What motivated you to become a startup mentor?
When you’re creating a startup, you should focus on your idea, team, slide deck, and development. The reality is, you spend half of your time figuring everything out since you are likely doing it for the first time. I’ve received some helpful advice from mentors, and I’m lucky to have great people surrounding me. Being a mentor is my way of paying it forward, especially to the people who are in the fairly unique position that I have been in (and still am)!
What field(s) would you consider your area of expertise?
First, I can help with things that directly relate to my business such as platform development, design, and marketing. But perhaps more useful would be my experience as a foreign founder starting up and raising investment in Fukuoka.
What part of startup life do you think you could help with the most as a mentor?
The basic setup is fairly simple, but I can still give advice on things like establishing the company, how to structure the initial shares so it doesn’t come back to bite you later, accounts and so on. The trickier part is raising investment. My first round of fundraising was a rollercoaster. After we closed the round, I knew I could do it so much better the next time. It’s important to learn these lessons yourself, but I wish I had been told a few things beforehand. I’m happy to share that knowledge with fellow founders.
Which Fukuoka coffee shop is your favorite for out of office meetings?
Personally, I like the Ohori Park Starbucks. It’s a great place to have motivation meetings or get some work done. For practical meetings, I’m usually too invested in the conversation to care much, but I think Manu coffee does serve a great coffee.
How did you get your initial investment or funding?
With a lot of hard work! We managed to attract Angel investment from six angels who’d we mostly meet while we were at events like Tech in Asia, Slush, B-Dash, and Startup GoGo! Then, we closed a VC round with three VCs who we met mostly through Fukuoka City events. Two of them were Tokyo-based VCs, and one was based in Fukuoka. I’m passionate about my business. We have a great vision and concept, so getting funding isn’t that hard when you’re in front of the right people.
The trouble is that much like shopping, where you don’t buy everything just because it’s good, investors only invest in good startups that also suit their taste. You get a lot of passes, but it doesn’t mean you’re not attractive to investors. Keep putting yourself out there. While it’s very tiring and stressful because money is running out as you are doing it, you just have to keep trying.
How did you find your current office? Any advice for entrepreneurs going through the process?
We’re currently based in Fukuoka Growth Next. We were looking for a new office when I heard about the Daimyo School renovation and asked if there were any large office spaces available. The city bent over backward to find us a big space. I personally love our current office in FGN. Come and say hi!
What surprised you most about starting a company?
On the surface, it’s easy. But as you get going it’s a much deeper commitment. You will NEVER do the same thing twice, and you must be on the ball and operational in 360º of your business. Also, you can’t expect other people to care about your startup as much as you do. All of the responsibility comes back to you. You need to be strong, as it is harder than I imagined in some ways and easier in others. It’s not for everyone, I’m sure.
What differences (if any) do you notice between conducting business in Japan and your home country?
Personally, I find that Japan forces me to be more disciplined. In my home country, England, it is too easy to become lazy and the pace of communication is much more relaxed. Here you can keep a good pace with your work, but you must be organized and diligent. However, it can be hard sometimes to get clear black and white answers. In general, Japanese communicators don’t like to say no, and it’s possible to interpret mild interest for a secure commitment. VCs are more black and white than customers, but it certainly takes a while to get to grips with those cultural differences.
How do you manage bi- and even trilingual communications in your office?
We’re mostly English internally, but switch easily from English to Japanese when talking to VCs and customers. We operate 90% of our lives in English though.
When you need a break from the startup grind, what refreshes you?
I find that taking a walk in the mornings with my dog, and my commute home are both refreshing. I also like to drive through the mountains or around Kyushu on days off with the windows down. Clearing my mind through peace and solitude is the most refreshing thing I can do. I love socializing too, but I need calm to refresh.
Do you have any preparation advice for pitch contests?
Be sure your pitch is slow and clear. Don’t try to say everything all in one pitch. Also, let the audience know that you are thinking about all aspects of your business, not just the product. Remember, saying too little is better than being confusing. The objective of a pitch is to pique interest in your business. Do that slowly and clearly and it will inspire confidence.
Is there anything else you think new startups should know?
Lots of stuff… good luck! You’ll need it :)