Robotic pizzamaker Zume is laying off half its staff and will stop making pizzas, its co-founder and CEO has announced. Alex Garden said the California-headquartered firm will now concentrate on its packaging and delivery wings.
“The market for sustainable package is about to explode and we and our partners are extremely confident in our ability to provide packaging alternatives to plastic,” said Garden.
Zume, which won a $375 million funding round from SoftBank’s $100bn Vision Fund in 2018, becomes the latest in a long line of tech startups backed by the Toyko vehicle to flop. Car rental brand Getaround is also letting employees go, while SoftBank’s investment plans continue to be rocked by WeWork’s slow and painful demise.
Whether or not Zume pivots from pies to sustainability, the past twelve months have been ones SoftBank, and its minervan leader Masayoshi Son will likely want to forget. Bets in Wag, Uber, Compass, Fair, Katerra and several other flush companies have not paid off.
Today SoftBank announced it would attempt to sell its Indian renewable energy venture, a joint-project with Bharti Enterprises and Foxconn, as the Japanese giant tries to turns its fortunes around. Axios reports that SoftBank is increasingly dragging its feet over new startup funding, suggesting the Vision Fund is rolling back its ambitions – and ability to jump aboard the latest, glitzy tech fads.
Breaking term sheets, as revealed in the Axios article, is taboo in finance. A public shaming by fellow VCs has done little to massage Masayoshi Son’s public image as either a crazy determined investor, or simply crazy.
Son is no stranger to failure. During the 1990s he ploughed money into many companies that subsequently succumbed to the dot com bubble burst. But investments in Yahoo and Alibaba, among others, have sated Son’s appetite for massive growth.
Zume’s downfall, and SoftBank’s annus horribilis, may persuade Son to take another path. The flurry of deals it has swerved of late suggest the Japanese outfit may look to speculate more carefully in future. That may mean fewer robot pizzamakers, and a different image. But it could force the company into investments in less zany verticals—driverless tech, AI, IoT—in which having big pockets usually pays dividends.
Son will no doubt continue to be full of hubris in his chase for tech riches. But below him, expect Japan’s headline-grabbing investor to take a slightly less chest-puffing path in 2020.