Recently, I interviewed an incredible female founder, Emi Takeumura Miller. We spoke about everything ranging from the advantages of starting a female entrepreneurship to the importance of sharing your vision with everyone you meet. Not only did she co-found Peatix.com, a mobile-focused event platform, but she also co-founded FutureEdu Tokyo, an education-based community, and co-hosted Unreasonable Labs Japan, a 5-day, hyper-accelerator to give Japan-based, social entrepreneurships an “unfair advantage to scale and succeed.” Most recently, Emi spoke at TEDxRoppongi to encourage more young female participation in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math).
At the very end of our interview, we wrapped up our conversation with key words of wisdom from a Japanese female entrepreneur’s perspective. Read until the end to learn the two main takeaways.
A. Introducing Emi Takemura Miller
Before starting her own entrepreneurship, Emi Takeumura Miller had a fruitful career working in prestigious companies such as McKinsey, Excite.co.jp, Amazon.co.jp, and Disney Interactive. Taking on various leadership roles at each of these companies, Emi not only gained a diverse skill set, but she also amassed an incredible network.
With three other Amazon alumni (Naofumi Iwai, Taku Harada, and Yuji Fujita), Emi co-founded Peatix.com — a mobile-focused event platform. Now available in 27 markets, Peatix.com has facilitated over 100,000 meet-ups, conferences, and events since its inception. Everyday, the platform is increasing its user base and helping people discover more unique things to do. For example, I’ve been in Kyoto for less than 5 months, and I have already been invited to two events on the platform!
As a working mother of two Hapa, bilingual children, Emi wanted to create a community for parents and educators to discuss the future of education in the 21st century, so she founded FutureEduTokyo. Through @FutureEduTokyo, Emi is transforming the dialogue around education and bringing passionate people together.
Besides @Peatix and @FutureEduTokyo, Emi also co-hosted Unreasonable Labs Japan — a 5-day, hyper-accelerator run by the Unreasonable Institute to give Japan-based, social entrepreneurships an “unfair advantage to scale and succeed.” Without a doubt, Emi keeps herself busy for a reason. Based on her fundamental values, Emi works hard every day to empower more females, make a positive difference in the world of education, and give back to the community through social entrepreneurship.
She also serves on several committees, including the IoT Policy Committee at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications as an expert in technology, startups, and global business.
B. Early Childhood & Environment
Without a doubt, Emi grew up in a high-achieving, hard-working, and highly intelligent family. Her mother graduated from Kyoto University, during a time when there were only a handful of female graduates, and her father graduated from the best university in Japan — Tokyo University. Most impressive, her mother worked her entire life and is still working at the age of 80.
Due to having a highly accomplished mother who was successful in her own right, Emi never felt pressure to follow the typical route for Japanese women — attend a good-enough university, work for a few years at a large, stable company, get married by the age 25, and then stop working immediately, or wait until the birth of the first child. Instead, Emi was free to study hard, work hard, attend a top university, and work until she wanted to quit, if at all.
In Japan, Emi shared that there’s a perception that women have a hard time getting married if they are too smart. As such, daughters are encouraged to get married quickly, and are not challenged as much, compared to sons, to attend a high-ranking university. While this ideology is still quite prevalent in rural areas, it is gradually changing to allow more women the flexibility and diversity they need to craft a career that is best suited for them. And of course, it does not apply to all Japanese women.
C. Career Moves
Emi has had an illustrious career working at McKinsey, Excite.co.jp, Disney Interactive, and Amazon.co.jp.
At McKinsey, she worked long, tiring hours, but the training was invaluable. Because she worked countless hours each week at McKinsey, it felt easier to start her first entrepreneurship. After all, she was well trained to work the strenuous hours necessary to make the business a success.
At Excite.co.jp, Disney and Amazon.co.jp, Emi started over 30 projects, as a valuable, independent contributor or a team leader. She obviously took the initiative to work on things that mattered to her the most, and would positively impact the company’s bottom line. Even so, she still lacked the confidence to start her own company.
However, at the age of 40, she finally decided to take a leap of faith. With the right co-founding team, Emi co-founded Orinoco KK, which later launched and became Peatix.com — a mobile-focused event platform that is now available in 27 countries, and a Good Design award winner in 2013. As the most senior person on the founding team, who also happened to have two young children, Emi faced enormous personal challenges, but conquered them all.
As a full-time working mother, Emi strove to make it all work without trying to be the perfect mother. Instead, she focused on giving 100% to whatever she chose to do every hour, whether that was spending quality time with her children, or working on her startup.
In Japan, high-achieving women tend to choose careers that require some sort of certification such as doctors and accountants. If they pass certain requirements and exams, the license itself serves as a gender-neutral accomplishment that the woman is, indeed qualified to be a dentist. Instead of having to climb the corporate ladder in a male-dominated environment, where there is constant pressure to stop working, women choose to opt for a license to level the playing field. After all, it’s safer!
