and search engine in Japan, Yahoo! Japan. There are also plans underway to invest $10 billion across the under-developed online retail market in India which has the potential to be huge, alongside existing investments in Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, the Chinese ecommerce giant. SoftBank Capital is also behind the PrinceVille Investment Fund, which closed in February 2013 and of which Mukesh Valabhji is a board member. The PrinceVille fund is bringing $250 million of global investment in growth stage media, telecommunications and internet businesses looking to expand into the mature Asian market. This includes investment in companies in the social media, gaming, ecommerce, cloud computing, online advertising and mobile applications sectors.

SoftBank Capital

The PrinceVille Fund was launched by SoftBank Capital to complement ongoing efforts in early stage investment, concentrating instead on established, growth stage companies with a desire to enter the Asian market. SoftBank Capital invests in companies across a variety of technology sectors with focus on those businesses that increase connectivity between people, devices and the world. Since 1995, SoftBank Capital has invested heavily in a wide variety of companies, with recent prominent exits including ZipList, OMGPOP, Buddy Media, Huffington Post and Hyperpublic. The inter-relation between the PrinceVille Fund from SoftBank Capital and SoftBank Corp brings about unique positioning for those companies being funded, to access a wide and well-established network of leading internet, telecommunications and media companies within the Asian market in order to drive rapid growth. Western-based companies are also able to take advantage of a wealth of local knowledge in a market that is often inaccessible due to its unfamiliarity, accessing strong guidance when formulating expansion plans in countries such as China and Japan.

FlightCar Innovates Car Sharing

Car sharing has been around for a while now, but whoever thought that it would make its way into the airport industry? After years of experiencing car share programs at grocery stores, retail malls and universities throughout the world, one company decided to give it a try at the airport.

FlightCar is the world’s first peer-to-peer car sharing company. The company’s main business concept is to allow its customers to rent their cars out to other customers at airports across the country. In the fall of 2014, the company announced that it had come up with another $13.5 million in order to expand into new markets. GGV Capital was the company behind the new infiltration of funds. In addition, GGV Capital’s managing partner, Hans Tung, agreed to join FlightCar’s board.

mukesh valabhji

The $13.5 million in financing that FlightCar received from GGV is in addition to the $6.5 million that the company had previously raised from a variety of other investors, including First Round Capital, Comcast Ventures, General Catalyst, and Facebook Co-founder Eduardo Saverin.

SoftBank Capital was also an existing investor to FlightCar. The company is known recently for a variety of successful investments, including EdCast, a company that focuses on the online higher education sector. Mukesh Valabhji, board member of SoftBank Princeville Investments (whose major investor is SoftBank), is eager to see what the company stands to gain from its investment in FlightCar. Visit Mr. Valabhji’s Pinterest page to gain more information about his connection to SoftBank and his other areas of interest.

Travellers who sign up to use FlightCar leave their automobiles at designated lots owned by the company at myriad airports throughout the country. They receive free parking for as long as they are traveling. While they are gone, their automobiles become available for other travelers to use at their leisure. Those travelers are offered an extremely discounted rate to rent a car through FlightCar as compared to any other typical rental car company.

There are several other perks to leaving a car with FlightCar other than the free parking. In fact, the company cleans and washes all of the cars before they are made available for rental, and each parking lot comes with a free third-party shuttle service that transports travelers between the airport and the parking lot. And, to ensure peace of mind for those travelers who leave their cars with FlightCar, the company makes sure that ever renter is pre-screened, and each rental is insured up to $1 million. What’s more is that FlightCar will even pay members whose cars are rented. All of this comes with a free membership, free insurance, low rental rates guaranteed, and a few free extras to boot.

While FlightCar is up against a great deal of logistical and operational challenges, the company has managed to become highly successful, as it has solicited more than 30,000 members to join as members since fall of 2014. And since the company opened its doors, it has rented out over 10,000 cars through its ingenious platform.

While many would think that the concept would appeal more to younger generations and early adopters, according to Rujul Zaparade, co-founder and CEO of FlightCar, this is not necessarily the case. In fact, seniors make up as much as one third of the company’s members. In addition, a good proportion of the newest users are hearing about the company through grass roots and word of mouth marketing, according to new user surveys conducted by the company.

