“Taiwan’s Unicorn AI Company” Appier CEO Chih-Han Yu Talks About the 3 Essential Qualities of Entrepreneurs (Part 1)

Appier, founded in Taiwan in 2012 and listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange Prime Market as an "AI x SaaS" native AI company, is dedicated to advancing the widespread and practical use of easily accessible AI. The company operates globally across 17 locations, providing support for corporate sales and marketing activities. CEO Chih-Han Yu discusses the essential qualities of entrepreneurs and the key factors for business growth on a global scale in an interview with DIMENSION Business Producer, Noriyuki Ito. (Four Parts)

The Persistence that Overcame Nine Pivots

In your opinion, what are the three most important qualities in an entrepreneur?

I believe “persistence” is the most important quality in an entrepreneur.

The journey of an entrepreneur is extremely long, filled with numerous challenges and turning points that can make one want to give up.

“Persistence” is the quality that allows one to overcome these hurdles, and I believe it’s crucial for entrepreneurs to keep growing every day.

Even after developing into an IPO after the foundation of the company, it’s essential to remain resilient and keep moving forward. If you can grow even just 0.1% each day, the compound effect will eventually become significant.

I believe in this mindset and live by it every day.

Chih-Han Yu, born in 1979.
Yu obtained a master’s degree from the AI research lab at Stanford University in the United States and a doctoral degree in artificial intelligence (AI) from Harvard University. In 2012, he co-founded Appier and assumed the role of CEO. Since February 2019, he has been the CEO of Appier Group Co., Ltd.

The second quality is being “open-minded”

Companies grow over time, and in return the roles of entrepreneurs constantly change. By being “open-minded,” you can consistently embrace new ideas and recruit talented individuals while continuing your personal growth.

Moreover, having an open mind enables you to expand and embrace new markets beyond your home-market. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the size of your mindset determines the scale of the market you can approach.

Number three is “managing your priorities.”

Startups often lack time, money, and manpower. To consistently achieve your goals with limited resources, it’s essential to have clear priorities to manage your time, manage your goals, and manage your focus on the most crucial tasks.

“Persistence,” “open-mindedness,” and “priority management” are the three qualities that I believe are most important for entrepreneurs.

 

Was there a key experience that led you to believe that “persistence” is the most important quality in an entrepreneur?

There have been many experiences where I felt the importance of persistence.

We founded Appierthe company in 2012, but before the official establishment of Appier, our Cco-founders and I started ourtheir journey around 2010.

Back then, “AI” was not as prominent a field as it is today, it wasn’t even considered a viable business concept. We dreamt of realizing the “practical and real world application of AI” at a time when it was not clear how AI could be applied to businesses, and our customers had little understanding of it.

Naturally, nobody could envision how AI could be leveraged in business, and we faced the challenge of not only pivoting our business nine times, but also reaching a point where our remaining funds would only last two months.

Even in such dire circumstances, we persevered, drawing inspiration from within ourselves and focusing all our efforts on our ideas and their execution. This unwavering determination gave birth to the product that forms the core of our current business.

The journey was incredibly challenging, and everyone felt that the two years of hard work had been for nothing, but the “nine pivots” were never seen as failures. Instead, we regarded them as opportunities to learn from mistakes and gather the energy needed to move forward. It was this resilience that has brought us to where we are today.

Willingness to Accept the Opinions of Others

Do you consider “open-mindedness” to be similar to “flexibility”?

I define “open-mindedness” as the willingness to enthusiastically embrace the opinions of others.

As a CEO, I believe it’s essential to have the mindset of “creating a platform for people to shine.” It’s not just about focusing on the success of your business. It’s because we’re trying to build a platform where talent can shine that we always strive to welcome more talent, accept different opinions from our own, and at times, embrace markets different from the ones we are familiar with.

How do you view the balance between being “open-minded” and sticking to your own ideas?

Our company’s approach is simple: “The best idea always wins.”

Until we determine what the best idea is, we maintain an open mind and engage in discussions. Once we’ve decided that an idea is the best, then it’s important that we stick to it.

However, in the world of startups, time is always limited, and there’s no time to have extensive discussions about which idea is absolutely right.

So, we discuss a solution, and when we come to a crossroads, we reevaluate while also considering other opinions.

It’s due to our belief that “the best idea always wins” that we can continue to have an open mind until results are achieved.

It seems your role has changed significantly from your original engineering background. What are the tips for transforming your role throughout your career?

You really have to ask yourself what you ultimately want to achieve, and if you are willing to do to reach that dream.

Learning new skills and adapting one’s role by incorporating the knowledge of others are means to achieve our goals. After all, even I wasn’t an engineer from birth.

Entrepreneurs must continually grow faster than the pace of their companies. They should always have the desire to learn, and I believe having an “open mind” that respects different perspectives and people is crucial for that.

 

For career opportunities

Interviewer  Noriyuki ITO

Interviewer Noriyuki ITO

DIMENSION Business Producer: Graduated from Waseda University, School of Political Science and Economics. After working at Rakuten and EdTech startups, he invested in and analyzed domestic startups and provided management support for their IPOs at Dream Incubator Inc. In 2009, he joined Dream Incubator Inc. In 2009, he participated in the MBO of DIMENSION Fund from Dream Incubator Inc. He is working to revitalize the Japanese economy by providing support as a capitalist to ambitious entrepreneurs. He is an outside director of FinTech startup 400F Inc. Also teaches "Venture Strategy Planning" and "Business Analytics" at a business school.

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