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Thoughts on Japanese Startup Ecosystem vs Silicon Valley

Last Tuesday, Code Chrysalis and Wahl & Case co-hosted an event “Creating Opportunities out of Failures” featuring Casey Wahl, Founder and CEO of Wahl & Case and Masa Nakatsu, founder and Ex-CEO of Orb. Yan Fan, CTO and co-founder of Code Chrysalis led the panel discussion as we explored inspirations, hardships and insights from the startup founders at different stages of their startup journey.

Seats were filled by 30-35 young and energized attendees. The audience took advantage of this exclusive opportunity in asking the founders questions after the panel discussion. Even those who were too shy to raise their hand but were eager to ask a question were able to participate by submitting their questions on post-it notes as notepads were being passed around in the audience.

Of course, attendees were itching to ask about best practices and tips for starting their own business, but what we found especially admirable were the founders’ honest responses to a more personal set of questions. These questions touched upon their personal struggles, failures and ways they’ve kept their sanity intact during their entrepreneurial expeditions (there’s a common consensus amongst founders that the journey of an entrepreneur is lonely enough). 


Foreign founder experience

As the main takeaway from this event, we found that having the superpower to see a situation through a different cultural lens or perspective can be key in making a major breakthrough. Casey and Masa both share what it’s like to be a foreign founder in the startup world they experience- Japan & Silicon Valley. 

Japanese Startup Ecosystem vs Silicon Valley Startup Ecosystem

Masa informs us that the startup ecosystem in Silicon Valley is drastically different from the ecosystem in Japan. He learns that knowing your market and demographics is crucial. As a Japanese entrepreneur in the Valley, he immediately notices how angel investors and startups all buzz in one niche area—where all of the hot social platforms are. He observes that “fun” and “user-friendly [centered]” ideas were the hottest trends that gained the most attention. Innovative companies and entrepreneurs are nurtured by an ecosystem of VC organizations and investors that keep the busy startup bees buzzing.

In Japan, however, the startup ecosystem is not so apparent. There are less investors. There are less risk-takers. Casey also comments that the market compared to the Valley is very slow to change. Business is heavily dependent on building trust and long-lasting relationships. This time commitment may not be appealing to someone coming from a speedy Silicon Valley culture mindset.

Casey talks about business growth, referring to the BCG (Boston Consulting Group) Growth Matrix and how utilizing your existing skill set and experience can be a strong asset to your founding story. He says, “recruitment is managing a life cycle [within a team at a company or the company overall] and you have to change the culture.”  He also emphasizes that there are indeed difficult, not so glamorous parts about being an entrepreneur–“You will ask yourself ‘why am I doing this? This isn’t fun.’ That’s why you have to be passionate about what you’re doing. It’s a masochistic [type of] fun.” He also claims that exits are rare and painful in Japan. Patience and the time needed to grow are essential if you want to start a business here.

Casey’s expertise in the recruitment industry is what triggered him to change recruitment for the better and later on inspired the creation of HR Tech product Attuned

Parting Advice

“As an entrepreneur, think of your relationships. Go to events, go to meetups. See the potential in people you meet. People are the most critical part of your company.” – Masa

“Story-telling is an essential skill.” – Casey