Ep 15: Building an open startup ecosystem in Japan – with Keigo Fukugaki

keigo fukugakiGrowing up in San Francisco, my guest Keigo Fukugaki, is used to hang out with the startup crowd. After coming to Japan about 4 years ago, he felt that the local startup ecosystem needed more places for interactions, allowing people to share and exchange ideas. With that conviction in mind, he wants to help build an open startup ecosystem in Japan.

For the past few months, Keigo has been working on starting his own accelerator program. Although this project is still at its premises, he has a strong vision on the environment he wants to create. More than just another incubation program, he wants to invite startups to join a new lifestyle.

In this episode, we discuss his views on the Japan startup ecosystem, what’s working and what needs to be improved. He says Japan needs more young millionaires. But this will be unlikely to happen as long as early employees in startups prefer a salary over equity.

Keigo is the type of guy who cannot just sit still and focus on one thing at the time. He’s involved in many projects and he believes that they all benefit one another. Keigo, is before anything else, a creative. With a strong background in architectural design, he’s working as a freelancer to remodel companies’ office space.

He is also currently involved in a startup working on a service called HoneyWedding. It’s a great tool for couples to plan their wedding according to their own tastes and without hassle. From RSVPs, guest list management, to photo sharing, HoneyWedding offers a long list of features aiming to facilitate wedding planning.

Whatever the project he is working on, Keigo tries to live by his motto: “inspire to be inspired.” So I really hope this episode will inspire you.

Question: What could make the Japan startup ecosystem more open? (reply in the comments)

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Show notes

  • (2:24) Introduction of Keigo
  • (6:58) Tokyo BnA: Connecting Art with Airbnb
  • (12:55) HoneyWedding: Online wedding planner
  • (22:37) Starting a company in Japan
  • (27:54) Starting a startup accelerator program
  • (37:18) What’s missing in Japan startup ecosystem
  • (41:06) Do you need to be part of an accelerator?
  • (44:40) Quick-fire questions

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Frederic

Transcript

Hi, Welcome to the Japan Venture Show, your podcast about entrepreneurship and the startup scene in Japan.

I’m Frederic Peyrot, and thank you for listening.

Hello listeners and thank you for listening to the Japan Venture Show.

Today I’m interviewing my friend, Keigo Fukugaki.

Keigo is a multi-facet guy: he’s an artist, an interior architect, but also an entrepreneur.

He’s originally from San Fransisco but he came to Japan about four years ago.

He’s the type of guy who cannot be satisfied of doing too little, and he’s been involved in many different types of projects.

At the moment, he’s focusing his energy on a new service called HoneyWedding.

HoneyWedding helps couples plan their wedding online and it offers great tools such as:

RSVPs, Guest List, ToDo List, access to curated professionals, everything that you need to organize your own wedding.

We discuss about how the wedding industry is broken in Japan.

It’s outrageously expensive and leaves little room for couples to organize a wedding according to their own tastes.

this is what HoneyWedding is trying to solve.

Keigo has an even bigger appetite and he’s also working on building a startup accelerator program.

We share similar views on the fact that in Japan there are too few places where entrepreneur can freely share ideas.

Well you have meetups, network events, but usually people go there to talk about their own project,

not to exchange ideas freely, with an open mindset.

Usually people are kind of scared of having somebody else stealing their own ideas.

A place to share ideas openly. That’s exactly the environment he wants to create with his soon to become accelerator program.

We spend an extensive amount of time talking about the Japan startup scene and I’m sure you’ll also have some opinion about it as well, so don’t hesitate to share your comments on the Japan Venture Show website.

So without getting too long in my monologue here, let’s just move on to the interview.

Please welcome Keigo Fukugaki from Makeshift.

Fred: I’m very pleased today to have Keigo Fukugaki to my show and to talk about his company Makeshift.

Fred:Welcome.

Keigo: Thank you for having me.

Fred: How are you?

Keigo: I’ve been really good.

Fred: We’ve met not so long ago. about two weeks. We met at your office in Shibuya. Cool place. How is it called again?

Keigo: We’re calling it the “hideout”

Fred: the Hideout, love that!

Keigo: Thanks!

Fred: And yourself you’re working on so many different projects at the same time. So actually when I tried to script this interview, I didn’t know where to start from.

Keigo: Yeah…

Fred: When people ask you do, what do you usually tell them?

Keigo: I usually tell them I do anything that’s creative and as part of that, we’re doing an Internet startup as well.

But I do interior architecture, product design, graphic design, and right now we’re doing a wedding startup.

Fred: sounds good!

So, we’re at my home tonight for the interview, and when you arrived, you just told me that you finished this big project for a big client. Can I tell the name?

Keigo: yes

Fred: So it’s for the Pinterest office.

Keigo: hmm hmm

Fred: and so, as part of the projects you take on as a freelancer, you do interior design for companies’ office space.

right?

Keigo: hmm hmm

Fred: So can you give us a few word on what it consists of, and what exactly you’re doing there…

Keigo: So I started off as an architect, and when I moved to Japan, about four years ago, I shifted over to interior design, and at my previous company, I got the opportunity to design the Facebook office, and the Google office, and

Last year I decided to just go on my own and that’s when I started my Internet startup and also started doing some freelance interior design.

