Investors were skeptical that combining traditional face-to-face learning with a P2P web platform would work. Over the past three years, startup founder Takashi Fujimoto of StreetAcademy has been proving them wrong. Takashi is showing Japan that the new does not have to replace the old. Sometimes the new just makes the old things even better.
StreetAcademy matches those who want to teach with those who want to learn. Local courses are offered in everything from cooking, to yoga, to foreign languages to how to best use Excel to generate a startup business plan, and three years in StreetAcademy is only just getting started.
EdTech is one of the hottest sectors for Japanese startups today, and the Japanese education system is ripe for disruption. However, there are also formidable barriers to change, and very few startup founders are willing to throw themselves against the problem head on.
On the podcast, Takashi and I discuss a possible third way forward. One that is blends the old and the new to achieve improvement in a productive, harmonious, and very Japanese way.
Show Notes for Startups
- Why Yoga and Excel were the natural early adopters
- How to merge traditional culture and modern learning techniques
- How Facebook was the key to overcoming the fear of face-to-face meetings
- Simple words from Steve Jobs that changed his life
- Why negotiating with your wife can be harder than negotiating with investors
- How the speed of innovation takes many Japanese startup founders by surprise
- How EdTech will change Japan and the way we learn
- How modern EdTech and traditional Japanese eduction will coexist
- The challenges of finding early customers
Links from the Founder
Transcript from Japan
Tim: Welcome to Disrupting Japan straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I am Tim Romero and thanks for joining us. Today we sit down with Takashi Fujimoto of Street Academy. A peer-to-peer learning platform that matches teachers with thos eager to learn.
Now, education technology or Ed-Tech is going to be one of the most active start-up investment areas in Japan in 2015. In the last few months there has been a real spike in the amount of time VC’s seem to be talking about it. And, we will be talking a lot more about Ed-Tech in future podcasts as well.
Education in general is an area that really needs to be changed. The entire foundation of the world’s education systems were built with the goal of training a workforce for a hierarchical systematic repetitive task based occupations. Whether in factories or in offices.
Now, over the past century technology not rising incomes, but technology has rendered our educational systems and our educational goals hopelessly obsolete. Even in developing economies technology and automation has regulated repetitive task based occupations to the lowest paying jobs.
Ed-Tech is a fascinating and dynamic space that is full of both companies with innovative ideas on how to improve learning. And, companies who sole desire is to siphon off public funds.
It’s an area of both government officials who want to find better ways to help students learn. And, also those who want nothing more than to protect their current power.
In the end, the goals are complex. Each nation needs to strike a balance that provides its population with not only the skills they need to find a job. But, the information the need to be informed, responsible citizens in that society. After all, a society that overly values disruption will soon cease to exist.
So, how do we strike that balance? Well, I will let Takashi explain it during our interview.
Tim: Great. We are sitting down with Takashi Fujimoto of Street Academy. And, it is unusual, it’s the middle of the day. So, the wine is going to have to wait for some other day. But, thanks for sitting down with me today.
Takashi: Oh, thank you for having me on the show.
Tim: So, Street Academy it’s a peer-to-peer or consumer-to-consumer Teaching Platform connecting people who want to teach classes with those who want to learn. And, I am sure you can explain it a whole lot better than I can. So, why don’t you tell everybody a bit about Street Academy.
Takashi: It’s a web-based online community of people who want to teach their skills in an offline format, holding a classroom or workshops at a cafe or event space or a meeting space. And, I match those people with people who want to go meet up and learn some new skills. So, it is an online community of matching. The real education takes place in offline.
Tim: That’s kind of an interesting approach to online learning. And, I think that offline component is really –. It is important, I mean it goes back to Socratic Method if you will. The one-on-one. Has that been a help or a hindrance in growing the company? That need for that one-on-one interaction.
Takashi: Well, to be quite honest it is a great hindrance. I had a lot of trouble growing the business in the first 6 months. I had a lot of trouble attracting talented engineers. Because I had a hard time convincing them that it really will take off. Because people assume that, oh trying to match a number of people on the same location, the same exact timing. You need to do that to do one matching transaction. Well, that is hard.
Tim: So, people thought that it just wasn’t all digital and all virtual it wouldn’t work.
Takashi: Just the growth will not be fast enough to convince the VC’s, and to be called like the hot start-up.
Tim: Well, actually you know the first time we met I think was 2 ½ years ago when you were pitching this idea at a EMI Awards or something.
