Starting and growing companies is nothing new to Hiro. He’s been doing it his whole adult life. In his younger days, he always felt caught somewhere between Japanese and American culture, never really belonging to either. Hiro found inspiration in an unlikely place; Nintendo games. They were uniquely Japanese, but universally loved and intuitively understood.

His journey so far has involved maid-themed hair salons, social music sharing, a project partnership with Linkin Park, and working with the largest concert promoter in Japan. And he’s just getting started.

We talk about startup, strategies, failures, success and what’s coming next for Beatrobo, startups in Japan and Japanese founders in general.

Show Notes for Startups

  • How a small startup can partner with Linkin Park
  • How being a cultural outsider leads to startup insights
  • So, what’s a maid-themed hair solon anyway?
  • The appeal of physical devices in a digital world
  • What being a successful founder means for those around you
  • The inside story on the Movida incubator
  • Why Japanese developers are making better software than those in Silicon Valley

Links from the Founder

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Transcript from Japan

Tim:    Welcome to Disrupting Japan straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I am Tim Romero and thanks for listening.

Today we sit down and talk to Hiroshi Asaeda founder of Beatrobo, and we chat about music sharing, robot avatars, made-themed hair salons, and how getting caught in between two cultures can an entrepreneur a real edge. In the interview you can hear but not see Hiro and I handling these plug air devices. So, to help you visualize what’s going to be going on, but without giving too much away the Plug Air are small plastic devices that plug into an iPhone’s headphone jack. They range in size from as small as a fingernail to about 5 cm. They come in all kinds of colors, and they are shaped anything from simple squares to cute robot-looking things.

Now before we get to the interview I want to share an insight with you, or more accurately I suppose an insight about an insight. A number of guests and some others as well have told me that Japanese feel more comfortable speaking directly, openly and honestly when speaking English then they do when speaking Japanese. Now, I had developed a wonderful theory about how the language we speak affects our thinking and how being exposed to different languages can change the way you approach problems. And well, there maybe may be some truth to that, but I realize that wasn’t the main thing.

The fact of the matter is when you are speaking in a second language. You have no choice, but to be direct. Outside your native language you really can’t do subtle nuance or evasion or cleverly change the question with a joke. So, you pretty much just have to answer the damn question as best you can. But hey, that makes for some great interviews. So, let’s get right to this one.

Tim:    Okay, ready to get started?

Hiro:    Yep.

Tim:    So cheers.

Hiro:    Cheers.

Tim:    I am sitting here with Hiro Asaeda of Beatrobo. And it is a pretty cool music playlist sharing with cross-mortal robot avatars, but you are going to be able to explain this much better than I can. So, can you give everyone an introduction to what Beatrobo is?

Hiro:    Yeah, yeah, yeah. Our company is Beatrobo. What we are focusing now is actually another product.

Tim:    Okay.

Hiro:    So you know–

Tim:    –And, this is the Plug Air?

Hiro:    Yes, that’s the Plug Air. But our company is still Beatrobo because we started with that.

Tim:    That’s a great name.

Hiro:    We actually love the concept.

Tim:    Well, let’s talk about what Plug Air is?

Hiro:    Okay, so Plug Air is a physical gadget. It’s a technology that we have invented two years ago. The concept is that you just plug it into your phone and you can could get music or you can could get video, or you can could get any kind of digital content.

Tim:    This is unfortunately audio only. But I am sitting here staring at a half dozen of these little devices. They are just a small couple of centimeter cube, 1 cm cube that plug into the phone jack of an iPhone or an Android device right?

Hiro:    Mm-hmm.

Tim:    That’s awesome. And there is no, is there–

Hiro:    Well all of these are on the iPhone.

Tim:    Oh okay.

Hiro:    So, this is how it works. There is an app right here and you just plug it in. You snap it in.

Tim:    Right.

Hiro:    And that is all you need to do. The content will load inside the phone. It’s done. Now, you get like the whole album of like music, songs, links, PDF files all this stuff.

Tim:    Now I take it this is more than just a removable drive of sorts. Right? So, I mean I’ve loaded up this little and we will put a picture up on the website so everyone knows what we are talking about.

Hiro:    Yeah.

Tim:    So if I load a video or a set of songs on to this I can share it with as many people as I want? Or do I have to have the device connected to the phone to have it work?

