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Yahoo Japan Nears Deal for Majority Stake in Zozo

Pavel Alpeyev and Takahiko Hyuga
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Yahoo Japan Nears Deal for Majority Stake in Zozo

(Bloomberg) -- Yusaku Maezawa, the flamboyant Japanese entrepreneur who’s set to become the first paying passenger aboard Elon Musk’s SpaceX ride around the moon, is cashing out of the business that made him a billionaire.

Maezawa steps down as chief executive officer of Zozo Inc. Thursday and plans to sell a chunk of his shares as part of a $3.7 billion takeover by Yahoo Japan Corp. Wearing a white T-shirt declaring “Let’s Start Today” atop a peace symbol, he said he was leaving his company behind to create a new business, without specifics. He’ll need to train for Musk’s mission and may even embark on another space project he said again without elaborating.

At times fighting back tears, Maezawa thanked his supporters and reflected on his entrepreneurial career. “I don’t have an MBA or experience working at a company, but next thing I know I became a president, we got many customers and went public,” he told reporters at a press briefing. “The past 21 years were like a dream.”

SoftBank Group Corp.’s Masayoshi Son made a surprise appearance, wearing a matching T-shirt in black. Son said Maezawa had approached him seeking advice ahead of the Yahoo Japan deal. He praised the younger man’s boldness, but joked that he passed on an invitation to fly to the moon. “That’s too scary,” Son said.

Announced on Thursday morning, the deal immediately sent stock prices for both companies up. Yahoo Japan is paying a 21% premium to take control of a valuable online fashion store, which strengthens its challenge against Amazon.com Inc. and Rakuten Inc. in one of Asia’s largest e-commerce arenas. Zozo director Kotaro Sawada will take the helm, while Maezawa has tweeted “I myself will be setting off on a new path” after the sale’s announcement.

“It’s a plus for Yahoo Japan and would help expand their e-commerce operations,” said Mitsushige Akino, an executive officer with Ichiyoshi Asset Management Co. in Tokyo. “Zozo gets the financial backup it needs for its new venture and overseas expansion.”

Read more: Investors Hunt for Winners & Losers on Yahoo Japan-Zozo Deal

Maezawa is departing the company he founded, which was instrumental to amassing his fortune and building up his name. But he’s unlikely to stop defying the norms of Japanese society -- the other winning aspect to his unconventional approach to business.

Before Zozo, he skipped college and moved to California to play in a rock band. Returning to Japan, he started his own e-commerce company and built the shopping website Zozotown into a popular destination for younger consumers, starting from the humble beginnings of a mail-order music album business. Maezawa now has a net worth of $1.5 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, but he has tweeted claiming to “have no money. I spend it so quickly.”

Maezawa had been directing Zozo investment toward developing a custom clothing brand, seeking to attract customers through innovative ways of taking individual measurements. His company shipped about 3 million so-called Zozosuits, polka-dot spandex outfits for taking body measurements with the help of a smartphone. But the business was shut down in March. He also said the company plans to launch a foot-measuring device called Zozomat in the fall.

What Bloomberg Intelligence Says

Zozo may aid Yahoo Japan’s online ad sales, deepen its customer data bank and support its mobile wallet PayPay.

- Vey-Sern Ling and Tiffany Tam, analysts

Click here to access the research

Yahoo Japan, whose biggest shareholder is the local telecommunications arm of Masayoshi Son’s SoftBank Group Corp., saw its shares rise 2.4% in Tokyo, while Zozo surged 13.4%. Among the local online retail competition, Rakuten and Mercari Inc. slid. Investors in those companies feared the Yahoo Japan deal would intensify competition, said Masayuki Otani, chief market strategist at Securities Japan Inc. in Tokyo.

The cost of the acquisition could go as high as 400.7 billion yen, according to the two companies’ announcement, giving Yahoo Japan a 50.1% slice of Zozo.

“Together with Zozo, getting to No. 1 in domestic e-commerce comes realistically within striking distance,” Yahoo Japan’s CEO Kentaro Kawabe said at the Tokyo briefing, adding that the company may capture top share within next five to six years.

--With assistance from Shingo Kawamoto.

To contact the reporters on this story: Pavel Alpeyev in Tokyo at palpeyev@bloomberg.net;Takahiko Hyuga in Tokyo at thyuga@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peter Elstrom at pelstrom@bloomberg.net, Colum Murphy, Vlad Savov

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