These are good times in Japan’s startup land. As corporate executives and government officials sing the gospel of startup innovation, capital continues to flow. Smart people are giving up traditional paths in favor of bolder pursuits. The same people that gave me strange, worried looks when I started my company years ago now come for advice about starting up. There seems to be more money, more talent, and more support for the ecosystem than ever before. We’ve entered a promising trajectory, and are on track to become a powerful startup ecosystem in our own right.
However, despite all this progress, there is a foreshadowing sentiment that has spread. Everyone seems to agree that the music will stop after the Tokyo Olympics in August 2020. I hear founders talk about their revenue goals up to the Olympics, as if the event has anything to do with their business. I hear fund managers talk about wanting to raise their funds before the Olympics because they don’t feel confident about the environment thereafter. I hear audit firms have their IPO pipeline backed up with companies racing to go public. I have even heard people say that inbound tourism in Japan is up because of the Olympics in 2020. It has gotten to the point where the Olympics explain everything.
When I probe on why, I am often met with blank faces. It is as though this reasoning has been repeated so many times that hardly anyone questions the logic anymore. Someone, somewhere, came up with this narrative and the virus spread.
What is scary about this virus is that if everyone believes this narrative then it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. So I want to remind everyone of the obvious: the Olympics shouldn’t take away from all the progress that we’ve made. The games are just an arbitrary point in time that we’ve given meaning to.
I continue to be inspired by the founders I meet in Japan and am more optimistic than ever about this market. And these days I am not the only one. More people from outside Japan contact me about investing here. Some are from top tier firms. Clearly, our hard work is paying off because those outside Japan are starting to notice. None of them care about the Olympics, and neither should we.
So let’s focus less on these irrational limitations we have set for ourselves, and focus more on building. We still have a lot of work to do.