Hiro:    Yeah. That’s a very good question. The content provider can control how they want to distribute it.

Tim:    Oh okay.

Hiro:    Like if you think of it as a CD. CDs are copy able; you could give it to somebody else and share it as much as you want. If you make it that way, it will work that way. I can plug it in to mine get 10 songs, plug it into yours, give you 10 songs.

Tim:    The content can be bound to the physical device or it can be just a matter of distribution.

Hiro:    Exactly, yes. The controllable thing is I can have 10 songs, you can have 3 songs. Or the people I share will get 3 songs. Or you get 10 songs, but you can only listen to it for 3 days.

Tim:    You just plug it in. There are no passwords, no log-ins. Just plug it in.

Hiro:    Exactly. That’s the concept.

Tim:    It’s really cool and audio podcasts can’t really do it justice. We will have to get everyone on to the site and to check this out. One thing I want your opinion on. Do you think people connect more with physical goods in a digital age? Because I’ve just got a feeling if someone, we all have dozens of our friends sharing videos with us on Facebook every day. But we don’t watch them. At least I don’t. But I have got a feeling if someone handed me this physical device and said “oh you have got to watch this, put it into your phone” I think I’d do it.

Hiro:    Yeah. Exactly.

Tim:    That’s the reaction we are seeing as well?

Hiro:    Yeah, It’s like if it is one to one and you are already friends and you are already on Facebook and you already know the account and you’re already use the same app that’s when it is easier. That’s why social networks are so strong. It’s like, “oh we don’t have to think about the connection of people…” What I can do here is that even if I don’t know the person’s e-mail address or if even download don’t know their name I can give this to them and they can get it.

Tim:    Now you have been working with Lawson’s.

Hiro:    Yes.

Tim:    Which is one of the largest convenient store chains here in Japan. How have they been using this technology? Because that is obviously taking it a step beyond the two friend sharing playlists.

Hiro:    Lawson’s HMV Entertainment runs Lawson Ticket; The Ticketmaster of Japan. Why we partner with them is because they have the channel to distribute physical content.

Tim:    What is exactly going through that channel? How are they distributing these? How are they using it?

Hiro:    One big case study is partnering with a concert. Lawson was in charge of distributing the concert tickets.

Tim:    Right.

Hiro:    To the fans when they buy it. So, we partnered with one of the largest bands know in Japan which is called TM-Network. When a person buys a ticket we gave a Plug Air to them as an exclusive giveaway.

Tim:    Okay, the Plug Air device contained a couple of songs?

Hiro:    They contained the message from the band, special video reviewing all the music that is going to be played. They also have all of these. They updated that.

Tim:    Okay.

Hiro:    You know days before and after the concert.

Tim:    Oh.

Hiro:    The special thing about Plug Air is that you can update the Cloud side which will actually change what’s inside the gadget.

Tim:    All right, okay. So, it’s updating not only what is on the phone, but what is stored inside the physical device as well.

Hiro:    Yes.

Tim:    That is really cool. Well, actually lets back up a little bit because you started before the Lawson arrangement. You did an Indiegogo campaign.

Hiro:    Yes.

Tim:    With Linkin Park.

Hiro:    Yes.

Tim:    Using this device.

Hiro:    Yes.

Tim:    And there’s got to be a story behind that.

Hiro:    We actually did a project together before that. They were the headliner for Summer Sonic in Japan.

Tim:    Mm-hmm.

Hiro:    In 2013. It was like Metallica and Linkin Park. Well, like I was at our investor’s office one day.

Tim:    Right.

Hiro:    Like doing some like a talk at an event. The business guy, those like the vice-president kind of guys were like visiting Japan for Summer Sonic, but were meeting people in the start-up industry.

Tim:    Okay.

Hiro:    I was there and my investor goes, “hey Hiro come over. I remember you speak English. This guy the V.P. of Linkin Park…” I was like, “oh I know that man…”

Tim:    Yeah. How big was your company at that point?

Hiro:    It was like 5 or 6 people.

Tim:    Cool.

Hiro:    I always had one of my prototypes, because it wasn’t in mass production or anything. We had two devices working that we handmade. We printed out with a 3-D printer. We did that and we showed it. They got excited. “It’s like oh this is the next USB!” They understood it so quickly I was even surprised. I was like, “why do you even understand that so quickly?” That was my first question I did to them. The interaction, the physical concept, the fans wanting something to take home after the concert.