And I landed this gig which happened to be a nice one: Pinterest.

Fred: yes,

Keigo: … in Tokyo. So it’s their first international office and I got to work really closely with the client. And it turned out to be a really great project.

I just finished it this weekend and I feel great!

Fred: Alright. I have so many questions to ask you.

But before, let me just turn off the aircon cause it won’t be too good for the interview. Just a minute

[turning off the aircon]

Fred: And we’re back…

Just quick question: so you’re Japanese but also American.

You grew up in the US, and you’ve spent most of your life in the US. And you came to Japan actually through your girlfriend, right?

Keigo: hmm

Fred: So your girlfriend is also Japanese.

Keigo: She’s half American, half Japanese but she grew up in Japan.

We met overseas in San Francisco where I used to live.

And as soon as I met her I wanted to be where she lived.

So I decided to move to Japan.

Fred: Alright, so that’s was which year?

Keigo: 2011.

So I moved right after the earthquake.

Fred: the big one I see.

And 2011 was just a few years ago and you can already land clients like Pinterest.

How do you get that? How do you get those contracts?

Keigo: Actually not true, I guess I’m lucky and I happened to be really interested in the startup scene, even as an architect.

And when lived in San Fransisco, all my friends were involved in that so I was very close to that culture.

And working as an interior designer I found myself specializing in building that kind of corporate culture.

Well I don’t know if you can call it corporate culture but it’s the workplace culture for startups.

So I consider myself a little bit of an expert in that field and one thing led to another…

Fred: So you’ve gotta meet with people so eventually you can have these contracts…

Keigo: right.

Fred: So let’s talk about your company Makeshift.

That’s the central focus point of your business activity right now.

You founded this company in 2013, some two years ago.

And under this company you have several projects that are not related at all.

One of them is called Tokyo BnA: Bed and Art project.

So you want to bring art to Airbnb.

Keigo: Right.

Fred: Can you tell us just a few words about this project as well.

Keigo: So, I love Airbnb.

Every time I travel, I stay in Airbnb.

But I found myself kind of unsatisfied with some of them cause anywhere you go in the world, usually it’s an apartment filled with IKEA furnitures.

And sure the location is great but the interior might no be that exciting.

And I wanted to provided something very unique for visitors in Tokyo.

I love this city. It’s only been four years but you know I think this city is the coolest, the most intimate city in the world.

Fred: I couldn’t agree more…

Keigo: So, I decided to start an Airbnb unit where you can stay in an art gallery. And if you’re a visitor, you’re staying in a space where it’s filled with artwork by young Tokyo artists.

So I wanted to bring young Tokyo art to the rest of the world.

We just opened up this TokyoBnA, in February and we’re hoping to open up another one in Kyoto.

The best part about this is: we’re not making that much money off of it. Most of the revenue goes straight to the artist.

Fred: I see.

So, the process through which you go for this is that you contact somebody with a property right?

Keigo: hmm hmm

Fred: So you don’t own this place.

Keigo: Right

Fred: And you ask this guy whether you could actually put some pieces of art in his apartment, so that it gives some differentiation to his apartment. It may attract more guests and it can also charge a higher price on his renting property.

And you also contact an artist on the other side, to install some art.

And the client staying can buy this art.

So it’s a lot of parties all around: there is you, there is the artist, the owner, Airbnb, etc. it’s kind of a long process to manage.

First question: how did you come up with the idea?

Was it just by yourself? Feeling that something was missing?

Keigo: So you know… I have a couple of friends who run Airbnb units and they make a profit off of it.

But they also felt like it’s not right. There’s a lot more they could be doing with something like Airbnb, which monetizes something that’s extra.

And we felt that there’s gotta be a more socially beneficial way of leveraging something like Airbnb.

And I myself am really involved in the art scene in Tokyo so I tried to connect the two dots so that’s how it started.

Fred: I like when you have two different industries, two different worlds and you’re just trying to combine them.

And then you have something that emerges out of that.

I really like that.

And, how did you find the owner?

Cause it’s kind of hard to first find somebody and second to convince him to work through that. It seems like a lot of hassle.

Keigo: right.

It’s actually a lot of hustling. They’re actually great at hustling.

They go to local real estate offices and they go straight in ask them we want to do this, we want to paint the walls, we want to knock down walls, we’re going to make it a great project, and in return, the owners will have a steady income and that kind of stuffs…

It’s not for everybody but my partners go to one after another real estate offices and if they get denied? that’s fine. they just go to the next.

And until they find an owner that’s willing to work with us…

Fred: I love that. That’s something you want to expand.

you say that now you have two, but is that something you want to have like 10, 50?

Keigo: yes. We’re hoping to expand it to an actual community building project. So that’s the long term goal.

Fred: Initially it’s an office space, it’s not somebody’s home?

Keigo: hmm, no, it was actually an apartment and we knocked down walls and did all the renovation work by hand, like me and two other guys.

