Secretive Spac man Ian Osborne has built a $1.5bn venture capital firm

When tech investor Ian Osborne buys a business, executives should accept an uncommon provision: not to discuss it without his approval.

Such techniques have actually assisted Osborne and his company Hedosophia mostly fly under the radar in spite of his participation in prominent financial investments and takeover quotes over the previous years.

With early assistance from funds connected to media baron Michael Bloomberg, Hong Kong magnate Li Ka-shing and the Burda household of Germany, the 38-year-old Osborne has actually silently developed a $1.5bn equity capital organization.

According to individuals familiar with the matter, business from Spotify, TransferWise and Raisin in Europe to Alibaba, Ant Financial and Airwallex in Asia have actually all gotten financial investment from Osborne.

One tech financier compares the urbane however reticent British financier to the well-connected PR fixer Matthew Freud: “He knows everyone.” Another, who performed due diligence prior to working with Osborne, stated: “He is the sort of guy who will turn up behind you on a flight to Rio. He is a real man of mystery.”

As one of the designers of the boom for unique function acquisition business (Spacs) — which raise money in noted funds that then hunt for a business to take public — Osborne has actually assisted turbocharge tech evaluations.

Even as the United States market cools on the phenomenon and regulative examination grows, Osborne is intending to popularise such blank cheque cars in Europe with prepares to raise as much as €460m with a Spac listing in Amsterdam.

Michael Bloomberg
Michael Bloomberg ended up being a linking thread through Ian Osborne’s profession © Joe Raedle/Getty

Explained by contacts as “obsessively secretive”, Osborne increasingly safeguards his personal privacy and permits promotion to be drawn to prominent partners such as Chamath Palihapitiya, an investor.

Palihapitiya, a bold previous Facebook executive, with a big social networks following and a love of making intriguing discuss TELEVISION, explains Osborne as “a very good yin to my yang”.

The moonshot maker

It is for the relaunch of Spacs in 2017 that Osborne is ending up being best understood — collaborating with Palihapitiya’s Social Capital to back the listings of business such as Virgin Galactic, Clover Health and Opendoor.

Along the method, Osborne has actually collected shares worth as much as $300m, according to an individual familiar with the matter, improved by the juicy “promote” share awards offered to sponsors of the listings.

To pals and financiers, he is a canny dealmaker and practiced networker, linking abundant household workplaces to creators requiring funds to broaden.

Others stress he has actually been at the lead of a wave of speculative money, bestowing dizzying evaluations on unverified business.

Virgin Galactic — which he assisted take public in 2019 — opened the floodgates for moonshot business with bit by method of incomes to list through Spacs. More than 300 Spacs have actually raised $97bn this year, according to Refinitiv.

With the action now moving to Europe, it marks a homecoming for Osborne, who divides his time in between homes in London and Hong Kong, where he is a homeowner.

Chamath Palihapitiya
Chamath Palihapitiya explains Ian Osborne as ‘a very good yin to my yang’ © David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

From Bloomberg to Zuckerberg

Born and raised in Richmond, London, the boy of an attorney and a physician, Osborne studied at St Paul’s school, King’s College and London School for Economics, finishing in 2005 and going to work for as a consultant to Bloomberg, who ended up being a linking thread through Osborne’s profession.

Kevin Sheekey, Bloomberg’s longstanding project supervisor and interactions chief, stated Osborne started working for the then New york city mayor after co-hosting a supper in London whose visitors consisted of starlet Claudia Schiffer and media scion James Murdoch.

By 2007, thanks to Osborne’s connections, Bloomberg was dealing with the Conservative celebration conference in Blackpool. “It sounds an easy thing to do but connecting people is a rare talent,” stated Sheekey. “Dozens of people around the world that Mike and I have good relationships with were introduced by Ian. Global business leaders never meet without a go-between. There is no Yellow Pages for that.”

He explains a Zelig-like quality to Osborne: “His nature is not to promote himself.”

As global advisor to Bloomberg for the next 4 years, Osborne continued to release his networking abilities, accessing to individuals who would become his ticket to the world of tech financing.

“At first it was like, ‘what is this British 20-something doing in the midst of US politics?’ It didn’t make much sense,” stated Daniel Ek, creator of Spotify, who fulfilled Osborne in this duration.

