What motivated you to become a startup mentor?
When we arrived in Fukuoka determined to create ikkai, we received a lot of great support. This is our way of giving a bit of that help back.
What field(s) would you consider your area of expertise?
We can help entrepreneurs who want to create a business from scratch, especially those who are looking to build their MVP. We can also help with advice about things like the process of incorporating your business, networking, and fundraising.
What part of startup life do you think you could help with the most as a mentor?
We can help connect new entrepreneurs with the best people to help them in Fukuoka. Those connections were really critical for us, and continue to help our business grow and thrive. It’s important to share that information so we can all support each other.
Which Fukuoka coffee shop is your favorite for out of office meetings?
Personally, we like Starbucks. They have wifi and cheap coffee refills.
How did you get your initial investment or funding?
Most of it came from either networking or pitching at a lot of different events.
How did you find your current office? Any advice for entrepreneurs going through the process?
First, we contacted a real estate agency in Fukuoka. Initially, it was a pretty difficult process. However, we ended up finding an agent who was awesome to work with and we got a place. Our advice is let us know if you’re looking for an office and we’ll introduce you to our agent. Also, you don’t need to get an office right away. It’s a big expense and you aren’t always sure what type of space you’ll need right away. The Startup Cafe is a great place to work, and the best part is it’s free!
What surprised you most about starting a company?
That it's all about the execution. What you have on paper and planned will, 90% of the time, happen much differently than you anticipated. You have to be ready and able to adapt. Also, it’s really surprising how much you learn in such a short period of time.
What differences (if any) do you notice between conducting business in Japan and your home country?
There are a lot of differences, most of which are on the administrative end of things. Those processes tend to take longer and involve more steps than they do in France. It’s slow everywhere though. It’s also very different in terms of culture. You have to behave differently in meetings, be considerate of local manners, and even think a bit differently here than in France.
How do you manage bi- and even trilingual communications in your office?
It just sort of works. We tell our staff to use the language that’s easiest for them to get their message across. We also remind them to make sure that they are well understood. Our Japanese employees speak Japanese with each other, our French employees speak French with each other, and then English is the common language we can all use. Also every meeting we have, report we write, and news we publish is in English.
When you need a break from the startup grind, what refreshes you?
We go out with our friends. Fukuoka is filled with great restaurants to try. We also really enjoy going to the movies.
Do you have any preparation advice for pitch contests?
Rehearse your pitch a lot, and make sure it’s simple to deliver and understand. Don’t get mad if you fail - we’ve all been there. It took us a year and a half to win our first contest, and that was only after hundreds of pitch iterations. Also, there is usually a panel of judges that ask questions after your pitch, and you should be prepared to answer any type of question they might have. If you aren’t prepared for their questions, it can cost you a pitch contest win. More problematic, it can make you seem like you don’t know your market, industry product, etc. That can create a negative perception that can cost you investors because they aren’t investing in a company, they’re investing in you. If they feel you are not competent, they won’t invest in you even if they think your idea is great.
Is there anything else you think new startups should know?
Starting a business is tough, and you have to know that no one is going to do the hard work for you. You need to put in the time and have the passion to get your business off the ground. It’s also important to know that the visa requirements can be somewhat tough, so make sure you have everything prepared correctly when you submit your documents. Take your time when hiring people, and take the steps toward getting your visa very carefully. Rushing won’t help you in the end. You should also network as much as possible. Building a strong network will be a game changer for you.