The three must-have qualities for entrepreneurs – drive, imagination, and hypothetical thinking Insights from SHOWROOM President Yuji Maeda
SHOWROOM is a live streaming platform where users can watch contents streamed by artists and idols free of charge, and anyone can upload a live stream to “make their dreams come true.” Yuji Maeda is the founder and president of SHOWROOM Inc., the company that operates this rapidly growing live streaming service, and in this series of articles we talked about his insights into what it means to be an entrepreneur and relevant business strategies.
Strong drive to topple barriers
–What would be the three qualities you would list as being most important to an entrepreneur?
There are many, but if I was forced to choose just three, they would be: drive (source of motivation), imagination for others, and hypothetical thinking capabilities to back each and every action with a hypothesis and to act on those hypotheses.
–Can you go into a little more detail? Firstly, what about drive?
The world of venture capital and startups may seem like a shiny, new and exciting world, but the reality is that very often you find yourself facing difficult situations. Of course there are many fun and thrilling aspects, but these may be overshadowed by a seemingly never-ending round of challenges. It takes a certain amount of horsepower to bounce back from such challenges, but having that inner drive makes a big difference in how you face up to tough times.
That drive may arise from familiar and easy-to-understand reasons, like wanting to be popular, or wanting to make a lot of money, or it can also come from a desire to make a big contribution to society. It can really take any form, but unless you have some kind of drive that you can draw on when the going gets tough, you will not be able to take something through to success. At SHOWROOM, in the space of just three years we had three, perhaps even four crises when it seemed like the team was about to fall apart. When we did a pretty standard employee morale survey, the scores were so dismal that the company was on the verge of collapse due to differences between engineers and the business side of things.
A big factor in getting us through that situation was the love and support of team members, but looking at myself, I see that there was still a simmering drive inside that pushed me forward
Yuji Maeda / Born in Tokyo in 1987, Yuji Maeda graduated from Waseda University’s School of Political Science and Economics in 2010 and joined a foreign investment bank. He moved to New York in 2011, where he worked in equity sales for North American institutional investors, providing advisory services to manage funds of scales of hundreds of billions to trillions of yen in the stock market. After that, he considered starting his own business with a desire to create new values from ideas. He joined DeNA in May 2013 after consulting with Mr. Namba, the founder of DeNA, with whom he had a connection during his job hunting days, about starting up a business. In November of the same year, he launched the virtual live space “SHOWROOM,” and in August 2015, he established SHOWROOM Inc. as a business. At the end of the same month, he received an investment from Sony Music Entertainment, making it a joint venture. Currently, he leads the SHOWROOM business as President and CEO of SHOWROOM, Inc.
Student A incident from elementary school days – a memory that still remains clear
–Where does your drive come from?
It comes from a childhood experience. My mother died when I was eight years old, we lost our house, and I spent my days living with my brother, moving from one childhood friend’s house to another, and most of the time living outdoors. It is the things I saw and the stress I experienced back then that have given me the drive that inspires me every day. It comes from a determination to never be defeated by the hand that fate has dealt me. Rather, my aim is to use the challenges I experience as a springboard to climb higher than anyone else, and in so doing prove that even fate can be changed if you work hard enough.
My brother brought me up, and I wanted to do something to make him happy, so my hypothesis at the time was “If I get good grades at school that will probably cheer him up.” I studied hard to become top of my class. However, there was one student, who I will call A, who I just couldn’t beat.
In our math class A would start talking about prime numbers, which was something we had never learned in class. The reason he knew so much about prime numbers was simply that he had already learned about them at cram school.
I found this strangely frustrating. To my child’s mind it made sense that I might lose due to differences in effort using acquired skills, but it felt really unfair to me that the difference between winning or losing could all hang on knowledge acquired due to innate conditions beyond my control. That felt wrong to me. Since then this has become a key memory for me that I call the “A incident.” (laughs)
Even now I still remember the shock I felt and the complex I had back then. I realized that if I do not create my own opportunities and through my own overwhelming effort win against those who have had better life chances than me, my life would finish without having justified the adversities of the past. That is what makes me want to grow so completely and overwhelmingly and win through. That is what drives me.
That is why, even now, when I’m working until the early hours in a coffee shop, I am reminded of scenes from my early life. If I feel like closing my eyes to sleep, what keeps me awake is the thought that, “If I go to sleep now I will lose to that kid A.” I should be grateful to A I suppose.
Appreciating the team members who have stayed around through difficult challenges
–Did your drive see you through the crisis when it seemed the company organization would collapse?
Yes, it did. Another factor was that that I really wanted to get through the challenges together with everyone at SHOWROOM. Setting aside the fact that the skills of all of the people at SHOWROOM are essential for the business we do, I wanted to overcome difficulties with them together on a human and emotional level too.
For example, when we seemed on the edge of collapse, I shared this information honestly with everyone at the company. When one member was about to quit, my first reaction was to express my feelings first and foremost from an emotional point of view, saying straightforwardly, “I have my values, and you have your values. But it’s so rare in this big world where we live to find members whose values resonate with each other as much as ours do. That is why I want to continue to work with you in principle, no matter what may happen from now.” I also remember adding that “You should not abandon your future happiness, even if it has been calculated backwards from your values from a logical perspective. There are three reasons for this, firstly…,” and I then went on to convince the person from tangible and intangible aspects of business. There is no doubt in my mind that when facing some kind of trouble, it is important to confront each other frankly as fellow human beings and bring up all the things that are on your mind, facing up to each other straightly and honestly.” If you can build such trusting relations even when you face difficulties members will stay with you without bailing out. It is those sort of friends I want to hold close to me throughout my life.
Do you have the unwavering drive to keep motivation constantly on the boil? For me that drive comes from my desire to “beat my fate,” and the presence of my friends. It is an essential quality for entrepreneurs to keep asking themselves on a daily basis what it is that drives them and who and what they are doing things for.
Interviewer Takuma Ogata
Chief editor of Venture Navi a media resource for entrepreneurs. After time spent working for toy manufacture Tomy Company, Ltd., I joined DI. As a business producer I am responsible for investment, business support and strategy proposals aimed mainly at domestic ventures. When working for Tomy on the Transformers line of toys, the slogan used in promotions was “More than Meets the Eye,” or in other words, don’t simply take things at face value. That is the thinking on which I want to base my articles.