Telecommunications and Internet company SoftBank and virtual-reality startup Improbable are reported to be close to an investment deal. At this stage, it’s not known what size of stake SoftBank will purchase, but unnamed insiders said to be “familiar with the matter” say that an arrangement with Improbable could be made as early as this week. It’s important to state that nothing has been finalized yet and that both Improbable Worlds and SoftBank have made no comments so far.
Improbable is a company specializing in virtual worlds and hyper-realism and currently has more than 150 employees. The company was founded by Rob Whitehead and Herman Narula, now Chief Executive Officer, back in 2012, after the two met at Cambridge University. Andreessen Horowitz, a US venture capitalist has driven funding of approximately $20 million at this point. So far investors have included LocalGlobe, Conversion Capital and Saul Klein, a UK investor. In December last year, it was reported that Improbable was collaborating with Google’s Cloud Platform. This enabled the startup company to use Google’s engine along with SpatialOS, a unique operating system specifically developed for running open-world massive multiplayer online games. Improbable’s recent expansion has included taking on senior executives such as chief legal officer Rob Miller (formerly of King Digital Entertainment) and Michael Bannon (from TPG) as financial officer. The London-based company has also invested recently in a new San Francisco premises. However, a filing with Companies House, with the report covering the year to the end of May, showed that the company was not yet profitable.
SoftBank has a majority stake in US carrier Sprint, and CEO Masayoshi Son is heading the drive to push the company forward by partnering with other backers such as Apple and Qualcomm in its Vision Fund valued at $100 billion. In 2016 SoftBank acquired ARM Holdings PLC while other recent acquisitions also included WeWork Companies Inc. However, just last month the company scrapped a planned $100 million investment into Essential Products Inc., an Andy Rubin startup. The reason behind this was reportedly that the startup would then have had a $100 billion valuation, but many people were unhappy with this figure considering the competition in the industry and the fact that Essential Products had not actually sold anything yet. The cancellation of that investment indicates a certain amount of unpredictability so it will be interesting to see if the planned investment into Improbable goes ahead.