The company opened its doors in 2013, and the two-year-old company has gradually expanded to new markets ever since. FlightCar first started at the San Francisco International Airport, and now it has made its way into Boston Logan as well as Los Angeles International. It also recently expanded into the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. It won’t be long before most major airports are accessible via FlightCar.

Zaparade said that the company chose to partner with GGV, in addition to its existing partners, due to the firm’s previous work with logistics companies such as Chine based GrabTaxi and Ehi Auto Services. The company hopes that GGV will be able to provide a similar kind of expertise to the airport car sharing business model, especially as FlightCar looks to expand into more airports.

With strong investors like GGV, SoftBank, and others, FlightCar has a solid base and is poised for success. Well-known investors like Mukesh Valabhji and others who have some connections to SoftBank will be interested to see where this venture leads.

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SoftBank Backs Online Higher Education Venture

Soon after SoftBank Capital saw unprecedented earnings in the Alibaba public offering, the company went back into investing in the early stage market in fall of 2014. When they did, they dove right in with a $6 million investment into the new online education company, EdCast, which was founded by the well-known entrepreneur, Karl Mehta. High level investors with connections to SoftBank, like Mukesh Valabhji, a board member of Softbank PrinceVille Investments (whose major investor is SoftBank), are excited about the new partnership. To learn more about Mukesh and his connections to SoftBank, go to his page.

This particular investment marks the second time that SoftBank has invested into one of Mehta’s many startup companies, though the previous time it was in a much different arena. The last company of Mehta’s that SoftBank invested into was PlaySpan, which manages virtual currency systems. It was later sold for $240 million to Visa Corp., which proves it was a strong investment.

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SoftBank was not alone in its investment of Mehta’s latest business venture. In fact, they went in along with other known companies, including Menlo Ventures, Mitch Kapor, Novel TMT Ventures, Aaron Capital, Vervin Ventures, NewSchools Venture Fund/CoLab, and finally, Stanford StartX Fund. EdCast was founded in order to transform the online higher education sector.

Mehta’s first attempt at a startup occurred in 1999, when he founded MobileAria. The company prided itself on producing voice-enabled news, including weather, sports, and financial news, over wireless devices. This was a time when the technology sector was soaring, including the emergence of the internet and dot-coms. At that time, a company like MobileAria was highly inventive, and Mehta’s team showed ingenuity in providing internet content onto mobile networks. Mehta suggested that it was a product ahead of the curve.

After its founding, the company partnered and launched with Sprint and Verizon. Subsequently, 9/11 changed the landscape. As a result, the company made a few slight adjustments and shifted into the mobile asset management and mobile tracking arena rather than focusing on business-to-business markets.

After dabbling in mobile content, Mehta shifted his attention to payment networks, just a year after Wireless Matrix purchased MobileAria. Mehta says that his big idea was to offer a platform for virtual currency trading, specifically for online gamers to exchange virtual currencies. According the Mehta, the original idea eventually grew to include a platform for virtual wallets and payment processing. Consequently, his company was known as the largest of its kind. In fact, even before Bitcoin came onto the scene, they were considered the original virtual currency platform.

Now, several years after he sold PlaySpan to Visa Corp, Mehta hopes to dabble in the realm of higher education with his new venture, EdCast. The company is a personal learning network aimed to enhance our ability to collaborate and learn through a variety of channels, including educational materials, students, instructors, and employers. EdCast partners with world-renowned institutions, governments, enterprises, and non-profit organisations to power social, cloud and mobile based learning, which allows millions of students throughout the world to interact with and learn from each other.

EdCast made headlines in the fall of 2014 when it announced that Jeffrey Sachs, an expert in sustainability and economic policy as well as professor at Columbia University and founder of the school’s Earth Institute, was planning to teach a sustainability course in the Sustainable Development Solutions Network for some 250 institutions.

Mehta hopes to continue to push EdCast forward, partnering with educational networks that consist of a growing number of member institutions. In this vein, the company also recently announced that it would work alongside the Open Education Consortium, which includes hundreds of institutions into one network. Some of these include Osaka University, Madrid Polytechnic, The University of Cape Town, Korea University, Delft University of Technology, and Michigan State University.

