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Disrupting Japan: Startups and Innovation in Japan
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Disrupting Japan: Startups and Innovation in Japan

Author: Tim Romero: Serial startup founder in Japan and indomitable innovator

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Startups are changing Japan, and Japan is once again starting to innovate. Disrupting Japan introduces you to some of the Japanese innovators that will be household brands in a few years and explains what it’s really like to be an innovator in a society that values conformity.
191 Episodes
Some of Japan's innovations are going to have a much bigger impact outside of Japan. Like most startups, most AgTech startups sensibly tend to focus on their own markets. While this makes things easier at first, it tends to overlook the huge challenges -- and potentially huge profits -- that exist in the developing world. Today we talk with Shunsuke Tsuboi of Sagri, and he explains how Sagri started life as a satellite -imaging startup focused on incremental innovation in Japan, but then quickly transformed itself into a disruptive FinTech startup serving India and Southeast Asia. It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it. Show Notes The truth about university startup support in Japan Why India is a better target for this Japanese startup Why selling to family farms is harder than selling to industrial farms Why sustainable business models are hard for agriculture startups The challenges for market entry in any agriculture startup Three reasons there are so few agriculture startups in Japan Why most Japanese VCs don't invest in AgTech What Japanese universities can do to improve creativity Links from the Founder Everything you ever wanted to know about Sagri Friend Shun on Facebook TV Interview about Sagri. (Japanese) Nikkei interview with Shun  (Japanese) Transcript Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. Today, we're going to about agricultural startups in Japan.  You know, it's interesting, with Japan's high food prices, the financial support for farmers, and the strong system of university agricultural research, I've always been a bit surprised that we don't see more AgTech startups in Japan.  Well, today's conversation goes a long way to explaining exactly why that is, it's both fascinating and a little frustrating.  Today we sit down with Shunsuke Tsuboi of Sagri, who is using satellite imaging and AI to help small-scale farmers, some in Japan but mostly in the developing world. Shunsuke explains the challenges of launching a startup from universities without specific startup support, why going global often has nothing to do with the US or Europe, and why the world is a better place when there are tens of millions of small family farms in it and why those are worth preserving.  But you know, Shunsuke tells that story much better than I can, so let's get right to the interview. Interview Tim: I'm sitting here with Shun Tsuboi of Sagri, who is using satellites and artificial intelligence to solve agricultural problems. Thanks for joining us today. Shun: Yeah, thank you very much. Thank you for this time. Tim: It's great to have you, and I mean, agriculture tech, AgTech is something that's it's interesting in Japan, and people don't talk about it enough, so I'm really glad you're on the show. So can you explain a little bit more about what Sagri does, what is the service you're offering? Shun: Sagri company is based in Japan and India. So we are using satellite data to checking the each of the farmland and also the food of farmers we get using satellite data for smartphone, such as when is the best harvesting time and also which is a good soil situation, we can check it. Tim: The soil analysis, is that done by satellite or do you have people on the ground checking? Shun: They're using satellite, yes. Tim: Really? Shun: Yeah, along the 1,000 farmland, checking just 10 farmland detail, we can spreading the satellite information. Tim: So from satellite imaging, you can tell soil composition, you can tell farmers when the ideal time to apply pesticides, when to harvest. How do your customers interact with this? Is there a smartphone app? How does it work? Shun: So using satellite data checking through the application, they can connect it that mechanical, so this machine is automatically do that.
The bacteria in our gut affect our lives and our health in ways we are just starting to fully realize, and mapping this biome is expected to advance medical science and pharmacology as mapping the human genome. However, our gut biota is not a mappable sequence, but a complex ecosystem, and one that may be unique to each individual. In our conversation, Shinji Fukuda, founder of Metabologenomic (aka Metagen), explains how the science is advancing, what kinds of consumer devices we are likely to see first, the importance of global expansion, and the challenges of being a deep-tech startup in Japan. It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it. Show Notes What Metagen is really trying to do Fecal transplants in Japan Japan's Gut design project - a database of poop The biggest business model challenge for Japan's deep-tech startuups Smart toilets and other consumer products Why Metagen has been turning down VC money Why global expansion is critical for both business and scientific reasons Some advice for Japanese deep-tech startups Why academics need startup founders Why Japanese startups need to stop playing defense Links from the Founder Everything you ever wanted to know about Metagen Metagen on LinkedIn Transcript Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. Today, we're going to talk about the future of poop, and I promise you that it is both a lot more interesting and also a lot less, well, strange than you might think.  Shinji Fukuda is the founder and CEO of Metabologenomics, a startup which is usually, and thankfully, referred to as Metagen. Shinji and Metagen are mapping out the complex biome of the human digestive tract.  Our gut biome is an incredibly complex ecosystem that exists within all of us, and it is an ecosystem. These bacteria don't share our DNA and they're not simply along for the ride. We couldn't function without them, and there's a lot of variation between cultures and between individuals.  Metagen is now working with some of Japan's largest healthcare, pharmaceutical, and chemical companies to commercialize this research. Of course, Metagen is not the only startup in this space, and Shinji and I talk a lot about when and how this tech is going to roll out to consumers, some of the scam startups that are already trying to get into this bandwagon, and we dive deep into one of the biggest problems facing deep tech startups in Japan.  But you know, Shinji tells that story much better than I can, so let's get right to the interview. Interview Tim: So, I'm sitting here with Shinji Fukuda of Metabologenomic who's researching and monetizing the gut biota, so thanks for sitting down with us. Shinji: Hi. Tim: And by the way, is it okay if we call the company Metagen the way people tend to do in Japanese? Shinji: Yeah, Metagen. Tim: Okay, good. So, listen, I think you can explain this much better than I can, so what exactly does Metagen do? Shinji: Our goal is to create the digital society, so we have a huge number of microbes in the gut and the gut microbiota has a lot of function, and maybe you know it's very important that the imbalance in the gut microbiota are related to some disorders like colon cancer, inflammatory bio-disorders, and also, the microbiota induce some systemic disorders like metabolic disorders and also meta-disease. That's why gut microbiota is really important to keep our health. Tim: It's amazing the amount of research that's being done on this right now and it's still a relatively new field. So, for Metagen, what is the main goal of the company? Are you trying to develop more targeted medicine? Is it better food? Is it a healthier population? What is it that the company is focused on? Shinji: Here, actually, everything, but we have a priority. Our goal is healthcare, to develop the technology to keep our health,
A lot of great ideas seem crazy when you first hear about them. Today Ryotaro Ako, founder of Atopiyo, explains not only why this is a great idea that is deeply valued by his users, but he also frankly talked about the difficulties in bringing it to market. We talk about the challenges of forming a long-term, core team and of developing a steady cash flow while trying to focus on a social good, and the risks involved in monetizing a community. Ryotaro also explains why extensive press coverage and shelves of startup awards don't make developing a sustainable business model any easier. It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it. Show Notes Why share photos of skin conditions? How to find a technical co-founder, and what to do if you can't The two challenges all MedTech startups face The danger of long-term plans without short-term action How to monetize a community, and why it's risky Possible competitors The myth of Japanese conservatism Links from the Founder Everything you ever wanted to know about Atopiyo Download the Atopiyo App Friend Ryotaro on Facebook Transcript Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. Today's conversation with Ryotaro Ako, founder of Atopiyo, is going to be a little bit different than usual.  I first met Ryotaro several years ago at a Disrupting Japan live event, when he had just launched Atopiyo, an online community in which people with atopy and related skin conditions can support each other and exchange information about treatments and progress. Since its launch, Atopiyo has gone on to build an engaged and growing user base, attract extensive and positive press attention, and win a lot of startup awards from press, government, and industry.  