Tim:    So you suddenly had to go from a handful of handmade prototypes into production in how long?

Hiro:    Two months.

Tim:    Two months? Way to go!

Hiro:    It’s a nightmare. I was okay. I was like “Let’s do it. Let’s sell them. Oh we just need to my 5,000 of these. No.” It’s like no; that’s not what was happening. It’s like “Where are we going to make this first? We need to go to China…” Like that’s what happened.

Tim:    What did you do? Did you get the internet? Did you get on a plane? How did you source this stuff?

Hiro:    So, when we were working on the circuit board.

Tim:    Right.

Hiro:    We had one company; we had an agency that was providing the chips. We were like “hey do you any company that you can trust??”

Tim:    Yeah.

Hiro:    They were like, “oh yeah we have one company that we work together and we buy things from them…” It was like, “oh lets go meet them.” No English is going on. But we decided to trust them and order the units.

Tim:    And, how did the project turn out?

Hiro:    It actually was successful.

Tim:    That’s what I hear.

Hiro:    It was like five lucky things going on at the same time. Everybody told us “oh if we mess up on the mold it will take another two weeks to rebuild the mold and stuff…”

Tim:    But, that is the way with every challenging project isn’t it?

Hiro:    Yeah.

Tim:    There is twenty things have to go right to make it to pull it off, and one thing has to go wrong to screw it up.

Hiro:    So the lucky thing happened. Everything went well.

Tim:    Yeah.

Hiro:    Plus, we were actually say total tech web stars. I was like “oh we can just launch it and if something is wrong we will just work 24 hours and fix the bug.” Like what was how we use to work. Now we do hardware.

Tim:    Yeah. Hardware is a little different. You can’t just push a patch out. Yeah.

Hiro:    That’s what we tried to do. I was like “oh okay. One mistake and we will wait another three weeks for the fix.” Was what we like found out.

Tim:    I think that having that over your head makes you pay more attention to quality and probably results in a much better product in the end.

Hiro:    Yes.

Tim:    Let’s see, Beatrobo you founded in 2012, right?

Hiro:    Yes.

Tim:    Pretty much from the get go you were aggressively going global. Right?

Hiro:    Yes.

Tim:    You were at the Consumer Electronics Show in the states your first year.   Why did you decide to spend the money and make the effort to like go after the U.S. Market instead of doing what frankly most Japanese companies do which is focus on the easier sells here in Japan?

Hiro:    My passion only starts from something that nobody else but I would or could do.

Tim:    Okay.

Hiro:    It’s like, “oh yeah let’s make some Japanese Edition of Uber.” Right. It’s like, “oh yeah. Somebody else could do it.” So I never get excited when you can actually see what’s going to happen.

Tim:    But I think that is a really useful insight. I think to a lot of people who want to start up companies. Is look at whatever collection of skills you as an individual have? You might be good at three different things and find out where they overlap, and that’s the company you should start, right.

Hiro:    If you have some experience it’s way easier for you to actually make it successful. But, my passion was I need to accomplish something that’s worth betting my life. So I am in this really strange position. My parents are both Japanese. They are pure Japanese. So I speak English the best in our family probably. I grew up in New York until I was 12. I came back to Japan. I am treated as an American; even if I speak Japanese. If I go to America I am treated as Japanese. I’m like neither of them. So I was the person in the middle trying to adjust to both sides.

But the interesting part was that there also is a value there. Finding out that if I stand in the middle, it’s like, “oh this is what I can see. There is a point of view that nobody could see…”

Tim:    It’s unique.

Hiro:    Yeah.

Tim:    It’s an interesting point because I think foreigners or ex-patriots; people have moved to a different country are uniquely suited to spotting those differences, to spotting those opportunities. They have a different perspective.

In San Francisco a huge number of founders are from outside the U.S. There are a lot of foreigners in the Japanese start-up scene that are helping drive it. And so, is that’s how you found your unique value?

Hiro:    First of all, I was lost or I felt I was not needed by anybody. So I was like, “oh I need to be Japanese. I need to be pure Japanese. Or I need to try to be an American and start living in the U.S. and not speak Japanese at all.”

Tim:    Neither one of those worked out too well?

Hiro:    Well, that didn’t make me happy.

Tim:    All right.

Hiro:    One thing that I liked the most was Nintendo, okay.

