Click here to read the second article. Memories of Mr. Idei vol.2: First Meeting with him”
Launching a startup
After meeting and greeting Mr. Idei, I was finally ready to launch the startup company in earnest under Mr. Tsujino. Looking back now, more than ten years later, I think that the start-up project was a very important project that Mr. Idei wanted to focus on by mobilizing all of the human networks he had cultivated at Quantum Leaps. In other words, he may have been so enthusiastic about the project that he wanted to create a second SONY.
At that time, Quantum Leaps held an event called “Asia Innovation Forum” once a year. I have never attended the event myself, but it was a gathering of eminent figures, including people from companies that Mr. Idei was involved with and Sadako Ogata, a former United Nations official.
In terms of business, he is mainly engaged in management consulting and M&A brokerage. At the time, he was the focus of much attention for his project to reorganize the capital structure of Yoshimoto Kogyo by creating a Special Purpose Company. Since that time, Yoshimoto Kogyo’s shareholder structure has been owned by each of the major commercial TV networks.
I believe that Mr. Tsujino’s departure from Google came at just the right time, when he wanted to launch a full-scale business using not only his experience at SONY but also the connections and experience he built at Quantum Leaps, and he decided to move forward with this project in earnest with Mr. Tsujino as its representative.
The “Atom” and “Bit” Divisions
This startup has two divisions, “Atom” (≒materials) and “Bit” (≒information), and the “Atom” division is for prototyping hardware, while the “Bit” division is for creating a platform that allows people to easily enjoy content on the Internet. The “Atom” division was for prototyping hardware, while the “Bit” division was for building a platform like Netflix or Spotify, which would allow people to easily enjoy content on the Internet.
Although the terms “Atom” and “Bit” are unfamiliar, I think the intention was to once again try the fusion of “hardware” and “software” that Mr. Idei had been working on during his time at SONY, but in a smaller boat.
Mr. Idei was surrounded by designers who had designed the PlayStation controller and VAIO, both of which are now used by people all over the world, and through the acquisition of Yoshimoto Kogyo, he had developed an extensive network of contacts with the major players who owned the rights to the content. I believe that Mr. Tsujino thought that there was nothing that he could not do if he were in charge of the project.
It was not until much later that I learned that I was invited to join the “Bit” division as someone who knew about digital marketing centered on Google, which was still rare at that time, and to distribute Japanese content overseas. Perhaps it was when I saw the number of searches for Japan-related search terms on Google domains overseas that I thought, for the first time, that I might be able to back up not only the concept but also the needs, etc., as numbers, and that I might be able to use some of them.
Looking back, I think that using seemingly unfamiliar expressions such as “Atom” and “Bit” to convey his vision was very typical of Idei, who has used phrases such as “digital dream kids” and “Qualia” to convey his vision. It was a valuable experience for me to think that this is how SONY has been able to carry out its various major projects.
This was the reason why I visited Parkside Six in Vol. 1. I think it was a five-story building, and the plan was to use the first floor as a showroom for the “Atom” division, the third and fourth floors for startups, and the fifth floor for Quantum Leaps.
By this time, investors for the startup had been decided. In addition to Mr. Idei and Mr. Tsujino, we were also fortunate to have eminent members such as Mr. Moto Isayama of WiL, the first non-Italian Ferrari designer, Mr. Ken Okuyama, and Mr. YOSHIKI of X Japan, who was a member of the US venture capital fund DCM at the time. of X JAPAN, and YOSHIKI of X JAPAN, all of whom are eminent investors.
Ken Okuyama was in charge of product design in the “Atom” division, and YOSHIKI, a well-known musician overseas, was in charge of the “Bit” division. I understand that YOSHIKI originally debuted with SONY Music, and that he sought advice from Mr. Idei in connection with the X JAPAN reunion in 2008, which led to a friendship between the two.
Now, this background is something that I have come to understand through various discussions since the start-up was launched, but at the time I was completely unaware of this background, and when I first heard about the five shareholders, it was a bolt from the blue.
One day, at a cafe on the first floor of Parkside Six, Mr. Tsujino asked me, “Do you know a musician named YOSHIKI of X JAPAN? Mr. Idei brought him with him. I have been an X fan since junior high school. I immediately replied, “I know him, I’m a big fan. Then, I heard about Ken Okuyama, Mr. Isayama, and others whose careers were so spectacular. To me at the time, it seemed as if I was talking to someone above the clouds.
First meeting of shareholders
Later that day, the five shareholders met for the first time, and we talked again about the purpose of establishing this startup. I believe the meeting was held at Quantum Leaps’ conference room in the Bankers Association Building, so it must have been around July or August 2010, when I was still a Google employee.
Mr. Isayama arrived first. I think that was the first time I saw someone with the title “venture capitalist. His aura instantly conveyed to me that he was a very smart person. I was involved in the preparation of the materials for this meeting, and I remember being nervous about how such a smart person would react when he or she saw them. But that thrill was drowned out by the next thrill.
Yes, Mr. YOSHIKI had arrived. A different kind of excitement was approaching. I was given the great responsibility of guiding him from the office entrance to the conference room together with his bodyguards.
