‘The real man of mystery’: how Ian Osborne built a $ 1.5 billion venture capital firm
When technology financier Ian Osborne invests in a company, managers have to agree on an unusual clause: not to talk about it without his permission.
Such tactics have flown under the radar of Osborne and his company Hedosophia despite a large share of high investment and buying offers over the past decade.
With early support from media baron Michael Bloomberg, Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing and German Burda family, the 38-year-old Osborne has quietly set up a $ 1.5 billion venture capital business.
According to people familiar with the matter, Alibaba, Ant Financial and the Asian company Airwallex have received an investment from Osborne from the European companies Spotify, TransferWise and Raisin.
One tech investor compares British but reluctant British investor to well-connected PR firm Matthew Freud: “He knows everyone.” Another, who was diligently involved before working with Osborne, said: “He’s the guy who will appear behind you on a flight to Rio. He’s a real mysterious man.”
Being one of the architects of the boom in purchasing companies (Spacs) – those who make money from listed funds, which are then hunted down by a company to make it public – Osborne has contributed to the valuations of turbocharging technologies.
Although the US market is cooling with the phenomenon and regulatory analysis is growing, Osborne hopes to introduce such people white checks vehicles in europe With the aim of raising 460 million euros with the Amsterdam Spac list.
Described by the contacts as “obsessively secretive”, Osborne strongly protects his privacy and allows publicity for top partners such as Chamath Palihapitiya, the capitalist venture.
Palihapitiya, a formidable Facebook executive who follows many social networks and a fondness for provocative comments on TV, said Osborne is “my very good yang”.
Moon throwing machine
The most popular Osborne is to relaunch Spacs in 2017 – it is teaming up with Palihapitiya’s share capital to support lists of companies like Virgin Galactic, Clover Health and Opendoor.
Along the way, Osborne has raised $ 300 million in shares, according to a person familiar with the issue, driven by the “promote” shares given to the sponsors of the list.
As for friends and investors, he is an expert salesperson and a complete network that connects him with founders who need funds to expand wealthy family offices.
Others worry that it has been at the forefront of the wave of monetary speculation, giving stratospheric valuations to unproven companies.
Virgin Galactic (which helped make it public in 2019) opened the doors of the moon for moonlight companies to be listed on Spacs through revenue streams. According to Refinitiv, more than 300 spaces have raised $ 97 billion this year.
As the action now shifts to Europe, Osborne is supposed to come home, as he divides his time between the houses he lives in London and Hong Kong.
From Bloomberg to Zuckerberg
Born and raised in Richmond, London, the son of a lawyer and a doctor, Osborne studied at St Paul’s School, King’s College and London School of Economics, graduated in 2005 and became a liaison for Bloomberg. he went to work. Through Osborne’s career.
Kevin Sheekey, Bloomberg’s longtime campaign director and communications manager, said Osborne began working for the then-mayor of New York after organizing a dinner in London, which included actress Claudia Schiffer and media student James Murdoch.
By 2007, thanks to Osborne’s connections, Bloomberg was talking about the Blackpool Conservative Party Conference. “It seems like an easy thing to do but connecting with people is a rare talent,” Sheekey said. “Dozens of people around the world have a good relationship with Mike and I, Ian introduced us. Global business leaders never meet in between. There is no Yellow Pages for that. ”
He describes a similar quality to Zelig to Osborne: “His character is not to promote himself.”
For the next four years as an international consultant at Bloomberg, Osborne continued to unleash his networking skills, gaining access to people who would become his card in the world of tech finance.
“In the beginning it was, ‘what is this 20 Britons doing in the middle of US politics?’ It didn’t make much sense, ”said Daniel Ek, the founder of Spotify, who met Osborne this time around.
Initially, Osborne offered “advice, connections to people,” according to Ek. “But he was off his Rolodex lists for someone who was so young. Nowadays the connection between politics and business seems obvious, but at the time no one was making the connection.”
Osborne began advising on Palihapitiya’s share capital and later investing it, after joining Mark Zuckerberg in 2008.
Palihapitiya said Osborne is “very discreet and very reliable. He is incredibly connected. He is our modern version of a homeless billionaire. Ian is constantly working, constantly traveling, and gathering people.”
In 2009, he founded his own firm, Osborne and Partners, which took on clients such as DST Global, a venture capital firm led by Israeli-Russian billionaire Yuri Milner.
By 2010, DST was helping to direct investments in Spotify and Alibaban – there building relationships with founders Ek and Jack Ma, respectively.
After working with DST, Osborne continued to lead PR and business development consulting, advising the businesses of U.S. tech billionaires from Travis Kalanick and Evan Spiegel to Zuckerberg. He was close to Bloomberg, helping Pearson in his 2013 attempt to buy the Financial Times.
That year, he established himself on the tech scene as one of the organizers of Davos ’hottest party – a bash on the theme of“ taxidermy ”with Napster founder Sean Parker and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff.
He also began working informally at the time for UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne, with whom he continues to work closely to open doors in the US. During the 2010 election campaign, Cameron helped prepare for the televised debates. At the same time, he arranged a trip to the United States for Boris Johnson, then mayor of London.
Osborne became the “last host” – according to a person who knew the time – to bring together people from politics, technology, finance and the arts. At a dinner hosted by Osborne in 2014, attended by actress Ed Norton and Arianna Huffington, an Uber executive was in trouble for suggesting that the company could get dirt out of a critical journalist.
Bringing ‘IPO 2.0’ to Europe
Osborne founded Hedosophia in 2012 – named after the Greek gods of pleasure and wisdom – with the goal of specializing in earlier technology companies.
Contributors include a family office like Burda in Germany and a Li-related fund, Hong Kong tycoon, a person close to the group said, adding that he now has a more institutional investor base for university endowments, public pension funds and insurance companies. USA, Japan, Canada and Sweden.
At a dinner in Hong Kong in early 2017, he co-founded the idea of a new type of Spac with Palihapitiya to provide technology creators with an easier public list without the risks and regulatory baggage of a traditional IPO.
Although they were partners in the sponsoring company, the couple did not share the profits equally, as people who knew the situation said, Palihapitiya took most of the profits, but also more capital. Palihapitiya also coined the new term Spac – “IPO 2.0” – which was launched on the New York Stock Exchange in 2017.
Since then, hundreds of Spacs have followed this strategy, as former bank executives, athletes and politicians have launched to enjoy the almost risk-free header of the Spac sponsor model. But those around Osborne are also wondering if the market has gone too far now. “The bubble is definitely bursting now,” one said.
The Osborne / Palihapitiya Spac franchise has been successful as the market has risen – Clover’s shares have fallen more than 50 percent from Virgin Galactic’s majority and shares – it has yet to make a commercial flight – the peak has fallen more than 70%.
Osborne has decided to get its European Spac straight, according to those close to the planet, by reducing the sponsor’s monetary rewards and assembling a heavyweight board.
This month, he will return to his early passion for theater, producing one of the first musicals to open after the end of the West End pandemic cuts – Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.
It will have to get used to being a central protagonist – at least in Europe, it doesn’t have to hide behind Palihapitiya, and studies on US Spacs have begun to raise questions for investors and sponsors as to whether the market has gone too far. , too fast.
Additional news by Tim Bradshaw and Arash Massoudi