Son foresees northeast Asian Silicon Valley

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Son foresees northeast Asian Silicon Valley

“Have I always been this successful? I actually have more experiences of failing than succeeding,” Son Tae-jang, or Taizo Son, the CEO of Movida Japan, said in a recent interview with the JoongAng Ilbo in his office in Roppongi, Tokyo.

“I grew from learning from those failures.”

The 41-year old Korean-Japanese entrepreneur is the youngest brother of Son Jeong-eui or Masayoshi Son, the founder and CEO of one of Japan’s leading Japanese telecommunication and internet companies, SoftBank.

During the interview he shared his vision of creating Northeast Asia’s own Silicon Valley by investing in 1,000 or so startups in Korea, China and Japan.

“Currently there are only 20 or so startups that my company is investing in,” Son said. “But the goal is to expand it to 1,000 not only in Korea but also in China and Japan.”

Son said there is no reason why an ecosystem for Northeast Asia’s own Silicon Valley can’t be built.

“When I looked at the Android Market Analysis a while ago, Japanese and Korean markets were ranked No. 1 and No. 2, beating the U.S. market. It proved that East Asian markets have high possibilities,” said Son.

Ito Kengo, who served as a scout in Silicon Valley for giant trading company Mitsui & Company, shares Son’s vision.

“For the past two years, Son and I picked 20 ideas out of 100 collected by college students and invested 5 million yen in each of the 20,” said Kengo, who joined Movida Japan in 2011 as the Chief Accelerator of Movida Seed Acceleration Program.

“We are also operating a ‘Hot Stove League’ program for companies that did not grow as initially planned, to develop into other ideas or to merge them with other businesses,” Kengo added.

The criteria to pick ideas for Movida Japan are unusual. Business plans and sales goals, usually basic requirements by venture capital firms, are not essential. Movida cares more about the passion of the person who came up with the idea.

The ideas also don’t have to be for specific products or service, but can be anything that inspires a desire or curiosity.

Son analyzed that young people in Korea, Japan and China take after management traditions that came down through the generations.

Young people in Korea, he said, are somewhat aggressive while those in Japan tend to approach matters more cautiously.

“In terms of cultural tendencies, a Korean as Chief Executive Officer (CEO), a Chinese as Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and a Japanese as designer is the optimal combination,” he said. “In the future, people will see the birth of many such multinational venture companies in East Asia.”

But to create a Northeast Asian Silicon Valley, passion and money is not enough. “I will need like-minded investors and advisory groups in these three countries, so I am gradually expanding my net,” said Son.

The youngest of four sons of a Korean-Japanese father who operated a pachinko business in Kyushu, Son joined his older brother Son Jeong-eui in starting up Yahoo! Japan in 1996. He took the path of an entrepreneur by helping companies like Japan’s online game company Gungho Online Entertainment to be listed on the stock market.

In nearly two decades he has helped launch 30 or so companies in Japan. But he added that he never forgets the number of failed companies, which was double the amount of his successful companies.

After experiencing both success and failure, Son went on a new adventure by establishing Movida Japan two years ago. Now, he is hunting for start-up companies to foster and incubate.

Son described the business as “Seed Acceleration.” It is different from venture capital firms, which simply find companies, invest in them and rake back their returns through initial public offerings. His company supports the startup until it is on a growth trajectory in all areas, including finance, technology and management.

Son displays a map of Silicon Valley. With a population of only 3 million, he said, 17,000 companies are created every year and 12,000 companies go bankrupt.

Out of the 5,000 that survive, the second Google and Apple could be born, he said.

“In terms of nurturing entrepreneurs, Silicon Valley is indeed like a wealthy forest. Compared to that, the climate of Korea and Japan are like deserts,” said Son.

By Shim Jae-woo []
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