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SoftBank Acquiring 10 Pct Stake In South Korea’s Yanolja Before US IPO

Japanese technology conglomerate SoftBank is in the midst of discussions to acquire a 10 percent stake in South Korean travel booking platform Yanolja ahead of the startup’s U.S. public listing, the Financial Times reported on Friday (July 9), citing sources.

SoftBank Vision Fund is anticipated to provide roughly $870 million in a deal that could be signed as soon as next week, the news outlet reported, citing local media. The sources told FT that the investment in Yanolja is in the final stages of negotiations.

The anticipated funding marks SoftBank’s second-largest investment in South Korea, following a $3 billion infusion of capital in the eCommerce platform Coupang, which went public in the U.S. in March. 

SoftBank’s billionaire founder Masayoshi Son is putting money into the South Korean startup Yanolja as China continues its crackdown on technology firms in the country and pulled ride-hailing firm Didi from app stores after it went public in the U.S. SoftBank’s Vision Fund is Didi’s largest shareholder, FT reported.

The Japanese conglomerate also invested in the digital freight platform Full Truck Alliance, which went public in the U.S. last month and is now facing an investigation by China’s watchdog.

The regulatory probes in China could be a catalyst to increase Softbank’s investments outside of the country, analysts said, per FT.

SoftBank’s backing of Yanolja — which means “Hey, let’s play” in Korean — could help the travel platform go public in the U.S. as soon as 2023, the sources told FT.

“If they get the SoftBank investment, they are likely to pursue a Nasdaq listing, rather than a domestic IPO,” according to one of the sources, per FT.

The infusion of fresh capital would also position Yanolja as South Korea’s latest billion-dollar startup. Since launching in 2005, the company posted profits for the first time in 2020, despite the travel restrictions prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Coupang’s $4.6 Billion U.S. public offering valued the South Korean eCommerce platform at $60 billion. In 2018, the company had an estimated valuation $9 billion following a fundraising round.

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