The company has high market potential, and Mehta hopes that it will become a multi-billion dollar venture. His goal is not to compete with higher education institutions, rather to find new and innovative ways to collaborate with them and introduce them to potential revenue streams. He has a utopian view of education, where anyone can take classes from anywhere in the world at any institution in the world. He says he wants to enhance education, not compete with it or undermine it.

With the help of SoftBank’s investments into the project and their ongoing support from other groups connected to SoftBank, such as SoftBank Princeville Investments, which Mukesh Valabhji has a hand in, EdCast has high potential for success. And this is not the only education venture that SoftBank is invested in. The company has also put resources and energy into Echo260. Therefore, SoftBank understands the power of the industry and the potential it has to revolutionise education for the better. Its involvement with EdCast stands to be an excellent partnership.

Why a Cell Phone Can’t Replace a Landline

Over the last few years there has been a trend where more and more people have been abandoning their landlines. They have either been removing their mobile or business landline, or not bothering to have one installed when moving into a new home or business property. Indeed, for many it has become perceived wisdom to avoid a landline altogether in order to reduce bills, while removing something which is now seen as supplement to requirements; however, there are many reasons why this is not the case, and why businesses and home owners should consider their landline options carefully before making a decision. Even top business property investors have maintained their use of landlines whether at home or in lucrative developments, such as this Mukesh Valabhji project, and so the business world continues to show that there is still indeed merit in having a landline. But why are some people making the mistake of abandoning their landlines?

mukesh valabhji

Why Do People Get Rid of a Landline?

For many, the main argument is finance. By not having a landline, this decreases monthly bills, but it also minimises the chances of letting a bill get out of hand should a home phone be overused. Another reason is that most people already have a mobile phone, so they feel that a landline is overkill and simply not needed. Unfortunately, both of these claims are incorrect. This is usually a rash decision, and there are many reasons why someone should still pay for a landline in their property.

Essentially, there are two types of people who should still consider a landline:

  1. Homeowners
  2. Business Owners

Let’s now take a look at some of the reasons why both of these should look to maintain their landline or have one installed.

A Landline For Homeowners

For most, it will be in the home where they have experience of owning a landline. For nearly a hundred years this has been a stalwart of the modern house or apartment, but now seems redundant for the reasons given above to some. In reality, homeowners should seriously consider a landline because:

  • Savings: Contrary to what most believe, having a landline can actually save a homeowner money. If they have a TV and broadband provider, they may be able to get a package which will save on monthly payments when including a landline.
  • Reception: Mobile phone signal strength will vary depending on location and network. Even the best networks will sometimes experience outages, and for this reason a landline is always a great back up to have. It rarely goes down, most landlines are not badly affected by the weather, whereas mobile phones can be. If taking an important phone call it can be frustrating to experience such a problem with reception, a landline helps to negate this issue.
  • Quality: This is something which is not often stressed, but a landline tends to sound better than a mobile phone. This can be important when wanting to connect with someone on a personal level, or if anyone in the home has a hearing difficulty.
  • Emergencies: Whether it be an accident or an immediate health issue, mobile phones cannot always be relied upon. With a landline, emergency operators know exactly where a call is coming from, and even if the call cannot be completed they will send paramedics, police officers, or fire fighters depending on the situation. The landline is always on and is usually always in the one place even when cordless. This all makes it a far more reliable way to contact the emergency services, should such difficulties present themselves.
  • Internet Connection: While some companies offer an internet connection over satellite, these are never as fast or as reliable as a landline. The bottom line is that if a person wants a good internet connection, they need a landline.

A Landline for Business Owners

Many of the reasons given above also apply to business owners; but there are subsequent reasons which pertain to why they should consider having a landline. These include:

  • Professionalism: Having a landline provides a level of professionalism. Everyone has a mobile phone, but calling a landline presents the impression that a company has a place of business and is more legitimate.
  • Communication: In a larger office environment, especially across multiple floors, a landline is still a great way for people to communicate within and out-with a business. In fact it is still a leading way for businesses to organise their communications. Without this, communication can in fact be inefficient, with email rarely providing the relative nuance needed when co-worker interact.