A lot of heavy lifting but it definitely pays off and I think it’s a conversation starter.

Fred: Definitely, that’s definitely a good story to tell.

So I’m glad you could tell it here on the show.

Keigo: Thanks

Fred: Let’s move on and talk about your main project. The one you really want to focus on, a service called HoneyWedding.

So obviously it’s a service for wedding parties.

It’s some sort of wedding planner on your mobile phone.

So what can you do exactly with it?

Keigo: So it’s a wedding planning web app. So you can access it from your PC and also your mobile phone. And basically, you can do everything from managing your guest list to RSVPs, building your custom website so that you can share it with your guests. And through that, we’re hoping that in Japan people will find a better way to enjoy their wedding planning period.

I myself had a wedding about two years ago, and I felt the wedding planning process could be a lot more fun and easier in Japan.

I know that in the US and Europe they have these online tools that make your life better, so your wedding experience become a fun thing.

Fred: In Japan I feel like the industry is very protected.

You find a wedding place first and it’s like “all inclusive” type of service. They have their own photographer, their own catering service etc. and if you want to choose whatever you want, it adds up costs on top of that.

If you want to have your own photographer, you actually need to pay. Not just your photographer, but also this wedding service for not using their own.

And also I was amazed by how much people spend in Japan on their wedding. I don’t know if there is any ranking anywhere but I’m pretty sure Japan would arrive close to the top.

Keigo: you’re absolutely right.

The industry is old and there’s mega-wedding-companies that really control how weddings are run, who’s involved in anyone’s wedding. And I felt like if the couple getting married were more involved in the planning stage, they would have more choice and they would also enjoy more their wedding day.

Right now, because it’s a package, you know you sign up, and you show up to three or four meetings at best and you show up on the day of your wedding and it’s everything is kind of set up so you’re off on the side line for most of it.

I feel that that also permeates to the actual event and the wedding guests who are there…

… everything is cookie cutter, and the couples don’t know what’s going on neither.

Fred: It’s very scripted.

My feeling is… I don’t want to hurt anyone on the show, but it’s very scripted. Everybody has a similar kind of wedding.

Keigo: exactly.

Fred: You have this artificial chapelle, you have also this fake priest, it’s actually a baito. Then you have the host of ceremony doing the same speech.

you have from 12:05 to 12:07: this gonna happen / 12:07 to 12:08: the couple stops to take a picture in the stairs / it’s like everything is so scripted.

And I feel like, if you want to enjoy your wedding, one of the greatest day of your life, you shouldn’t have to follow a script. You should just enjoy yourself

Keigo: I don’t think it’s the couple’s fault.

Fred: Absolutely not. It’s just the industry that pushes people to go through that.

Keigo: I think that having a tool where the couple knows exactly what’s going happen on that day, or what they need to do, then they see exactly where they can start getting involved and I think that’s where this HoneyWedding project is going to. Really change the industry and really hope we’re not going against the industry, we’re just trying to provide a new way of looking at wedding.

Fred: Letting people get more involved in their own wedding. Not just letting somebody else do everything for them.

Keigo: Exactly.

And you know sometimes, getting involved seems like an extra hassle, but we really think it’s an enjoyable process.

Fred: Absolutely, people want to be free to choose and design their own wedding the way they want so I think it’s great.

So let’s go a little bit deeper into the features.

So you can manage your guest list, send the invitations. What else can you do?

Can you give us a few hints about what’s possible

Keigo: In addition to that you can share photographs of yourself to the guest meeting up to the wedding but also after the wedding, of the wedding ceremony.

Fred: So there is this one place where everybody else after the ceremony can download the photos.

Keigo: Another feature we really like is the To Do list.

We have a professional wedding planner on our startup team and he’s provided us with a close to 60 items To Do list.

These are very common To Do items that each couple probably go through and you can check it off on your smartphone, on your browser… So it’s helping you along the way during your 6 months. And 60 items that’s a lots of stuffs to do, but if you can check it on your phone, it becomes more manageable.

Fred: yes, you see where you’re at, what’s remaining to do, what’s important to do now, what’s important to do later, you can really prioritize as well etc.

Keigo: Finally, we’re working on content and we’re trying to pick the best wedding vendors like the venue, the dress designers and so,

We’re not just listing every one in the market. We really don’t believe that’s the market for us. We really don’t think we can compete with the bigger listing websites.

What we cater is just the best of the best.

Fred: You designed the recommendations based on their own tastes

Keigo: Hmm hmm

Fred: So at some point you need probably to gather some information about them right?

Keigo: yes, so how we’re doing that is we’re building a little fun wedding image maker. And what you do is you pick out what’s your favorite color, what you want to see during your wedding… As you input those things, we start gathering up images and also vendors that might be able to help you.

Fred: Have you figured out the pricing model already?

Keigo: Right now we’re in beta. We’re looking to stay in beta for a little bit more. And during the beta we’re completely free.

And at some point we’ll have some premium features such as really nice website designs you can choose from, as well as unlimited photo uploads so that you can gather photos from all your guests and upload your high quality photos that you get taken by professional photographers.

