By James Santagata
Principal Consultant, SiliconEdge
I came across this interesting Silicon Valley Business Journal article entitled "Why do startups fail? Here are the top 20 reasons" which summarizes a large post-mortem analysis of startup failures conducted by CB Insights
One quick takeaway to highlight:
"After reading through every single of the 101 post-mortems, we’ve learned two things. One — there is rarely one reason for a single startup's failure. And two — across all these failures, the reasons are very diverse."
Here's the top twenty reasons:
(Note: percentages don't add up to 100 because sometimes there are multiple reasons for failure)
1. Building a solution in search of a problem: Falling in love with an idea or building it out with market validation. 42 percent cited this.
2. Cash Out. No Mas: We'll assume this wasn't due to financial mismanagement or malfeasance but a natural outcome of a sane burn rate over an extended period with trailing revenues of a lean nature. 29 percent reported this.
3. Wrong team: Lacking key members or skill sets This was cited by 23 percent of the companies.
4. Beaten by the competition: About 19 percent of the companies reported this.
5. Pricing/cost issues: Reported by 18 percent in the study.
6. Poor product: This was reported by 17 percent of the companies.
7. Need/lack business model: A lack of a viable model killed 17 percent of these companies.
8. Poor marketing: Knowing how to code or build good products isn't enough. Reported by 14 percent of the companies.
9. Ignoring customers: 14 percent of the companies in the studied pointed to this.
10. Mis-timed product (releases): 13 percent of the companies in the survey reported this. A Calxeda employee told CB Insights, “We moved faster than our customers could move. We moved with tech that wasn't really ready for them... We were too early.”
11. Lost focus: 13 percent reported this.
12. Founder/investor strife: Creative tension is far different than toxic infighting. 13 percent of the companies succumbed to this.
13. Pivot gone bad: As has been said, "The pivot used to be called the f****up". 10 percent pointed to this.
14: Lack passion: The passion to stick it out, to execute. 9 percent identified this as the reason.
15: Bad location: For hiring/retaining talent, customers, investors and so on. This was cited by 9 percent.
16. No financing/investor interest: This was pointed to by 8 percent.
17. Legal challenges: Cited by 8 percent of the companies.
18. Don't use network/advisers: Again cited by 8 percent of the companies.
19. Burnout: Never a good thing, many reasons why a team can burn out. 8 percent pointed to this as the culprit.
20: Failure to pivot: As has been said earlier, "The pivot used to be called the F****up" and while that may be true it doesn't change the fact that continuing down the same messed up path is going to get your any place faster (other than bankruptcy court) and certainly no where better. 7 percent cited this.
By James Santagata
Principal Consultant, SiliconEdge
Yesterday I came across what I felt to be a provocatively brilliant quote by Elon Musk which I subsequently posted into my LinkedIn Update and Facebook Status feeds.
"The reason I haven't taken SpaceX public is the goals of SpaceX are very long-term, which is to establish a city on Mars."
-- Elon Musk
The next day, I awoke to find this little gem of a comment from my friend Chikako Uchinami of synopsis.TODAY below it:
"Elon is instructive of the principle of Divine Right.
He's not always right, but when he is he is the most interesting man in the world.
You can't inherit Divine Right- you take it."
-- Chikako Uchinami
Besides being incredibly insightful, Chikako brilliantly articulated the concept and application Divine Right
And that's what it is.
It 's not given. It can only be taken. The right can only be asserted.
Think about the power of those statements.
Now think about the power and effectiveness of any leader (including you) who not only understands but lays claim to and assertively wields Divine Right.
Will The SEC Ever Stop Breaking The Legs of Entrepreneurs & Start Protecting The Little Retail Investor?
By James Santagata
Principal Consultant, SiliconEdge
"October: This is one of the peculiarly dangerous months to speculate in stocks in. The other are July, January, September, April, November, May, March, June, December, August, and February."
- Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar
There is no doubt that the stock market can be a very unforgiving institution but does the SEC's tactics if not self-described mandate of breaking the legs of Entrepreneurs and rolling over little Retail Investors make it any safer?
This is highly doubtful as the SEC has arguably become a poster child for the economic concept of regulatory capture, having moved from their initial role of investment information disclosure in the 1960's to their current role of supposedly "protecting investors" since the 1990's. There is also the issue that the existence of the SEC and what I term to be their "SEC-anointed" stocks injects moral hazard into the system.
