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Richard Branson, Chamath Palihapitiya partner to take space tourism company Virgin Galactic public

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Thursday, 11 July 2019 01:18


https://fortune.com: Wow, OK, let’s start the day off with a bang. Two years ago, I wrote about Social Capital’s Chamath Palihapitiya’s lofty goal of helping billion-dollar startups get liquid sooner.

At the time, he had raised $ 600 million in an IPO for his blank check company, Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings. The idea was that Social Capital Hedosophia would acquire a big tech company and help it circumvent the initial public offering process.  

The process for a tech company valued at more than $ 1 billion to go public is long and distracting, Palihapitiya told me at the time. It involves conducting an investor roadshow and working with bankers, who often charge significant fees. Social Capital Hedosophia would offer faster liquidity for investors and employees, waive lock-ups, and trim the timeline of “going public” to roughly 60 to 90 days. 

Social Capital Hedosophia has been trading on the New York Stock Exchange since September 2017, and it just completed its first transaction. 

The special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC) is planning to invest roughly $ 800 million in Virgin Galactic for a 49% stake, according to The Wall Street Journal. The combined firm will have an enterprise value of $1.5 billion.

As part of the deal with Social Capital Hedosophia, Virgin Galactic would become the first publicly listed human-spaceflight company. Virgin Galactic expects that the deal will give it the capital necessary to fund the business until its spaceships can commercially operate and turn a profit. Virgin Galactic has already raised more than $1 billion since it was founded in 2004 —the funds coming mostly from Virgin Group founder Richard Branson. 

“By taking Virgin Galactic public, at this advanced point in its development, we can open space to more investors and in doing so, open space to thousands of new astronauts,” Branson said in a statement. 

So wait, how did Branson end up doing business with Palihapitiya? I’ve interviewed both, and they’re very similar in that their unbridled ambitions are no secret. What’s interesting here is that Branson was in talks with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund for a $ 1 billion investment in his company, but Branson suspended the plans following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate. Branson then met with Palihapitiya and his team about a potential investment through the SPAC.

The duo and their teams have been fully focused on this for the last nine months, Palihapitiya told Term Sheet. He added: “Not only is it going to be the first public space tourism company, but the things they are building are revolutionary. It is an incredibly compelling business.” 

Palihapitiya is also investing $ 100 million of his personal money, and he will serve as the chairman of the company. 

Virgin Galactic is in competition with rivals Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX. I asked Branson about his competitors in 2016. While Elon Musk’s SpaceX focuses on launching satellites and transporting humans to Mars, Branson said he doesn’t necessarily see him as a direct competitor. “I suppose I see [Musk] as a younger version of myself,” he says. 

As for Bezos? “The public will have to decide which vehicle they’d rather go to space in,” Branson said of Virgin Galactic and its competitor, Blue Origin. “Both of us will be striving to be better than the other, and we’ll see who pulls that off.”

(Source: https://fortune.com/2019/07/09/term-sheet-tuesday-july-9/)

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