Working as an IT Sales Manager with an annual income of over ¥70 million was just another step on the way to entrepreneurship. – Always working backwards from goals, to move forward.
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Changing direction from a life of baseball at age 18, to enter a university in USA on his own.
Mr. Kakamu, you went independent and became an entrepreneur at age 30. How long had you dreamt of starting your own company?
Both my father and my grandfather ran companies, so of course I knew in my heart from the time I was a kid that I would run a company when I grew up. However, I literally gave everything I had to baseball until high school. I played first baseman on the 3rd batting order in my junior high school team, and we won the championship for Gifu Prefecture. I was also the team captain and student council president. I knew I couldn’t just cut short my passion for baseball, so when it came time to choose a senior high school, I ignored academic prep schools and instead enrolled as a baseball scholarship student at a private boarding school that would give me a real shot at baseball. My goal was to make it to the Japanese High School Baseball Championship at Koshien Stadium, but I couldn’t make that dream come true, and felt very frustrated. I saw this as a milestone in my life, and switched over to the goal of becoming a businessman.
So you transferred to the University of Washington School of Business, didn’t you?
That was right at the time when excellent IT companies like Microsoft and Dell were making a name for themselves, so I thought that if I became an entrepreneur I should go into IT. That’s why I enrolled at the University of Washington, where I could study finance and computers. From the time I reached the States, I was totally focused on my studies. I always had a textbook in my hand, even during meals, and I studied constantly, grabbing a bit of sleep from time to time. I even tried to earn a little money to fund my future company by purchasing vintage clothes made in the United States and exporting them to Japan as a side business while still in school. More than a few vintage Nikes and Levi’s that I exported ended up on the shelves of stores in the backstreets of Harajuku. When I look back on this, it’s really impressive that any buyers were willing to pay a poor student like me in advance.
After graduating in 1997, I came back to Japan and joined UBS Securities as an engineer. You might be thinking, “Why did you become an engineer?” It’s because I thought that getting experience as an engineer, as well as practical experience in advanced mathematical analysis at a securities company, would be beneficial to starting an IT company in the future.
Wishing to get what is needed for entrepreneurship, even if annual income cut down to less than a half.
So after working as a trader at foreign financial institutions, you gave it all up for the glamorous life of an entrepreneur, is that right?
Not exactly (laughs). My annual income as a trader was ¥14 million. Yet when I finally decided to become an entrepreneur at age 26, I had only saved ¥3 million. What’s more, when I showed my business plans to my friends, they told me frankly, “This will never work.” They thought I didn’t have what it takes.
You must have earned a lot and learned so much after putting yourself in such a harsh environment.
Of course the world of foreign financial institutions is extremely harsh, so you could say I improved pretty quickly, especially because you must thoroughly test how far you can think your way forward in order to monetize ideas. It’s a process of trial and error, and anyone who can’t do this, anyone who makes mistakes that hurt the company, will be told not to bother turning up for work the next day. In that environment, I got to the office at 6 AM every day and gave my everything.
I kept up that work style even after joining webMethods, and it wasn’t that different from my time as a trader in terms of working my fingers to the bone. As a regional manager, I sold software worth tens to hundreds of thousands of yen, and worked my way to the top of sales in the company, including overseas and interoffice. Thanks to that, my income surged, and by the time I was 30 my annual income was ¥75 million.
So you really worked increadibly hard. And did you earn the capital you needed?
Yes, I did. I also got myself a business plan, expertise, and personal connections. The biggest factor was the palpable feeling that my chance had finally arrived. My aspiration to become an entrepreneur had really solidified inside me. So I invested all the capital I earned through hard works and decided to start a business.
A road map working backwards from life goals paved the way for the future
Listening to your stories, it seems that your purposes and actions are clear, as in “Do A to get B.”
When you became an entrepreneur at age 30, what kind of road map did you have for your future?
Your corporate philosophy is rather unique; “Be a Maverick Innovator”. What does that mean?
Could you give a message to young readers of this article who are in their 20s?
I recommend that you draw up a vision of yourself when you are 30, 35, 40, and 50 years old, then work your way back from that.
If you can’t see what age you’ll be at a certain point, the idea you have may not be what you really want to do. In that case, try considering what is the next best thing you’d like to do. Of course, don’t leave your road map as it was when you first wrote it. It’s important to go back and revise it a week later, a month later, six months later.