But who, prey tell (spelled as intended), is the SEC protecting?
Surely it isn't the little retail investor who has had to contend with the like of SEC-anointed fraud stocks and scammers like Enron, Global Crossing, the Steve Jobs Options Backdating Scandal and, of course, the Big Daddy himself, Bernie Madoff.
What's most amazing about Bernie Madoff's fraud is not just that he got away with it, but that the SEC had no intention of stopping him!
That may sound like an outlandish or unsubstantiated allegation until one considers the documented facts. Starting in 2000 then again in 2001, and 2005, a forensics accountant by the name of Harry M. Markopolos repeatedly notified the SEC of Bernie Madoff's fraud both verbally and in writing. Markopolos provided detailed supporting documents only to be ignored by the SEC again and again.
Here is Markopolos' complaint to the SEC regarding Madoff where he identifies 29 Red Flags:
Now it appears that the SEC is continuing their assault on both individual investors who want better returns than are available through the retail market or whom just want to invest their own money as they see fit (if they can blow their money in Vegas or on penny stocks, smokes or state sponsored lotteries why not stocks?) as well as entrepreneurs looking to raise funds for their companies.
The SEC is doing this by considering to raise the financial requirements for being designated an accredited investor. Currently, an individual accredited investor is defined as follows:
Apparently, too many Americans have now become cashed up and have too easily overcome this financial hurdle. In the last go round, the SEC changed the rules so that an individual's home was excluded but apparently that wasn't enough to keep out the amount of new individuals looking to invest wholesale (as opposed to retail).
To remedy this our "protectors", the SEC, now want to index the SEC's individual accredited investor's financial requirements to inflation.
Here is a comparison of the current requirements and what the future requirements would mean:
An individual accredited investor is now defined as someone with $1 million in net worth, minus the value of their primary residence, or with annual income of $200,000 in each of the two most recent years and with a reasonable expectation to bring in the same income level in the current year..
The inflation indexed requirements would be about $2.5 million of individual net worth while the annual income requirement would rise to $450,000.
The SEC is offering some protection no doubt, but for whom? It seems this protection is more likely to benefit fraudsters and incumbent wholesale investors than entrepreneurs looking to raise money and the little retail investor.
By James Santagata
Principal Consultant, SiliconEdge
After Facebook's massive $19 billion USD acquisition of WhatsApp, two question have arisen.
The first is my question. How exactly did the Tech Cheerleader Press miss out on WhatsApp? That is, after countless posts over the years pimping Quora as "it", Twitter and others, where was the love for WhatsApp? This is actually a rhetorical question so no reason to answer it.
The second question is now coming from the Tech and even Business Cheerleader Press.
"Where's The Next WhatsApp", they ask.
Take a couple seconds now and do a quick search on that phrase and you'll be greeted by almost a dozen recent articles that are predicting or searching for the next WhatsApp.
You'll also find that these articles specifically target audiences ranging from the tech community to business folk, ad agencies and the general public.
That is to be expected, of course, when such large amounts of money such as $19 billion USD are thrown around. I can live with that. In fact, I expect that from the Cheerleader Press. It's just par for the course.
But here's the part that no one or at least very few will tell you.
The next WhatsApp is already out there and it's running fine. It may even be LINE for all I know.
But it doesn't matter, because whatever it is, the Cheerleader Press probably won't find them until they make it and even if they did, they wouldn't understand them due factors such as trait ascription bias.
Further, just like WhatsApp, the future WhatsApp may be running their operation out of a moldy warehouse and they probably aren't or won't be at Launch or Disrupt or any other events.
First because many of these startups have very little capital reserves and they are more concerned about eating and keeping the lights on. It's prioritizing capital outlays vs expected returns.
Second, even if they have the funds, they are most likely focused on building and refining their product while engaged in customer acquisition, retention and growth, perhaps employing Lifetime Value analysis or a traditional RFM model. Going to conferences takes not only time but energy. It's draining. And what again, is the ROI?
That's just the way it is.
And that's why people are or were like, "Hey, who the hell are the WhatsApp guys?"
Where did you guys come from? How did you build this thing? Why haven't we heard about you?
And now, suddenly they are treated like rock stars, as they should be.
And yet the Cheerleader Press will never get it,because they are victims of drinking the Kool-aid cocktail of social proof, the halo effect and various cognitive biases while subscribing to the standard Myths and Memes.