Takashi: That’s right.
Tim: You have grown it over the last 2 years. And, you have got tens of thousands of users now right?
Takashi: Yeah. I have about 1,500 teachers. And, 50,000 people viewing the site on a monthly basis.
Tim: Does attract a particular type of user? Is it for example cooking classes are particularly popular, or are language lessons?
Takashi: It actually depends on how you define popular.
Takashi: The most number of classes in a single category are a lot of yoga courses.
Takashi: Yoga classes are keen for like it is real face-to-face, and it’s a group activity. It’s not something you can learn online. It’s not fun to learn online.
Takashi: And, if you are a teacher you want to attract not just one person, but a few people.
Tim: So, it is mostly existing yoga studios using Street Academy as an advertising platform. Or are these just individuals who love yoga and want to teach it to other people.
Takashi: I started out originally with purely C2C, consumer to consumer. So, Street Academy could only be participating by individuals.
Takashi: But, now I am opening up to sort of enterprises, and organizations. So, I do welcome Yoga Studios now.
Tim: But, that does make sense. It’s a natural progression. As platform becomes more and more popular. The established businesses are definitely going to notice. Better to be a part of it than fighting with it. Right?
Takashi: Yeah. Going back to your question.
Takashi: If you define the popular class as in what is the class that attracted the most number of students, but sounded totally off the mark from Yoga? It is actually Excel.
Tim: Just learning the basics of Excel.
Takashi: No. Actually, in fact you can learn how to create a basis plan using Excel. The entire business plan was PL, BS and cash flow. Financial statements all in one from scratch. Even if you didn’t go to Business School.
Tim: Now, this is interesting because you were saying before that the real challenge and the unique point was sort of the hands on, face-to-face interaction.
Tim: But, something like Excel, it seems like you could learn remotely.
Takashi: You could learn what you just described. In other words. How to learn where the key is located.
Takashi: And, how to learn where the short cut keys are. How to create charts. You can learn those online. But, if you know that can you create a business plan? That’s the next question. You can’t right.
Tim: Okay, so the face-to-face back and forth is not so much the mechanics of Excel. But, how to formalize a whole business plan.
Takashi: And, this teacher actually coaches you on how to format it right. He is teaching you how to speak the right financial language. And, not just how to use Excel.
Tim: All right. Is your user base mostly skews towards the younger generation. Which probably does because of the medium. But, it seems like something like Street Academy would be a wonderful tool for teaching kind of traditional Japanese Crafts, which are always taught in very small groups.
Tim: Have you seen much uptake in that use?
Takashi: It’s an interesting dynamic right now because you are right. There is a platform or the device issue. And, the cultural issue. The most traffic earning or active class there is still Techie Business Skills, Web Related. These people actually hold Smartphones and they can –. They don’t mind booking online with a credit card.
Tim: Right, right, right.
Takashi: But, I am seeing a growing trend in the traditional courses.
Takashi: But, they are lagging classes that I just described more. Because culturally people are not use to booking like flower arrangement lessons using Smartphones. They are use to subscribing to a free papers that are handed out on the streets, or from their local municipals. Those are the places that people actually intuitively seek. Their local activities.
Tim: Well, I guess that makes sense if it is a traditional craft. They are going through traditional means of finding it aren’t they?
Tim: Well, hopefully we will see that changing.
Tim: How have you been marketing this? Has it been mostly online? Has it been mostly word of mouth?
Takashi: We are experimenting with two channels. One is social. We have high affinity or synergy with Facebook.
Takashi: Because I have a rare platform that lets you meet completely real face-to-face. So, I don’t condone aliases or fake names.
Takashi: Because you meet, right.
Takashi: And, some for example female users are very cautious on meeting. If the meet-up ended up in one-on-one at someone’s house. So, Facebook’s acts as a real authentication means.
Tim: Hmm. That makes sense.
Takashi: On the other hand, and also the other thing about Facebook is the Geography. So, your Facebook friends tend to live in Tokyo.
Takashi: And, someone who lives in there friends tend to be in . So, my service is very local in nature.
Tim: Have you seen the uptake all over Japan, or has it been localized in a few cities where it has really taken off?
Takashi: The growth it’s not I’m limited by the power of my P.R. But, you are right. So, I am still 70 percent Tokyo. And, into this Kyoto, Osaka, Yokohama. You know that cities that have large population and a big downtown.
