RealTime IT News

Betting on Buy.com

Softbank Corp, with ownership positions in over 300 Internet companies that includes Yahoo! (YHOO) and E*Trade (EGRP), is a name that both private and public market investors monitor closely. The firm is best known for its global Internet infrastructure and platform. As growth drivers in the U.S. continue to weaken, such as percentage growth of new users online, Softbank is playing an increasingly important role. Essentially, Softbank has become the gateway for leading U.S. Internet companies to enter the Asian, European, Australian and other foreign markets. The firm acts as an operational and holding company with several subsidiary groups.

Softbank Capital Partners (SBCP), led by partners, Masayoshi Son, Ronald Fisher, Charles Lax, and Bill Burnham, is one of the groups acting as the firm's late stage pre-IPO and post IPO investment arm. Portfolio investments of SBCP include Webvan (WBVN), Buy.com (BUYX), PeoplePC, and Law.com.

We had the opportunity to sit down for an exclusive interview with Bill Burnham, a true pioneer and success story in the Internet space. Burnham was the first analyst on Wall Street to have "electronic commerce analyst" on his business card--a lot of people doubted then that there would be enough companies brought public to support his niche. While at Credit Suisse First Boston, he was the lead analyst for the Commerce One (CMRC) IPO and he is still regarded as the authority on the online financial services sector. In August of 1999, Burnham left Wall Street to join Softbank Capital Partners.

Reporter@Large: What kind of value is Softbank providing its partner companies that is attracting the best entrepreneurs and models to the Softbank brand and team?

Burnham: Softbank sees its value added in three primary areas. First, we have a huge portfolio of partner companies. So we work diligently to make sure that lines of communication are maintained between the portfolio companies. We want the companies to have access to each other and to strike partnerships when it makes sense. Second, we're really the only global venture capital fund at this point. Softbank has venture capital and other operations in the U.S., Japan, China, South East Asia, India, Europe, Latin America, and an investment partnership with the World Bank. We pretty much have an investment presence now in every country of the world if you count the relationship with the World Bank. As a result, we are able to take companies global. We are helping a lot of U.S. companies go global as fast as possible--a lot faster than they could do on their own. The third piece is a whole group of value added services that help in every level from an early stage company to a late stage company. We've created an infrastructure of support. At the early stages we have incubators, entrepreneurs in residence, and in-house recruiters. In the late stage environment we have a business development team, an International development team, a research analyst team and other services that help companies develop and get big fast.

Reporter@Large: Softbank seems extremely excited about the financial services sector...

Burnham: First and foremost, if you think about a sector which has the potential to be completely moved to the Internet, it's the financial services sector. It's all about moving digiti