The World According to Taiga

Back to Contents of Issue: December 2000

by Kyoko Fujimoto

Photograph by Jun Takagi
We've covered Bit Valley -- and the overexcitement that briefly surrounded it -- quite extensively. But somehow we missed him. Which is odd, because he would be near the top of the list of "who to talk to when you want to know about Bit Valley." Taiga Matsuyama -- the director of the Bit Valley Association -- was at the center of the whole Bit Valley movement. He was one of the members at NetAge behind the NetDealers legend. NetDealers, an online car quote service, was bought by Softbank in April 1999. Before that, the notion of a big player like Softbank buying a small venture seemed pretty far-fetched. The transaction inspired the whole community. Taiga was the organizer of the Bit Style parties, from the time they were small meetings called "Bit Friday." He was the moderator of the now-deceased Bit Valley mailing list. His words have always been hugely influential in the community. Even when the Bit Valley mailing list had almost 100 email exchanges a day and nobody had time to read them all, many never skipped a message when the sender was "Taiga Matsuyama." Everybody knows him. Everybody listens to him. He was (and is) the perfect "Net Evangelist" for Bit Valley.

IT'S BEEN MORE THAN a year since I first met Taiga Matsuyama. I was at my first Bit Style party, and somebody wanted to introduce me to the one guy who could really explain what Bit Valley was all about. Taiga. At that time, he was still committed to NetAge, but he had just been bestowed the new title "Net Evangelist." The party was already huge, with more than 200 attendees. Taiga seemed excited about it. He thought the Internet could change the world, and wanted everybody to realize that.

Who would've thought that the party would become 10 times bigger still, and attract press attention from the world over? But that's all in the past. The parties are over, the mailing list is deceased, and the global dot-com downturn has sobered the crowd. But Taiga still believes in the Internet. Talking to him, it's easy to see how "Net Evangelist" is the perfect title for him. I would recommend "Deep Thinker," though.

"I spend most of my time thinking and meditating," says Taiga, answering my question of what, exactly, it is he does. He's involved in many Net companies as an advisor (he says he cannot disclose the names of the company), as well as still being the director of the Bit Valley Association (BVA). But what he really wishes to do, he says, is "change the world." Don't groan. Keep reading.

Let's start from one of his more realistic and practical issues. What he thinks needs to be changed immediately is the infrastructure of starting up a business in Japan. "One big problem in Japanese law is the minimum capital requirement," he says. "Japanese law requires ´yen;10 million minimum capital to establish a Kabushikigaisha (a joint-stock corporation), and I think that's too much. Who would have that much money in their 20s and 30s? If you found a company, there are ways to get funded. But you can't get funded if you don't have a company." He also thinks people don't have enough knowledge of direct financing. "We hear in many places that direct financing (as opposed to loans) is becoming the standard way to get financed. But nobody actually knows how. That's why many end up wasting their time trying to figure out how to get financed."

Taiga doesn't buy the idea that Japan is behind the US because of technology. "Technology is not a big issue," he says. But the US does have a few decades' head-start on Japan when it comes to financing and venture capital, and that's where he sees the big difference. "Some think Japanese people don't have the entrepreneurial spirit, but that's not true," he says. "It's the lack of knowledge and strict rules that hinder them from starting up businesses."

Taiga also criticizes the government for trying to spend money on the IT revolution. He occasionally talks to government types, and thinks they're overly optimistic about the employment that might be created by the IT revolution. "The amount of new employment created by the IT industry will be less than the amount of unemployment created by streamlining from the IT revolution. If we really want to look for new employment, I think we should look at SOHOs and companies with small groups of people who don't really have to depend on big corporations." Again, he gets back to the law about minimum capital requirement. "Changing that law doesn't require any money, but the government wants to think about how to spend money on IT. If they seek more employment and prosperity, they should seriously think about changing the rules before spending money."

Not many people talk about changing Japanese law. Although he's never been the founder of a company -- at 26, his formal work history consists of little more than director of the BVA and two years at Andersen Consulting -- he meets a lot of entrepreneurs and has lots of opinions about starting up a business. That's one of the reasons he's so popular among Net companies as an advisor.

But Taiga has much bigger visions. What he sees in this Internet world is much broader than you might imagine. In this new economy, Taiga foresees what's now called "business" becoming "service," and many companies now offering Internet service becoming something closer to NPOs, or nonprofit organizations. "I think people have some misunderstandings about this Internet economy," he says. "People think they have to be number one, that they have to be exclusive, that they have to get patents. But I think the Internet world is far from those things. The Internet can be explained as "information" and "digital," and these types of things tend to go towards freedom -- it's hard to make them exclusive. I think many of the businesses in the Internet would go toward something more like volunteer activity." Taiga gives Linux as an example. It's not protected by a patent, so everyone can get involved in developing a better product. "Young people these days are getting more NPO-minded. It's a new economic society that focuses on our better life, not only on capital growth. I think we are in a transition period, to what some people call post-capitalism."

Another thing he foresees is the world becoming one. Taiga explains that in the Internet world, there are no borders between countries -- the borders only exist between different languages. But he thinks that even the language borders may become less obvious. "Translation technology is improving, and the way people communicate on the Internet will become less text- or language-based. There will be more sound, pictures, and possibly senses and feeling that can be exchanged through the Internet. Then there will be no borders. It's not that there will be only one world -- actually, there will be more communities for different interest groups. But many people will belong to several interest groups, so you will see less clear borders between groups, and there will be less conflicts."

Peace via the Net.

So you now know a little about Taiga Matsuyama. He's the director of the Bit Valley Association, but his vision is much wider than Bit Valley itself. At the same time, he makes fun of himself, saying that his ideas are too young and greenish. He says he's not a good businessman. NetAge President Kiyoshi Nishikawa, who has known Taiga for years, acknowledges that Taiga wasn't good at dealing with practical business details, though he's amazed at his networking abilities. "It's hard to imagine now that he was doing such practical work at NetAge," recalls Nishikawa, adding, "But everybody loves him."

The young, lovable mascot.

Taiga is writing a book now: "It's about what I just told you about -- how the Internet can make the global village possible. I'm sure it's a boring subject to many people. My editors said it wouldn't sell," he laughs.

Taiga felt I might get bored listening to his usual spiel on Bit Valley, so he decided to let his mind wander during the interview. I'm glad he did. In my hour and half with him, I forgot it was an interview at all -- I just entered his "greenish" but surprisingly intriguing world view and had a good time. And perhaps that, in the end, is the best approach to understanding Taiga.

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