By James Santagata
Principal Consultant, SiliconEdge
That Japan like any country, be it developing or developed, has her share of problems is not in the least bit surprising or at least it shouldn't be.
However, what has surprised me over the years is how many foreign "Japan watchers" and "Japan pundits" always seem to miss the crux of what's really going on on the ground in Japan and more importantly what's going on in the mind of the Japanese.
When articles are written or comments made about the supposed dearth of Japanese startups, the author or speaker almost always boils this down to several factors such as Japan's Shima-guni mentality (Island Nation / 島国), the so-called Galapagos Effect (which as I've continually pointed out is really just a misnomer for an industry or marketplace rife with ossified, rent-seeking incumbents and regulatory capture), Japan's supposed lack of talent, Japan's supposed lack of diversity and Japan supposed lack of creativity.
In the past, I've written about and either fully debunked these myths and memes or I've put them into a context in which they are far better understood.
With that said, there is another popular myth and meme that comes up regarding the lack of Japanese startups and that is the idea that the Japanese have an almost in-born fear of failure.
I'm not here to argue that Japanese don't have a fear of failure because they do. We all do. Just as most other peoples around the world do, including those in the US and even including those working in Silicon Valley.
People fear failure.
But to hear the pundits tell it, "Japanese need to get over failure and embrace it". These pundits act like the fear of failure in Japan is simple a psychological construct* like it is in parts of the West like in the US.
(*For the record, even in the US failure is more than just a psychological construct, there are still real financial, social and psychological penalties, set backs and damage that can and do come with it. But this is so much less than what is faced in Japan)
Now I am here to tell you, that in Japan this "fear of failure" is not simply psychological but real. Depending on the failure level there are material penalties that can accrue or hit one hard and if you are to strike out on your own or with a small group of friends, launch a company and it fails it is not like Silicon Valley where you can walk down the street and pickup a paycheck at a top firm while your lick your wounds, get on your feet and start again or even just resume your pre-startup career.
In Japan, the damage and risks include and span the following:
There are huge differences in how societies views failures and how you move on in terms of romantic prospects and relationships, platonic relationships and friendships, how your family views you, the support groups you have and, most importantly, the career risks which translate, in the end, to money - to financial issues.
Although much has changed in Japan over the last 8 years, especially in the last 4 years or so, it is still no where near the levels of what we see in the West regarding some issues such as Mid-career hires.
Now let's step back in time, to say 1995. In the US, for instance, much of the economy was still coming out a bad recession from a couple years earlier where housing prices were pummeled - in fact, I remember many saying they wouldn't buy a home again.
As one specific example, I'll pick Silicon Valley as just one example, even in that economy, a person could have a massive failure and if they learned something and could present themselves well, they could easily land a similar or even better job by leveraging it. Even if they were fired.
Conversely, even if they didn't learn anything, they still could land a similar job. Even if they were fired.
People hired with a very open mind based on what the candidate could produce.
In Japan, the idea of mid-career hires, although changing now, was really non-existent unless you had super skills, super connections or worked at a foreign firm (gaishikei), like Microsoft, Oracle, etc. who needed talent and hired among themselves.
I can tell you, as just one example, when I met with Fuji-Xerox HR group back in mid-2008 to discuss their domestic hiring needs, although they were very polite and professional, it was made extremely clear they wanted new grads only and that they weren't set up to recruit mid-career hires.
Did that mean that mid-career hires didn't happen at Fuji-Xerox?
Of course not.
But it did mean and it does mean that mid-career hires (a) were rare and (b) a special case.
Which again leads to this risk factor of damage to one's career and so on.
Coupled with this was a employee/candidate ethos that often considered working for a direct competitor "dishonorable" while on the company side, such a candidate applying for a position from a direct competitor would be seen as "suspect" or "suspicious".
Again, I want to emphasize this has been changing for the better over the last 8 years and specifically the last 4 years or so but this hiring mentality exists and so does the economic and career damage fear among workers.
I can also share with you some examples where I took top talent from various gaishikei firms (in this case, in the network & information security industry) and introduced the persons to other top companies, both domestic and gaishikei.
Often what I heard was, "They are a job hopper".
My thought: "Are you insane" or "What an idiot, can you not see how talented this person is to fill the position you've had open for the last 4 months...."
My reply, "Uh, no. They aren't a job hopper. And regarding their changes, the last company they worked for went bankrupt and the other two companies before that, that the candidate worked for got acquired by huge multinationals. They left because they preferred a smaller work environment."