Tim:    Tough to make a career of.

Hiro:    What is something that is in the global market, but started in Japan and has a Japanese identity yet works around the world? For example, there is no tutorial for Super Mario.

Tim:    Okay.

Hiro:    But on the Stage 1:1 the first three screens is like a tutorial.

Tim:    Oh, okay. All right.

Hiro:    So how it starts, Mario starts from the bottom left; which means you can’t walk to the left. Imagine if Mario starts from the middle.

Tim:    I see what you mean. Really well thought out things that you don’t notice.

Hiro:    Yes.

Tim:    Unless you know what you are looking for, right?

Hiro:    It was so well designed and it works not just for Japanese people. Right. It works for everyone.

Tim:    Yeah, it’s universal. Yeah.

Hiro:    So I wanted to make something that becomes universal, but from the heart of a Japanese mindset. So I speak English like this, but I am a Japanese guy who loves Japan so much.

Tim:    Yeah. I get it man. It makes more sense. The simplicity of this device I have in my hand it is obvious what you do with it. You put it in the headphone jack.

Hiro:    Yes.

Tim:    And then, what saw happening on the screen was intuitive, obvious, needs no explanation action. All right.

Hiro:    That’s the thing that you know I am having fun. It’s like “oh yeah I can give a USB stick to my Grandma. She will not use it. I will send a Dropbox link to my Grandma. She will not use it…” If I give this and say “just plug it in she will…” She will.

Tim:    Awesome. Listen, before you founded Beatrobo.

Hiro:    Yeah.

Tim:    You had a couple of virtual reality companies you were involved with, right? Is this a kind of natural transition for you?

Hiro:    Yes and no. My first company was a hair salon.

Tim:    Yeah. That was the made-themed hair salon.

Hiro:    Exactly.

Tim:    Actually, let’s talk about that one for a minute.

Hiro:    Certainly.

Tim:    I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you a couple of questions about that.

Hiro:    It was when I was 22. It was 2005. I was in Graduate School talking with my friends.   And we were like we don’t want to work. It’s like–

Tim:    That’s why you are in Graduate School.

Hiro:    It’s very obviously it’s not being in a positive way. Why can’t we just not work and play games for the rest of our lives?

Tim:    What is a maid-themed hair salon? I mean I have got a picture in my mind, but I have no idea how accurate that picture is.

Hiro:    It started from complex things. I had very different hairstyles all the time when I was in college. I had an Afro-hair I did. I did have an Afro hair. I’ll show. I did street dances and stuff so I had many hairstyles. I remember those days when I was at a hair salon and the stylists are so fashion people. It was so uncomfortable for because they talk about the newest hip hop songs or whatever.

Tim:    Right.

Hiro:    I never listened to them. I like to play games or I like to read comics. But if I talk about that they will treat me as a dork. I would pretend to be—

Tim:    To be hip.

Hiro:    Yeah, and I was like this is why nerds and geeks don’t like haircuts.

Tim:    All right. I see where you are going with this.

Hiro:    I was like “okay let’s make one that has the concept where it is comfortable.” It was a place where you can talk about comics, mangas, animes and you get a haircut.

Tim:    And you get a haircut.

Hiro:    And you are comfortable. Then we start talking it was like brainstorming. Oh that needs to be an Akihabara

Tim:    Yeah.

Hiro:    Yes, if you lived in your hometown the whole time you will have your barber and you will go there for 30 years, 40 years. But if you move out, if you live somewhere else and you move into Tokyo. The toughest thing is to find your dentist and your hair stylist.

Tim:    All right.

Hiro:    Okay. That’s why people give up and go to the closest barber from your house and you don’t talk or you just sleep. You go to the $10.00 haircut. I was like Akihabara, men, geeks, nerds, manga, anime. Okay, we need a woman stylist wearing a maid costume so people can joke it and make a reason saying “oh I’m just joking around…”

Tim:    Yeah, but you got to get your haircut somewhere. What was the reception? What was the reaction? What did people think of it?

Hiro:    It worked from the first month. The cool thing about the business.

Tim:    It’s still in operation?

Hiro:    It’s in the 10th anniversary.

Tim:    Ah congratulations, that awesome.

Hiro:    Yes, it is in the 10th anniversary. It’s been very successful. It’s one of the oldest maid-style businesses in Akihabara.

Tim:    Do you have imitators now? Are there other maid hair stylists?