This is the kind of startup I really want to succeed; the kind of startup I think everyone really wants to succeed, actually. They're using startup techniques and technology to solve problems and actually make the world a little bit better.  At least in theory.  You see, Ryotaro and Atopiyo have a bit of a problem, and it's a problem that almost all social entrepreneurs run into, but very few managed to solve. If in this interview, I sound like I'm beating up on my guest a bit (by polite Japanese standards anyway) it's coming from a place of desperately wanting to see him succeed.  Everyone who has an idea for a social startup and a passion to change the world can learn a lot from Atopiyo's story and this discussion. But you know, Ryotaro tells that story much better than I can, so let's get right to the interview. Interview Tim: So I'm sitting here with Ryotaro Ako of Atopiyo, which helps people with atopy understand the disease and connect with each other, so thanks for sitting down with me. Ryotaro: Thank you very much, Tim. I'm very glad to talk with you. Tim: And we're glad to have you. I gave a really brief description of Atopiyo but I think you can explain it much better than I can. So what exactly does Atopiyo do? How does it work? Ryotaro: Atopiyo is Japan's first visual SNS for atopic dermatitis. It's like Instagram specializing in atopic dermatitis. Tim: Okay, I mean, at first reaction, sharing pictures of atopy and skin conditions does not sound that appealing. Ryotaro: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Tim: So I mean, tell me about your users. Who uses this? Why do they find it valuable? Ryotaro: Yes, yes, our images can be this. So I think it is not so photogenic or happy images but patients want to know the other patients, their skin disease, how are getting better or how getting worse because of these drugs or other drugs, and they want to know their process of the skin disease. So it's useful for the patients, and what's more, they want to choose their images into their private mode. So if you set it to the private mode, this image is only for users. Tim: Okay,
Disruption comes slowly to medicine.  And that's a good thing. Since the ethos of the profession is "First, do no harm", it makes sense that safety and efficacy are prioritized over rapid innovation. But innovation does happen, and the Japanese government is working to make sure it happens faster. Today we sit down with Taro Ueno of Susmed and talk about the challenges and tradeoffs in innovative medicine. We talk about why he left medical research for entrepreneurship, and how iPhone apps and blockchain are being used clinically in Japan. And in both cases, I assure you, it's not what you think. It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it. Show Notes Why leave medical practice to start a startup Why Japan just can't fall asleep Why Japan over-prescribes sleeping pills and other drugs Why it's very hard to get apps approved as medical devices in Japan The reason so few medical apps have been approved in Japan The importance ofJapan's regulatory sandbox How blockchain is actually helpful in clinical trials What kinds of medical apps are we most likely to see first on mobile phones? Why so few apps have been approved and why that might be changing Links from the Founder Everything you ever wanted to know about Susmed Connect with Taro on LinkedIn Transcript Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs.  I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. Today, you're going to learn about how to make money in blockchain. No, no, no, it's not like that, it's not what you think. Today, we're going to sit down with Taro Ueno of Susmed, and we'll talk about how Japan's new regulatory sandbox has enabled his startup to get approval for their blockchain-based platform for clinical trials. The platform prevents trial results from being changed after they've been recorded, which as Taro will explain, has been a real problem in Japan. Taro is also a medical doctor and a PhD, and he's developed an insomnia app that he is in the process of getting approved as a medical device. We talk about the challenges of getting mobile apps approved for clinical use in Japan, why this technology is so frustratingly slowed to come to market, and why people in Japan just can't seem to fall asleep. But you know, Taro tells that story much better than I can, so let's get right to the interview. Interview Tim: So, I'm sitting here with Taro Ueno of Susmed, and thanks for sitting down with me today. Taro: Thank you. Tim: Now, Susmed is an app-based solution for insomnia and you also make a platform to improve clinical trials, but you can probably explain Susmed much better than I can, so tell me a bit about the company. Taro: Susmed stands for 'Sustainable Medicine.' This is our vision and we are developing digital therapeutics using smartphone apps, and we are now developing several apps for diseases like insomnia and cancer, and so on. Tim: Tell me a bit about your customers, so are these apps designed for doctors to use in a clinical setting? Are they designed for consumers to use on their own? Taro: Doctors prescribe this app for insomnia patients. This is alternative for treating patients Tim: Before we dive into everything that's going on with medical technology in Japan, I want to ask a little bit about you. You got your MD and then your PhD, what drove you to startup after that? I mean, you put a tremendous amount of work into becoming a doctor. Taro: Yeah, I agree. Yes, as you mentioned, I have a background of medical doctor and especially in psychiatry. I got PhD in basic research over sleep medicine. I have seen so many patients with overprescription with sleeping pills. That's why I try to develop DTx for insomnia patients. Tim: I mean, I find that fascinating, the ability to develop software for an app gave you greater ability to help people than practicing medicine or research?
Artificial Intelligence makes a lot of people nervous. That's understandable. Today we sit down with Ken Fujiwara of Hacarus to discuss why that is, and what this startup is doing to fix it. As in so many other fields, when comparing AI in Japan and the West, we find that the technology is fundamentally the same, but the social attitudes and business strategies are very different. Ken is a serial entrepreneur, but running an AI startup was never part of his original plan. He had bigger goals in mind, and we talk about how he plans to pivot back to them someday. We also discuss Kyoto's booming startup ecosystem and why one CEO has publically stated he wants to destroy it. It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it. Show Notes The problem with Deep Learning and how Hacarus is unique The importance of founder's hidden failures Why Ken left Sony to start a startup How to know when you need to pivot Why pivoting is hard in Japan The integrator business model and why it works in Japan Pivoting a startup to back to your dreams The importance of explainable AI Why you need to know about Kyoto startups Why one company wants to destroy Kyoto's startup ecosystem The reason you see so many interesting IoT startups coming out of Japan now Links from the Founder Everything you ever wanted to know about Hacarus Follow them on Facebook Connect on LinkedIn Get in touch by email: Transcript Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. As you can imagine, I get asked a lot about how the Japanese startup ecosystem is different from others and I love that question. The problem is that people usually aren't really happy with my answers. It seems that everyone wants to hear stories about anime or strange gadgets, or cool trends in gaming, and yeah, there's plenty of that in Japan too, but the things that are really unique and interesting like evocative machines and the integrator model, and the role enterprise has to play in supporting startups, those things take a lot of time to explain to anyone who doesn't already understand Japan, at least a little bit, but they're important.  Today, we sit down with Ken Fujiwara of Hacarus and we're going to look at how Hacarus is using the integrator model to jointly develop AI products with large enterprises. Ken also explains how he had to pivot Hacarus away from his original vision and how he might be able to pivot back to it in the future. We talk about the challenges of pivoting and staying true to your mission, cover a few very good reasons why people don't trust AI, and we talk about one CEO who has made it his mission to destroy a startup ecosystem. Oh, and near the end of the show, we have a really interesting discussion about the startup ecosystem in Kyoto. There really are some amazing things going on in Kansai, but you know, Ken tells that story much better than I can, so let's get right to the interview. Interview Tim: So, I'm sitting here with Ken Fujiwara of Hacarus, and thanks for sitting down with me today. Ken: Thanks for having me. Tim: Hacarus is a collection of AI platforms that's targeted both at medical and industrial use but you can probably explain this a lot better than I can, so what exactly does Hacarus do? Ken: Alright, so Hacarus is basically AI startups and provide AI desk applications for medical, such as AI-enabled diagnosis solutions and for manufacturing industry, we provide digital inspection services, and one of the core differences of our company is that we don't use a mainstream AI technology called deep learning. We use something else. Tim: I've noticed that, so you've talked a lot about your ability to create AI models based on very small data sets. How does that work? I mean, what exactly are you guys doing, if you don't mind me asking what the "secret sauc...
