Pioneering Female Founder from the Japanese Tech Scene

Towards the end of 2016, I wrapped up my final interview of the year with Japanese female entrepreneur Chika Tsunoda, a Keio University graduate — one of the top business universities in Japan. Within a mere 40 minutes, I learned about her views on what makes an entrepreneur successful in Japan and the best advice she ever received.

At the beginning of 2017, she was featured in an article in the Mainichi Newspapers called “2017年「旬の人」角田千佳さん (31) 経営と生け花、大胆にかつ繊細に.” Plus, Chika recently appeared on a Japanese TV show called TV Tokyo and interviewed for a Fresh Faces documentary on YouTube.

In 2013 at the age of 28, Chika Tsunoda began her Anytimes technology business with neither a background in technology, nor programming friends. As such, she started from humble beginnings of crowdsourcing employees in order to create exactly what she wanted — an online skill share platform to connect users who need services such as housecleaning or cooking with local talent. 

And while talking to this wonderful woman, I quickly realized that she was courageous and had guts. After all, how many people would start a company in an area, where they technically had no experience or contacts? Very few! Most impressively, she began her company at a very young age.  

In fact, very few Japanese women even start their own business. The OECD reported that out of all Japanese women in the labor force in 2014, 0.9% of them were self-employed with employees. Of the 0.9%, even fewer are technology-oriented companies.

In this context, it’s pretty’s impressive to meet entrepreneurs such as Chika. Plus, in 2015, she raised $3 million USD from GREE, DeNA, and individual investors.

Not only has Chika created a successful technology company, but she also has 11 employees, the majority of whom are foreigners — a rarity for any Japanese company. And since she has an ambitious, 5-year plan to expand to the Asian market, it’s an intelligent and strategic decision to hire so many foreigners.

While the company is on a growth trajectory right now, it wasn’t always easy. When Chika reviews her company’s trajectory, she says that outsourcing the engineering function before establishing a solid in-house team caused some problems.

Initially, she began the company by managing a remote team of freelance employees, because Chika knew no suitable engineers or designers. By delegating the responsibility to a remote team, she reminisced that it was exceptionally challenging and not something she would repeat. Instead, she would have hired a full-time employee from the beginning.

But all entrepreneurs make mistakes along the way. The important thing is to not give up and keep pursuing your dream!

Words of Wisdom from Chika Tsunoda

Chika and I discussed a few helpful words of advice for hopeful entrepreneurs.

1.    Worry Less. Act More.

During a pivotal point of her business, where she was wracking her brain about how to solve a problem, Chika received critical advice from her best friend and cofounder — Masahiro Honda, who acts as the current auditor of Anytimes. He said: “Stop worrying! I know your business will be successful, and I will help you all along the way.”

These critical words completely changed her perspective, and gave her the permission to relax. Based on these simple words of encouragement, Chika reduced her stress levels and realized the importance of relaxing during difficult circumstances. Now, nothing fazes her.

However, she did mention a word of warning for hopeful entrepreneurs. If everyone agrees and supports your business idea without criticizing any aspect, then you should worry! Instead, if people challenge your idea, then you may actually have a fruitful business concept.

All business ideas need to be tested, adapted, and strengthened through trial and error, as well as outside critiques. After all, no one ever said running a business is easy.

2.    Flexibility / Adaptability

In Chika’s opinion, the most important skill for entrepreneurs is being flexible. The ability to adapt to changing customer needs, business conditions, societal fluctuations, etc., is far more important than any other skill.

For example, when I worked at a 20-person startup in San Francisco, I would work on an extremely important task one day that was completely useless the very next day. Because the clients’ needs changed dramatically from day-to-day in the case of my company, it was common for us to have projects that were quickly rendered obsolete.

As such, the most important thing I learned at this startup was the importance of going with the flow, or being OK with rapidly changing circumstances. Similarly, Chika finds it to be the most crucial skill for successfully launching a startup.

3.    Share Your Business Vision

Chika strongly advises hopeful entrepreneurs to share the business concept, vision, or plan with trusted contacts to receive feedback and gain more wisdom. By sharing the idea, you will immediately realize how easy it is to explain, what areas you can further develop, and potential advisors, customers, and investors.

Naturally, people want to help others, especially those who are ambitious and driven to achieve a goal. And the more people you share it with, the more hidden opportunities you can find.

Final Thoughts

With the recent push by the Japanese government and specifically Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to increase the number of women in the workforce and Japanese female founders, many companies, organizations, and the media are changing traditional ways of doing business by offering flexible working schedules, increasing the number of female managers, and allowing more women to vie for leadership roles under the career track, and not the marriage track.

In traditional Japanese society, women would enter a large corporation after graduating from college. However, they were immediately placed into a “marriage track,” where it was assumed that the woman would quit around the age of 25, when she got married. And if she didn’t quit when she got married, she would most likely quit once she became pregnant. Essentially, 22 year-old college graduate women were rarely placed into the “career track,” as they were expected to quit once they got married and / or pregnant.

As fewer and fewer Japanese women get married, many are opting to stay in the workforce, and are increasingly being considered for the “career track.” Even so, Japan still ranks significantly low (111 out of 144 countries) in the 2016 Global Gender Gap Report.

And when Chika and I spoke about this general topic, Chika made a valid point. She believes that there is too much emphasis on empowering females, when the Japanese government and society should be focusing more on improving gender equality.

To extrapolate a bit further, regardless of anyone’s gender, nationality / ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc., all people in Japan should have the chance to pursue whatever they are passionate about, and have equal opportunities to become successful in their chosen field.

Thus, Chika encourages people to choose whatever they would like to do, whether it be starting a business, or becoming a full-time artist. Regardless of the specific role, everyone should at least have the opportunity to be able to pursue it.

In fact, her business — Anytimes — is doing just that! By providing a platform for people to share their skills and services to those who need it, Chika has created a way for people to pursue countless roles in their local neighborhoods.

Besides running Anytimes as CEO, she is also serving as the Director of the “Sharing Economy Association Japan” and is an Auditor of “Adventure.”

Impressed? Me too! Learn more about Anytimes on her company's website.

This article was originally published on Women2.0 on January 18th!

Thank you very much for reading it. Read additional articles about entrepreneurs for those aspiring to achieve more. And learn more words of wisdom, perspectives, and ideas to receive some inspiration!