This week, Anthony speaks with Chris Baek, the CEO for Incloud, and his experience starting a progressive IT business in a society that is infamously lagging behind in IT.
Before coming to Japan, Chris had no plans to start his own business, and no background in IT. After helping run another successful startup in Japan, Chris eventually ended up starting Incloud, which offers consulting for cloud-based and IoT solutions and products. Below are a few key lessons Chris learned from starting his own business and pitching to clients in Japan:
1. Be Ready For Bureaucracy
Our host Anthony is no stranger to criticizing the bureaucracy involved in almost all aspects of modern-day Japan. Documents need to be submitted almost always in person, by mail or fax, decisions require multiple meetings, and approvals take ages. In Chris’s words, “Everything moves at a glacial pace.” This can be especially frustrating when you’re highly motivated to get things moving, but don’t let the slow pace impact your drive.
2. Build A Good Network
Most Japanese companies refuse to deal with startups or new businesses as they’re terrified of taking risks. On top of that foreigners in Japan are, unfortunately, at a disadvantage. How can you combat these handicaps? According to Chris, establishing a good network is important. Meet other business owners, partner with Japanese professionals, get your name out there, and establish a professional network that you can use to potentially gain more trust. If the company to whom you’re pitching has heard of you before, you’ll have a much better chance, and they’ll be less afraid to take a risk with you.
3. Provide A Unique Solution
According to Chris, providing unique solutions that haven’t yet been considered or that aren’t available to a company could be your key, and could make your pitch successful even if you don’t have a good network or haven’t yet established trust with the company.
4. Be Confident
This is true for any business owner or entrepreneur, but particularly true for foreigners working in Japan. Realize that you have a much higher chance of failing (since you’re a foreigner and therefore have disadvantages surrounding perceived accountability, language, and cultural knowledge), but that every failure is an opportunity to win. Chris asserts that you must be willing to see every failure as a learning experience and a lesson that can be used to win in the future if you expect to succeed:
The same thing with any person who’s thinking about entrepreneurship. You’re scared as hell, you don’t know what the hell you’re doing, but you just have to do it. You have to treat it as a learning experience. You need to take that L in order for you to get that win.
5. Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.
This rings true especially if you’re not competent in business Japanese and business etiquette in Japan. In Chris’s experience, he sometimes prepared for pitches “days ahead of time,” diligently practicing his lines in Japanese, and even memorizing answers to potential questions which he though may be asked.
The idea of a foreigner coming to Japan and starting a business is rare. However, as Chris and others have shown, it can be done. Learn the language. Be prepared to fail. Establish a professional network. We at Tokyo Podcast believe it benefits Japan to have progressive ideas pushing Japanese society forward, especially now that Japan is dealing with issues such as ageing populations and difficulties keeping up in the tech race.