Disrupting Japan: Understanding Japanese Startups from within

Last week, Tim Romero celebrated the one-year anniversary of his podcast “Disrupting Japan” by recording a live episode at SuperDeluxe in Tokyo. For anyone curious about the Japanese startup ecosystem, there was no better place to be on that Wednesday night.

disrupt1A large crowd gathered at the venue to listen to a conversation between Romero and the great panel he brought together for the occasion. There was Hiroshi Asaeda, of Beatrobo, Matthew Romaine, of the translation company Gengo and Hiro Maeda, venture capitalist at Beenos. They represented key positions in the startup scene, namely CEO of an up-and-coming company, CEO of a well established company and investor.

The wide range of their perspectives made for an interesting and opinionated conversation on topics ranging from women in entrepreneurship to the market size of Japanese startups. But among the various subjects, the recurring theme of the culture gap seemed to be on everyone’s mind and was addressed thoroughly throughout the hour. The question of international teams within a startup helped spark a great back-and-forth among the panelists, with Hiro Maeda setting himself apart as he emphasized the need for speed and cohesion in very young startups and argued that internationality might hinder momentum at such a sensitive stage.

Asked how to overcome the difficulty for a foreigner to raise money in Japan, Matthew Romaine explained that trust can be a bigger issue than the language barrier. A Japanese investor, he said, would need proof of an absolute commitment to the venture, in order to make sure the receiver of their money doesn’t pack their things and leave the country at the first sign of difficulty and trouble. A Japanese entrepreneur, on the other hand, would not have such an easy escape route.

Hiroshi Asaeda

Hiroshi Asaeda

Finally, when asked by someone in the crowd what he would do to spark more innovation in Japan, Hiroshi Asaeda answered that he would immediately create a fund that would invest in any startup created by a high school student. “We would get a lot of crazy ideas, but some of them are bound to be great!”

After an hour of recording, the crowd of entrepreneurs and startup-aficionados had the opportunity to meet the panelists and exchange ideas, however crazy or great.

Make sure to listen to the podcast when it is released, by taking a look at Tim Romero’s website.

Photos: DigitalHub JP, and can be found  here.

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