Today we are going to look at a different kind of innovation. It's not technology. It's not patentable, and I'm not sure it's scalable. But it is important. It turns out that the story behind a Japanese viral video can teach us a lot about the future of work. It's an example of Japanese innovation at it's best I think you'll enjoy it. Links The Seven-Minute Miracle video Leave a comment Transcript Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. I have a special story for you today.  No guests. No playful banter. Today it’s just you and me and a story about Japanese innovation at its very best. And it’s also the real story behind a famous video about Japan that you’ve probably seen a dozen times on the internet and on western news shows. But like so many stories about Japan, the media gets this one wrong; or at least get it incomplete. They leave out the part of the story that actually teaches us something important about Japan. But there is something pretty amazing going on once you dig into it, and so that’s what we are going to do. The story I’m talking about is the so-called “seven-minute miracle” of the Shinkansen cleaning crew. If you live in Japan, you’ve probably witnessed this personally, and I’ll put a link to the video in the show notes for any listeners who have not already watched it.   The Seven Minute Miracle The Shinkansen is both an engineering and an operational marvel. There are times when JR East is running trains three minutes behind each other at 320 kilometers per hour. To make this work requires an insane commitment to schedule. A departure is only considered to be on-time if happens within fifteen seconds of its scheduled time; no earlier, no later than 15 seconds. And most trains arrive within six seconds of their scheduled time.  Part of making this work means that at Tokyo station, each train has only a 12-minute turnaround-time. It takes about five minutes to get the current passengers off and the new passengers on, which leaves seven minutes for cleaning.  In those seven minutes, a crew of 22 people clean 1,000 seats, wipes down all the tray tables, exchanges seat and headrest covers, turns the seats 180-degrees to face the new direction, cleans the floors and bathrooms, empties all the wastebaskets, collects any forgotten articles from under the seats or in the overhead racks to turn into the lost and found, adjusts the window blinds, and generally makes sure everything on the train is neat and tidy. In seven minutes. And the cleaners do it all with an efficiency and grace that seems more like the mastery of a craft than the execution of a duty. When they are done, usually with time to spare, they assemble on the platform at the front of the train and bow in unison to the passengers who are about to board.  Sometimes the passengers even clap.  And a few minutes later, a new train arrives, and this is repeated for each of the 120 to 170 Shinkansen trains that depart Tokyo every single day.  It’s amazing to watch, and a few years ago CNN picked up the story, and the whole world was, quite rightly. impressed. However, the CNN story focused on how Japanese employees are so efficient and take pride in their work. And that’s not quite true. I mean, these employees clearly are, and Japanese workers certainly can be dedicated and efficient, but anyone who tells you that Japanese employees are just naturally dutiful and efficient has clearly never had to manage Japanese staff.  In fact, even in this celebrated case, it was not always so. This is a relatively recent development, and looking at the innovations that began in 2005 can also tell us a bit about where the gig-economy is headed and the kind of innovation that Japan can bring to the world.    The Making of a Miracle The company responsible for the seven-minute miracle is Tessei,
The automotive industry is closed and proprietary. But Shinpei Kato, founder and CTO of Tier IV, thinks they are going to be forced to change. Teir IV has brought together a global community of programmers and corporate partners to create the Autoware project. Tier IV's goal to develop a completely open-source software platform to drive autonomous vehicles is ambitious, and they have already completed some of the most advanced road-tests of driverless cars in Japan. Today we explore the business bottlenecks in rolling out autonomous vehicles, why open-source makes the automotive industry nervous, and why the first successful driverless car won't be what you think it will. It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it. Show Notes Introducing Autoware and Tier IV What keeps the auto industry from adopting open source The only way a college professor can actually run a startup The challenges in building an industrial open source community How to road test driverless cars in Japan Japan’s first fully-autonomous taxi service When we will  see driverless taxies as part of our everyday life The bottleneck that keeps robot-taxis from going mainstream Which autonomous vehicles we are going to see first. Tier IV's business model How open-source might be Japan's secret weapon in global AI Links from the Founder Everything you ever wanted to know about Tier IV YouTube Twitter LinkedIn Check out Shinpei's personal home page Friend him on Facebook Follow him on Twitter @ShinpeiKato Connect with him on LinkedIn Learn about the Autoware Foundation The Tier IV safety report Some other media coverage of Tier IV Forbes The Japan Times Valuer Leave a comment Transcript Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. Open-source software has completely changed how we think about operating systems, networking, and databases. The whole Internet basically runs on open-source software, but can a 100% open-source software power an autonomous car? Well, one Japanese founder not only thinks it can, but he's betting his company on it, and that startup has already conducted some of the most advanced road tests in Japan. Today, we sit down with Shinpei Kato, founder of autonomous driving startup Tier IV, and Shinpei is also the chairman of the Autoware Foundation, Autoware, being the open-source project to develop software for fully autonomous vehicles. With so much driverless car news coming out of the US, you might not know about what's happening in Japan, but it's pretty amazing. We talk about what's involved in road testing driverless cars in Japan some frightening things people are doing to their cars, the challenges of building an open-source platform in an industry that has historically been fiercely secretive and proprietary and why Japan's first driverless cars are not going to look anything like what you think they will. But you know, Shinpei tells that story much better than I can, so let's get right to the interview. Interview So I'm sitting here with Shinpei Kato of Tier IV who is developing an autonomous driving software, so thanks so much for sitting down with us. Shinpei: Thank you very much for inviting me to this fantastic show. Tim: Oh, it's our pleasure. Listen, before we get into the details, can you explain the relationship between Tier IV and Autoware, because the two different entities are really closely connected and like, together, they form Tier IV's business strategy. Shinpei: So I used to be at Nagoya University and I had led a project of autonomous driving where we started developing software for autonomous vehicles, so I had a lot of attention from industries that made me decide I should do startup rather than the university research. Tier IV was founded to facilitate RND of this open-source...