Tim: Yeah, no big surprises there. That is where you would expect them to be.
Takashi: That tends to be the Smartphones.
Tim: Earlier adopting technology. And, a population that skews a little bit younger for Japan.
Takashi: Yeah. The other channel that we are getting growth is SEO or the Organic Search Results from Google.
Takashi: People use to not going to Google for local needs. So, in other words people will search what they can buy online, but they wouldn’t search about okay what’s the next handmade workshop I can attend next Saturday.
Takashi: But, that is changing. You know that they just change. Google just changed their laws to prioritize localness in the search. So it use to be that if you created a query like Yoga Lesson. And, you live in Okayama.
Tim: Right, it would filter it out.
Tim: But, not it’s boosting it up.
Takashi: So, we are setting up our architecture to emphasize the local areas, and the learning categories. So, in no time will be very high in the Google ranking.
Tim: Okay. I’ll be watching for that.
Tim: You seem like a very unlikely person to be leading the charge for c to c learning.
Tim: Or, alternative learning. Because you have to a Master’s in Engineering you have got an MBA on top of that from Cornell and Stanford.
Takashi: That’s right.
Tim: Excellent. Your career before this was mostly banking and financing. So, you were in a very traditional, very well credentialed path. Why on earth did you suddenly change like almost 180 degrees. And, say no, no the key is alternative learning. The key is consumer-to-consumer learning.
Takashi: That’s an interesting description, and I get comments like that quite often.
Takashi: But, in fact if you get to know me that’s only a small portion of who I am. You didn’t know that before I went to Stanford I was in a Film School.
Tim: All right.
Takashi: You didn’t know I was in a Cooking School.
Tim: I did not.
Takashi: People don’t know.
Tim: So, was this more coming back to your roots?
Takashi: Kind of. Well, I never really lost that track. I was always interested in many different things. So, I went to Cooking School and Film School while I was working. And, my first job out of college was Universal Studios.
Takashi: So, I’m very interested in Engineering, Entertainment and Experience. So, personally to me it comes quite natural. I’m an avid learner. I am always taking up new things. But, people kind of always judge me. The most recent 5 years.
Tim: Well, it’s not so much, I don’t mean it so much in terms of like a judgement. But, it is I mean from like a personal. You were on a very successful track. You were doing well. There had to be some point where you just kind of said, I’m not doing this anymore.
Takashi: I see. I see.
Tim: What was it that made you say this isn’t for me?
Takashi: Yeah, well so it wasn’t quite like that okay.
Takashi: When I went to Stanford I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I didn’t know entrepreneurship was a career option. I thought it was something that people not like me would do.
Takashi: I was an engineer in an Operating Company called FedEx. I just wanted to get out of that mold, and see a different world. So, I went to the MBA Program. I happen to go to Stanford where a visiting Scholar was Eric Schmidt from Google. Where if I walk out and go to a supermarket I see Steve Jobs literally. I am not lying.
Takashi: And, I happened to be sitting in a graduation ceremony when Steve Jobs gave that very famous speech.
Tim: Oh really. All right.
Takashi: So, you can call it serendipity, but I stepped into this world where suddenly everybody assumes you should pursue entrepreneurship. It is quite natural. If you receive that much education. You know people prove you are smart. People prove you are hardworking. So, start proving to yourself. And, just go out and create something new. So, I received that message in all. But I had a debt, student loan. Just got married.
Takashi: And, I never imagined I would pursue entrepreneurship before I went to Stanford. I just went for a high paying job that would stimulate me and that would pay back my debt.
Tim: But, somehow that seed was like growing inside you.
Takashi: Exactly, that seed kept banging, knocking on my head. And, the moment that clicked was when Steve Jobs passed away. And, I saw all of the news and commentaries, and then I realized that you know he has done so much that instead of thinking oh how sad. He could have done more. So, then I thought. You know what? What he said in this message, and he really lived up to what he wanted to do, and yet he still at the last day he fell short of what he wanted to do. Because he wanted to do some more. .
Tim: Yeah. I think there was a lot more left in him.
Takashi: Exactly. I was at the time, I had a kid. I was embarking on an even higher ladder in corporate world. It’s not like I hated it. I loved the people I worked with. But, I felt like wasn’t leaving that mark in society.
Tim: Having the impact, that you weren’t.