Landlines are Still Important

It’s clear that landlines still have a lot to offer whether in the home or office. They provide a level of quality, reliability and effectiveness which cannot be rivalled by mobile devices. For this reason, home and/or business owners should consider the issue carefully if they are genuinely planning to remove their landlines. In doing so they may be negating an important method of communication.

Landlines have a long and important history, and it’s clear to see this is not going to change any time soon, as they hold particular advantages over cell phones. For the above mentioned reasons landlines are here to stay, and will remain a great option for businesses and homeowners for many. years to come.

Problem Solving with Yahoo! Japan

Since its establishment, Yahoo! Japan has operated under the slogan of ‘users first’, placing the needs of consumers at the forefront of its philosophy. Through the provision of a wide variety of IT services for desktop and mobile, Yahoo! Japan acts as an engine for problem solving; recognising the social importance, convenience, public nature and potential of the internet and creating innovative solutions to consumer requirements with ever more enhanced services. The portal site continues to grow rapidly, introducing new added value services including news aggregation sites such as Yahoo! News and the online auction site YAHUOKU!, plus a range of further convenient problem-solving services for both individual and corporate users.

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Yahoo! Japan with SoftBank Capital

Yahoo! Japan is part of SoftBank Capital, which in turn is a part of the wider SoftBank Corp, a global leader in internet, broadband, fixed-line telecommunications and mobile communications that is headquartered in Tokyo. SoftBank Capital has a number of technology companies in its portfolio, providing each with the opportunity to gain strategic advantage within the Asian marketplace.

A new fund from SoftBank Capital, the SoftBank PrinceVille Fund, brings even more opportunity to the table. The $250 million fund will focus on bringing into the Asian market those innovative technology companies seeking expansion and offering products and services tailored to the growing mobile and technology market in Japan, China and Korea. Board member of the SoftBank PrinceVille Investments Mukesh Valabhji, a prominent investor in a wide variety of industries worldwide, is excited by this change of direction for SoftBank Capital, which has previously focused the majority of its funding on seed businesses. You can read an online profile of Mukesh Valabhji to find out more about the fund and other global investment opportunities.

SoftBank Capital has emphasised the fact that by affiliation with companies such as Yahoo! Japan, these businesses seeking expansion through the PrinceVille fund will be able to access local knowledge and additional strategic value to accelerate their market presence. It is expected that between 12 and 15 companies will be allocated $10 to $20 million from the fund, as well as gaining strategic advice and assistance from the wider SoftBank Group.

Users First

Yahoo! Japan acts primarily as an engine for solving problems through the internet. With the spread of smartphone and tablet usage, this potential for problem solving is now far greater than ever before, leaving Yahoo! Japan ideally placed to address the needs of business and individual customers anywhere and at any time. The role of Yahoo! Japan within society is therefore becoming increasingly important, creating the need for innovative new and enhanced services.

Yahoo! Japan is rising to the challenge in a number of ways, working to solve problems for ecommerce businesses, consumers and all other users in the fastest and most convenient way possible. Asia today represents a mature mobile market, with rising incomes across the board seeing consumers willing and able to spend on advanced technology. Businesses such as Yahoo! Japan, which offer vast problem-solving services to add value and convenience, are at the forefront of those companies beginning to monetise the millions of new customers in the Asian region.

Revitalising Ecommerce and Online Advertising

Over the past few years big changes have been made at Yahoo! Japan, revitalising both ecommerce and online advertising. From October 2013, Yahoo! Japan removed all monthly tenant fees in a new initiative for major services such as auctions and online shopping (YAHUOKU! and Yahoo! Shopping, for example). The results of this saw ten-fold growth in online shops; by September 2014 there were 190,000 shops and an expanded line-up of merchandise with more than 100 million items available. Under this new direction Yahoo! Japan expects to see further growth in the ecommerce sector as we move forward in 2015.

Since the end of 2013 a new strategy has also been put into place for online advertising. Yahoo! Japan is now able to utilise both the latest advertising and marketing technologies and big data to provide a more comprehensive solution to multi-device requirements and to the diversification of the needs of advertisers. Since introducing the new strategy, Yahoo! Japan has seen growth across the board of both advertising displays and advertising revenue, driven primarily by increased smartphone usage and also through improvements in matching accuracy and other factors. Businesses are able to access the benefits of the new strategy through Yahoo! Japan Display Ad Network (YDN).

