SoftBank’s Plan B: Win over Uber investors who aren’t Benchmark

The Japanese giant is “making the rounds” to find new ways to get a piece of the car-hailing company

SoftBank has begun approaching other investors besides Benchmark in a continuing effort to acquire a piece of Uber, according to the people briefed on the moves.

As has been widely reported, the giant Japan-based investor and conglomerate has offered to buy shares in the car-hailing company owned by the Silicon Valley venture firm, but has been unsuccessful so far due to differences on price. (SoftBank had offered to buy shares at a $45 billion valuation for Uber, said sources, while Benchmark has publicly stated that they believe Uber will be worth $100 billion.)

That’s why SoftBank has recently begun to make overtures to other shareholders to purchase some of their positions, said sources, “making the rounds” and expanding its list of targets to find other potential sellers.

SoftBank has also expressed an interest in also buying equity directly from Uber, but is said to only be willing to do so if they could also purchase ownership stakes from an existing investor, the people briefed said.

It is unclear what other investors in the massive privately held company could be interested in selling at the prices offered by SoftBank. Benchmark has been assumed the most likely seller given its fierce disagreements over the direction of the company, which burst into public view in the lawsuit against Kalanick this week.

“If anything, our view is that SoftBank should pay a significant premium to what a fair value of the stock should be,” said one person briefed. “I personally don’t know anybody that would sell at that price at any kind of size.”

In fact, some of those investors are on the hunt to buy more shares in Uber, despite all of its troubles of late, including the ousting of CEO Travis Kalanick for presiding over what appears to a deeply dysfunctionally managed company.

Before Benchmark signaled it would not accept a deal at those terms, several existing Uber backers — including the hedge fund Tiger Investments — told Benchmark that if Uber shares were available at a $45 billion valuation, they would be glad to take those off of their hands, according to one of the people briefed.

Tiger Investments, Benchmark and SoftBank declined to comment.

In addition, prior to the lawsuit, several Uber investors had been privately advising the board not to allow Benchmark to sell any of its stake in the ride-hailing company until Uber chose its new CEO. Some worry that those seeking to bring SoftBank into the fold could upset delicate negotiations over Kalanick’s successor.

And today, a new class of potential buyers emerged: A trio of Kalanick’s closest associates — angry over Benchmark’s lawsuit — wrote in a letter to Uber’s board that they have even more investors interested in Uber.

“We have investors ready to acquire these shares as soon as we receive communication from Benchmark that they are willing to withdraw their lawsuit and sell a minimum of 75 percent of their holdings,” they wrote.

The reason for all this activity is clear: SoftBank has gobs of cash it wants to deploy. Its Vision Fund has pledged to make $100 billion in investments, an enormous sum that requires it to disburse massive checks at a rapid pace. SoftBank is already a major investor in several of Uber’s competitors, and its head, Masa Son, publicly mused about backing its primary rival in the United States, Lyft.

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