Masayasu Ariyoshi

Back to Contents of Issue: April 2001

After 10 years with Nomura Research Institute, he's heading up a product evaluation site "for the people, by the people, and of the people."

by Kyoko Fujimoto

Masayasu AriyoshiHe looks young, but for 10 years Masayasu Ariyoshi served as a strategy consultant for Nomura Research Institute, helping corporations with their strategic direction, marketing, and patents. At heart, though, he's always wanted to be an entrepreneur -- to take charge, control his destiny, live life on his own terms, and make a difference. Now he's doing just that with Tokyo-based Net startup Power to People, a product and service evaluation site "for the people, by the people, and of the people." (Right on!)

In many ways, the site ( resembles US-based, where users post their own reviews of movies, PDAs, whatever. But Ariyoshi's startup has added some cool twists: one is that you can look at rankings based on a product characteristic. So if you're looking for cellphones, you can select rankings by weight only. There's also a wild looking circle graph showing you how the product rates according to the various characteristics.

Racking up 900,000 page views per month, the site is definitely a hit. Whether the company itself can survive depends on how well Ariyoshi can steer the company. He's got the right background. As he isn't shy to point out, a year or two of business experience -- which is all some of the younger Bit Valley players have -- doesn't give one the skills needed to succeed.

Ariyoshi toyed with the idea of going overseas, a result of his being fed up with the Japanese government, he says. But he elected to stay home. He does have some international experience, however: besides earning his MBA at Northwestern, he was in a group at Hitotsubashi University that visited foreign embassies in Tokyo and played samples of each nation's ethnic music.

Associate Editor Kyoko Fujimoto visited Ariyoshi at the Power to the People office, which is right next to Yoyogi Park. Ariyoshi keeps meaning to have lunch out on the grass -- Yoyogi is one of the biggest, best parks in Tokyo -- but this interview was conducted indoors.

What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
If you stay in a big corporation, you sometimes can't see who made the mistakes. I wanted to be in an environment where I could take responsibility myself, so I decided not to remain a salaryman forever. I set the time limit to 10 years when I joined Nomura.

So last year was your tenth as a salaryman.
Yes. Actually, I almost forgot about the time limit. But a few years ago a good friend of mine from school who was working in the financial field [Editor's note: Hiroshi Okamoto, now CFO of Power to the People] suddenly started a bagel shop. I helped him by tasting tons of bagels, and as I was helping him, I remembered my plan to start my own business. I was a big fan of Consumer Reports magazine in the US, which compares different kinds of products. I always wished we had the same thing in Japan, so I decided to do it myself on the Web.

But your site is a little different. The evaluations are done by individuals, who can't really compare products.

True. In the US, product comparison has always been relative evaluation, as opposed to absolute evaluation. There's a good side and a bad side to that. The good side is that the comparison is performed under controlled conditions by professional analysts. But it's usually done in a short period of time. The paint on my keitai, for example, started to peel off after one month of use. This kind of thing is hard to discover in a short-time evaluation. Only the actual user can report this thing. Besides, hiring professionals to do the evaluation takes money. And even if we choose to do so, who would care about an evaluation done by a small startup anyway? Consumer Reports in the US has the brand name, and that's why people listen. But even for them, it took more than a quarter century to establish that status.

So we decided to take a different approach and let the consumers do the absolute evaluation. You can listen to what actual users have to say about the products. Ours is an evaluation site for the people, by the people, and of the people. We have a system that gives points to users when they make a good comment -- we call the points "power" -- and we're thinking about offering our stock in some way to users according to the "power" they have.

So what do you think about their comments? Are they expressive about their opinions?
Yes. Some comments are quite good. Actually, when I wanted to start this business, some warned me that Japanese people are too shy to express their opinions and the site wouldn't work. But it turned out that people do give out their opinion quite expressively. Also, it's a good incentive that you get "power" for what you write. You feel like a professional commentator, and some people enjoy this a lot. It's possible -- and I'm hoping it will happen -- that some charismatic commentator will be born from our site and become a professional.

That's interesting. Consumers are quite honest -- they're not afraid of saying bad things about products.
Right. In order for us to be fair, we don't put any ads on our site, so we can freely accept both positive and negative opinions expressed by users. And what's good about doing this on the Web is that you can customize our report. Yes, we do rank the products according to the general points summed up, but this overall ranking doesn't mean much. What we think is important is not the overall ranking, but the preferences of each individual. Take a digital camera, for example. One might say resolution is the most important factor, another might say the weight (lightness) is the key, and another would say the battery life. On our site, you can customize your own ranking by these categories. This can't be done in a paper magazine.

Since you don't take any ads for your site, how are you making a profit?
We're trying to become an e-commerce site. Our users come to us because they want to get information about the products they want to buy. If we have a shopping cart on our site, buying things can become easier for them. Customers are happy, and we can make a profit this way. Another thing is to make use of our database. We have plenty of marketing data available -- what kind of people are using certain products, or what kind of specification is most wanted and such. This can be a good resource for R&D and marketing for various manufacturers. Actually, one frequent visitor who always gave good comments turned out to be a guy doing R&D for a manufacturer. He says our site is a good resource for his work. It's good for us, too, because it's like we have a professional analyst for free.

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