"Well, that shows bad choices on their part."
A bad choice? To know the firm would go bankrupt? To work at a startup or a company working in emerging markets or developing nascent technologies?
This actual conversation took place in 2008. And I've had numerous conversations like this, from the mid 1990's, skipping through the dot com boom of 1999 to 2001 (in the US, the dot com bomb died out with the 2000 Nasdaq crash but Japan trailed about a year) to around early 2009. Then it thawed a bit.
I should note that in the dot com bomb, Japanese firms were so scared by the hype and activity happening online that they did hire mid-hires and they did bring in foreigners, even non-Japanese speaking. Fear of the firm failure, spurned positive changes. In other words, competition is good.
I should also add that this was within the fast moving, dynamic tech industry. I've also done work in very static sectors like industrial chemicals, and as late as 2008, it was not uncommon to have a HR manager or even the hiring authority (even the country manager) characterize a person who had stayed at each job less than 5 to 10 years was seen as a job hopper and also undesirable.
Wrapping this up, it's not so much that Japanese have a greater fear of failure than, say, Americans, it is simply that the economic cost of a failure in Japan is much higher - financially, socially, psychologically.
Once you understand, all the pieces begin to fall into place.
Innovation Denied With Billions Lost: What Brian Acton & WhatsApp Teach Us About Innovation, Leadership & Hiring Practices
By James Santagata
Principal Consultant, SiliconEdge
Well, if you haven't heard the news yet the Valley M&A buying spree continues unabated, this time with Facebook snapping up mobile messaging company WhatsApp for a hefty $16 to $19 Billion USD (depending on which news source you reference).
There are many lessons and takeaways from this acquisition but allow me to focus on just a few.
1. Ignore The Cheerleader Tech Press:
WhosWhat? WhatsWho? WhatsApp! Personally, I wasn't aware of WhatsApp before this acquisition as I don't use the app and I'm mostly a user of Viber and Skype so I can be forgiven. However, within the Silicon Valley Cheerleader Press, especially Tech "Apple-Twitter-Quora" Crunch and even Pando Monthly and VentureBeat, I'm sorry but even as frequent if not habitual reader, I just didn't see the coverage. How could this be, how could they miss it, a huge multibillion dollar company?
The answer is simple: Why would you expect the Cheerleader Tech Press to get it?
2. Companies Can't Pick Top Talent:
It turns out that before co-founding WhatsApp, Brian Acton formerly worked at Yahoo in a quite senior / important position. After over a decade at Yahoo, he left to take some time off and then applied for a new position landing interviews with at least a few major valley tech companies such as Facebook and Twitter. However, he was rejected at both. Perhaps these rejections were due to Action being incompetent. Or perhaps Action interviewed poorly and no communication skills? Or is it perhaps more likely that these companies or at least the hiring authorities at these companies either (a) don't know how to select top-shelf talent and/or (b) allow office politics and threats to an incumbent employee's ego or career path to dictate who gets hired and who doesn't? Examples are where a senior person with top skills scares a younger or less experienced manager from making the hire -- doubt that? It happens all the time. All the time. And it costs companies millions if not billions per year.
Oh and it makes you wonder, if Facebook had hired Acton, would they have gotten him to build WhatsApp for a lot less than the $19 Billion USD they paid for it? Or would WhatsApp never be built and fall into the "Innovation Lost" point below?
3. Leaderless Rather Than Leadership and Innovation Lost:
Perhaps the biggest lesson is why Yahoo, which had him onboard for over 10 years didn't extract this value, this innovation It's possible that Yahoo was simply so completely leaderless and rudderless that they didn't even know what to have him do. Or perhaps he tried to be innovative and got his hands slapped. Whatever the reason, it's clear that Acton had some innovative ideas inside of him and more importantly he had the confidence and motivate to start and execute. But it's clearly not just a shame but a multi-billion dollar tragedy that Yahoo had him on the payroll all those years, had him suited up and yet would let him get in the game and swing for the fences.
If you can create a company with the proper culture that has strong leadership, embraces innovation, empowers employees and hires top talent or solid talent, especially talent that either scares other firms (because it's too good) or is good inside but is a bit dinged on the outside, you're firm will do very, very well.
By James Santagata
Principal Consultant, SiliconEdge
Depending on who you listen to, it's either the fastest growing "new" field of marketing or one of the most over inflated of buzz words.
