Goshuke Takama

Back to Contents of Issue: May 2000

& Mika Furukawa

LEFT: Gohsuke Takama, founder, Meta Associates
RIGHT: Mika Furukawa, Associate

With his unruly hair and generally frazzled appearance, Gohsuke Takama looks more like a virtual-reality voyager or new-media writer than a Net venture dealmaker. But these days he's all of the above. His new company, Meta Associates, made waves a few months ago by hosting a well-received entrepreneurial networking event called Startup Forum in Shibuya's QFront building. Granted, Meta Associates is headquartered in Takama's smallish apartment in Gotanda and consists of little more than himself and Mika Furukawa, but the Forum provided a chance for entrepreneurs to actually meet VCs -- something that hardly happens at the frantic, elbow-room-only events hosted by the Bit Valley Association. Daniel Scuka caught up with Takama and Furukawa at Ubusuna.

Why launch something like the Startup Forum?
The idea came from my personal observations. Many of my friends are programmers, Web designers, and digital artists, and they often come up with interesting ideas. But they can't find people to invest in them. They've all got day jobs or other projects they do to pay the bills, and so their ideas go nowhere. Some have even showcased their ideas in San Francisco, but they haven't gotten much attention. So I basically wanted to help my friends -- provide them a forum where they could perhaps win some investment for their ideas and plans. And my idea expanded from that point. After I found out that investment people here are encouraging new companies to launch, it seemed like a good idea to go forward with.

When did you get the idea?
I got the idea in August last year about the time that we started going to the Bit Style networking parties. They were good at the start, but they have recently become too dark, too crowded, too noisy, too smoky, and it was impossible to meet and talk. So, my idea was to hold an event that would allow for real networking. In the US, entrepreneur seminars, like those held by Upside, Red Herring, and others -- where entrepreneurs present their ideas -- are popular, so I thought that was the way to go.

No one does this in Japan?
These days more and more are starting to. I heard that Softbank is holding a big one soon. So the demand is growing, and I got the idea to organize a good one. I asked Mika Furukawa to help and she immediately agreed -- despite having an infant daughter and holding down a full-time job [as a sales rep at Expression Tools, which makes game software development tools]. In December, we held a party to announce the launch of the Startup Forum and preannounce February's event. There was a good indication of support, so we decided to go for it. At first, I was not thinking specifically about an international entrepreneur presentation forum. But I went to various networking parties and I met many VC people -- from JP Morgan and some of the other foreign houses -- and I found out there's a lot of foreign interest in Japan right now.

How many people went to the Forum in February?
About 140 people attended the presentations, and 120 attended the networking party afterwards. I was very worried whether we'd have sufficient people. But after I started accepting registrations, I was swamped -- I had to close registration early because I knew the room would only seat 85 -- we had to borrow extra chairs. It was standing-room only.

How did you send out the invitations?
I met [Hikari Tsushin's] Ben Miller at one of the CODE-J meetings and I talked with him about my idea, and he agreed it was a good one. In October, he launched the JaPan InterNETwork mailing list, which has grown to be about 1,400 -- it's quite popular. That seemed like a natural place to make the announcement. In fact, 80 percent of the Startup Forum attendees came from that list. That's quite a lot. I also mailed the Bit Valley organization's mailing list. I heard there are 3,000 or 4,000 on the Bit Valley list. Ben also helped find startups to invite, and he put me in touch with a couple of the entrepreneurs.

You also told participants that their pitches would be time limited?
Yes. I chose 15 minutes. When I sent out the mail to the JaPan InterNETwork and Bit Valley lists, I gave everyone the application form specifying what to cover, so the format wasn't a surprise to anyone. Also, my own background is in concert and event production, which is very complicated -- handling the sound and lighting setup -- so the Startup Forum was actually fairly easy. But I still had problems that I didn't expect. [Laughs.] Mika sure helped.

Five entrepreneurs made presentations; what did you think of their pitches?
Actually, I was busy keeping time and worrying about the schedule, so I didn't hear much of their presentations. Generally, I thought they were good. Anyway, this was just the first event, and it was experimental, so the presentations should only improve. No doubt the presenters had to show a certain amount of courage, but if they are planning to start a new company, they have to learn to take risks.

Did anyone turn down an invite to attend?
No. A few weeks before the event, I had more than 100 registered to attend, but no one registered to present. I got them in the end, though. Three applied, and two came from recommendations, and five finally agreed to participate.

Who was in the audience?
Broadview, G5, CSFB, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley, Ernst & Young, Mitsubishi Fudosan, DKB, Hikari Tsushin, Liberty Brokerage, and Netyear's Tanaka-san were all on the RSVP list. I didn't get to meet many of them -- I was too busy. We tried to link our plans to attendee's demands. But I was very scared about no one showing up. In fact, we were so nervous that we forgot to put Meta Associates' contact info on the Forum brochure. We had a lot of late nights in the run up to the Forum.

Will you do it again?
Oh yes.

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