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Tech in Asia Tokyo 2018 Day 2 Wrap-Up

Alexis Ohanian at TIA Tokyo 2018

This year’s TIA Tokyo event brought to us some incredible speakers including Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit and Initialized Capital. Despite there being a pot of gold glistening at the main stage of the venue, it was puzzling to see that not many tech Tokyoites had treasured this opportunity to learn from such influential leaders in tech (Tokyo Game Show was on during the same week).

We got to see Alexis on stage during the Founder’s Fireside Chat and took note of his advice to startup founders who are looking for the investor attention they need. We also explore the big buzzword: “AI”.

When interviewer David Corbin, TIA Head of Japan, asks Alexis an opening question, “What’s your investment thesis?”, Alexis answers, “We want to find founders who are relentless. The pitch gets our attention and makes us think of the world in a different way.” He describes two types of pitches.

2 Types of Pitches According to Alexis Ohanian

  • Type 1 Pitch: A radical story you wouldn’t believe that catches your attention

  • Type 2 Pitch: Something we already knew about but does it

Alexis tells us that the story of Coinbase would be a type 1 pitch–where Brian Armstrong knew what bitcoin could be. “Bitcoin was still considered something like a toy, but we believed [in his story].”

The type 2 example Alexis brings to life is the story of Instacart. With all of the on-demand apps in today’s market, CEO & Founder Apoorva Mehta was able to convince the world why the grocery delivery platform matters–the app currently being valued at $4.2 Billion.

Top 3 Pieces of Advice from Alexis

  • You don’t have to be extraverted or charismatic. You just have to be compelling.
  • You can read a thousand books but being exposed to different places where you don’t know the language can fire up  your brain. It’s a mental exercise. I’ve gotten my best ideas outside of my comfort zone.
  • Be someone who can convince somebody to leave their comfortable job at Google and go work for a weird startup. Story-telling is a skill.

The Founder’s Fireside Chat drew to a close with a parting question about AI and what AI means. It’s been a trending buzzword in tech but what we found interesting or rather concerning is that there’s an immense challenge when it comes to developing AI here in Japan. Alexis claims, “most companies that say they have AI are actually artificial and not intelligent.”

Problems of AI development in Japan

TIA Tokyo 2018 Day 2 "The Evolution of Digital Media and Marketing Distribution" (Satoshi: right, Daisuke: left)
“The Evolution of Digital Media and Marketing Distribution” (S: right D: left)

Satoshi Kawashima, Japan Country Manager of Insider and Daisuke Furuta Founding Editor, BuzzFeed Japan shed some light on the problems of AI development in a previous talk that day (held in Japanese).

Satoshi says that there are 2 important things you need to consider when talking about AI.

2 Important factors when talking about AI

The first is logic and the second is input.

“The logic behind AI in Japan is that they are comparing their logic with others first and that’s what’s holding them back. We really should just have the mindset of using it now. That mindset is really far behind. There are a lot of ways to use AI but for instance, we can think about resources–a job that was done by 5 people can now be done by 3.”

Daisuke admits that his recent visit to China showed him just how advanced the rest of the world is in AI. China is developing at an incredible pace when it comes to AI, IoT and robotics.

We asked the speakers, “how can we encourage Japanese people to get more active with using AI and changing that mindset to a more proactive one?”

Satoshi replies, “a lot of people are actually interested in learning about AI and they know it’s a big thing but the problem is that they don’t know how. Once they have experienced or tried AI they don’t know what to do with the data. Once time has passed and nothing has been done with that data, the data then becomes old.”

There is an inherent fear for protection overall.

Daisuke adds, “we need to start actioning, in larger companies people wait for approval. If we wait, we are going to be left behind. We need to speed up or we’re going to be left behind globally. The mentality that most Japanese people have is that they first ask, ‘are other companies using this?'”


Listening to key figures from both sides of the pacific on the same stage on the same day, we were faced with the reality of just how slow developments take place in Japan. A major factor contributing to this lag is the fact that all new information is shared freely in English. The Japanese are hindered by a language barrier when it comes to catching up with the latest technology.

(read TIA Tokyo Day 1 wrap-up here)