At first, Osborne used “advice, connections with people”, according to Ek. “But his Rolodex was off the charts for someone so young. The connection between politics and business today seems like an obvious fit but at the time no one was making the link.”

Osborne started to recommend, and later on purchase, Palihapitiya’s Social Capital after fulfilling him with Mark Zuckerberg in 2008.

Palihapitiya explained Osborne as “extremely, exceptionally discreet and unbelievably trustworthy. He’s unbelievably connected. He is our modern version of a homeless billionaire. Ian is constantly working, is constantly travelling, and he collects people.”

Virgin’s spaceship
Ian Osborne teamed with Chamath Palihapitiya’s Social Capital to back the listing of Virgin Galactic © Virgin Galactic

In 2009, he established his own consultancy, Osborne and Partners, that handled customers consisting of DST Global, the equity capital company run by Yuri Milner, the Israeli-Russian billionaire.

By 2010, he was assisting DST lead financial investments in Spotify and Alibaba — where he had actually created relationships with creators Ek and Jack Ma, respectively. 

Through his time working with DST and later on, Osborne continued to run a PR and organization advancement consultancy, recommending business of United States tech billionaires from Travis Kalanick and Evan Spiegel to Zuckerberg. He stayed near to Bloomberg, assisting on an effort to purchase the Financial Times from Pearson in 2013.

That year, he was strongly developed on the tech scene as one of the organisers of the most popular celebration in Davos — a “taxidermy” themed celebration tossed with Napster co-founder Sean Parker and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff.

He had actually likewise begun to work informally for then UK prime minister David Cameron and chancellor George Osborne, to whom he stays close, assisting open doors in the United States. Throughout the 2010 election project, he assisted prepare Cameron for TELEVISION disputes. Around the exact same time, he arranged a journey to the United States for Boris Johnson, then mayor of London.

Osborne ended up being the “ultimate co-host” — according to someone familiar with the duration — collecting individuals from politics, tech, financing and the arts. It was at a supper hosted by Osborne in 2014, gone to by star Ed Norton and Arianna Huffington, that an Uber executive landed in difficulty for recommending that the business might collect dirt on a crucial reporter.

Taking ‘IPO 2.0’ to Europe

Osborne established Hedosophia in 2012 — called after Greek gods of enjoyment and knowledge — intending to specialise in earlier phase tech companies. 

Early backers consisted of household workplaces such as Germany’s Burda and funds associated to Li, the Hong Kong magnate, stated an individual near to the group, who included that it now has a more institutional financier base of university endowments, public pension funds and insurer from the United States, Japan, Canada and Sweden.

Daniel Ek, founder of Spotify
Daniel Ek, creator of Spotify, remembered believing Osborne’s ‘Rolodex was off the charts for someone so young’ © Drew Angerer/Getty

It was at a supper in Hong Kong in early 2017 with Palihapitiya that he pitched the concept for a brand-new sort of Spac to provide tech creators a much easier public listing without the threat and regulative luggage of a standard IPO. 

Regardless of being partners in the sponsor business, the set did not split incomes similarly, stated individuals with understanding of the circumstance, with Palihapitiya taking most of revenues however likewise putting in higher capital. Palihapitiya likewise created the brand-new term for the Spac — “IPO 2.0” — which was curtained over the New York Stock Exchange at the launch in 2017.

Ever since, numerous Spacs have actually followed this technique, introduced by previous bank executives, professional athletes and political leaders keen to delight in the practically safe benefit of the Spac sponsor design. However even those running around Osborne question whether the marketplace has actually now gone too far. “The bubble is definitely bursting now,” said one.

The Osborne/Palihapitiya Spac franchise has actually been hit as the market has actually turned — with Clover’s shares falling more than 50 per cent from their highs and shares in Virgin Galactic — which has yet to make a commercial flight — down more than 70 per cent from the peak.

Osborne is determined to get his European Spac right, according to those close to the plans, cutting the financial rewards for the sponsor and bringing together a heavyweight board.

This month, he will also return to an early passion in the theatre, producing one of the first musicals to open after the end of pandemic restrictions in the West End — Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.

He will need to get used to being centre stage — in Europe at least, he has no Palihapitiya to hide behind, and the scrutiny over Spacs in the US has started to raise questions for investors and sponsors alike over whether the marketplace has actually gone too far, too quickly.

Extra reporting by Tim Bradshaw and Arash Massoudi

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.