Takashi: Yes. I was craving for an impact. I wanted to do something for people at large. I wanted to do something for a lot of people. But, I felt like when I was crunching the numbers, buying out large companies.
Tim: Oh, I understand that. It’s –
Takashi: Making big money but, you know. And, I was reaching this age, 35.
Tim: Yeah. Well, I can certainly understand. It’s one of the biggest rewards of doing your own thing is being able to point to something and say I built that. I totally understand that point of inspiration. But, what did your family and your wife think of that? Because that is often, especially in Japan. Being inspired yourself is one thing. Convincing your wife and your family and your wife’s family that it is a good idea is what another. How did you do that?
Takashi: First of all she didn’t agree to it at first, right.
Tim: That’s understandable.
Takashi: Yes. And, what happened was a I made a commitment that says give me 1 year. Within 1 year I will have a service launched, I will have a team in place, I will have outside financing, so that I would not be paying all the expenses out of my own families asset.
Takashi: That was my commitment. If I couldn’t do it, all three conditions be met in 1 year. I would go back to the corporate world.
Tim: Sounds like negotiating with your wife prepared you pretty well for negotiating with the VC’s. .
Takashi: That’s right.
Tim: They ask the same kind of questions.
Takashi: That’s right.
Tim: Did she use it too?
Takashi: Now, she has a class and advertise. But, she hasn’t actually held an event yet because my son is still in Kindergarten. But, now he is going to Elementary School in this coming April. So, she is going to have more time. And, she probably will.
Tim: That’s awesome. I have just found one of the things. All the companies I have started. Having family or support from very close friends is just absolutely essential to keeping it going.
Takashi: Yes. I agree.
Tim: Well, let me ask you this. So, you were inspired by Steve Jobs.
Tim: You were dreaming of starting your company while working through. Paying off your debts in the Finance Industry. But, what was your biggest surprise? Everyone has got an image of entrepreneurship in their heads. And, when you actually do it, it’s quite a bit different.
Tim: So, what was your biggest surprise from your image and the reality of running a company?
Takashi: You know, a lot of the things I was actually pre-reading and learning before I dived into it. So, I went into it expecting it to be hard. And, my skill sets wouldn’t immediately come to use. But, I didn’t understand how far I lagged behind.
You know I would see people just coming out of nowhere, and just creating a company and launching it immediately, blitz right through me.
Tim: So, the speed in which things happened.
Takashi: Speed was yeah definitely something I under estimated.
Tim: How did you respond to that? You just got faster?
Takashi: So, I had to fight with sort of peer pressure everywhere I went. It was like oh Stanford. And, what are you doing all by yourself? You know, doing something on Finance. Welcome to the Internet World. You don’t know anything.
Takashi: How are you going to do it? You know people view me like what are you going to do? And, maybe people weren’t. Maybe I was just thinking that they were. Maybe I was just thinking. I was assuming. I was fighting with my own. The image that I assumed people were viewing. But, I received those comments often. So, persistence and patience for me to kind of get things moving and rolling. And, before I became able to attract talent and became able to grow things. It took me awhile to accept the fact that I was all alone.
Tim: I mean you talk about persistence. I think it is one of the most important thing for any entrepreneur to have. Do you mean in terms of getting capital or getting people to buy into your vision or the persistence in kind of execution that you were talking about before where you are dealing with a lot of physical analog people who have to come together. And, that just takes more time than throwing up a couple of Google Banners. So, what was the real, the most important aspect of the persistence?
Takashi: You’ve nailed it. All of the above.
Takashi: All of the above.
Tim: All right.
Takashi: Yes. It was hard to attract people. It was hard to convince people to buy into the vision. It was hard to gain capital. It was hard to gain users. So, all of the above.
Tim: But, it is clearly not all difficult. You guys are doing pretty well these days. So, you have turned it around.
Takashi: After a few years.
Tim: It is interesting. I think this is, starting is always the fun part. It’s dreams, and there is nothing you have to execute on yet. Everyone is really supportive. You know they are cheering you for starting something new. And, then you have to execute. What kind of kept you going through that?
Takashi: The first year I was all alone. I made those three commitments to my wife. I was able to do the first one. I launched the service on my own with just a few volunteers. I learned how to program from scratch. So, I gave a pat on my back, and said whew I did it. But, that was the only thing I did successfully. I couldn’t build a team for the sake of anything. And, I couldn’t build a team, so I couldn’t get financing. Because everywhere I went people were like well you yourself is very smart. But, you know you need to build a team.