My take as a "classically-trained marketer" is this:
It ain't nothing new.
It's just a form or better yet an updated framework for direct response advertising. That being said, I do think that term can be / could be useful as a short hand term for:
"A super-focused, super-aggressive form of Direct Response Advertising where your ass, your paycheck and your company's survival is on the line everyday, and whereby the marketing campaigns that you develop and run must be done so on a compressed time scale with a limited to non-existent budget."
Other than that, Growth Hacking can be said to be the same "stuff", different pile.
By James Santagata
Principal Consultant, SiliconEdge
Select, develop, deploy & manage your people right & you can have the advantages of a high-tech economic center right at home.
Simply hearing the words Silicon Valley can evoke an image of cutting-edge innovation advanced by an army of daring, if not slightly mad, entrepreneurs who feverishly seek to develop the world’s next technological marvels.
But what exactly makes Silicon Valley so successful and, more importantly, can it be replicated? China has Zhong Guan Cun, India has Bangalore. Where is Japan's “Silicon Valley”? Japan, the third largest economy in the world, still lacks any type of large, formal tech epicenter like the one in California.
Does this even matter for business success in the 21st century? Many people, including Silicon Valley industry insiders, will immediately and perhaps misguidedly say yes.
A more reasoned and introspective analysis, however, demonstrates that this type of success is not about location but more importantly about talent. And even more specifically: it is not just about talent, but about how that talent is selected, developed, deployed and managed.
To create a Silicon Valley atmosphere, a company needs employees who possess these three skills:
1. Business acumen to identify huge opportunities;
2. Leadership to seize those opportunities; and
3. The ability to select, develop, deploy and manage talent to quickly exploit these opportunities.
Once we understand this, what then are the core skills that we should be focusing on when developing talent that can rise to and perform at the level of Silicon Valley’s?
If we look closely, it’s clear that this boils down to five core skills, all of which can be readily developed in our existing employees:
The ability to take risks, to develop a vision and to lead others to the successful path. This is not just for senior leaders, but for all key players so that they can learn how to lead across all levels: from senior management to their peers or to those below
them. And it includes the ability to reframe what are commonly perceived as failures as mistakes and missteps with important lessons to learn. Steve Jobs had success in a variety of diverse areas and products, from the iMac, iPod, iPhone, iTunes and Pixar. This wasn’t
accidental nor was it surprising, as each of these areas was ripe for a true leader to identify and then pluck the low hanging, yet
massive fruit. His move into iTunes alone was pure leadership as he had to overcome the lawsuit Apple had lost to the Beatles record
label prohibiting engagement in music-related businesses. His success with iPod was further made possible by Sony’s reluctance
to move its Walkman franchise forward into developing solid state devices including technologies such as microprocessor chip,
crystalline semiconductors and RAM.
The ability to clearly communicate through a variety of media ranging from one-on-one and group meetings to formal reports and presentations to business emails and video conferences. Very often, the best ideas as well as the pulse of the market comes from those closest to the customer – support engineers, sales and customer service. And yet, most often this information does not get captured and clearly communicated back to product managers and the executive staff (see also Ogushi Matrix Communication
3. Influence & Persuasion:
The ability to get others to want to support a project or, if they won’t actively support it, to at least make sure that they don’t actively
resist it. Previously we mentioned the need to capture and clearly communicate opportunities and obstacles a company may face
or is facing. Yet, there are plenty of instances where even a clearly communicated issue or opportunity falls on deaf ears, such as
Kodak’s need to move from film-based to digital cameras. There are many reasons for resisting opportunities or ignoring
warnings about obstacles, including that this information or proposed shift in business may benefit the company but specifically
expose or harm one person’s or department’s operations, ego, status or bonuses. For this reason, clear communication is
only a starting point. Beyond this, influence and persuasion must be utilized as well.
The ability to negotiate not only externally but, often more importantly, internally. This is critical during situations such as when a green light is needed for a feasibility study, to request funds and resources for product development or to get approval and buy in for the launch of a product that will potentially cannibalize an existing cash cow product. Influence and persuasion can only take us so far, and at some point it can be expected that we will need to negotiate. This requires the ability to craft a win-win solution as well as to ensure
that the other party sees it that way. It is not only possible but extremely common for a win-win to be misperceived and subsequently blocked, simply because the other person has become psychologically opposed resulting in a classic “cut your nose off
to spite your face” scenario. In these scenarios everyone loses including employees, managers, shareholders and customers.