$250 Million Fund by SoftBank PrinceVille Investments Helps Companies Expand into Asia

The PrinceVille Growth Fund from SoftBank Capital, which is the venture arm of the Japanese giant SoftBank Corp, announced a new $250 million fund in 2013 to help companies looking to expand into the Asian marketplace.

The fund will supply 12 to 15 companies with between $10 million and $20 million each for the purpose of driving this Asian expansion, with a core focus on those companies serving the key digital trends being seen in Asia such as human-machine interaction and mobile payments. These trends are not yet as mainstream in Europe, and the result of this is that many technology companies now focus on Asia as their primary target market for expansion before Europe. SoftBank claims that because of the extensive network of SoftBank Corp throughout Asia, SoftBank Capital is ideally placed to help drive expansion into Asia for a variety of companies.

mukesh valabhji

SoftBank PrinceVille Investments

As a board member of SoftBank PrinceVille Investments, Mukesh Valabhji is excited by the focus of the new fund, which it is hoped will identify some of the companies best placed to focus on new digital trends and build them up before there is too much local competition. Working with SoftBank, Valabhji has been inspired to invest further in new technology start-ups. Valabhji has an extensive portfolio of investments, including media and communications network Intelvision and a number of commercial and resort properties across the world. The Mukesh Valabhji blog – coming soon – will have further details of many exciting investment opportunities.

The PrinceVille Fund will not stray too far from typical SoftBank investments, focusing on technology companies specialising in social media, ecommerce, gaming, cloud computing, online advertising and mobile apps. Three new executives have been brought in to manage the PrinceVille Fund. One of these executives, Matt Krna, explained that the fund was designed to work with the growing number of companies looking at international expansion at a much earlier stage than ever before, and focusing primarily on the Asian markets before Europe.

SoftBank Capital

SoftBank Capital is the venture capital arm of SoftBank Corp, a Japanese wireless carrier with huge global reach. Among other notable achievements, SoftBank Corp was responsible for initially introducing the iPhone to the Japanese market. To date SoftBank has focused primarily on funding seed-stage companies and is now altering that focus with the new fund, which will concentrate on more mature or established companies looking to expand into Asia and in particular into Japan, Korea and China. Due to the already extended reach of SoftBank throughout these markets, the company claims to be the very best venture capital provider to work with for those seeking to break into them.

SoftBank Capital invests across all stages of company lifecycle, from start-up to growth and maturity, with a preference for businesses with (or looking to establish) a strong presence in the Asian and US markets. Assets include Yahoo! Japan, SoftBank Mobile, Sprint, GungHo Online Entertainment, Brightstar and Alibaba Group. As a worldwide ecommerce retailer, Alibaba Group will be providing local experience within Asian markets as well as additional strategic value.

The global telecommunications, internet and media conglomerate SoftBank Group has headquarters in Tokyo. SoftBank Capital assists SoftBank Group in identifying key strategic investments. Recent successful exits by SoftBank Capital include Huffington Post, Buddy Media, Pivot, ZipList, Hyperpublic and OMGPOP. SoftBank offers entrepreneurs a committed investment partner with a solid track record and strong network of industry connections, as well as a deep level of local knowledge within the Chinese, Japanese and Korean markets.

Asian Mobile and Technology Market

The Asian technology market currently offers myriad opportunities for companies seeking expansion, with strong demand creating growth. The mobile market in particular is highly mature and represents a huge opportunity for monetisation as rising incomes see consumers willing to spend more money on new technologies. Consumer spending on mobile and other technologies is rising at a far faster rate in Asia than in other markets, creating attractive opportunities for new and established companies in the field. The PrinceVille Fund offers exciting opportunities for those companies to gain a toehold in the Asian markets, with not only the requisite financial backing but also the support of a group of related companies such as Alibaba Group and Yahoo! Japan. This additional strategic support has the potential to accelerate the expansion of market presence for the companies benefiting from the fund.