Startups exist to develop new solutions to problems. But many of society's biggest problems fall outside traditional startup business models. Today we explore why that is, and how it might be changed as we sit down with Robin Lewis, co-founder of Mymizu, a startup focused on reducing plastic waste by encouraging reuse. We take a deep dive into possible monetization strategies, why startups should be better at solving social problems than non-profits, and we discuss a possible roadmap for a middle path between startups and non-profits. It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it. Show Notes The Japanese middle-ground between NGOs and for-profit startups The hidden strategy behind beach cleanup programs Mymizu’s current business model The challenge of mixing environmental and social sustainability When Tim became “The Destroyer of Dreams” The unexpected (positive ) impacts of COVID-19 Why startups  should be able to do more social good than NGOs How bottled water breaks economic theory What happened to Japanese water fountains One common recycling scam in Japan A roadmap for the middle path between NGO and startup   Links from the Founder Everything you ever wanted to know about Mymizu Follow Mymizu on Instagram Check out Robin's personal home page Follow his blog on social sustainability Follow him on Twitter @robintlewis Connect with him on LinkedIn More about sustainability in Japan 7 Surprising Facts About Plastic in Japan Sanpo Yoshi: the Japanese business principle of success through responsibility 25 Opportunities For Volunteering and Social Good in Japan Milton Friedman's landmark NYT article on corporate responsibility Leave a comment Transcript Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. Water, it’s one of the most common molecules in the universe and you personally are made up of about 60% water. There are a number of significant problems today that revolve around water but water is rarely the focus for startups, and today, we’re going to explore why that is and why that might be changing. Today, we sit down in a properly socially distanced matter and talk with Robin Lewis, co-founder of Mymizu. The Mymizu app enables you to find places to refill your water bottles all over Japan, and the company itself exists in a very interesting space between nonprofit and a regular for profit company. Robin and his team are already making an impact in Japan, and we have a deep dive into how startups can be a force to achieve meaningful social change. The challenges of balancing the need for revenues with staying true to your social mission, and we brainstorm about possible monetization strategies that could enable that, and also, you’ll learn something that will probably really piss you off about how recycling is done in Japan. But you know, Robin tells that story much better than I can, so let’s get right to the interview. Interview Tim: So I’m sitting here with Robin Lewis, the co-founder of Mymizu, a water refilling app. Thanks for sitting down with me. Robin Lewis: Thanks so much for having me, Tim, I’m excited to be here. Tim: Actually, you can explain Mymizu much better than I can, so what is Mymizu exactly? Robin: Mymizu, what we’re doing is we’re on a mission to help people live more sustainably, starting with plastic bottles. We accomplish that in, I’d say, four main ways. First, we have the app which you mentioned and it’s essentially a tool where you can find 200,000 locations around the world where you can take your reusable bottle and refill that for free, and so this includes public water fountains like in train station, in parks, and so on, but also, we have this network of what we call ‘refill partners,’ this is cafes, shops, hotels, and other businesses where you can walk in, you can get your water,
Personal aviation is awesome! Aviation has been a source of inspiration and a symbol of innovation since the Wright brothers' first flight at Kitty Hawk, to Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon, to today's dreams of colonizing Mars. Unfortunately, it's been very hard for startups to make money in aviation. Even the Wright brothers did not do particularly well in business. But things might be changing. Today we sit down and talk with Tasuku Nakai, co-founder of Tetra Aviation, and we discuss how public research incentives, support from the aerospace giants, and the changing infrastructure needs might have just tipped the balance to startups. It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it. Show Notes How Tetra's eVTOL aircraft came to be and what it might become The steps needed to bring a new aircraft to market Why it's so difficult to innovate in aviation The main hurdle in expanding the personal aviation market Fundraising strategies and exist options for aviation startups When investing is considered "evil" in Japan Links from the Founder Everything you ever wanted to know about Tetra Aviation Friend Tasuku on Facebook Connect with him on LinkedIn Follow Tetra on Twitter @Tetra_Aviation Check out a video of their prototype VTOL aircraft Leave a comment Transcript Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. Today, we’re going to talk about flying cars. That’s right, flying cars. We sit down with Tasuku Nakai, co-founder of Tetra Aviation and we talk about what it takes to bring a new aircraft, especially a new personal aircraft to market, and it’s not easy. The Tetra Aircraft is an electric vertical take-off and landing, or VTOL aircraft, which they believe will form the backbone of a new aerial intercity transport system. You know, I have a real soft spot for these kinds of startups. I have a private pilot’s license and I love the idea that the age of affordable personal aircraft might almost be here. But as I mentioned, it’s hard, and as Tasuku explains, these kinds of companies don’t fit the traditional VC model for a number of reasons. We also talk about the possible business models open to aircraft startups, the release of Tetra’s new prototype, and the crazy world of experimental aircraft pilots who fly newly designed aircraft as a hobby. But you know, Tasuku tells that story much better than I can, so let’s get right to the interview. Interview Tim: So, I’m sitting here with Tasuku Nakai of Tetra Aviation who makes personal electric aircraft, so thanks for sitting down with me. Tasuku: Thanks for inviting me, Tim, and this is a really great moment to introduce myself and introduce my business. Tim: No, the pleasure’s all mine. I think what you guys are doing is really interesting and I’ve had a passion for, like, aerospace startups for a long time, so actually, I mean, you can probably explain what Tetra Aviation is and what the product is better than I can. So basically, what are you building? Tasuku: We are building personal electrical VTOL aircraft, so vertical take-off and landing, so wherever you want to come, just simply ride on it and fly to the air and arrive on your destination exactly. Tim: And we’ll talk about the history later. This is kind of like the flying cars that startups have been teasing us about since the 1950s, but what you’ve built, is it considered an airplane or a helicopter, or a drone, or how is it classified? Tasuku: Well, a really difficult question about that. There’s no category anymore. There’s a lot of class, almost 50 or 60 classifications, but basically, you think it’s similar for helicopter and the drone, to combine the helicopter and drone, so I mean, the people can ride on it and also, it has a distributed propulsion system as a drone has. Tim: Actually, just today,
Disrupting Japan is six years old and ready to party! Unfortunately, we can't. Like so much else in 2020, this year's big, live show has been canceled, but I hope you'll make it next year. It's not all bad news, of course. There are a lot of great things happening for both Disrupting Japan and for Japanese startups. So looking back on these six years, I'd like to share some of the most important changes that are happening in Japan. Please enjoy. Leave a comment Transcript Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. This is our sixth-anniversary episode. Over the past six years, it’s been a Disrupting Japan tradition to have our big Disrupting Japan Live and Unleashed show on our anniversary. We get three of Japan’s startup thought-leaders on stage and invite a few hundred of our closest friends over for an evening of drinks, conversation, and just hanging out with a lot of cool people. Unfortunately, this year the coronavirus makes this impossible. So we’ll pick up that tradition again next year.  What I had planned for this year’s anniversary episode was to tell you a special story about innovation at it’s best in Japan. The real story behind a video you’ve seen a dozen times on the internet and Western news media. But before that, I wanted to talk briefly about three critical things that have changed for startups in Japan and as those introductory notes became longer and more interesting, I realized I was going to have to split the show, so I’ll tell you all about that video in a future episode. Today, there is something else you should know. But before we get to that, I want to thank you.  