Like right now, in Japan, you might hire a professional photographer but the only people

Keigo: That’s, I feel like, that’s such a shame. So I think if you can share it with your friends in a private way, not on Facebook, just with your wedding guests, that’d be really great.

Fred: I love that. And how many people are you working with on this project?

Keigo: My team is a team of four right now. We have a CTO, myself doing the front end, and two marketing, one of them being a professional wedding planner.

Fred: I see. And is that your first actual company?

Keigo: Yeah.

Fred: I mean, you’ve been working on many projects but that’s your first company, right?

Keigo: Definitely the first real company. I had a company back in when I was in college. Doing little web design here and there, but I wouldn’t call it really a company. It was just a freelance —

Fred: Freelance type of job, yeah.

Keigo: Yeah.

Fred: And so in the process of starting this company in Japan, you look fully Japanese, you speak Japanese, but you’re still American, right?

Keigo: Uh-huh.

Fred: You spent much of your life in America.

Keigo: Uh-huh.

Fred: What were the main struggles you had to go through?

Keigo: Definitely paperwork. And a lot of actually visiting to the ward office and that kind of stuff. It’s actually a long process. I did not know this. I speak Japanese so it’s probably easier for me than most other English speakers trying to set up a company in Japan. But there’s a lot of specialized terminologies.

Fred: Yeah.

Keigo: And I’m fluent in Japanese but I was still struggling. I had to go home, look up a lot of words.

Fred: Yeah, they are very technical. So we are talking about for the incorporation of the company, right?

Keigo: Right, incorporation of the company. It took me about three, four weeks of really putting together paperwork, going to the ward office, fixing things, going back. And those are tough three weeks.

Fred: Did you work with any company to help you set up your company?

Keigo: I worked with a family friend who helped me do all the paperwork. So that was good. Barely inexpensive. So I definitely suggest, even though it might cost a little bit of money, hiring someone. Because I really don’t know how I would’ve done it without him.

Fred: I totally agree. When I set up my own company, I wanted to do everything by myself because I was a bit naive. And it took actually two full months and we actually had to, well, we wrote our own article of incorporation in English and made them translate it. But of course they wouldn’t totally fit the Japanese laws. So with a notary, we had to fix it and correct it two times. I don’t know how many individuals we had to go through and it took time and money. And eventually I felt like, if I had to do it all over again, let’s just hire somebody.

Keigo: Yeah.

Fred: It just costs a little bit more but it’s such a pain in the ass that you don’t wanna go through.

Keigo: Right, you should be spending the time developing your product.

Fred: Working your product! Exactly! Because that’s pretty much, I mean all the time you spend incorporating, you don’t focus on your service at all. So incorporation, we all agree, and I think most people starting a business in Japan know about that. So what else? Just in the process of doing business in Japan, or doesn’t have to be Japan in specific, but just starting your first real product. What else?

Keigo: Definitely even now, I’m struggling to find talent, as in engineers. Definitely as a startup, if you don’t have a big funding, or haven’t gone to a funding round yet, it’s really hard to find engineers. Especially if you’re doing something in the wedding industry. It’s not something where a lot of young engineers might find a product that they wanna really get involved in.

Fred: Especially if they have not experienced being wed themselves.

Keigo: Exactly.

Fred: They are less connected to the product.

Keigo: Right. I’ve been looking for female engineers but it’s very hard to come by. And I’ve actually been personally working really hard to help out every female engineers in the industry. I really hope within the next couple of years there’s a lot more. Definitely a diversity would be a great addition to the Japanese startup scene.

Fred: What type of engineer particularly were the hardest to find, more like back end? Or–?

Keigo: I think someone that can bridge between the front end and back end. Someone that really wants to get involved in the development of the product. There’s a lot of back end people that I felt were a little weak on improving a product.

Fred: Yeah. So thinking that the product has a user experience.

Keigo: Right.

Fred: Usually those are two different types of skills you have. Like the more hardcore coders doing all the back end stuff and then you have the front end design thinking about the user, the features and trying always to think not as an engineer but as a designer of a product. Totally different skills. Great stuff. On the contrary, did you find that some things were actually easier or better in the Japanese ecosystem compared to — you’re from San Francisco so you’re like in the Silicon Valley, the center of the startup world. So do you find some competitive advantage in Japan?

Keigo: Competitive advantage?

Fred: Or just like things that are maybe done better here.

Keigo: Done better? I think communication is really good. If you can communicate, things will get done exactly the way it should be. But on the other hand, will there be innovation within that conversation? It’s hard to say. If you want something exactly done this way, it’s great. So I think something like using Crowd Works or that kind of service and you hired a Japanese freelancer, usually they’re quite responsive and I found that to be better than hiring foreign freelancers. So I’ve kind of enjoyed that process when I get some work done.

Fred: I see. So we’re talking a lot about the startup ecosystem right now and I know that you also have another project on the side. It’s to start your own accelerator or incubation program.

Keigo: Yeah.

