We were very excited to go to the first Startup X kick off event organised by Nikkei in Tokyo. About 300 people attended the event including startup founders, students and VCs. Nikkei invited a prestigious speaker, Aaron Levie CEO of BOX, a cloud based file sharing solution for enterprise. BOX service is now used by 37 million users across 45,000 businesses among which 51% belong to Fortune 100. BOX is now expanding in Japan and is being used by various companies such as Sega, Hello Kitty and Fuji Television. Box also just signed a partnership with NTT Communications to offer the service via NTT’s VPN. BOX’s growth is very impressive; the company was founded in 2005 when Aaron Levie was only 19. The company went public at the beginning of the year and was valued at $1.67 billion.
The event was held at Spiral, a versatile space including a market, offices and restaurants. The audience was 99% Japanese and the organisers provided a simultaneous translation system as the talk was in English. Aaron Levie delivered an inspirational speech about how technology disrupts companies across all sectors and industries. Technology changed the organisational structure and the way people collaborate and is now at the centre of organisations. The change was accelerated as technology became simpler and cheaper and made the way people work more efficient.
The rise of technology can be a threat to legacy companies as new players enter markets, and they are prompted to change in order to respond to the disruption. Aaron Levie took the example of Uber which not only disrupted the taxi industry but is also threatening the car industry as more and more people abandon their cars in Silicon Valley in favour of the service. The digital enterprise brings about new business models and a change of structures and processes with more connected products. Technology is an underlying trend that companies have to embrace in order to keep their competitive edge. Japan has perfected these processes during the industrial economy but it seems that they are still slow to respond to changes. As we know Japan’s legacy companies have a very hierarchical structure and strict processes which can become inefficient within the tech economy.
The talk was followed with a Q&A session where people from the audience lined up to question Aaron Levie who shared his passion for entrepreneurship. He told the audience he experienced many failures before knowing success. He dropped out of college to move to Silicon Valley and started the company in a garage with some close friends. They got the idea in 2004 after seeing the difficulty in sharing files securely and saw an opportunity with the declining costs of storage. That’s how they created an easy to use and secure software whose clients quickly became enterprises. Box adopted a freemium strategy for customer acquisition and the software was quickly adopted by multiple industries thanks to its simple use coupled with high security.
The people asking questions to Aaron were very eager to receive advice from him and the Q&A quickly turned into a startup surgery. A young entrepreneur started a food delivery service in Japan but was not successful as it seemed that the Japanese market was not ready yet to pay a higher price for the service. Aaron told him not to give up and try again as he thought the market is more ready for the service now. Aaron conveyed his passion to the audience by telling them to ride the wave of technology and find something disruptive. He told aspiring entrepreneurs to do something they are passionate about and to decide from the beginning if they want their startup to become global. Startup founders also have to set a vision and create a compelling story to make talented people want to join them. He pointed the audience to the potential of virtual reality, robotics, AI and machine learning.
The event finished with a networking session with people queuing to get more wisdom from Aaron. This shows that there is a lot of potential for startup incubators, accelerators and startup surgery events in Japan.
Click here if you want to watch a recording of the talk.
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