#Asia #Japan Show 41: Japanese Startups, This Must Change Now!


This is a rather personal episode. There is no guest this time. It’s just you and me.

Overall trends are going pretty well for startups in Japan, but things could be a lot better.

One strange thing seems to be that almost everyone asking how to improve things for startup in Japan are either government officials, academics or venture capitalists. It’s fantastic that they are interested, and their interest in sincere, but there is only so much they can do.

The real change will have to come from Japan’s startup community itself.

In this episode I list three simple things that we founders in Japan all need to start doing right now. So let’s have a chat and I’ll explain how, as a group, we have the power to change the Japanese economy and social structure in a very positive way.

Perhaps unpredictable ways, but positive ways nonetheless.

I think you’ll enjoy it.

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Transcript from Japan
Disrupting Japan Episode 41.

Welcome to Disrupting Japan. Straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero and thanks for listening.

Once again, I’ve got a special show for you today. There will be no guests. No wine. No playful banter with someone speaking English as a second language. Today, it’s just you and me. For the next twenty minutes or so, I’ll be whispering in your ear about something I consider very important, but that not enough people are talking about in Japan.

I get asked pretty frequently by both government officials and by individuals running innovation initiatives at large companies, what Japan can do to foster innovation and to help create a more start-up friendly environment. Now long time Disrupting Japan listeners know most of the best answers to these questions, so I won’t repeat them here. The people asking these questions, have the best of intentions, they really do want to see things change for the better in Japan. But, the inevitable flaw in their question tends to be an underlying assumption that start-ups can be supported and fostered top down.

Now, there’s a lot of things that the government can do and is doing to foster innovation here. But, too many people seem to envision a system where their program is at the center of a start-up community, or where start-ups will come to them for assistance, rather than what they can do to support the existing communities. The Japan start-up ecosystem is becoming robust enough that almost no new entity can insert itself as a leader, regardless of their level of funding. And, that’s a very good thing.

The Tokyo start-up community’s not really led by start-ups yet. VCs still have more sway here, but things are changing. More and more people are beginning to accept the idea that the social and economic changes that start-ups will introduce, will not be decided or controlled by the economic or political establishment.

Of course, politicians and industry leaders have certainly not embraced the idea yet. For the most part, they’re looking to start-ups as a kind of economic engine that can kick the economy into high gear and will benefit society as a whole. And, that most likely will happen, but not the way they think it will. I can rarely get bureaucrats and executives to really grasp this point. But, Disrupting Japan listeners will understand the far reaching impact of start-ups much better. So, I think you will appreciate some of the surprises Japan is in for in the coming years.

You see, politicians and industrialists dream that Japan will develop an innovative subculture that will create opportunity and economic growth, but leave the existing power structure and social structure untouched. But, that simply can’t happen. Think of it this way, if you have a forest and then you take all the butterflies out, you don’t have that same forest minus butterflies. You’ve got something new.

It’s an ecosystem.

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