Fred: So you’re actually managing some office space here in Shibuya, but it’s a temporary project. And now you have this kind of bigger project. Can you give a few words about it?

Keigo: So the incubator accelerator project is still definitely in the works. But it all started from a tech conference that I hosted back in September in 2014. I flew over I think 10 entrepreneurs from San Francisco. And we had about fourteen Japanese entrepreneurs. We did a week-long hack-a-thon. And it was more of a cultural exchange – sharing ideas, sharing music, art. So it was more than just a tech scene. We wanted to bridge the cultural bound between Tokyo startup scene, San Francisco Startup scene. And through that conversation, we found out that the Japanese startup scene needs to be more casual. There needs to be more ad-hoc meetups, not planned meetups. But there needs to be a space where a lot of people are just there, and they’re not afraid of sharing ideas, they’re not afraid of starting new projects on the side maybe. And I think that’s something that happens in San Francisco. A lot of just random ideas are flying around. And random projects might spawn up here and there. And I really hope that something like that can start developing in Japan. And I really think the startup scene is getting hot and a lot more people are interested. So if there is a space where people can casually just become friends and partners, I’d be really happy. So right now I’m running a startup shared office space where there’s no guest policies. If you’re a member there, you can just bring all your friends and I really don’t care and they really don’t need to pay or anything like that. And we’re just hoping that it’s like a casual–

Fred: I like this flexibility! That’s so rare in Japan.

Keigo: Right. So we’re hoping, right now the hideout is a test kind of space. And hopefully by the end of the year, we can acquire a full building, hopefully, that we can run an accelerator/casual space that everyone can just enjoy.

Fred: I’d love that. And it’s certainly true that most of startup meetings that I go to in Tokyo, and many of them are very good. I’m not saying that it’s all bad. But it’s very once again, very scripted. You have an agenda, opening at 6:30, 5 minutes each from 7 and it’s like by the clock, and everybody is introducing not even his product but how much capital we have. We don’t care. And we have this networking. It’s just like people come with their meishi (business cards) and everybody is so polite. And it’s not about exchanging ideas. It’s just about pitching your product and what you do to one another hoping that you make as much noise as possible about you and that’s it. But it’s not about exchanging.

Keigo: Right.

Fred: And we had this conversation already over lunch and actually I have another friend “Takafumi”. And we wanted to sell his project but we put it on hold. But we wanted to start a bar for startup entrepreneurs.

Keigo: That’d be awesome!

Fred: Just a bar where people can — they don’t have to pay to get in. So they can just stop buy for twenty minutes. Just have a beer, meet somebody at the counter next to them that has similar interests, like starting projects, technology, whatever, and talk. And they don’t have to necessarily talk about their own product but what they have in mind and not be afraid of having their ideas stolen. Just, “I have this stupid idea in mind. I wanna share it to you. What do you think?” Just as simple as that and many things can flourish from there.

Keigo: I think, yeah, we really hope as the scene gets hotter and hotter, that kind of exchange is accepted.

Fred: Yeah, I really hope you can go forward with your project. So when you say an accelerator/incubator, that means you still can have some startups that you can mentor, and are you gonna put some investment into the startups?

Keigo: Right, we’re hoping to create a fund that will hand-pick some of the startups that we wanna help mentor.

Fred: I see.

Keigo: So we have a great team starting to build up as mentors and advisers.

Fred: Alright.

Keigo: But still no works.

Fred: Of course, that’s kind of a big project for you to take on. But it’s definitely interesting. And for the past years I’ve seen from year on year, there are so many new incubator, accelerator, whatever you wanna call them, corporations, big companies are starting to wanna be part of the game. So they are also trying to do that from the inside. But it’s still very corporate. A corporate environment.

Keigo: Yeah.

Fred: A corporate environment. Even the big names, I don’t wanna give any name, but like “Movida” for instance, they are great guys but are still run by people with not necessarily an entrepreneurship background. And it’s more of an investment business more than just a community.

Keigo: One feature that is probably gonna make us completely different from all the other programs in Japan is that the advisors, were hoping, will live in the same building that we’re going to be running for the accelerator. So we’re not just hoping to become investors or coaches. We’re actually hoping to invite startups to join a new lifestyle. So we want to start something where we can really become mentors not just in running a business but also how to conduct yourself in life, I guess.

Fred: Yeah, I love that! And I think what I would suggest is to experiment. You can start with a few ideas, but just try stuff. If you have the building, if you start a first batch of startups, every batch you can start experimenting two or three ideas. And some may be just crazy and they may just fail, like totally. But that’s a great occasion to fail and try. This is where you can find greatness. So I can’t wait to see that happen. So maybe just another thing, so we’ve been talking about these accelerators, we’ve been talking about these meetups. What else do you think needs to be changed or evolve or maybe what’s missing in Japan’s ecosystem to really flourish?