Hiro:    There were. We actually have a trademark Maid Hair Salon.

Tim:    Boy I had no idea this was a business niche. Okay. You have started a series of companies.

Hiro:    Yes.

Tim:    I started my first company in Japan back in 1998. The attitude toward start-ups was totally different. It’s much more accepting now. I worked with a lot of students especially who said “they want to start-up. The want to be an entrepreneur.” But most stopped. You have had a string of companies. What do you think keeps most people back?

Hiro:    Well, what I felt when I first wanted. You are treated as a loser if you don’t get hired by a good company.

Tim:    You think that a lot of people think that you started this start-up because you couldn’t get hired anywhere else?

Hiro:    Yeah.

Tim:    Really, do you think that is still true now?

Hiro:    Well, you are treated as one of the crazy people.

Tim:    Okay.

Hiro:    The awkward. The social people will have friends, will have girlfriends and they will hang out with each other, got to sports, go on a trip, go to BBQ’s, go to snowboarding. Whatever.

Tim:    Do you think there is still a little bit of stigma about?

Hiro:    I think there is, there is.

Tim:    Okay.

Hiro:    I don’t know. Things have changed. You know I have been in the start-up thing for 10 years.

Tim:    Yeah.

Hiro:    I’m getting to become the old guy now. Older guy. I go meet people you know.   You meet your college friends once in a while right.

Tim:    Right.

Hiro:    Like you can’t talk with them in the same way.

Tim:    What’s different?

Hiro:    I don’t know. When they talk about salary, they talk about how much they are paid. When you talk about salary, you talk about how much you pay.

Tim:    That’s true. You are on the other side of it.

Hiro:    Payday is like a scary thing.

Tim:    I remember when Digital Garage bought my first company. I would still get stressed out around payday just instinctively. It took me three months to realize like, “oh wait, wait no. Someone else is paying the salary I don’t have to worry.” But yeah for years it was “oh my god payday is coming up in two weeks. I better go out and sell something.” Yeah.

Hiro:    For the students I think it is much easier because there are more successful people. I think Taizo Son is one of the most successful people.

Tim:    Absolutely.

Hiro:    Meaning a guy who never worked in a company and is still living.

Tim:    Now, you went through the Movida incubator now didn’t you?

Hiro:    Yes.

Tim:    Okay, what did you think of that?

Hiro:    I liked Taizo Son; I respect people who I want to be. I never worked in the company before. You know Taizo is forty whatever I forget his age. But he has been doing this his whole life and now he is one of the richest people.

Tim:    So is he personally involved in the incubator companies?

Hiro:    I don’t know, about the last year or so he is always like the visionary.

Tim:    You know that is refreshing to hear. So many of the incubators and almost all of the VCs in Japan are dominated by finance guys. Very few start-up guys or start-up girls that are part of these groups. It is refreshing to hear that he is hands-on that way.

Hiro:    He is not hands-on.

Tim:    He’s not?

Hiro:    I said he is a “visionary.”

Tim:    Oh okay, I see.

Hiro:    He leads the whole community. He leads the passion. He will always keep on moving forward.

Tim:    Well, what was the most valuable thing you got out of that incubator?

Hiro:    Movida, I actually liked that they were the most different. But they were the most different compared to any VC.

Tim:    How so?

Hiro:    They weren’t running for money. They were trying to build an ecosystem.

Tim:    So we was what, careful in assembling portfolio companies? Were they complimentary? Or…

Hiro:    They said they wanted to be the Silicon Valley of Asia or something.

Tim:    Okay. But everybody says that.

Hiro:    Yeah. That didn’t affect me in any way honestly. The way to think was closer to my idea. To become global from the beginning. To not think about Japan. To make something big you need to think big.

Tim:    It was very supportive and people who understand big dreams and big visions.

Hiro:    Yes.

Tim:    The fact that you have started several start-ups here in Japan. What advice do you have for young Japanese who want to start a start-up now?

Hiro:    Why do they want to do a start-up?

Tim:    That’s a very good question. I think a lot of them don’t know.

Hiro:    I’m actually interested in what they would say. I mean you are never safe. You are not rich for a couple of years where you could make enough and enjoy your life.

Tim:    Yeah.

Hiro:    You will have no Saturdays and Sundays.

Tim:    What is the biggest surprise that new founders face? How is the reality different from the image of entrepreneurship in people’s heads?