When I started Disrupting Japan six years ago, I really could not have imagined what it would become. At first, Disrupting Japan was just me sitting down and talking with my founder friends, and I guess in all the important ways, it still is just me sitting down with my friends. But Disrupting Japan has grown with Japan’s startup community. We now have around 10,000 listeners all over the world, and we’ve ranked as Japan’s #1 entrepreneurship podcast and occasionally break into the top five Japanese business podcasts as well. So after six years, I want to thank all the amazing founders who have come on the show to tell us their stories so honestly, the fans who have spread the word about the podcast in a way that online marketing never could, and to thank you, for listening. I appreciate you choosing to spend your time with me, and I work incredibly hard to make sure this show is worth your time. Looking back on six years, I want to share with you the three most important ways that Disrupting Japan has changed, and what that tells us about how things are changing for Japanese startups. Now, these aren’t the big data-driven headline numbers that you already know about. These trends are more personal, more human, and maybe in a way, more important. 1) Origin Stories During the first two years of Disrupting Japan, I would almost always ask founders about how they started their startup. Many had pretty dramatic stories. Many telling of how their wife or parents were opposed and tried to talk them out of it or force them out of it, or how they had to give up their apartment to save money meet payroll. Many founders had a family role model. A non-conformist relative who was maybe an entrepreneur themselves, or perhaps an artist or musician. Someone who believed in them when everyone else doubted. One of our founders even sold his wife’s jewelry to make payroll.  Although his parting advice to me on that matter was “Tim, your startup is very important, but there are some things you should just never do.” But as long-time listeners have probably noticed, we don’t hear those kinds of origin stories anymore. When I bother to ask the question these days, the most common reply is something like “Well, I really wanted to do it,
Bio-tech is messy because life is complicated. A lot of attention is given to computers sequencing genomes, but some of the most advanced and important work is done by studying and using other living things to make our own lives better. Kenta Yamato co-founded Kaico to commercialize a technique that uses silkworms to manufacture small-batch custom proteins. And Kico is involved with everything from veterinary medicine to Japan's search for a coronavirus vaccine. We also talk about the challenges or creating startups based on university technology and the one e-commerce model in Japan that just won't go away. I think you'll enjoy the conversation. Show Notes How to get proteins from a silkworm (It's not fun for the silkworm) Why silkworms, in particular, must be used The importance and uses of small-batch, custom proteins The start of a silkworm startup The most common (and least successful) Japanese e-commerce model Why it's so hard for Japanese universities to spin-out startups How Kaico silkworms are part of the fight against covid-19 How to scale a silkworm startup Links from the Founder Everything you ever wanted to know about Kaico Friend Kenta on Facebook Connect with him on LinkedIn A Kaico video explainer Leave a comment Transcript Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. Today, we're going to be talking about worms. No, no, wait, don't go, I promise this is going to be really interesting. Today, we're going to sit down and talk with Kenta Yamato of Kaico, a Kyushu-based startup that is using silkworms to rapidly produce custom small-batch innovative proteins that are used for bio-research, medicine, and they play a part in Japan's search for coronavirus vaccine. It's a fascinating process but admittedly one that's not particularly fun for the silkworms themselves. We also talk about the most popular and most unsuccessful e-commerce business model in Japan, the challenges Japanese universities in spinning out startups, and we even cover some practical solutions to that problem. But you know, Kenta tells that story much better than I can, so let's get right to the interview. Interview Tim: So I'm sitting here with Kenta Yamato of Kaico, a company that uses silkworm to produce specific protein used in medical tests and vaccine, and thank you for sitting down with me. Kenta: Yes, thank you for me and I have a very pleasure to explain our company's story. Yeah, thank you very much. Tim: It's great to have you on the show. I tried to explain very briefly what Kaico does, but I think you can explain it a lot better than I can, so at like a high level, what does Kaico do? Kenta: We started Kaico two years ago in 2018. Kaiko means silkworm in English. Maybe you know silkworm can make silk for clothes, but we will use this kaiko silkworm for making proteins. We are a startup company from Kyushu University and our products are many proteins, the protein the other companies cannot make because it is difficult to make it. We make this protein by silkworm. Tim: So if I understand the basic process, you inject the silkworm with a virus containing the target gene, and then it makes the proteins as part of its silk, and then you extract the proteins from the silk? Kenta: No, no. First, we'll incorporate the gene of target protein into baculovirus, so this baculovirus is safe for us humans and animals, but baculovirus damage to only silkworms and we will insert this recombinant baculovirus into silkworm and their body can make the specific protein in their cell, and finally, we'll collect and purify the body liquid from the silkworm. Tim: Okay, so it's not from the silk, it's from the silkworms themselves that you extract the proteins. Kenta: Yes, we don't use silk. Tim: Okay. So why silkworm? Is there something about silkworms that makes it easy to generate protein...
We have always loved maps. Maps combine artistry and utility in a way that very few disciplines allow. But of course, it's always been a trade-off. The beautiful, ornate maps from centuries past told you where the major landmasses were, but provided little detail. And today's GPS-based maps provide an unprecedented level of accuracy but uninspiring in their presentation. Machi Takahashi, founder and CEO of Stroly, has a best-of-both world's solution. We also talk in-depth about the unique challenges facing women founders in Japan, and what can be done to make things better for everyone. It's a great discussion, and I think you will really enjoy it. Show Notes Strolling with stories: How Stroly works How to make Google Maps community-oriented How Stroly pivoted to prosperity during Covid-19 How industry will be using VR after Covid-19 ends Why corporate spinouts are so hard in Japan Why Japan has problems commercializing fundamental research The challenges female founders face in Japan How Japanese women are taught they should not really be CEOs Why Japanese startups need to think globally Links from the Founder Everything you ever wanted to know about Stroly Connect with Machi on LinkedIn Women's Startup Labs Ari Hori on Disrupting Japan Leave a comment Transcript Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. One of the most common themes on Disrupting Japan is the intersection of tradition and high technology. Stories about what things that we’ve known and loved for generations can teach us about how we should use technology today. Now, I’m not sure how much of this is due to the fact that I personally find such startups fascinating and important, and how much of it is due to the fact that there’s something about Japanese startups and Japanese culture that encourages and appreciates these kinds of innovations. Well, today, we sit down with Machi Takahashi of Stroly and we discussed that while mobile GPS mapping is awesome, there’s something important that we’ve lost in our rapid adoption of that technology and it’s something that Stroly is bringing back. We also look into how COVID is not only changing things but changing some things for the better and how this is really a time for innovative startups to shine. And we also talk in some detail about the challenges women founders face in Japan and some simple ways to improve the situation. But you know, Machi tells that story much better than I can, so let’s get right to the interview. Interview Tim: I’m sitting here with Machi Takahashi, the CEO of Stroly, so thanks for sitting down with me. Machi: Thank you, Tim, for having me. Tim: Stroly makes custom maps that are overlaid onto Google Maps, but I think you can explain it a lot better than I can, so why don’t you explain briefly what Stroly is, how it works? Machi: Okay, sure. So, Stroly is our company name and also the name of our service and it means to stroll with story, so we came up with this idea to combine illustrated maps with GPS positioning while we were developing a new guide system for a theme park, and instead of choosing Google Maps, we chose to use this beautiful hand-drawn illustrated map of this theme park and we came up with this technology to combine these latitudes and longitudes on top of these illustrated maps. Tim: Okay, so when people are visiting the theme park, instead of looking at Google Maps or Apple Maps as they are wandering around the park, they would look at those kind of cute hand-drawn illustrated maps and they’d navigate on top of that? Machi: Right, exactly. So, we have this technology where we can adapt these GPS positioning on top of any kind of a map in any form so people can actually exaggerate some of the spots in the map, and then actually draw some of the spots in the map.