Keigo: This also came up as a conversation in our tech conference back in September. But I think a lot of other people are talking about this here. But we really think there needs to be more young millionaires in Japan. And what I mean by that is equity. A lot of these startups, as the scene gets hotter, there’s gonna be exits. And right now, young people in those companies don’t have any stock options. If they do, it’s tiny. Even the founders, there might be one or two people holding 20-30% of the company and the rest gets taken by the investors. And when these people exit, you got one or two millionaires. And in San Francisco, when these companies exit, it produces a hundred millionaires and they become angel investors. It really boosts the economy.

Fred: It’s a victorious cycle. Then they reinvest this money to the ecosystem and watch for the same things to happen.

Keigo: And it’s hard because younger people in Japan don’t really see equity as something that they want. They prefer salary over equity and we’ve been seeing that when we’re trying to hire as well. They’d rather take the salary. Which is okay, it’s a personal preference.

Fred: Yeah. But it’s a risk-revenue equation. And Japan in general is a pretty risk-averse country.

Keigo: Maybe if there was a message that could be sent out —

Fred: But I think, example, just having a few cases where that happened and this may influence some of the startups as well but it’s a long process at the same time. It’s hard to push people, “Be more risky. Take equity. Less money right now.” No one’s gonna listen. Something like that is deep-rooted into their personalities. So just show by example. It’s the best case.

Keigo: So instead of pushing young people to take equity, maybe we are hoping to bring more angels from San Francisco into Japan. If it’s not here, then maybe we can bring them in. So hopefully we can continue this startup exchange between San Francisco and Tokyo and bring a little bit more attention to the Tokyo startup scene.

Fred: I love that. So it seems you’re gonna have a lot on your plate for the next months.

Keigo: Yeah, but I kind of enjoy all this not-so-hardcore projects that don’t require my 120%. They might require my 20% of energy, on and off. And I enjoy those kinds of projects because it creates a new kind of network in each project. And they start overlapping and I’m starting to see that every time I do a project.

Fred: It’s like a positive externalities on each other. Do you actually consider to get some funding or maybe be part of the accelerator yourself with Makeshift and Honeywedding?

Keigo: Yeah, I’ve actually went around speaking to most of the accelerators in Japan and hopefully we’re ready to do serious talk within the next month or two.

Fred: Alright. Sounds good. So of course, you’re not gonna discuss everything, I believe, before everything’s on the right track. And so why do you think it’s good to be part of an accelerator? And do you think there are cases where it’s not necessary?

Keigo: Definitely if you have a product that is already making money, do you really need to be an accelerator? Probably not, unless you wanna grow really fast. And that’s up to you. But for us, we’ve been toying with both options. Running with just what we have and making, we have a viable monetization model that could just run on its own. Or we go big and we try to hit the market before anyone else notices. So we’re hoping to join up with an accelerator that isn’t too concerned about becoming the next Facebook, really, because that’s not the goal on our side. So it’s interesting to meet a lot of the accelerators and see how different they are.

Fred: What value are you looking for when you talk to these accelerators? Is there some specific criteria in your selection process? Apart from money equity ratio, of course.

Keigo: I think a lot of it has to do with just letting us work at our own pace. But it’s hard to come by. Accelerators, they have their own agendas and they definitely —

Fred: Of course, and you cannot blame them. At the end of the day, they provide money, so.

Keigo: Yeah, so the more freedom, I think, the better on our side.

Fred: I see. Do you also look at their network to see if they have good connections for your business.

Keigo: Yeah, and especially in the wedding industry, an adviser pulls a lot of weight because it is an industry held by a lot of old-school companies. So having a good adviser will get us in the door. So that’s really important to us.

Fred: I see. And that’s something I also felt when I was talking to incubators in general. I felt like more than money, money is important of course, but more than that, it’s like ‘Who can these people connect you with?’ And if you’re running a business in the food industry, but the people that are giving you money, they have lots of connections, huge network, but in the fashion industry. Then it’s useless for you, and vice versa. So you have to find the right people suited for your business. Alright, time flies and I wanna move on to my last couple of quick-fire questions. So do you know the process?

Keigo: Yeah.

Fred: Alright. There are short questions so I expect short answers. But I never get short answers, but it doesn’t matter. So let’s start with this one. Do you have any mentor in your life or persons that are really inspiring to you?

Keigo: I have many, and they’re all my friends. And age doesn’t really matter to me, so I have friends who are older than my parents, people who are younger than myself, and they’re still my mentor. And they’re all very different. Many people that I meet has mentors.

Fred: Okay. What are the benefits for you to have mentors?

Keigo: I see them as people who I can count on for help anytime that I need it. And they’re, you know, every project that I do, I need different kinds of help. And I really do see these friends as mentors and they help me get these projects done well.

Fred: I see. And I think that’s something that’s so undervalued. I know that some people don’t want to have mentors because they feel like they don’t wanna copy anybody. They don’t wanna be somebody else. And I feel like mentoring is something that’s totally different. I feel that mentoring is having somebody giving you the right advice, the advice that you need. Not because you aspire to become this person, but just because maybe this person have been maybe through these different situations that you haven’t. And so you don’t have to go through the painful process of learning by yourself. Somebody has already the answer for you. So that’s just the shortcut. And that’s great you have mentors from very different backgrounds and can really guide you through your projects. Good to hear. And I really like the fact when you said that age doesn’t matter. ‘Cause really, when you say mentor, people will expect an old guy who has a long beard. Or a professor or sensei in Japan. It doesn’t have to be.

