It took so long to introduce his book, here is how the seminar went.
The first weird feeling occurred when he said he started the company with little Japanese language ability. Every time somebody(Japanese) gives an advise about the importance of doing business in Japan, they mention language barrier – but wait a second, a lot of entrepreneur who came from the other countries don’t command excellent Japanese. I guess mastering the local language might not be so mandatory as I think – right now I practice Chinese (Mandarin) hard to be prepared for doing something in China – but focusing too much on it might blind other important factors.
Another “Yes, it is true” moment came when he mentioned about “positive discrimination” in Japan – he told he got some advantage being a male Westerner – people tend to be polite and more open to those white businessperson than to peer Japanese, in certain business situations. Almost all the time I go to the customer’s site with my Israeli or Irish or American colleagues, I experience this. The usual strict, secret, and silent customers become flexible, open-minded, and talkative when faced with those “Westerners”. If I say a straightforward inquiry like “(Before we answer your questions on product A) we would like to know your overall plan and what you are going to do with A” will instantly shut their mouth and put me in the black list (sometimes with a harsh comment as “why should we tell you?”) and answering the question with a question is definetely a taboo…. But this is allowed when a “Gaijin” does that. (I sometimes doesn’t translate these too-straight comments into Japanese and let the customers answer directly to my colleages in English to get more information than I alone can do…)
I guess this kind of “discrimination” comes mainly from two reasons. One is the implicit message coming out of commercials and TVs and movies – that we are behind the western countries, mainly the United States. A lot of times a western, blond couple is smiling in a piece of advertisement which promotes Japanese company to Japanese. The other one is that the customers cannot choose which language and manner skill set he or she should take, when talking with people from other countries. The typical skill set might be such as “talk to…” – “boss”, “customer”, “family”, “vendor”. (listed in a humble -> arrogant order). Being a “Gaijin” and “vendor” is contradicing – they don’t know the basic stance – being upper or lower – (being on the same level, is still less found in their dictionary).
He also told he decided to make it without making any enemies on the road – he had heard so many “war stories” from other entrepreneurs, a lot of whom made tons of enemies – it must have been quite a challenge but I think playing the game with a win-win strategy is much fullfilling (if not maximizing the profit) in the end.
Here are some more thoughtful words from him.
– Start small : you don’t have to prepare everything by yourself, 50% is still better than nothing.
– Hire people who are smarter than you are – but don’t forget that you are the person who motivates them (and probably wipes their ass off – excuse the language)
– Since he had concentrated on a niche market (IT AND Mactintosh specialists), he didn’t have to spend lavishingly on advertisement.