You don’t usually think of Japan’s geisha as being an industry, but it is. In fact, strictly speaking, it’s a cartel. A cartel that is now being disrupted by internet-based booking agencies and low-cost substitutes. It seems that even geisha are not immune to internet-based disintermediation. In this special interview Sayuki, Japan’s only geisha who also holds an MBA, explains the business model behind geisha. We talk about the way things used to be, the current threats that have many geisha concerned that the traditional art form and the lifestyle will not survive, and how some geisha houses are trying to adapt. This is a rare, behind the scenes look at the business of being a geisha and a chance to see how Japan’s geisha might survive and even thrive in the coming digital age. It’s a fascinating discussion, and I think you’ll enjoy it. Show Notes for Startups How Sayuki broke 100 years of tradition to become a geisha How geisha are being challenged by both the entertainment and tourism industries Changing geisha from a private art to a public one Why geisha might not survive the modern era of tourism The geisha cartel is being challenged, and why that's not good for anyone The challenge modern geisha face on social media The changes in training for the next generation of Japan's geisha Links from the Founder Sayuki's home page  Follow her on twitter @sayukiofasakusa Become her patron on Patreon Follow her on Facebook Book a geisha experience Geisha Banquet in Tokyo Private Custom Shopping Tour with a Geisha Private Lunch with Sayuki Kimono Shopping Tokyo Tour [shareaholic app="share_buttons" id="7994466"] Leave a comment Transcript Welcome to Disrupting Japan. Straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. I’ve got a great Selects show for you today. We sit down and talk with Sayuki a geisha. An actual geisha. and she also holds an actual MBA from Oxford. It’s a great conversation that breaks down the business model of running a geisha house, and it's a lot more complex than you might imagine. A lot of people talk about disrupting traditional business models, but this is a truly traditional business model. And we also talk about how the Internet and social media is threatening to complexly destroy it. There are a lot of people wondering if geisha will survive this. In fact, there are a lot of geisha wondering if geisha will survive this. It’s a story involving centuries-old cartels in new turf wars, counterfeit goods knowingly being sold over the internet, and the challenge of getting maiko off their social media accounts long enough to train them. Although that last one is both a problem and a potential revenue stream. Anyway, please enjoy the conversation, and I’ve got an update for you at the end of the show. Intro Today I’ve got something really special for you. We are going to talk about the kind of business that you’ve probably never heard any details about. Today we’re going to sit down and interview Sayuki, a Geisha. And since this is Disrupting Japan, we’ll be talking about the business side of being a Geisha. We’ll look at the Geisha business model and examine how it’s being disrupted by modern technology. And believe me, it really is. Now, listeners outside Japan might not understand how special this opportunity is. Traditionally, Geisha are not really supposed to talk about their business. Geisha create the illusion of comfort, beauty, and elegance, that is unsoiled by such base things as money. But make no mistake about it; it’s an illusion. Geisha is a very serious business and Sayuki, who also has an MBA from Oxford, has agreed to sit down and walk us through it. In fact, from a business point of view, Geisha are an established cartel that are being disrupted by new technology, the internet, and tourism websites in particular,
They probably mean well. They are telling you something that is easy to understand and that seems like it's true at first, but it's still a lie. I received an overwhelming response to my recent episode on success via public humiliation, and more than a few people tried to set me straight about how Japanese keigo is supposed to be used, so today I'm going to return the favor. Don't worry, this is not a Japanese lesson, at least not in the pedantic sense, but it might clear up a few of the lies you've been told, and perhaps even repeated about how honorifics are used in Japan and in Japanese business in particular. Please leave a comment because I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Show Notes Feedback on Failure How you are being lied to Why keigo is not about social status or individual respect How to insult by being polite Actually showing respect Leave a comment Transcript Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. While the coronavirus lockdown continues to disrupt Disrupting Japan’s production schedule, whatever stage of lockdown or reopening you might be in right now, I hope you're doing well. Today I’m going to point out something that every Japanese language textbook I have ever seen gets completely wrong.   Feedback on Failure But before that, I want to thank you for all the emails and messages you sent in response to last month’s episode on how public humiliation has been my secret to success in Japan. It was a hard one to make, but it seems like it really resonated with a lot of listeners, and the feedback was really overwhelming. So, thank you for that. There was also, however, some comments about my difficulties speaking keigo and my description of it as a “mind-boggling complex protocol of honorific and humble forms whose use depends on a non-linear, three-dimensional matrix of formality, in-group out-group status, and the role you are playing in that particular interaction.“ OK. I admit I was a bit overdramatic there, but quite a few people emailed to tell me that keigo was actually quite logical and very straightforward as long as you keep in mind a few simple rules. It is something, they asserted, that can be mastered in a few years of serious study. OK. Yeah, maybe. But it’s interesting to note that all the emails telling me how easy keigo is, came from non-Japanese. Among the emails I got from my Japanese fans, only two mentioned my keigo comments at all, and they both sympathized, saying that they also make mistakes sometimes. In fact, one of them even mentioned that she can’t understand why anyone thinks rakugo is funny either. So hey, maybe it’s my sense of humor, and not my language ability that’s the problem here. But to those non-native speakers claiming keigo is simple and straightforward. Well OK, perhaps you have a gift for it. Perhaps its really clicked for you. You almost certainly have a better command of it that I do, but maybe you should consider, that just perhaps, you don’t understand it as well as you think you do.   How you are being lied to In fact, I will go further than that. Every Japanese language textbook I have ever seen completely misrepresents both what keigo is and how it is used. It’s almost always defined as a “means fo showing respect to individuals with higher social status”. And that’s just wrong! It is not about showing respect to individuals and it has nothing to do with social status. Sure, that definition might be useful for people with short attention spans or who know little about Japanese society. But fortunately, Disrupting Japan listeners have proven themselves as having long attention spans and they know a thing or two about Japanese society. So let’s dig into this. If you are a non-native speaker, by the end of this short episode, I promise you’ll have a new way of looking at keigo. OK.
Oracle first came into Japan more than 25 years ago, but the challenges they faced and overcame then are exactly the same ones firms are facing today in executing their Japan market entry. Allen explains why Oracle needed a unique sales and marketing strategy for Japan, and how he managed to get buy-in from headquarters — even though Oracle already had a sales and marketing program that had proven fantastically successful in other markets. We also talk about how Oracle managed to negotiate a amicable exit out from their exclusive distribution agreements not just once, but twice. That’s an amazing accomplishment considering that many foreign companies have destroyed their Japanese business the first time they attempt it. But Allen, tells the story much better than I do. I think you’ll enjoy the interview. I know I did. [shareaholic app="share_buttons" id="7994466"] Leave a comment Transcript Welcome to disrupting Japan. Straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero, and thanks for joining me. Update Japan is slowly opening up again. The official “unofficial” lockdown ended at the beginning of June. Restaurants, bars, and shops are reopening with a lot if plastic curtains and sheeting separating patrons and proprietors.  It’s a long way from normal, but it's better than being stuck in the house. International travel is mostly shut down, but domestic travel is really picking up. It seems most of the hotels and resorts in Okinawa are already booked solid for the summer by Japanese who would normally be flying to Hawaii. And Okinawans, grateful for the business, but still nervous about the virus, have some pretty mixed feeling about that. And of course, with international travel shut down, and all the trade shows canceled, most foreign startups have put their Japan market entry plans on hold. And that’s normally a lot of activity. If you are a B2B startup you need to be looking at Japan. It can be a hard market to crack, but it’’s a lucrative one. So today, I want to re-share what is one of the most amazing Japan market-entry stories of all time. It has ambition, misdirection. drama, serious career-risk, and rock-concerts.  It’s an old story, but a good one. The technologies have changed since then, but the challenges and the strategies haven’t. Intro To kick things off today, we’ll get a chance to sit down and talk with my good friend Allen Miner about the challenges Oracle faced, and overcame, when breaking into Japan. I’ll warn you in advance that this episode is longer than most, and believe me, I cut things to the bone. But there is just too much great information about how to overcome both the personal and professional challenges that foreign companies face here. I felt like I would be cheating you if I edited out any more. In fact, Allen explains how Oracle successfully maneuvered out of an exclusive distribution agreement, not only once, but two separate times. This is something that has sunk more than one foreign company here. But Allen tells the story much better than I can, so let’s get right to the interview. [pro_ad_display_adzone id="1411" info_text="Sponsored by" font_color="grey" ] Interview Tim: So I’m sitting down here with Allen Miner and Allen, you’ve been involved with the market entry of a lot of companies into Japan. But today I want to focus on the one that you led personally, which was Oracle Japan. So let’s back up. What was attractive about the Japanese market? What made Oracle decide that they needed to be in this country? Allen: Actually, that happened a few years before I joined Oracle. In, I believe it was 1982, Oracle was about a $5 million a year company worldwide, 5 years old as a company, and just released their first commercial version of the Oracle database software. There was quite a bit of press about, “How interesting is this relation to technology? It doesn’t require traditional programming to do data manipulation...
