Compass, the New York City-headquartered U.S. real estate brokerage with mounds of venture capital, has shown a willingness to speak out on at least one political issue. In January 2017, the brokerage publicly condemned an immigration order issued by President Donald Trump.
But Compass is keeping mum on a new brewing international crisis involving its largest investor, the SoftBank Vision Fund, which earlier this month pledged another $400 million to the brokerage (adding to its earlier $400 million round last year).
Nearly half of the Softbank Vision Fund’s $93 billion in total value is financed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the money controlled by the country’s ruling family. The Saudi sovereign wealth fund recently committed the same sum to another mega tech fund that SoftBank wants to raise. And SoftBank is also helping the Saudi government with various economic projects, including building a new mega city and a solar firm.
In recent days, international media reports have suggested that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 33, or members of his family, had some knowledge, or perhaps even ordered the the murder of vanished Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi ruling family and Washington Post columnist who was last seen on security footage entering the Saudi Consulate building in Istanbul, Turkey, last week. The Saudi government denies the accusations. But questions swirl around Saudi Arabia’s role, and its allies, including the United States, have now been drawn into the controversy as well — with President Trump sending U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Saudi Arabia to discuss the disappearance.
A Compass representative declined to comment when asked several questions about the company’s reaction to the journalist’s disappearance, alleged murder, and the company’s relationship with Saudi Arabia-funded SoftBank.
Another well-funded real estate startup, the fast-cash offer homebuyer Opendoor, headquartered in San Francisco, has also drawn $400 million from the SoftBank Vision Fund as of last month, accounting for close to 40 percent of Opendoor’s total equity financing of $1.045 billion. This startup too, has declined to issue a statement on the scandal involving its investor when asked by Inman.
Opendoor’s deal also included the appointment of a managing partner of the SoftBank Vision Fund to Opendoor’s nine-seat board.
SoftBank Vision Fund sources didn’t respond to Inman’s request for comment on the scandal.
One thing is clear: the international crisis is not good for business: amid the alleged murder, concerns over SoftBank’s deep relationship with Saudi Arabia has pummeled investor confidence in SoftBank.
SoftBank’s stock price has fallen 20 percent from its peak this month, and investors are rethinking their investments in the Vision Fund, as well as the prospect of contributing to future SoftBank tech funds, news outlets are reporting. In addition, SoftBank “could face a revolt in Silicon Valley if entrepreneurs begin to think taking its cash is akin to blood money,” Bloomberg reported.
Separately but relatedly, the scandal has spurred financial executives, including the CEOs of Uber and private equity giant Blackstone — whose companies have raised billions of capital from Saudi Arabia’s wealth fund — to withdraw from a Saudi investment conference. Since the disappearance of Khashoggi, Richard Branson also called off talks with Saudi Arabia over a $1 billion investment in his space companies.
If the Vision Fund becomes politically or ethically sensitive for startups to tap into, that could complicate the growth plans of Compass and Opendoor, among other Vision Fund-backed startups. The Vision Fund has touted patience and long-term commitment to its portfolio companies, and the two may have been betting on being able to turn to SoftBank for more cash in the future.
Already, concerns over SoftBank’s ties to Saudi Arabia are threatening to derail a potential $20 billion investment by the Vision Fund in WeWork, a co-working space startup that has previously gorged on Vision Fund cash, The New York Times reported.
But so far, other private companies with backing from the Vision Fund — which also include Uber, Wag and Slack — are also keeping silent on the issue.