Hiro:    It’s like a music band. It’s like “oh yeah I know” Linkin Park which is I’ll just say that because it is our client. It’s like, “oh yeah Lady Gaga. Michael Jackson. Yeah, yeah I can sing better than him.” But there is a million bands who think that way. But, there is only one Michael Jackson. Right so, I think that is how start-ups work as well. It’s like yeah there is Facebook Mark Zuckerberg out the word. He is as young as me. I can do better than him.

Tim:    They think start-ups are like the Social Network movie.

Hiro:    Yeah, yeah, yeah. The thing is there are successful companies, but there probably is another million companies who try to do Facebook even before them

Tim:    I think that’s a really good point. I mean it is like music or athletes or anything like that. People see the successful one percent or half of one percent whatever the number is and think oh that’s me.

Hiro:    Yeah. Then you can think you can become them. But there are a decent amount of people who failed and that you will never know or never see.

Tim:    Do you think that’s because there is just a lot of people under estimate the amount of behind the scenes work? Or is it just a numbers game that people don’t see until they are in the middle of it?

Hiro:    I think nobody sees what’s in between. They only see the successful things and after there is a book out you only see the story that is made up after the success.

Tim:    Yeah. I have always kind of wandered about some of those stories. Yeah.

Hiro:    It’s like yeah I knew that was coming. Of course not you know. You know if somebody wants to do a start-up I would tell them not to make a company, but to think about something they want to accomplish. And, if a company has a solution for that you should make a company.

Tim:    That makes a lot of sense. The company is a means to an end. It’s not the end.

Hiro:    It’s not the end. Like you can become a CEO by just paying $3,000 to the Japanese government.

Tim:    Yeah.

Hiro:    And you are a shacho.

Tim:    That’s why they said the reason you are not opening up 10 Maid Cafes all over Japan.

Hiro:    Exactly. That was when I was in college, Graduate School. I was like “do I want to do this for the rest of my life??” Yes, I do have the passion and I do have the vision. I even thought of making a school.

Tim:    A school, for?

Hiro:    For introvert’s hairstylists.

Tim:    Okay. Boy, you are just a niche guy aren’t you? You are just like find that vertical.

Hiro:    It’s like we will have our Maid Hair Salons everywhere around Japan. I thought it could do something more. Something bigger.

Tim:    You have been very successful selling overseas. Do you have any advice for Japanese companies who want to go global? Who want to address foreign markets?

Hiro:    I would say start global from the beginning. Because it is really, really tough to change after. We started from 3 Japanese people. We added 3 more Japanese people. And when it comes to that stage it turns into something like why do we have to speak English?

Tim:    You guys are quite international now, right?

Hiro:    Yes. The guy that joined after that was a Finnish guy. Which is Antti who is our COO and if we add 3 more Japanese people who only speak Japanese people will start making fun of people speaking English.

Tim:    Right, right.

Hiro:    That happens. So it’s like, “Why do I have to speak English?”

Tim:    Now they are forced to or they can’t get the work done.

Hiro:    Yes. We forced our culture to become global. Then we hired a Taiwanese girl. Then we hired an Indonesian guy. Yes, we have to work on the communication all of the time. But basically we try to talk in English. That culture will actually bring more global minded people international minded people into the company. But this is still trying.

Tim:    No, but that makes sense. I think it goes back to the idea you were saying before that you being sort of between two cultures, America and Japan kind of gave you a different insight, a different way of looking at things. Having that international staff gives your whole company a slightly different way of looking at things and will open it up to some new insights.

Hiro:    For people who haven’t started their company yet I would recommend them to start global. Our company is a Delaware company. So we can get investment from the largest VCS in five years.

Tim:    But your current investors are mostly Japanese?

Hiro:    Yes. From Japan.

Tim:    All Japanese.

Hiro:    All Japanese, but they signed an English contract.

Tim:    Oh good for you.

Hiro:    Our series A contract. A 200-page English contract. So when they due diligence even Sequoia Capital can read our contract in English.

Tim:    Oh man, way to go.

Hiro:    They won’t be like oh I don’t want to be involved in Japanese stuff and translating all of these Japanese using the lawyer.

Tim:    And so, the Japanese companies, did they push back and say we want Japanese contracts?

Hiro:    Of course.

Tim:    But not hard enough so that they didn’t sign it?