You would expect that event-focused startups would be some of the hardest hit by the global pandemic and lockdown, and for the most part, you would be right. But Peatix is one event startup that adapted fast and is now actually thriving during the lockdown.  We've talked with Taku Harada before, and if you have not done so already, you should check it out. It's a great conversation and there is no overlap with today. Today we talk about how startups can pivot and survive during the pandemic, why having too much money can be a curse for startups, and we dive into what's gone wrong with Japanese B2B SaaS startups. It's a great discussion, and I think you will really enjoy it. Show Notes How an evets company pivots during Covid-19 What makes a good online event Will people play for online events What will be the long-term behavioral changes from the lockdown The surprising secret to scaling a social network Tips for Japanese who want to run an international startup The trap of startups having too much funding What's wrong with Japan’s SaaS companies Why Japanese enterprise has too much influence on startups The importance of an ecosystem is not what you think  Links from the Founder Everything you ever wanted to know about Peatix Friend Taku on Facebook Follow him on twitter at @takumeister Petix on YouTube Leave a comment Transcript Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. Today we get a chance to sit down with (at a very safe social distance) with Taku Harada the founder of Peatix, and we’ll talk about how this particular event planning and booking company is not only surviving but thriving during this covid crisis. And hey, this is the very first DJ episode I’ve released, where I’ve interviewed someone over video conference.  Oh, I’ve recorded a few interviews that way them before, but I’ve always found something lacking. Something impersonal and not fully connected when you talking to an image on a screen rather than a person in the same room. But this time was different. Maybe because Taku and I are old friends, or maybe just because we all, myself included, are getting more used to living our lives online. So we’ll be doing more interviews this way, at least until things return to the way they were in the before times. This is actually the second time we’ve had Taku on the show, but this is all new information, and I strongly encourage you to go listen to the other interview. It’s a great discussion about the things no one ever tells you when you first start your startup. I’ll have a link to that episode up on the site But today we are going to talk about how to build, and expand, your customer base during lockdown, some things you should know about fundraising right now, and what the hell is wrong with Japanese B2B SaaS companies. But you know Taku tells that story much better than I can, so let's get right to the interview. Interview Tim: So, I’m sitting here with Taku Harada of Peatix, the event ticketing and promotion service. Thanks for sitting down with me. Taku: It’s great to be back, I guess. We talked several years ago. It’s nice to see you again. Tim: Likewise, and we’re being very appropriately socially distanced here, you being in New York. Taku: Very much. Tim: Yeah. Yeah, actually, you were one of my very first guests on the show and that was, man, almost six years ago now. Taku: Was it six years ago? Tim: Yeah, 5 ½, six years. Times change. Taku: When was it, 2013 or so? I’m curious to find out what I had said back then, if it matches up with the way I’m thinking right now. Tim: Yeah. We finished off a bottle of wine at the old engine yard office in Tokyo. Taku: Yeah, an Ebisu, right? Tim: Yeah. Now, it was a really great interview and we’re not going to cover the same ground again today although I mean,
I've never managed to find a direct road to success. My bio reads like a random walk down many different career paths, so I always feel unqualified to answer when people ask me for career advice. Today, however, I'd like to share one insight about doing business in Japan that I learned the hard way. If you've been through something like this, I hope you'll be able to identify with it. If you haven't, I hope you can learn something from it, and avoid it. Please share your experiences in the comments. Show Notes More life lessons from Mark the Dog Japanese fluency is an odd target What's worse than any horror movie plot? Success via humiliating failure How good does your Japanese need to be to do business in Japan? Leave a comment Transcript Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. Today I want to tell you the story about one of the most embarrassing and publicly humiliating events of my life, and something very important it taught me about doing business in Japan. Before we get to that, however, I received a lot of great feedback from the last episode on the Japanese trap of the Glorious Failure, including a number of Japanese listeners who said they really liked Taniguchi-bucho’s explanation of corporate Japan’s negative point system. (More) Advice from Mark the Dog But by far the most popular request was for pictures and more life lessons from Mark the Dog. Well, OK. I’m going to do that, but please understand that this is not a very deep well. There is only so much Mark the Dog can teach us about how we should live our lives, because after all, Mark the Dog, is … well, he’s a dog. So I’ll put a couple of pictures of Mark the Dog on the website, (Yes, he is very cute), and I’ll let you know that there is, in fact, one more thing that Mark the Dog has taught me during the ongoing lockdown. Mark being a good boy. This was my wife's idea. Meet my PA, Mark.   You know how dogs get really excited every time they hear a little noise outside or see something move past the window? Or how they become nearly hysterical whenever someone rings the doorbell or comes to the door? Well, I get that now. I totally understand where dogs are coming from on this. The other week two pigeons landed on my window sill, and I got way more excited about that than I probably should have. So hey to all the world’s dogs; we're cool on the doorbell thing. No judgment here. OK, back our main story about my path to success via public humiliation.   Japanese fluency is an odd target One of the things people always say when they find out I’ve been living in Japan for almost 30 years is “Wow. How good is your Japanese? You must be fluent!” I never really know how to answer that. I’m definitely not fluent. I mean, I’m not trying to be overly humble here, my Japanese is good. I manage staff in Japanese. I do sales in Japanese. I do presentations in Japanese. So it’s good. But fluent? No. Often when I try to explain a complex or abstract thought, I manage to get lost before I find my way to the verb. I can’t get into a heated argument in Japanese. And I usually don’t understand most of the jokes. My wife loves rakugo, which is a popular Japanese form of comedy storytelling. They are these long shaggy-dog stories that people find hysterical, and I can understand 100% of the story, but I can’t for the life of me see how any of it is funny. And then of course, there is keigo. The mind-boggling complex protocol of honorific and humble forms whose use depends on a complex three-dimensional matrix of formality, in-group out-group status, and the role you are playing in that particular interaction. Frankly, once I get past basic greetings and a few set phrases, I tend to screw it up pretty badly. But, as I mentioned, keigo is hard,
Japanese businessmen famously fear failure. But that understanding is horribly incomplete. In fact, there is one type of failure that is admired, almost sought after, in Japan. Today we take a look at the trap of the Japanese glorious failure, see how it's hurting startups, and examine our options on fixing it. Show Notes Life lessons from Mark the Dog When and why failure is feared in Japan What is a Glorious Failure, and why it is admired How the Glorious Failure is hurting Japanese startups What is (probably) the only way to fix this Leave a comment Transcript Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. I'm recording this episode for release on April 28, 2020. I usually try to make all Disrupting Japan content evergreen. Most of the insights you hear on Disrupting Japan about starting companies in Japan, or building a customer base, market testing, or doing business here will probably be just as valid in ten years as the day it was recorded. And in some ways, this episode is no exception. The common wisdom is that Japanese. and Japanese founders in particular, are too risk-averse and have too great a fear of failure. Well today, we are going to turn that view on its head. I’m going to explain that, in truth, Japanese founders don’t fear failure enough, and that’s hurting Japanese startups here. You know, actually, maybe I am being too pessimistic. Maybe ten years from now, you and I will listen back on this episode and laugh at how things used to be and smile when we think of how much has improved. Well, maybe. But before we start talking about why Japanese founders need to fear failure more, I want to say something about the coronavirus situation, at least as it stands in late April 2020. The world might have changed a lot since then. Tokyo is currently on official, but actually unofficial, lockdown. There are clusters of idiots in the parks, but most people seem to be taking things seriously. If you go outside, the police won’t arrest you, but they might ask you where you are going, and ask you to consider if you really need to be out. There is no real punishment or anything, but they make you feel kind of guilty, and that seems to be enough to keep most people indoors. The operations of the Disrupting Japan Studios remain largely unaffected by the shutdown, but that mostly because, Disrupting Japan Studios broadcasts from inside of my wife’s walk-in closet. The acoustics are great in here, but it can get a bit cramped. So for the past six weeks or so, I’ve been staying in the house with my wife Ami and my dog Mark. And you know, Mark the dog has taught me perhaps the most important lesson about how to deal with the corona crisis and the lockdown. Mark the dog, he doesn’t really know what’s going on. All he knows is that my wife and I are home all the time, and he’s never alone. There is always someone to lean up against, or play with, or give him some attention. Mark the dog, doesn’t worry about what might happen tomorrow, and I don’t think he really remembers what happened yesterday. But right now, at this particular moment, he knows he is with the people he loves and who care about him. And for right now, that’s pretty awesome. And believe me, Mark the dog is the happiest, most contented creature you could possibly imagine. So day-by-day, right. At this particular moment, I hope you are OK and with people you love. Anyway, let’s put Mark the dog out of the studio. We're going to talk about why Japanese founders need to fear failure more. The Failure that is Feared You’ll often hear that Japanese founders, and Japanese society in general or overly afraid of failure. And in some ways that is true. Attitudes have shifted for the better over the past few decades, but most kinds of failure here in Japan do cary a certain stigma.