The ability and confidence to speak up and share opinions or ideas or to challenge another’s opinions or ideas in a professionally affirmative manner. Assertiveness (often confused with aggressiveness) is a critical skill that is especially important for those who may have key insights and knowledge, such as engineers or service people, but not the personality or interest in speaking out nor the title or
standing within the company. Instilling this skill in a firm’s employees can unleash great productivity and opportunity while also
identifying problems or obstacles before they become dangerous or expensive.
By developing these 5 core skills sets and Valley Values in your existing talent you will ensure that your employees’ inherent
creativity and innovative nature do not go to waste and that the people with these ideas have the tools and skills needed to
bring this forth to their peers and superiors and ultimately to the market place.
By James Santagata
Principal Consultant, SiliconEdge
Ask the average person to think of Japan and then to share with you the first thing that pops into their mind. I can guarantee you that they'll almost certainly read back from one or more of these several powerful and well-established myths and memes:
1. High-Tech Japan:
A High-tech and Cyberpunk culture and society comprised of very polite albeit non-thinking and undifferentiated robots and drones all clothed similarly in their business or school uniforms and all marching off to the office or to school. Visitors find themselves amazed by the high-tech, 20-function paperless Toto toilets, the jaw-dropping variety of merchandise dispensed by ubiquitous vending machines, the automated, elevator-driven parking structures, auto-opening doors, sensor-controlled escalators and so on.
2. Old Japan:
The nostalgic view of Japan found in Tom Cruise's "The Last Samurai" and other movies before which focuses on the picturesque Japan. The culture and the style. The polite, disciplined demeanor of the people. The attention to detail and quality. The lacquer ware artisan, the sword craftsman. Mount Fuji (富士山), Kyoto, Nara and Kamakura. Geisha. Sumo. Onsens. Samurai. Ninja. Swords. Shamisen. Kimono.
3. Modern Japan / Culture Japan:
The exporting of top talent in baseball as well as having its players picked up by European soccer clubs. The deep stable of world-class swimmers, gymnasts, wrestlers and figure skaters. Beyond this, the delicious, healthy cuisine of Japan: sushi, sashima and various other staple dishes of Japan. Karaoke, manga, anime, video games. Modern Japan is about talent and culture.
4. WWII Japan:
Banzai human waves attacks, Kamikaze pilots, rapacious invasions of civilian cities along with soldiers and civilians who would rather toss themselves off the cliffs at Saipan than surrender.
5. Basket-case Japan:
20 years of economic malaise, a deflating economy, aging population, declining birthrate, a broken self-image and the inability to create or innovate as China continues to eclipse Japan in terms of GDP all while the world waits for Japan to sink into economic obscurity and irrelevance.
I've discussed and hopefully skewered a few of these myths and memes in detail, in particular:
1. Japan May Be Able To Compete Globally But Not Yet
2. Can Japan Compete? You Betcha And Here's Why
3. Japan's Problem: Severe Lack Of Leadership Not A Lack Of Innovation Or Creativity
We've also discussed these topics in detail (articles and podcasts) over at FirstPoint Japan. The FirstPoint Japan Expert Interview Series may be of interest to you.
The New York Times' Martin Fackler (see below) wrote a nice piece on some of the startup activity happening in Japan, however, I think it still misses some of the key points of where Japan has been, where it is, and what it needs.
In a nutshell, over the last 30 years the Japanese economy has been held captive by the power wielded by ossified electronic giants such as Panasonic and others, as well as the very real monetary, career and social risk that entrepreneurs face in Japan which is only compounded by the huge amount of regulatory capture found in Japan.
Surely Japan has had world class entrepreneurs before, such as Akio Morita who founded Sony, Soichiro Honda who founded Honda,Konosuke Matsushita who founded Panasonic (formerly known as Matsushita) and Kiichiro Toyoda who took his families Toyoda Loom Works and transformed them into an automotive powerhouse called Toyota.
The point remains, though, that if Morita were still alive today, he wouldn't recognize Sony as it stands today, and worse, the suits currently running Sony would never, ever hire a maverick entrepreneur and genius like Morita.
Akio Morita was Japan's Steve Jobs, except that he was Steve Jobs, before Steve Jobs even got out of his diapers.
How aggressive and prolific was Akio Morita?
