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Story of foreign entrepreneurs

We have conducted some interviews with foreign entrepreneurs to share stories of their experience in Japan.

Aditya Rathnam, co-founder of Kamcord

1. Why did you extend your business to the Japanese market?
Japan is the 3rd biggest country in the world in terms of mobile gaming revenue after the US and China. We were also fortunate to bring on a couple Chinese (Tencent, Innovation Works) and Japanese (Digital Garage, netprice.com) investors in our seed round. Because of our investors, we heard about IVS in December 2013. 

I had the chance to go to IVS and it was an eyeopening experience. In the US, we typically had to explain 2 things to people: 1) why users would record and watch mobile gameplay, and 2) why Kamcord was the best platform to do so. In Japan, I began explaining the first point but people would just cut me off and tell me they already knew all of that. 

So we only had to explain why we were the best solution. This made our jobs much simpler. It was clear that watching gameplay was deeply ingrained in Japanese culture and we had to enter the market as soon as possible!

2. What kind of companies, organizations, Japanese, nonnatives have supported your business in Japan?
Our investors (DeNA, Hiro Mashita, GungHo, Digital Garage, KLab, and netprice.com) have been incredibly supportive in helping us get setup.

 DeNA has gone above and beyond and even setup 100 person developer meetups for us. Hiro Mashita helped us navigate all the paperwork needed to setup a legal entity in Japan and even offered his office space to us in the early days of Kamcord.

3. Did you have any kind of trouble to conduct business in Japan in terms of technical aspects (e.x. visa, legal, hiring, etc)?
Our investors were great in terms of helping us with legal issues. We only hired Japanese locals - so visas were not an issue. We had some trouble growing the team fast in the early days but we kept the hiring bar really high and are really happy with our decision. 

Once we expanded the team to 2 people, we were able to quickly grow it to 6 people thanks to the networks of the first 2 Kamcord employees.

4. How did you raise the funds to conduct business in Japan?
We raised funds from US, Japanese, and Chinese investors. We've raised $25M in total and our $15M Series B was led by GungHo.

5. What are the positive points and negative points to conduct business in japan?
Lots of positives: Japan is a huge market, the mobile gaming market in Japan moves very quickly. There are lots of synergies with US companies. Almost no negatives actually. 

We need to design products that will work in the US and in Japan. This creates more work but the market is so big that it is impossible to ignore the Japanese market.

6. How would you like to advise people who aim to extend their business to Japan?
You should visit the country many times prior to entering. We used to visit every 2 months to make sure we understood the market really well and built our network there. 

Once you decide to expand in Japan, the first couple hires are super important. Ideally, hire a country manager first who can then help with recruiting the rest of the team. Once the team is built, communicate with the team constantly (almost every day) to make sure priorities are very well aligned and everyone is on the same page. 

Aditya Rathnam, founder of MakeLeaps
1. Why did you extend your business to the Japanese market?
I didn’t - MakeLeaps is built in Japan, for Japan.

2. What kind of companies, organizations, Japanese, nonnatives have supported your business in Japan?
There is very little institutional support for entrepreneurs in Japan. However, I was very lucky for Naval Ravikant to join MakeLeaps as an investor and an advisor. Through Naval’s help and support, we were able to raise $750,000 for MakeLeaps.

3. Did you have any kind of trouble to conduct business in Japan in terms of technical aspects (e.x. visa, legal, hiring, etc)?
Yes. Doing business in Japan is hard. However, it’s much easier once you’re able to hire a team of bilingual people.

Sometimes hiring people is hard, since many people prefer the (supposed) stability of large companies. It’s sad that people often trade knowledge, experience, excitement and the chance to make a big impact, for the more socially accepted route of working at a large company.

4. How did you raise the funds to conduct business in Japan?
Primarily through Naval and AngelList.

5. What are the positive points and negative points to conduct business in japan?
Japan is a country full of affluent consumers and businesses. 
Once a customer signs up, they tend to stay for a very long time.
Japan staff are excellent. Dedicated, intelligent, and focused.
Japan is a great place to live. Great food, people, customers, team members, and generally just a great standard of living.

Like in any country, hiring can be difficult.
‘Failure’ is horribly over-emphasised. In Silicon Valley, most people ‘fail’ 5-6-7 times before a big success, and this is normal and good. If you fail once in Japan, you’re looked down upon, and everything becomes more difficult. This is bad, and is one of the reasons preventing more Japanese entrepreneurs from starting companies in Japan.

6. How would you like to advise people who aim to extend their business to Japan?
Don’t 'copy-paste’ an approach that worked for another country. Japan is unique, and any chance of success typically requires on-the-ground experience and knowledge.