Hiro:    I said “no.”

Tim:    All right!

Hiro:    I said “no.” I said “no, we have to do this.”

Tim:    And these are not small VCS. You have got some really good names on your investor list.

Hiro:    Yes, they are very helpful as well.

Tim:    Before we wrap up, do you have any questions you want to ask me Hiro? Another topic you want to talk about that we haven’t covered yet?

Hiro:    What makes you happy to live in Japan?

Tim:    Ah….

Hiro:    Let me tell you about the reason it’s because I think rather than hiring people in the U.S. today I see so many talented people in Japan. We are currently successful in hiring them and we are actually being able to change it.

Tim:    I think there is in fact. I will send you a link. I wrote an article about this exact subject in At Mark IT a few months ago, saying that right now on average programmers in Japan produce higher quality software than programmers in San Francisco. , and that got a lot of notice let’s say. But I stand by it totally.

But the reason that I stay in Japan, I like Japan, it is complicated. I like to say it is a love-hate relationship with Japan. I have been here over 20 years.

Hiro:    Longer than me.

Tim:    I have thought about moving back to San Francisco a number of times. But every time I am about to pack up some interesting new project pops up. There is just some exciting thing that is happening. And I decide to stay a few more years.

You know I have started 4 companies here. Maybe it is a lot of what you were talking about before. The secret to success is finding that overlap of skills you have. Over the years one of those overlapping skills of mine has been understanding the Japanese Market and selling new technology in Japan. It’s a lot of fun.

I think Japan has got this wonderful commitment that customers and vendors have to each other. That the U.S. has kind of lost a bit. And, I think especially recently with the emphasis on minimal viable product and quick pivoting you have got developers and things who don’t even think about the customers.

Hiro:    I’m Japanese. I get all the context of what you are saying. What I like about Japan is about the efficiency. People are like; –the customer service is high level because the customers are at least in somewhat high level. Do you know when you get on the Rita Express; I mean the limousine bus from Narita. They put all of your stuff in and when the bus leaves they all bow.

Tim:    Yeah.

Hiro:    When you are on the plane, the staff will be waving saying goodbye to you, and that is like a rule.

Tim:    There is one thing, it just occurred to me, but I mean I have thought it for years that I do deeply, deeply admire about Japanese culture and society is that there is this unwavering commitment to excellence of being a little bit better and getting it just right.

Friends of mine they were up in western Japan because his wife is from there. There is this little Soba Shop in this town and the guy has been making Soba and running this restaurant there for like the last 60 years. Sometimes he makes the Soba and it’s not up to his quality and he doesn’t open for the day. And there is sign in front of the store saying “Sorry, it didn’t turn out today. Come back tomorrow.” Which is just amazing. I love that. That would not happen in country except for Japan; and it is really good Soba from what I understand.

Hiro:    Yeah. They are perfectionist’s thing. Yes, craftsmanship.

Tim:    Commitment to craft I think is wonderful in Japan.

Hiro:    Yes we are U.S. Company. Yes, I speak English. I do want to become one of those Silicone Valley stuff. But you know thinking about what will actually work. It may be not the U.S. is what I am kind of thinking sometimes.

Tim:    Well, listen, thanks a lot for sitting down with me. I have no idea how I am going to edit this down to any reasonable length. Thanks a lot.

Hiro:    Thank you very much.

Tim:    And we are back. I found it interesting that Hiro, a Japanese founder who has spent many years in America and I an American founder who spent many years in Japan admired exactly the same things about Japanese society and business culture. The unwavering commitment to excellence and the mutual commitment that vendors and customers feel for each other.

I mentioned an article I wrote where I explained why I on average Japanese programmers produce higher quality software than their San Francisco counterparts. We don’t have time to go through all of the details right now. I will put a link to it in the show notes. The article is in Japanese, but if there is enough interest I’ll reverse translate it into English and publish it again. If you want to see the links and the resources that Hiro and I talked about during the interview or get in touch with him on social media go to Show 012 and you will find all of that and more in the resource sections of the post.

Leave a comment and let us know what you think about Beatrobo or about Maid-Themed hair salons. And if you have an idea on how to improve the show or know someone who we should be talking to send us an e-mail at But most of all thanks for listening and for your support, and for letting people interested in Japanese start-ups know about Disrupting Japan.

This is Tim Romero, and thanks for listening.