‘Unicorn’ president believes passion, obsession drive innovation
Takeuchi: I think one of the standout aspects of MITOU is the wide-ranging individuals it has nurtured. Many of them are now working not only in Japan, but also in Silicon Valley. I would imagine the friends you made through the program have also been a key factor contributing to your company’s growth.
Nishikawa: Exactly. I met Ota (Treasure Data co-founder Kazuki Ota), a member of PFI in its early days, through MITOU. I had a chance to talk with him, we immediately hit it off, and he worked for us.
Takeuchi: And when Ota was starting his company, he asked an “amazing guy” to join. That was (Sadayuki) Furuhashi, who, at the time, was a graduate student at the University of Tsukuba and also interning at PFI. Treasure Data was launched in Silicon Valley and then came to Japan. It has since grown successfully. To think there were all these MITOU relationships behind its success!
Nishikawa: We have many friends who are indeed inspiring.
Takeuchi: The MITOU Program is designed to nurture uniquely talented people. It doesn’t matter whether they eventually become a researcher or a company employee. The important thing is that chemistry between such people will result in new innovation.
We are in an age when technology is rapidly advancing, but I think it’s important that we support young people by taking a long-term perspective instead of being caught up in short-term achievements.
Nishikawa: My hope is that society will look more positively upon people who are engrossed in their efforts. When I was a child, it was great fun to program for hours on end. Similarly, at one point, other people must have had something that they dedicated themselves to, like sports, music or other things.
But in Japan, education is all about obtaining general knowledge. I want Japan to be a society where people who may be outliers and who tend to be absorbed in, or do outrageous things, are regarded with pride.
Computer programming has become compulsory in elementary school. But if you first teach it to elementary kids by explaining algorithms, I don’t think they’ll become interested. I think the first step in developing future information technology professionals is adopting a style of education that makes them understand computing is interesting and programming is fun, and where students immersed in such things are seen in a positive light.
Takeuchi: I couldn’t agree with you more. What drives the development of outstanding professionals is curiosity, an open-mindedness to be inspired by different things and a strong desire to acquire knowledge and overcome challenges.
The MITOU Program provides an environment conducive to these elements, and that is the project’s role on which high expectations will continue to be placed.
The following postscript is from Takeuchi after his discussion with Nishikawa.
The most impressive comment made by Nishikawa during our dialogue was this: “Okanohara and I are the heads of the company, but to us, we have the most fun when we are engrossed in solving technological issues. Honestly speaking, I don’t want to only have to think about running a business.” What an intensely techie guy he is!
The fact that a company like PFN can become a unicorn (private company valued over $1 billion) has left me positive that Japan still has a bright future.
Unlike seed accelerators in the U.S., the MITOU Program has produced talented individuals who can contribute to IT in Japan in a balanced way. As it is a governmental program, MITOU’s role is to create an environment where program “graduates” can form an ecosystem of technologists where they can maximize their skills. And I am sure such an ecosystem will produce more companies to follow in the footsteps of PFN.