Well, in terms of fights. he didn't not shy away, not only co-penning the somewhat acerbic book "The Japan That Can Say No: Why Japan Will Be First Among Equals" (and see Amazon) but also refusing to bow to arm-twisting by the US content industry that wanted to ban his Betamax recorder.
Morita fought this case all the way to the US Supreme Court (Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc) and won!, making this not only a victory for Morita and Sony but for all other electronic manufacturers after them and especially making this a victory for us lowly consumers.
If you look closely at Japan, you'll find that it is usually during absolute or relative social or economic chaos that such dynamic entrepreneurs have risen. Mind you, this is not because "necessity is the mother of all invention" but because the chaos at had had broken or cracked the social conformity or regulatory capture just enough for a few green shoots to sneak through.
These green shoots, these entrepreneurs and creators and makers, the were always there. They always had the ability to perform. But they were choked out. By a combination of social conformity and most importantly rent-seeking incumbents.
In recent years, perhaps over the last three or four years, Japanese entrepreneurs and startups as well as entrepreneurs and startups in general are getting media attention (thanks in part to the visibility of Steve Jobs / Apple / iPhone and Mark Zuckerberg / Facebook among others). And with that, it has slowly become "okay" to be an entrepreneur again while at the same time the immediate financial and social risks are greatly reduced and even longer term social and career risks are lower.
In other words, currently, huge momentum is building in Japan, it's under surface and it's not just Japanese entrepreneurs but foreigners as well, many of whom have relocated in Japan from tech hot spots in the US including Silicon Valley, New York and everywhere in between.
These startups are critical to put further pressure on the ossified Japanese corporations to either compete and streamline their business OR die a quick, brutal death and then be composted, releasing and recycling their talent and know-how back into the pool of Japanese labor, intellectual property and financial pool.
It's exactly that intra-industry competitiveness and dynamism that is a hallmark of Silicon Valley's constant success in the world technology markets (and post-tech as well) and conversely it was exactly that lack of intra-industry competitiveness and dynamism that was the death knell for Detroit's once vaunted auto industry.
Japanese Start-Ups Channel Samurai Spirit
By Martin Fackler
Published: December 25, 2013
TOKYO — The 20-somethings in jeans sipping espresso and tapping on laptops at this Tokyo business incubator would look more at home in Silicon Valley than in Japan, where for years the surest signs of success were the gray suits of its corporate salarymen. But for those hoping the nation’s latest economic plan will drag Japan from its long malaise, the young men and women here at Samurai Startup Island represent a crucial component: a revival of entrepreneurship.
The signs of that comeback are still new, and tentative enough that the statistics on start-ups and initial public offerings have not caught up. But analysts and investors report that hundreds of new Internet and technology-related companies have sprung up in the last two to three years, creating an ecosystem of incubators like Samurai Startup Island and so-called accelerator new venture investment funds, which invest in early-state start-ups in hopes of cashing in.
For years, sagging entrepreneurial spirit has been cited as a major reason for Japan’s inability to save itself from a devastating deflationary spiral. The nation that produced Sony, Toyota and Honda has created few successors.
When he started investing in new companies six years ago, Mr. Sakakibara was lucky if two would-be entrepreneurs approached him in a week to seek financing. Now he gets two such queries a day, he said.
He and others closely watching start-ups attribute the increase in interest to cultural shifts that have slowly chipped away at Japan’s famously insular culture.
Having grown up immersed in an online world that stretches beyond national borders, young Japanese appear more willing to draw inspiration from foreign role models like Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple. And having seen Sony cede market share to South Korea’s Samsung, many no longer share their salarymen fathers’ belief in the permanence of established corporations or lifetime jobs.
“In a world where everything is risky, it’s better to be your own boss, in charge of your own destiny,” said Yoshinori Fukushima, 25, whose year-old Internet company has grown to 14 employees.
Some warn that Japan has a way to go to become a hotbed of break-the-boundaries venture behavior. Noriyuki Takahashi, who specializes in entrepreneurship at Tokyo’s Musashi University, pointed to comparative global surveys that place Japan at the bottom among leading Western and Asian economies in social acceptance of entrepreneurs.
By James Santagata
Principal Consultant, Silicon Edge
I've had in interest in Korea for quite a long time both in cultural and business terms so you can imagine how quickly I was drawn to the article entitled, "Can Korea’s new culture of business creativity rival Silicon Valley?".
It's fascinating to me for several reasons.