Keigo: Yeah. Even in the Japanese startup scene, I don’t know if you know Hiro Maeda. He’s a young guy.

Fred: He’s a very young guy.

Keigo: Yeah but he’s very in front of the line for Japanese startup, you know.

Fred: Yeah, we really like pioneered the local ecosystem here.

Keigo: Yeah, definitely a pioneer and countless other young people who are more achieved than myself easily, so–

Fred: Good to hear. Second question, do you have any software or app that you use on a regular basis that makes your life simpler, better, more beautiful.

Keigo: I’m kind of addicted to my phone so I have many.

Fred: Oh, I’m waiting for recommendations here.

Keigo: One I use with my wife, it’s called ‘Avocado’. It’s kind of like a couples messaging. But it’s quirky. You can only message one other person who’s connected. And instead of a thumbs up, you can actually send a hug or a kiss. And when you send a hug, you have to hold up the phone to your chest. And I guess it has a light sensor and if it knows that it’s covered up, it vibrates and it sends a message to other person that says, “Keigo sent you a hug and it vibrates.”

Fred: You should absolutely partner with those guys for your Honeywedding.

Keigo: Yeah.

Fred: Because people can start as an unmarried couple using that and then just put some advertisement, like sending hearts to each other and you see, like, “Let’s get to it. Let’s get married.” And you have this awesome service popping up. I think that’d be great. I’m actually using, ha-ha! I’m laughing, but I’m actually using a similar service. It’s called “Between”.

Keigo: Yeah, yeah. It’s a Japanese startup.

Fred: Yeah, great stuff. Avocado is one. What else?

Keigo: I definitely use the Reminder, the standard app that comes with your iPhone. I

have probably fourteen lists going at any given time for each project. And I’m checking that probably once an hour.

Fred: So that’s your main to-do list or task list?

Keigo: Yeah.

Fred: Okay.

Keigo: There’s probably better ones, but–

Fred: You are the first person actually that I know of that is using this app. I think I’ve

never used it myself but, good! That means that I–

Keigo: I’ve tried pretty much every single project management product out there — Base Camp, Asana. You name it, I’ve tried it. But it’s just a little too much. As you can see, I have five, six projects going at the same time. Trying to switch between projects on those, it takes another–

Fred: Yeah, especially if you’re mobile-centric. Yeah, I’m using Asana actually for all my projects. But it’s true that the mobile app is still kind of hard for you.

Keigo: Yeah, so I just keep it simple, just a simple list.

Fred: Reminder from Apple.

Keigo: Yup.

Fred: Right? Maybe you have a last one, a recommendation for our listeners maybe? Something to discover. It doesn’t need to be the best app in the world.

Keigo: There’s an app made by my friend. It’s called PROPELa. And it’s really similar to the calendar app, Sunrise. But it has location-based information. So what it does is, whatever is coming up next, if you input your location, it’ll tell you, “You need to leave now.” and also tells you directions without opening up Google Maps. So, like myself, I have to go from one place to another all the time so it’s really nice to get that alert like, “You need to leave now.”

Fred: So you can’t get lost like today.

Keigo: Yeah, exactly.

Fred: So it’s called PROPELa.

Keigo: Yeah.

Fred: P-R-O–?

Keigo: P-R-O-P-E-L-a.

Fred: Yeah?

Keigo: Yeah.

Fred: Alright. I’ll put the links on the website.

Keigo: Yeah.

Fred: Next question. A bit more philosophical.

Keigo: Uh-huh.

Fred: Can you tell me three principles or rules that you’re trying to follow for yourself.

Keigo: Three principles. The first one that comes to mind really fast, I say it on a day-to-day basis, and I should probably trademark it. I’ve never seen anyone else say it. And you can search it online and it won’t come up.

Fred: It’s public now.

Keigo: Yeah. Trademarked. “Inspire to be inspired.” And what that means is, I need to produce something inspiring in order to inspire other people. But also, by inspiring other people, they’ll inspire me back. And I think it’s a kind of a loop going back and forth so I make myself accountable of producing good works so I can inspire all my friends, my mentors. As long as I can produce those things, I think they’re willing to help me out again.

Fred: I love that. It’s kind of like a karma type of a motto.

Keigo: Yeah. And another one is, just being super honest. I try to be honest as I can be. It’s helped me make great friends. And the other one is, just trust your gut instinct.

Fred: Yeah.

Keigo: I’ve never felt like I’ve run into trouble by doing that. By being honest and by following your gut instinct. You know, if your gut instinct takes you somewhere wrong, then just be honest. And you can just turn around.

Fred: Yeah.

Keigo: But usually, trusting my gut instinct has lead me to great friends, great opportunities. So I think we’re all built to sense something good for ourselves.

Fred: I love that. Very inspiring. And thanks for sharing.

Keigo: Thank you. Thank you for asking.