Almost all startup accelerators are going bankrupt and going away. Hiro Maeda, the founder of two of Japan's most successful, and most different startup incubators explains both the brief past and precarious future of startup incubators and accelerators. We talk not only about the mechanics and challenges of what it takes to make an incubator successful, but Hiro has some practical advice on when founders should consider joining an accelerator and how they can avoid the 99% of them that provide no real value. Hiro also explains why so many Japanese VCs today find investing in South East Asia more attractive than Japan, the forces behind Japan's startup boom, and what the next ten years holds for Japanese startups. Show Notes for Startups The motivation behind the founding of Open Network Labs Incubator How to measure the success of an incubator How Japanese VCs will be deploying capital in the next few years The success of Beenos's Inception Program and why they had to shut it down Why public companies have trouble with startups How to tell a good incubator from a bad one Why most incubators provide no value The coming shakeout in the incubator industry What’s driving Japan’s startup boom The future of Japanese entrepreneurship Links from the Founder Beenos Hiro's Blog Follow Hiro on Twitter @djtokyo Friend him on Facebook The SGE Facebook Page [shareaholic app="share_buttons" id="7994466"] Leave a comment Transcript from Japan Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero. Thanks for listening. I hope you and your loved ones are staying safe and staying healthy during this coronavirus crisis. I honestly can’t see too much more than that, because one of the things I learned in releasing our previous episode is that the situation can change dramatically from the time I record to the time I release and then again from the time of release and the time you get a chance to listen. So about the only thing I can say right now that I know will make sense when you listen to this is that I hope you are doing OK and staying healthy; or failing that getting better. Today, I’ve got a great Selects show for, so we can sit down over a beer with Hiro Maeda, one of the most insightful Japanese VCs. This interview was recorded back in 2015. A lot has changed since then, but a surprising amount of things have not. When we first caught up with Hiro he was just about to launch his new fund, and I’ll give you an update on what happened after the show. What might be even more interesting, however, is that the predictions Hiro makes in this interview have not come true as quickly as expected, but many of them are playing themselves out in slow motion right in front of us. Intro Today, we sit down with Hiro Maeda and talk about Start-Up Accelerators. Now, Hiro is the creator of both Digital Garages, Open Network Lab and the Beenos Inception Program. These are two of Japan's best known Start-Up Acceleration Programs. Their approaches are very, very different. Naturally, we talk about both the past and the future of Start-Up Acceleration in Japan, and the critical differences between the good ones and the bad ones. What impressed me most about our conversation was Hiro's commitment to running his Accelerators just like Start-Ups. Now, we dive into the fundamental reasons behind the attraction that Japanese VCs now have for Southeast Asian Markets. As well as the reasons behind what we both see as the coming hard times for Start-Up Accelerators, and the coming good time for Japanese Start-Ups. I will let Hiro explain all of that in his own words. Let's get right to the interview. [pro_ad_display_adzone id="1404" info_text="Sponsored by" font_color="grey" ] Interview Tim: I am sitting here with Hiro Maeda of Beenos formally. The man who found the Open Network Lab with Digital Garage. Today,
Innovation drives society forward, but everyday competence keeps it on the road. Over the past five years, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about the importance of disruptive innovation, but today I’d like to talk about the framework that allows disruptive innovation to be a net positive to society. The coronavirus pandemic has some people looking for innovation and others for stability. However, examining how Japan and the rest of the world are getting though it shows us something very important about innovation. Something that is almost always overlooked. Show Notes Life in Tokyo during the pandemic Why you don't want to cough in Singapore Why we probably can't innovate our way out of this pandemic The very real dark side of disruptive innovation Why innovation depends on everyday competence Leave a comment Transcript Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. Things are not normal in Japan right now. Japan is one of the countries that is being been hit the hardest by the coronavirus. And the rest of the world is watching Japan because it has a modern health-care system, an active response to the virus, and a government that can be trusted to release .. reasonably accurate information about infection and mortality rates. How things play out for Japan over the next few months is quite likely how they will play out for the rest of the world over the next year. So yeah, everybody is watching Japan; as they should be. People are nervous in Japan, but things are calm and orderly. Of course, Japan tends to do calm and orderly really well. Public gatherings like graduations, business conferences, and sporting events have been canceled. As I record this, no decision has been made about the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but it seems likely they’ll be postponed. Two weeks ago Sunday, I was walking back home through nearly deserted streets around Ark Hills and saw a young couple doing their wedding photography in the atrium there. Masks nervously being taken off and put back on between shots. It’s got to be a frustrating time to have had a wedding scheduled. On the business side, most large companies including Dentsu, Panasonic, Mitsubishi and of course Google as well, are either requiring or encouraging their employees to work from home. Which is good. Almost all business travel is canceled, and that’s for the best. In fact, three weeks ago when I was returning to Japan from Singapore, I coughed while walking through the airport on the way to my gate. Not like a big, sick, hacking cough, but just like a, I mean I’m a human being, and sometimes we just cough, right? A few seconds later, someone from security wearing a mask walked up to me with a heat sensor to take my temperature. He was very polite about the whole thing, and I was fine of course. It’s good to know that Singapore is taking things seriously, but FYI, don’t cough in the Singapore airport. In terms of Disrupting Japan, well, I have not been scheduling interviews for the obvious reasons, and honestly, right now most founders are focused on coronavirus countermeasures. If the situation continues, I may try video-conference interviews again, or I may do more commentary episodes. The feedback I received on my last few was overwhelmingly positive, so maybe. Today, however, I want to talk about the nature of innovation itself. You see, the coronavirus has the potential to teach us a valuable lesson about innovation. No, no. It’s not the one you think it is. It’s not the standard fare about innovation and ingenuity will get us through even humanity’s worst problems. No, it’s something a bit less on-message. But it’s an insight that is for more important, and in a way, far more reassuring than the standard trope about innovating our way out of a bad situation. Unfortunately, it’s also a lesson that I think all us innovators ...
Comments (4)

Digvijay Londhe

Thanks for sharing about this unique agritech. I am from India and know very well the problems of small scale farmers and was looking forward to the solution in research during my MBA. Hope Sagri reaches its final goals.

Jun 3rd

Tire Navi


Jun 1st


Just met you outside of Tully's! Love this podcast, keep up the good work.

Nov 15th
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