You need to build a team. You need to be able to attract people, to attract users. If you can’t show you can do that. You know we won’t invest in you. So, it was chicken and egg. I needed financing to pay for the employees. But, I needed a team. And, I struggled for about 10 months. So, that 4 months after I launched the service, and I was completely by myself.
Tim: So, you launched just on your own. You were studying programming enough to build a product.
Takashi: That’s right.
Tim: Just by yourself.
Takashi: Just by myself.
Tim: That’s doing it the hard way.
Takashi: . So, everyday I asked this question. Maybe I wasted a Stanford MBA, and I learned how to program to be able to create a website. Well, that’s great. But, it’s not a business. It’s not a team. It’s not an enterprise. It’s not a start-up. So, should I quit here and say hey I at least learned how to create a website, and that is good enough. I tried. Or, should I keep going and maybe somebody will appear. And, maybe somebody will invest. And, that whole 4 months until I met my CTO, right now my partner.
Takashi: Was, I mean I didn’t know if I could keep going. I really didn’t know.
Takashi: Well, it’s like everyday. You know, it may be something will happen tomorrow, you know. I really wanted to see what it would be like to have a lot of users teaching so may different things. To build a community. Some people call it insanity.
Tim: . Since we are talking about education, and training and acquiring skills today. Let’s say if you could go back 5 years and there was a site like Street Academy. What would be the skills you would want to learn to make your life a whole lot easier in starting this company?
Takashi: Certainly, if there was a Course on Entrepreneurship.
Takashi: Team Building. You know we are getting financing. Or, doing lean start-up. Gorilla Marketing. Like P.R. without a budget.
Tim: Yeah. That’s a tough one.
Takashi: I mean these are all skills every entrepreneur sort of struggles with and endeavors to acquire.
Tim: So, really it sounds like there was no, I mean other than the team building you mentioned. There was no one sticking point. It was just a series of challenges you kind of had to figure out how to solve.
Takashi: That’s right.
Tim: And, once you solved your biggest problem. Problem number two got promoted.
Takashi: That’s true.
Takashi: That’s the right way to say it.
Tim: Okay. I get it. Let’s talk about Japan. Education. Big Topics. Right now, Street Academy it seems to be focused on skills people learn for hobbies or for self- improvement.
Tim: Education, in Japan as a broad picture it’s kind of broken. I’ll explain for overseas listeners. Education in Japan is extremely hierarchical. It is based on ranks. It is based on credentials. And, that’s true not only from what degree you earn from a good University. But, what rank you have and what school of Flower Arranging, or Calligraphy. So, much education in Japan is locked up in these ranking systems and these organizations. Do you see either Street Academy specifically, or Ed-Tech in general being able to change that in Japan?
Takashi: Yes. You are right. I think education is right now about getting authentication or recognition, or stamp of approval.
Takashi: So, people go for the stamp, and not for the content. Learning is usually, it should be for yourself. You self-improvement should be the goal. But, people get that certificate or the graduation diploma.
Tim: Right, right.
Takashi: So, that they can get a job. And, certain some jobs they almost require certain degree from certain University. Especially for big companies.
Tim: Exactly, yes. The bigger difference is that Ed-Tech in general like Street Academy. Your customers are interested in acquiring skill.
Takashi: That’s right.
Tim: Most education in Japan is not about acquiring skill. It’s about acquiring the piece of paper.
Takashi: That’s right.
Tim: Have there been any changes you have seen in the last couple of years that leads you to think that might be changing in the future?
Takashi: Definitely. First of all, it is interesting to work Education. It’s for what you just described. But, the word learning is for people who are self-learners.
Takashi: Who want to learn for the content or the skills. And, Education is a defensive tool. You get educated so you get recognized. And, you get authenticated so you can get a job, or do something.
Takashi: For somebody else. Before they get to know you in person, or as a working colleague. So, it is like screening out the door knockers who are not good enough or something like that.
Tim: Right, right. It’s a shortcut.
Takashi: Right. Learning is something you do because you love it. You are interested in it. And, what we have seen is the learners excel much faster than the educated people.
Tim: Oh yeah.
Takashi: Because your passion, your desire drives you to be higher. So, you excel better. So, what I am trying to do is grow a population. People who love what they are doing. Who love what they do at work. And, whatever they do, if you increase the portion of people who love what they do. Society at large just productivity at large will improve.
