Steven's Blog

James Chen Interview


James Chen and Steven Bleistein

Today I interviewed James Chen for the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan at the Roppongi Hills Club. James is an American entrepreneur whose company was acquired by Rakuten Ichiba in 2009. James is now an executive officer of Rakuten in Japan, working directly under Rakuten CEO and founder, Hiroshi Mikitani.

I asked James about his views on entrepreneurship in Japan both during lunch and during the interview, and James had some interesting things to say. James feels that in theory, the Japanese can have ideas that are just as good as their counterparts overseas, but there is simply the lack of support to test and develop them. James feels there are two things are missing for Japanese entrepreneurs, particularly for tech entrepreneurs like himself: sources of funding and a peer community.

The lack of sources for venture funding is well-known in Japan, but one of the effects, James said, is that it tends to make young tech entrepreneurs naïve about what constitutes a compelling business model with serious revenue potential. You see, if you have a distinct lack of feedback from venture funders, the compelling propositions are on par with the non-compelling ones. They receive identical lack of attention. The lack of entrepreneurial peers has a similar effect. According James, in silicon valley, groups of peers listen to each others ideas, and are blunt and candid with feedback on how compelling an idea may be, and peers listen to each other. So Japanese entrepreneurs cling to futile ideas longer than their U.S. counterparts. There is a crucible missing in Japan.

James wants to change that. He is actively seeking to be a part of communities of entrepreneurs in Japan and insert that culture of blunt peer feedback. We all need candid feedback, even negative feedback, to grow stronger and better. At times it is indifference to our ideas that keeps them weak.

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