Photo/IllutrationMasayoshi Son, chief executive of Softbank Group Corp., announces on Nov. 6 that the company posted an operating loss of 15.5 billion yen for the six months through September. (The Asahi Shimbun)

The glorification of any business that dealt with information technology--IT for short--generated a global dot-com boom, but the bubble burst around the year 2000.

I remember a joke from that era: “I started a company. What should I do to succeed?” “Easy. Just put ‘.com’ at the end of your company name.”

Back then, even a company that merely sold cellphones was deemed cutting edge.

Today, “the sharing economy” may be the phrase that casts a spell on industry, much like “IT” did in those days.

Businesses are emerging based on the concept of sharing, rather than owning.

One of the pioneers is Airbnb Inc., which operates an online market for arranging lodgings for travelers.

WeWork Companies Inc., which provides shared office spaces around the world, is based on a similar business model.

The company touted that entrepreneurs can network with each other through shared work spaces, but the market has not grown as expected.

Its woes have made headlines in Japan because Softbank Group Corp. made huge investments in the company. Softbank has recently reported its first deficit in 15 years.

Chief Executive Masayoshi Son admitted making the mistake of “focusing too much on the positives” of WeWork.

Even this seasoned businessman, with a track record of countless successful investments, may have had a lapse in judgment.

In the United States, extraordinarily successful ventures are called “unicorns,” of which WeWork was one.

Softbank is often seen primarily as a mobile carrier, but it is also a mammoth investment company.

The old saying goes: “Even Homer sometimes nods.” Was that the case with Son’s latest fiasco?

I just hope it wasn’t due to a decline in his power to spot emerging firms that would reward investors handsomely.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 8

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.