Tim: So, do you see traditional education and modern Ed-Tech learning as sort of parallel and complimentary?
Takashi: Yeah. I mean you can’t change what is being done historically.
Takashi: You can’t change the value chain. You can’t change the industry protocols. So, you can’t suddenly ask Toyota to stop recruiting from Tokyo University.
Takashi: Because they have been doing it over the years. However, you can show examples of people who didn’t graduate from college. But, just use the social network or web to pick up interesting skills. And, just rise out of the ashes and become a star.
Tim: Well, Peter Theo is one of the most outspoken advocates of don’t go to college. Save your money. Learn skills, network, be valuable. Well, certainly some people in America have done that to some success. Do you think that model would work in Japan as well?
Takashi: I think they should co-exist. Okay, I don’t think one should replace the other.
Takashi: You need some orders and structures in place for the society to be peaceful, and you know at order.
Takashi: If you make everybody at ease, right. So, you don’t want to say college education is completely not necessary at all. I interview people everyday, and of course college graduates are on average better than non-college graduates. So, there is a need.
Tim: So, it’s a shortcut, but it’s a useful shortcut.
Takashi: You need a balance of people who are talented. And, people who should be educated to serve certain needs. Like if you have a completely capitalistic society where you only value people who with their passion. Who wants to be a guardian, or a safeguard, no one right?
Takashi: There are jobs for people who need to be trained and educated. And, there are jobs that you know your passion excels you to be above everybody else. But, it is not like that for all the jobs, and all the roles.
Tim: Well, that’s true, I mean somebody has to keep society running smoothly right.
Tim: On a personal note, have you hired or would you hire someone who had no college experience, but good skills for say programming or sales?
Takashi: So, that’s very interesting. Yes. Most definitely, yes. Because, I am in the Internet Industry. Where your passion can be traced back to a track record. So, I ask a GitHub account. And, if I see a great product I don’t need to ask for any educational history. That’s it, done. He’s hired.
Takashi: But, if you go to other industries. You can’t say hey you know some guy walks in and says I have been doing it for years. Personally, would you believe that? No, right. So, I think it depends on which industry.
Tim: I guess that does make sense because if you are looking at programmers. Particularly those who have worked in Open Source Projects. It is very easy to validate the quality.
Takashi: That’s right.
Tim: There is no need for a third-party validation like a University.
Tim: Whereas for a CPA you definitely want that third-party validating this person. You can trust him to do your taxes.
Takashi: That’s right.
Tim: Okay. That makes a lot of sense. That’s a good way of framing it.
Takashi: So, that’s why I said there needs to be a balance. So, I am shooting right for that portion of openly, visible categories. So, technology-related skills is one area like that.
Takashi: And, also self-learning and self-improvement areas, cultural areas.
Tim: So, it would seem like probably the parts in Japan that would be the most affected by technology like Street Academy would be things like flower arranging, cooking. Where there are very powerful organizations that provide certification. But, those kind of things would also be independently verifiable.
Takashi: That’s right. Like Japanese Tea.
Tim: Yeah. There is a perfect example.
Takashi: There is only schools. And, you need to decide before you can start learning. Which school of tea do you want to follow? You need to commit yourself, right.
Tim: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. .
Takashi: In this day and age that’s a hurdle for a lot of young people who don’t know that much about Tea Ceremony. And, just want to take it out. Like a or foreigner would.
Tim: They don’t want to make a 4-year commitment to it.
Takashi: They don’t.
Tim: Yeah. And, who can blame them? Right.
Takashi: And, interestingly in Tea Ceremony Parties would do it for foreigners. Because they want the outsiders to know the Japanese culture. But, if you are a Japanese that wouldn’t let you do this just one-hour lesson. You know, they ask you to commit.
Tim: Right, right.
Takashi: So, I ask users in Street Academy to hey you know forget that. You know, do just table manners and Tea Ceremony.
Takashi: Do a jeans based Tea Ceremony. You don’t have to wear a Kimono. You don’t have to be in a shrine. And, people love that.
Tim: I bet they do.
Tim: You have spent a lot of time in both the U.S. and Japan. If I gave you a magic wand, and I said you can change one thing about Japan to make it better for start-ups, whether it is people’s attitudes, whether it’s the educational system. Whether it is venture capital. Anything at all. What would you change to make things better for start-ups here?
