Seven years on from launching a company in the U.S.: What are the entrepreneurial qualities you have gained? Treasure Data Co-founder Hironobu Yoshikawa
Treasure Data, Inc. has built a cloud-based data management platform capable of instantly collecting and analyzing vast volumes of data, and has provided support and solutions for data management to more than 300 companies. We talked to former CEO Hironobu Yoshikawa, who established the company in Silicon Valley in 2011, asking him about the difference between startups in the U.S. and Japan, and the secrets to success in developing a SaaS-type business.
Determination to battle your way through and win in “war time”
ーーWhat do you think are important qualities that an entrepreneur needs?
It is often said that there are two types of CEO, one being a “peace time CEO” (for times when business is running smoothly) and a “war time CEO” (for times business is facing difficulties). However, entrepreneurs are basically working all the time on a “war time” footing.
An essential element for any entrepreneur is therefore to possess the psychological strength of mind to endure and win through in “war time.”
Born in 1978. Graduated from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences of Waseda University. From 2001 he worked at U.S. software company Red Hat, Inc. After joining Mitsui & Co., in 2007, he moved to Silicon Valley as the company’s investment manager. In 2011 he established Treasure Data, Inc. in the U.S., working as CEO & co-founder. In July 2018 Treasure Data was bought by Arm Ltd. of the U.K., and since then he has worked as Vice President and General Manager of the Data Business Unit in the IoT Services Group of Arm.
ーーHow did you acquire such psychological strength of mind?
To be honest, in my case I had to toughen up in the process of starting the company and continuing to run it. Before starting the company I don’t think that I was that tough, but now I am. So in some ways, it may be okay not to have toughness as a quality before you start up a company.
However, the more psychological strength of mind you can acquire yourself, the more likely you are to be prepared for a lot of difficult challenges to arise.
ーーSo putting it the other way round, you could say that an entrepreneur will definitely face difficult challenges?
Once you set up a company and assemble a funding procurement team, there’s no going back. For entrepreneurs there’s no option to blame difficult situations on your boss or the workplace environment.
I also faced many difficult challenges.
Colleagues quit, and I had to fire some of the people we had hired. Another challenge was being unable to find customers, or the customers we did have cancelling their contracts with us. All of these things happened.
At other times you can also be at the mercy of macro factors over which you have no control. For example at the end of last year the stock markets tumbled, which has a direct impact on the corporate value of startups.
Including the events over which you have no control, entrepreneurs must find a way to overcome all kinds of critical challenges. It is in that process that you automatically end up nurturing psychological strength of mind.
I started the company in June 2011 and ran it as CEO for seven years and one month, before it was sold to Arm Ltd. Looking back on that time now I have many beautiful memories overall, but the ones that you tend to recall individually are the painful memories.
What I would say to anyone thinking of starting a company is to be prepared for difficulties to occur.
Difference between “wannabes” and successful entrepreneurs
ーーSo in addition to psychological strength of mind, what would you say are other important qualities for an entrepreneur?
Once you’ve built up psychological strength of mind, what you are going to need next is team-building skills.
It’s not simply that the smartest person will always succeed at being an entrepreneur.
Something that is often said is that “in the end, it’s all about people,” but from my point of view, “right from the start it’s all about people.” Essential for being a successful entrepreneur is having the personality and the capacity to bring together an outstanding team.
ーーHow can someone enhance their team-building skills?
The logic behind a successful team is quite simple. Employ outstanding people, provide them with an environment in which they can perform at their best, and build an organization where everyone is happy.
Since setting up my company, I have always stuck close to my recruitment policy, which is “hire people better than you.”
In addition, so that the outstanding people I hired can be happy, I focused on enhancing both physical satisfaction and mental satisfaction.
Physical satisfaction involves things like providing free lunches and other perks, and also ensuring a financial upside by guaranteeing wages above the industry average and providing stock options.
To enhance mental satisfaction it is important to create an environment in which members consider themselves to be recognized as professionals by the organization. The board members of the company, including me and CTO Ota never fail to express our appreciation to members and also always follow the fundamental principle of “when you get angry with someone do it one-to-one, but when you praise someone, do in front of everyone.” I believe that it’s also important to invest in company branding that elicits pride in the company among members, and also to be ready and willing to recognize active contributions to the open source community.
In a company the most important thing is its people. You need to be constantly conscious of this point so that your people always feel maximum satisfaction, and it’s this that helps to enhance team-building skills.
ーーYou’ve mentioned psychological strength of mind and team-building skills as key qualities for entrepreneurs, but I also get the sense that it’s important to be able to grasp the few chances that may be available and put them into action.
You’re exactly right, and I think the biggest difference between so-called “entrepreneur wannabes” and “successful entrepreneurs” is the capacity to take a step forward.
Although the timing will be different for everyone, given differences in trends and when we encounter people, it’s critically important to take a step forward at just the right time to win. It is only the people who take that tentative first step who end up being lucky.
ーーSo what do you need to take that first step?
Having humility, or the awareness that you can’t do anything on your own is something that drives actions. Add to that psychological strength of mind and you should be able to take that first step.
This links back to team-building skills, but it is only the people who have humility who can truly value their teams.
So, to sum up, I would say that the qualities shared by successful entrepreneurs are the ability to step forward at the most opportune time, armed with psychological strength of mind, team-building skills, and humility.
*This article is current as of the date of publication.
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