Even when women work in a positive company environment that is led by a female entrepreneur — Kanoko Oishi — where many of the doctors and nurses are women, Kanoko mentioned that some of the women still face intense pressure from their families to stop working and get married. And while this viewpoint is not true for all families, a woman may see all of her childhood friends getting married and desire to conform.
If women decide to continue to work post-marriage, and post-childbirth, they still may refuse to take on leadership roles, either because they underestimate their potential, or because they would prefer to not have as much responsibility.
In Emi’s experience, Japanese women tend to underestimate their potential more than the Western World. As the culture promotes humility for both genders and lives by the famous saying of “A nail that sticks out gets hammered down,” Japanese people learn to immediately dismiss their achievements and positive compliments, at least in public.
Culturally, if I am complimented for my beauty, intelligence, or striking a perfect yoga pose, I have to instantly respond with a “No…” On the opposite spectrum, in America, we are taught to say, “Thank you,” after receiving a compliment. This small action from early childhood, could easily lead to lack of confidence and courage, especially when women also face societal pressure to marry early, and unspoken discrimination in typical corporate environments.
While some women may be confident and courageous, they may not want to take on leadership responsibility due to fear. Part of the reason for this, in Emi’s opinion, is that women in Japan aren’t taught how to be a leader within the current educational system. Instead, in America, we start leading small groups and presenting in front of our classes at a very young age. While America is nowhere near perfect, we do have more opportunities to take on leadership roles starting from a young age.
Of course, this is entirely a generalization on both Japan and America, but there is something to be said about encouraging more Japanese women to take on leadership in order to work oneself up the corporate ladder, start an entrepreneurship, and increase female role models.
Effectively, Japanese woman could use some of Sheryl Sandberg’s famous advice: “Lean in.”
B. Role Models & Mentors
As Emi developed her career, she quickly realized that there was a major lack of role models. For her, this meant someone who had achieved success in her career, had an independent, and flexible-working schedule, had time to have fun, and start a family. Effectively, Emi wanted a female role model, who had successfully balanced both a prosperous career and a family.
Since there were very few female role models who fit this description, Emi sought both genders when approaching potential mentors. She wanted to learn from the best in her business, and those tended to be men. In fact, Emi has only had two female mentors and over 20 male mentors.
These mentors have helped her achieve her vision, overcome challenges, and expand her network. As such, they are invaluable resources. Similarly, Emi does the same for other young entrepreneurs of both genders. By doing so, she can act as a positive female role model, while simultaneously, helping them navigate their entrepreneurships and careers.
C. Advantages of Female Entrepreneurship
All of the female entrepreneurs I have interviewed thus far (Yuka Fujii, Kay Deguchi, Kanoko Oishi, Mariko Fukui) have said that managing your own time, is one of the greatest advantages of starting your own business. After all, as the leader, you set the hours, hire the right people, set the communication expectations, the common grounds, etc. It’s all up to you!
D. Career Advice
Emi front-loaded her career with scholastic and work-related achievements, graduated from top schools, and worked at prestigious companies to create more leverage. By building her career with early successes, she was able to request more work-life flexibility.
For example, while she was working at Disney, she was able to negotiate with her boss a flexible working schedule. For her particular situation, this meant that she could leave at any time during the day to attend to her children. Even so, she still worked significantly more than 40 hours a week to prove her value to the company and maintain the trust of her boss.
While she was still working at Amazon.co.jp, Emi spent some time analyzing her goals, priorities, and dreams. Through this self-analysis and reflection, she realized that she enjoyed framing the destination of a startup’s future. As such, she wanted to tackle the challenge of launching a business and ensure its future success. Thus, she started her first entrepreneurship.
After the first experience of starting a company, Emi said the second, third, and fourth startup becomes significantly easier. Of course, each company will have its own set of unique challenges, but with each experience, Emi learned more about what it takes to run a business, her own decision-making process, and what not to do again — all of which is difficult to teach others. Instead, it needs to be something one experiences and learns by doing.
A. Self-Awareness & Vision
One of the most important pieces of advice that Emi can give to anyone is to think about the long-term vision and not a myopic, short-term, practical view. Initially, the most important thing to do is to figure out what you want to have achieved by age 65.
What do I want people to say at my funeral?
When do I want to retire?
Where do I want to be at age 40? 50?
What do I want to have achieved by age 30?
Why do I want to achieve X?
Once this self-analysis and self-work is complete, you can work backwards from the end vision in 3–5 year chunks. With clear long-term career and life goals, you will be able to achieve your dreams, as corny as it sounds.
Even in Buddhism and other ideologies, one of the core ideas is how much power you have over your life. In fact, I’ve learned from an early age that I am the scriptwriter, director, and star of my very own life drama!
B. Share Your Vision
One of the most important pieces of advice that Emi gives to every person who asks, is to share your vision with everyone! After you have completed a self-analysis and figured out what your priorities and goals are in life, it’s now your responsibility to share your dreams with everyone you meet, as you never know who may be able to help you, or vice versa.
The more you share your vision with others, the more you solidify your dreams in your mind. And of course, your end goals will change, but the most important thing, is to have the courage to share it with others.
It’s a self-perpetuating, virtuous cycle of positivity!