Back to Contents of Issue: December 1999

The Youngest of the Son Family Deals Smartly with Net Business in Japan

by Noriko Takezaki

Unlike his elder brother, Masayoshi Son -- the establishment-shaking president of Softbank -- the youngest of the Son's four sons, Taizo Son, enjoys his relationship with Japan's traditional players for his Web integration and site- building business. His strategy is not to confront the establishment but rather to utilize existing tools and resources to achieve his objectives. And achieving them he is.

Taizo founded Indigo Corporation in 1996 while he was still a student at the University of Tokyo. The motivation for his launch on the netpreneur path wasn't big brother Masayoshi -- at least not directly. Instead, young Taizo was switched on by Jerry Yang, co-founder of Yahoo!, whom Taizo met through Masa-yoshi. Softbank today owns 31% of Yahoo!'s shares.

With this example before him, Taizo decided to undertake the localization of Yahoo! for Japan, in cooperation with about 100 fellow college students. Then Taizo -- who had been dreaming of becoming a musician or journalist -- decided to follow the entrepreneurial path, working in the area of value-added Net services. Although he sometimes works with Softbank, he mostly seeks business opportunities independently.

"Do I feel pressure from my brother? No," says the soft-spoken, mid-20s Taizo with a smile. "I rather feel I'm lucky to have a good model of entrepreneurship nearby, because I can easily get advice from him regarding business development. As a venture company, my firm seeks alliances with many companies on different projects, and for this purpose, Softbank is just one of many."

Starting with the localization of Yahoo!, Indigo has continued onto other projects, including the development of Java ROM, a CD-ROM of Java-based webpage creation tools, educational network construction as part of MITI's economic stimulus activities, and website design and construction work for Softbank's online recruiting service. In November, the company plans to establish a joint venture with Mitsubishi Corp. to offer comprehensive network services to traditional SMEs, a potential customer base numbering some one million firms. The JV will provide services, including server rentals, onsite PC installation, training, and PC and network maintenance, which the new venture will tie up with Toshiba Engineering to make use of Toshiba's existing nationwide network of support providers.

Now that he has passed the experimenting stage, Taizo has a much clearer idea on how to pursue Net business in Japan as a venture company. This includes utilizing the network of existing companies, even the keiretsu corporate groups, to set a stage for the business, and to keep his company as a stagehand as well as stage manager, who gives directions to the actors on stage. In line with this approach, Indigo's share of the JV with Mitsubishi remains at 45%, a ratio intentionally set up by Taizo to utilize Mitsubishi's resources more effectively.

"We offer business ideas to Mitsubishi and ask them to implement the ideas through their existing, widespread business channels. In return, Mitsubishi helps carry the JV's business risks since they are the majority shareholder," says Taizo. "In developing businesses, the most important factor is, I think, the establishment of sales and business channels. That's what big companies have that venture companies don't. Since we're one of those venture companies, we will continue to tie up with the big fish while incubating new e-business ideas."

Taizo spends a lot of time researching other Net business players, particularly application service providers (ASPs) in the U.S., including USinternet-working, USweb, and Fine. com -- now part of In addition, he is interested in dealing with the distribution industry for certain Net-based services, and in personal communication services provided over the Net that help the handicapped. "Using the Net, I wish to do something that not only brings commercial success but also provides societal assistance," he adds.

As a Korean born and raised in Japan, Taizo says he has been conscious of not quite fitting in. But, this minority experience has helped him see things in Japan quite objectively. "It's an advantage to me in making business decisions," says Taizo, "because I don't have to be bothered by Japan-specific notions which often mislead even experienced Ja-panese business players."

Like older brother Masayoshi, Taizo shows every possibility of contributing significantly to the growth of Net business in Japan. But Taizo's way might just be more flexible and a little smarter than those who have gone before him.

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