Masayoshi Son, the CEO of Softbank, Inc. - Japan's exclusive carrier of Apple products - has taken the company in an unexpected direction this week. Softbank invested $62.5 million into Gilt Groupe, Inc., the online luxury retailer whose flash sale business model has brought it plenty of visibility and venture capital interest (although no profits yet).
Softbank's investment earned it a 50% stake in Gilt Groupe Japan, the retailer's only international subsidiary. But this round of funding will be used exclusively for U.S. expansion. Softbank is joined by other high profile investors in the $138 funding round - Goldman Sachs, New Enterprise Associates, Draper Fisher Jurvetson Growth, Pinnacle Ventures, TriplePoint Capital and Eastward Capital participated, along with previous shareholders General Atlantic and Matrix Partners. The latest infusion of capital has brought Gilt Groupe, Inc.'s valuation to 1 billion.
The company's growth strategy includes a transition away from a discount model to a full price store, and the launch of a gourmet food site.
Son - Japan's richest man - has been in the media spotlight since March, when he made a massive personal donation to earthquake relief efforts and announced plans to promote renewable energy sources. Last month, a comment he made at a Tokyo news conference prompted speculation about his next move:
I've been trying to make people happy by the information revolution, he said. Since March 11, I have been asking myself whether staying in the information business alone is my destiny.
An April Wall Street Journal article claims that the Softbank network is the least well-developed of Japan's top three players.