First, I read a book on this subject back around 1990 entitled, "Is Korea the Next Japan?: Understanding the Structure, Strategy and Tactics of America's Next Competition" by T.W. Kang.
Now, T.W., Kang while not a famous author by any stretch of the imagination, is extremely insightful in his writing and should be famous as he writes from a unique perspective -- a Korean raised in Japan and educated in the US (BSEE MIT / MBA Harvard). He is trilingual and as an "outsider" to all three cultures slices and dices these cultures and explains them like a boss.
Apparently T.W. Kang is now Managing Director of Global Synergy Associates, a management consulting firm based in Tokyo and prior to this he was on the advisory board of advisors of a number of high tech ventures including GEM Services, Inc., Synaptics, Inc, and SiliconWave, Inc. and was a General Manager for Intel Japan.
Second, around 1995, when I was working at Applied Materials (AMAT), the Japanese were still dominating chip production, primarily memory chips, and yet the Koreans were coming on fast. Not only were they pushing their R&D forward extremely aggressively, but they began mimicking and borrowing Japanese chip production techniques and technologies. For instance, on the semiconductor fabrication tools that Japanese firms would buy from Applied Materials they often had a certain configuration, in both the components they chose such as the Mass Flow Controllers (MFCs) but also in the gas panel designs -- and this "signature" look was across Japanese chip makers. And yet, by 1996, if you took a Japanese process engineer onto the floor of AMAT's manufacturing facility and showed them the gas panel of a Korean chip maker (covering up any signage or badges), the Japanese process engineer would broadly smile and say, "It's for a Japanese chip maker!". If you then told them the truth, it was for a Korean chip maker, they be, "What?! Really?!". How do I know this is true? Because I did it and experienced it with a co-worker on several ocassions.
What was happening even in 1995 and 1996 is that Koreans were going in all the way to own these component markets. And even when the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis hit, they keep right on investing in component development and production tools. They also, along with Japan invested very heavily in telecom infra for their country giving them an early lead in pervasive, persistent high-bandwidth communication network all for a pittance.
Third, after the dot com / dot bomb crash, the Koreans continued building and investing. But unlike the Japanese, how in modern times, shy away from getting into a scrap or lawsuit, the Koreans almost relish it. When someone like Steve Jobs / Apple sues Samsung, they are scrappy and come out fighting. And then they use other leverage they have, like the Samsung components that Apple relies for its iPhone. These Korean firms also took advantage of the labor immobility and horrible talent management policies found in Japan, such as the refusal to hire from direct competitors or to hire a mid-career executive or old engineer. Korea took them all and gave them a home. And these Japanese engineers produced.
Can Korea’s new culture of business creativity rival Silicon Valley?
By Mario Gamper, VentureVillage
Published on December 24, 2013 4:00 PM
“This is the best time ever to start your company in Korea,” said Dreamcamp Manager Ryu Hahn. The coworking space and incubator is funded with more than $450m by 20 Korean banks who have formed the “Banks Foundation for Young Entrepreneurs”. Offering a wide range of support, from pitch clinics to funding, Dreamcamp is just one example of the structures for new business ideas that popped up in the last couple of years.
“Korea is now the biggest startup in the world,” smiles Richard Min, cofounder of the SeoulSpace incubator and brand new Fashion Tech (FT) Accelerator. “60 per cent of all venture capital here is government-backed. In the US it’s one per cent,” said Min.
This creates a unique startup ecosystem: “Korea has always been a top-down economy. The government has now decided to merge it with bottom-up creativity. We’re creating a completely new business culture, one that’s not even seen in Silicon Valley, or anywhere else,” added Min.
In 2012 the 10 biggest conglomerates were responsible for more than 80 per cent of Korea’s GDP, more than ever before. For decades the Chaebol – a form of business conglomerate in South Korea – throttled local entrepreneurship. In its quest to create new jobs, the Korean government is finally taking the side of SMEs. And it’s telling them to take bigger risks in hopes this will lead them to bigger markets.
“Before this year, almost all support was about creating a new startup. But this year they really pushed startups to go abroad,” Daniel Cho, cofounder of Step, a journaling app that used government funds to send a small team to the Plug & Play accelerator in Sunnyvale.
“Korea used to be a Galagapos of business creativity,” said Kim. An ecosystem so specific, that ideas and solutions could be successful here, but wouldn’t make it anywhere else. “This has changed.”
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