Founder name and position
Founder and CEO
What was your entrepreneurial path?
My first job after graduating was a multimedia designer. It was at that point that I got into the web,systems and content. Before then I was mostly just creating interactive, artsy type stuff. When Istarted working, I realized that there was actually quite a lot of depth in digital, and it was all so new.
I worked for Rolls-Royce, built their first website and became head of multimedia because I was literally the only one there who could do that kind of work. It was a very practical job, and I learned a lot in a very short space of time.
Eventually, I left Rolls-Royce and set up my own consultancy in London where I worked as an ideas consultant for brands through various agencies. I was still in my early twenties at this point. I was raking in a lot of money—living with my parents and just commuting to London when I needed to. But, I didn't really like this. I knew that there was something more for me in life. I didn’t want to simply settle down and become an old guy in the ad industry. So I just left and started traveling around the world.
I got deeply involved in philosophy, meditation and that kind of stuff. I spent a lot of time with myself and had a big think about what I wanted to do. And then, in the middle of these travels, I realized that I could actually still work if I wanted to. I became a first-generation digital nomad. In the end I settled in Japan, and I quickly discovered Fukuoka.
How did you come up with your business model?
Back in 2005, social media and blogs were just coming about. I believed that the future would be more than a hyperlinked internet. It would be an age of curation. That’s where the idea behind Qurate came from.
We are all natural curators. Everything that I'm wearing right now; everything in my pocket; everything in my home; everything in my music library, my film library and on my bookshelf are all things that I’ve curated. When people see me, they see the things I've curated—the person I've curated, and digital life is exactly the same as that. We can find anything on the internet. The problem with the internet is not about creating content—it's about finding it. So, how do you do this? That is what I was thinking about for five years. How could I make a natural, inspirational content discovery platform?
People become inspired by something that is not only about creation but also curation. After realizing this, I started architecting the platform. I was working for agencies and I realized that all of these agencies have the problems that my technical solution would solve. That’s how the business model emerged.
How exactly does your business model work?
There are two main ways that we generate revenue. One way is selling directly to businesses, and the other is selling through agencies. We’re selling to the agencies so that they can use our platform with their customers. We work with agencies like Toppan, the largest printing company in the world. They have 50,000 customers in Japan and 10,000 salespeople. Those salespeople carry our platform with them, and when they sell it, they take a cut and we get a cut. We actually have a fifty-fifty revenue share split with them, so that incentivizes them quite a lot because they can make billions of yen off of our platform. They're striving to become more technical. They’re a printing company, they need to get into digital marketing and we make it easy for them. So we've established a joint venture with them.
That being said, we're also working direct, and selling directly to organizations such as Fukuoka city, Kyoto city, Nishi-Nihon City Bank and so on. We’re not at the stage where we can efficiently sell to companies like Shiseido or Meiji directly, but agencies such as Toppan and NTT Data can. So, we're able to reach medium enterprises directly and we're able to reach the larger enterprises through our partners.
What challenges did you encounter during the early stages of your startup?
To begin with, our product was a bit too disruptive. Big businesses in particular would rather go with a market leader. No one gets fired for going with IBM, right? It’s taken us a few years to scale our product down to the level where it's acceptable and learn how to actually sell it to companies.
I also struggled with delegating and managing. As I mentioned, at one point I had become a digital nomad. I was essentially a one-man band. I was living on my own, traveling on my own and I could do everything myself. I didn't really depend on other people. I worked with other talented people like writers, animators and illustrators for things that I didn’t specialize in. But I didn't have a team of people, and I wasn't a good manager or a delegator. It took me a while to adjust. Now, I spend most of my time delegating and managing people. I'm not a doer anymore and I don't really make anything anymore, which is kind of sad because I like making things. So that was really was the hardest bit—making the transition from a creator to a manager.
Conversely, what did you do well?
I didn’t struggle with making the company. I also didn’t have problems finding people or raising money, to be honest. It wasn't easy but, at the same time, it wasn’t hard. Whereas, management and sales are an entirely different thing.
What mistakes did you make as you grew your business? What do you wish you had done differently?
I would have put a lot more emphasis on sales and marketing early on. When you're working on something that you consider to be your baby, it’s never going to be ready and you just keep working and working on it. You develop a false sense of confidence that you’ve made something that everyone wants. When it finally reaches the point where you think that it's ready to launch, you realize that fundamental thing. You realize that no one is ready for this, that it’s going to be a pain to sell or that what they want is something super simple, which you could actually have made in three or four weeks.
In hindsight, I also needed more experience and a good mentor, but I didn't know that I needed them at the time. I had the vision and the confidence, and we had the skills, but mentorship was the real thing that was missing. Had I known a successful startup founder who could listen to me, understand me, validate my idea, and help me bring my product to market earlier, I would be in a completely different place right now.
What advice would you give other people in the early stages of their startup?
Validate. That's it. I don't even need to think about it. Whatever your idea is, you've got someone in mind who you think would use it or benefit from it. Go and talk to as many of them as early on as possible and ask them if they like the idea, but don’t leave it at that. Ask them if they’d pay for it. You need overwhelming evidence to support your idea. Don't make it easy by finding people who like to be nice. You have to really drill down and test your hypothesis. Doing that at an early stage will make all the difference. So few people really do that—I certainly didn't.
What do you love about living and working in Fukuoka?
Fukuoka is essentially the same as the rest of Japan. This means that everything is very high quality and you get great service. Additionally, people tend to respect your privacy. What I’ve found, however, is that Fukuoka is a slightly more concentrated version of that than Tokyo, for example. You get something a little bit better and a little cheaper as well. The quality here is so high that if you come in with a shoddy business plan or your restaurant serves rubbish food, you just won't survive. So, you have to be good at what you do.
We have a word in Japanese, kodawari, which means the never-ending perfection of your skill. I love the fact that everyone here, whether they're working in a skateboard shop or ramen shop, whether it's a super cheap place or a super expensive place, everyone's fully into what they're doing. I take inspiration from that. I’m a better version of myself in Fukuoka than I would be in my home country. It brings good qualities out of me. After all of my travels, I found Fukuoka to be the most inspirational place for me to live. It's very easy to live and do good work here.
Qurate is an experience platform that allows people to drive their business online through content. The Qurate® Platform enables content creators and managers to unify their brand voice and share content consistently on the websites, apps and social media platforms of their choice.
“For consumers, the problem with the internet is not content creation—it’s content discovery.”
What are your top work essentials?
Space. I like having my own space.
At what age did you found your company?
What’s your most used app?
What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve been given?
The job is more important than the ideas you have about it.
What do you do every morning (or night before) to prepare for the day ahead?
Coffee. I can’t live without coffee.
What book has most influenced your career?
Start with Why
What favorite positive habit have you cultivated?
Pausing—a very short meditation between projects.
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