We interviewed the director of Entertainment-Kick Co., Ltd, Masashi Takahashi, who established FindJPN, which is an activity booking service website where foreign tourists in Japan can book a variety of unique tours at reasonable prices. If you have friends who plan to come to Japan, please let them know about FindJPN.
EC: Please tell us a little about yourself.
I’m Masashi Takahashi. I established FindJPN in August 2011. I like to learn and experience other countries’ cultures and I have traveled to 30 countries mainly in South America and Asia. I was happy to let foreign tourists stay at my house by using the Airbnb service to match foreign tourists in Japan with people who are willing to host them in their homes. I decided to establish FindJPN while I was hosting foreign tourists in my house.
EC: What did you learn from Keio University and A.T. Kearney?
When I was in Keio University, I was interested in humanity and culture, so I majored in cultural anthropology. I wanted to make a more valuable contribution to society; however I didn’t know how at that time. So I became a business consultant at A.T. Kearney. I learned logical thinking about corporate success strategies, improving business practices and strategic analysis. I analyzed data and formulated hypotheses, created ideas and then put them into action.
And from Coach United?
After leaving A.T. Kearney, I worked at Coach United. Coach United was established by my university classmate and I was hired as the third employee. Coach United was still a new company at that time, so I had a chance to experience creating a company structure, sales, marketing, setting up a website and so on. I learned a lot about business. It’s enjoyable to create a business from zero. I was with Coach United for three years.
However, I really wanted to start my own business, especially before I turned 30. I was influenced by Shinnosuke Honjo who helped Hiroshi Mikitani establish Rakuten and who was also my professor in the university. Honjo quit Rakuten and moved into the education area when he was 29 years old and Mikitani established Rakuten when he was 29 years old, so it was my dream also to start my own business at 29.
EC: Please tell us what FindJPN does.
FindJPN is an online service that provides trial classes in karate, calligraphy, tours to the Tsukiji fish market and many other great experiences in Japan which you cannot find in guidebooks or at tour companies. It not only provides information about Japan but also you can make a reservation and also pay for it on FindJPN.
EC: Were there any difficulties creating your business?
Creating the website was very challenging. I was the only one working full-time at first. I had to rely on part-timers to create the website. Also, during that time, the major earthquake and tsunami happened, so the service was almost stopped. But we kept it going. My current partner Hayashi said that it would be a waste to give up the service and he joined me full time.
EC: Would you tell us your thoughts about your business?
I always think that it’s a waste of time to eat a meal alone. I think that there are people who are interested in me but don’t have the confidence to talk to me. One reason why I established this service is that if there is an opportunity for travelers to meet locals in a natural setting, it is a more efficient use of travel time.
There must be many people who remember talking with strange people in bars more than looking at historical buildings on a trip. Of course, “looking at cultural buildings” is valuable, but travel is a much more valuable experience when you connect with the locals. FindJPN is a simple service offering “experience courses.” However, I would also like to have travelers connect with people through me.
EC: Is there any popular course for foreign tourists?
Traditional Japanese culture courses such as “Karate” and “Calligraphy” have been popular for a long time. After the disaster, requests to join volunteers in the disaster region increased.
Many foreign tourists who love Japan want to experience “Otaku” culture, so we introduce them to live events, cat cafes, ear cleaning massage places in Akihabara and so on.
EC: Do you have any particular memories of your own experience meeting foreign tourists?
When I used the Airbnb service, I was worried about letting strange foreign tourists stay at my place and give them a key at first. My first guest was a 19-year-old tourist from Switzerland.
He had also let tourists stay at his place, so I asked if he had been worried at first. He insisted that the service is made for trust and openness, and that it is an amazing experience meeting new people based on mutual trust. I was impressed by what he said. If I had not have tried Airbnb, I would not have established FindJPN.
EC: What are the good points about your business life?
It’s very exciting to create a service, thinking that it might make the world a better place. I would like to give people valuable new insights FindJPN, just as Airbnb gave me new ideas. I would like to provide many people with the chance to experience different cultures and it is fun to work hard to do that everyday.
Even when I was a university student, I was considering how I could make the world a better place. I learned that it’s important to change people’s perceptions. If you change someone’s perception, their behavior changes too. And if their behavior changes, their custom changes, and if their custom changes, society changes too. That’s what I think. But I want to create systems in which people can change for the better naturally and in a fun way.
EC: Do you have any competition? What’s your goal?
Airbnb is an awesome service, so I would like to work with them in the future. As I said before, I was influenced by the Swiss tourist who stayed at my place and established the service Windu. I was only thinking of establishing an inbound service in Japan at that time. However, as we spoke, I could imagine developing the service globally.
I also respect Nobuhiro Ariyasu who is the CEO of Coach United.
When I worked as a consultant, the process was important, but the result was more important. You have to get good results. I focused a lot on how to help companies achieve good results and what I learned is very useful now too. I learned from Ariyasu how to be offer efficient support and how to increase motivation. I still get advice from him.
EC: What is FindJPN’s strong point?
No one can love the FindJPN service more than I do. That is the strongest point of our service. When I compare businesses that focus on doing work they love, and businesses that focus on earning as much money as they can, the former wins.
There are similar companies like us in China and Silicon Valley, and it’s like the story “Records of Three Kingdoms” for me.
EC: What advice would you give to anyone starting a business?
Starting a business is not as risky as you might think. Of course, it’s a worry if you fail. However, you can learn much more than if you were just a salaryman. If you rise to the challenge after a failure, you’ll be much more experienced.
If you have something you really want to do, it’s a good idea to start off on a trial basis. Try earning money using website that you created or cook for your friends and see their reaction, if you are interested in the food industry. No matter how small it is, treat it as a business. In my case, letting foreign tourists stay at my place resulted in my establishing a company.
How about for people looking for a job?
Entertainment-Kick Co., Ltd. is looking for superior candidates who share the same vision and passion for FindJPN as I do. So if you interested, please contact us.