Fred: Are you a morning person? Or a night person?

Keigo: I’m definitely a morning person now. My wife wakes up at six o’clock and goes to work so I try to wake up at the same time. So we’re tired at the same time.

Fred: Six o’clock in the morning?

Keigo: Yeah. So I’m definitely a morning person now and I definitely enjoy it.

Fred: And do you have a morning routine?

Keigo: Morning routine? Not really. I might eat breakfast, I might not.

Fred: Are there a few tasks that you do every day?

Keigo: Oh, I take a shower in the morning, and the shower, that space is my meditation room. I love the fact that it’s completely white and nothing is there. You know the running water on my head. So I do all my thinking in there. Go through everything that I probably need to do that day. And then do some creative thinking. And then by the end, I’m kind of traveling through the next universe. And then I gotta get out of the shower. So–

Fred: I love that. Actually I’ve read an article, I forgot from where, recently, where it said that the two moments in your day when you are the most creative are when you are walking out by yourself and while taking your shower.

Keigo: Yeah?

Fred: Definitely. Great! And it’s actually great you have finally somebody who’s a morning person on the show. I ask this person every single episode. And I think 90% of people I interview are night persons.

Keigo: Especially in Tokyo.

Fred: Especially in Tokyo. I don’t know why. I know that in the US it’s quite the opposite in the entrepreneur sphere.

Keigo: It’s actually one of the main reasons why I left my previous job.

Fred: Yeah?

Keigo: Because I’m a morning person and nobody in the office was. So there’s just like a huge difference in how we worked. And I felt like it was causing stress in my own life.

Fred: Yeah, yeah, I see. Kinda like you feel apart from the herd.

Keigo: Yeah.

Fred: Alright, last question. Do you have restaurant in Tokyo?

Keigo: I do. Can I give–

Fred: You can give a couple.

Keigo: Well, okay. So one’s a bar. But they serve food. And the other one’s a ramen restaurant.

Fred: Alright, I love those.

Keigo: So Ramen Afuri in Ebisu. Not anywhere else. They have six different stores but the one in–

Fred: Alright. They’re like a big chain.

Keigo: It’s not too big, but they’re getting bigger.

Fred: Alright.

Keigo: It’s really good.

Fred: What type of ramen?

Keigo: It’s, the broth is chicken and fish paste so it’s very light.

Fred: Oh, I love —

Keigo: And they have Yuzu Shouyu (soy sauce with yuzu), and Yuzu Shio (salt with yuzu), they’re just absolutely amazing. And it’s so light that you don’t feel guilty or sick afterwards.

Fred: Chashu tonkotsu (pork broth with roasted pork)

Keigo: Yeah, sometimes it’s great, but Tonkotsu just makes you sick, you know, sometimes.

Fred: It’s still my favorite though. But okay—

Keigo: So the Ebisu one is the best, and then the bar that I really enjoy is called “Oiran”. Like the kind of, what is it? Oiran is like a geisha but more fabulous version of a geisha. But the bar is based, it’s in Shibuya. By all the love hotels.

Fred: Alright. Maruyamacho?

Keigo: Yeah. So it’s a super tiny bar but they host internet, radio, and stuff like that. So they have like a DJ booth inside…

Fred: Oiran?

Keigo: Yeah. It’s got this classic Japanese styling but a modern take on it.

Fred: I love that.

Keigo: So definitely check it out.

Fred: I used to live around this area. When I first moved to Japan I was in a guesthouse in the…—

Keigo: Wow!–

Fred: …in Maruyamacho

Keigo: Definitely a bumping area.

Fred: And lots of tiny bars around. Very lovely as well. And clean. Just for the listeners. And just so you know, and for the listeners as well, I put on a Google Map with all the restaurant recommendations of all my guests.

Keigo: Ooh, awesome!

Fred: So you can find it on the website. You go to Podcasts and you have a sub-menu called “Guest Restaurants Picks” or something like this, I forgot the exact name. And this map is open to anybody and also, I’m waiting for comments. I don’t have time it try them all, so–

Keigo: Definitely put it on the AirBnB that we’ve been hosting. We’ll share it with our guests.

Fred: Onegaishimase (please). Well, thank you so much Keigo, for sharing all your stories with me today. And I wish you good luck for your projects. So what’s next for you in the next few months?

Keigo: Definitely getting out of Beta and finding some great angels or accelerators that are willing to help us out.

Fred: And if people wanna learn more about your service, where should they go?

Keigo: Please visit HoneyWedding.jp. It’s in Beta but you can sign up and start using it. Everything’s for free right now so if you’re getting married or anyone getting married, I highly, highly recommend it. Not just because I’m building it. But because it will make their lives easier.

Fred: Cool! Wish I learned about that before getting married.

Keigo: Not too late, get married again.

Fred: Ah, I cut that part. Well, thank you so much for sharing once again. I will put all the links and of course, all the links of your services on the website. And please use the Japan Venture Show comments. We ask questions every week about the episode. You can share your comments and thank you for listening. So see you next week.

Keigo: Thank you. Thank you for having me. Cheers!

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