Now, I can imagine YOSHIKI’s position as a businessman to some extent, but since I was only 25 or 6 years old, I am ashamed to admit that I saw him as a musician. I was still 25 or 6 years old when I saw him, but I couldn’t help but see him as a musician. I was looking at him from afar at the Tokyo Dome, and he was right in front of me. I felt dizzy thinking, “What in the world am I doing now?” I felt dizzy. And at this point, I was already so nervous that my stomach hurt. What a small person I am. Somehow, my mind was filled with unimportant thoughts, such as how great it is for an emperor or a prime minister to have to meet with important people in Japan and abroad.
And let’s not forget that the former CEO of SONY and the former representative of Google Japan are present in this conference room. The tension was palpable. Again, no, I want to say it again and again. The tension is so great. Unfortunately, Ken Okuyama was based in Yamagata, and I remember that he could not come on this day because of his work or something.
I remember that Nikesh Arora (then head of Global Sales at Google, who later became Masayoshi Son of SoftBank) and I met at the elevator of Cerulean Tower in Shibuya, where Google was located at the time. Later, he was recruited by Masayoshi Son of Softbank), Nikesh Arora (then head of Global Sales at Google, who was later replaced by Masayoshi Son of Softbank) I felt even more nervous than when I was in the elevator with Nikesh Arora (the head of Global Sales at Google at that time, who was later recruited by Masayoshi Son of Softbank), Daniel Alegre (the head of Global Sales for APAC at Google), and Mr. Tsujino (the representative of Google Japan) at the wrong time (laugh).
The mood of the place was softened by…
Amidst this tense atmosphere (or maybe it was just me who was feeling it), the first shareholders’ meeting finally began. After Mr. Idei’s introduction, Mr. Tsujino proceeded to explain “Atom” and “Bit,” and the conversation proceeded in a grave atmosphere. As for the image, you can almost imagine it as the boardroom of the Tokyo Chuo Bank in the drama “Hanzawa Naoki. I stood by like a bureaucrat behind a member of the House of Representatives at a Budget Committee meeting, watching the proceedings with bated breath. My stomach ached.
Just when I thought my stomach walls were about to give way, surprisingly, it was Mr. YOSHIKI who suddenly eased the heavy atmosphere.
As Mr. Tsujino took to explaining the “bit” section, he asked, “Do you know Spotify?” He was the first one among the shareholders to speak up and enthusiastically explained about Spotify, which was gradually becoming known in Japan at the time.
Mr. YOSHIKI was in LA working on countermeasures against pirated downloads by Napstar in the early 2000s, and at that time he met with Napstar founder Sean Parker (an early investor in Facebook who encouraged Mark Zuckerberg to move his base to Silicon Valley). He was also familiar with Spotify, which he was involved in founding, through his relationship with Sean Parker.
I believe that YOSHIKI’s idea was to suggest that we could create a Japanese version of Spotify in the “bit” category. A platform from Japan that would promote music domestically and internationally through a freemium model while successfully handling copyrights. At the time, my impression of Spotify was that it had suddenly started making a lot of noise on news sites such as TechCrunch, which features IT-related services. I believe that Spotify was not available in Japan at the time due to publishing rights and other reasons. After all, in 2010 I had an Android phone that was provided to all Google employees, but I was listening to music on an iPod nano and still mainly used a Galapagos mobile phone. We used to call smartphones “cell phones with full browsers.
In the explanation of the “Bit” division, which bundles Japanese content into a single platform for overseas development, the number of searches related to Japanese content, including manga, etc., overseas, the number of searches for “JAPAN EXPO” in France featuring manga, anime and other subcultures, which was featured on Japanese TV at the time, and the number of searches for “otaku” in the United States, which was featured on Japanese TV at the time. YOSHIKI told us that he had attended these events, and since Mr. Idei had also been stationed in France, the event became very lively.
I personally did not expect Mr. YOSHIKI to be so forthcoming, and I remember how surprised I was. He even talked to us, the staff members, and I felt as if I had witnessed a side of YOSHIKI as a businessman, that he is truly a very attentive person.
Looking back on it now.
At the time, I only had a limited knowledge of Google and the advertising industry, so I did not have an accurate understanding of Mr. Tsujino’s position at the time and the role I was to play, and I was really inexperienced. I think I would have been able to support Mr. Tsujino more, both in terms of work and psychology, if I had been the person I am today. I really wish there was a hole in the wall I could crawl through. (Of course, I think I did everything in my power back then, but my ability was still far short of what I should have been able to do.)
More than 10 years have passed since then, and I sometimes think, “I could have supported Mr. Tsujino more if I had done that,” “I should have done this,” or “Perhaps there was some background to what Mr. Idei said. As time goes by, there are many times when the mystery suddenly unravels and I think, “So this is what that matter was about at that time.
In a sense, it has become a kind of Zen question and answer for me to attain enlightenment, and I think this was a great gift given to me by Mr. Idei and Mr. Tsujino. I am sure that I will continue to deal with this experience from time to time in the future.