Takashi: Conservatism in general. Especially in sort of the users or consumer attitude. I would say if you are within the entrepreneurship of start-up community there is no difference. You see venture capitalists, web engineers. They are just as open as they are in Silicone Valley. It’s a very free open community.
Tim: We have people trying new products pretty quickly. In that group.
Takashi: In that group. Well, once you step outside of that group I am always told hey you need to tie up with big corporates. Why?
Tim: That’s traditionally the way it is done.
Takashi: Why? Because you just need to P.R. that you are okay. You are in that mass. You are welcomed into that zone of admitted by the large masses. You know.
Tim: I guess that is the same idea though as a University giving you a stamp of approval. It’s a big company saying this little company has our stamp of approval now.
Takashi: Exactly. Why would they do it? Because the consumers always go for the biggest brands. But, if you look at one same idea that springs up in Silicone Valley and New York. And, compare that to what sprung out in Japan. The magnitude of early adopters is about 10 to 1.
Tim: Yeah, I could see that.
Takashi: Or, maybe 100 to 1. It’s an interesting to phenomenon right now. You see all of the Series B or above funded start-ups. They use that first money to do a tv commercial campaign. You see that.
Tim: Oh yeah. A lot, they will get some.
Takashi: That sets the trend for these past 2 years.
Tim: They will get a Japanese idol to use something or hold something.
Takashi: That’s because you need that. It’s not just advertised spending. It’s a ticket for the consumer to say oh this company appeared on a tv, evening tv slot. That means he is, or that is okay.
Tim: . Again, a third-party has said these guys are okay. So, it is okay for me to try it now.
Tim: Yeah, that would be fantastic if Japanese would be more, trust their own judgement on what they like and what they don’t like.
Tim: Yeah. Hey, listen this has been really great. I have no idea how I am going to edit this down to a 30-minute interview.
Tim: But, before we wrap up do you have anything you want to say to our listeners, or any advice you have for new entrepreneurs?
Takashi: Right now, the hurdle in entrepreneurship is lower than ever. And, the cost is so low. You can almost start anything for free. You can get free AWS Server Coupons somewhere.
Takashi: You can get free rent space at some office somewhere. Everybody is offering free space.
Tim: Like you, you can learn to program for free on the internet these days.
Tim: No excuse.
Takashi: So, literally just do it. And, I have to say this so many times. And, I mentor a lot of entrepreneurs now. And, a lot of them come up to me and show me their planner.
Takashi: And, I say I don’t need a planner. You don’t need a planner. Just go out and do it. But, even before they do their data or alpha or pre-alpha launch. They need to structure their thoughts, and create a plan to ramp up. No need to do a ramp up schedule. Just go and acquire 2-users or something. You know, and get their feedback. People have the mind blocked. I need to have a local, or I need to have a teaming place before I can go.
Tim: So, take small steps, but take steps, get customers, sell something.
Takashi: I went out there with a handmade website, handmade by a Stanford MBA, 35 year old with a wife a kids. And, many people look at me like I’m a fool. But, I made that first step. And, I asked my friends to use the service. And, they didn’t and I asked why? And, that’s the beginning. That’s the start.
Tim: Yeah. That’s fantastic. That’s great advice to end on. Listen Takashi. Thank you so much for sitting down with me.
Takashi: No problem.
Tim: I really appreciate it.
Tim: And, we are back. Takashi’s vision of Ed-Tech and p to p learning, and traditional institutional education is complimentary is an interesting one. And, in fact I’d say it is representative of a lot of the way Japanese start-up founders view disruption.
Disruption is not valued for its own sake. Disruption only has value when it is necessary to significantly improve the way things are now. It will be interesting to watch how the affects of Ed-Tech play out around the world.
There is no shortage of innovative ideas. And, there is no doubt that these ideas will be steadfastly resisted for both very good and very bad reasons. By mainstream educational institutions.
If you want to see the links and resources that Takashi and I talked about. Or, to get in touch with him on Social Media go to DisruptingJapan.com/show015, and you will find links to all of that and more in the Resources section.
Leave a comment and let us know what you think about Ed-Tech, or Learning Online or Off. In Japan or elsewhere. And, if you get a chance please leave a review on iTunes. It is really the best way you can help support the show and help us get the word out.
But, most of all thanks for listening. And, thanks for letting people interested in Japanese start-ups know about the show.
This is Tim Romero, and thanks for listening to Disrupting Japan.