I arrived in San Francisco on the evening of Sunday, October 23rd. I had come here to meet American innovators as a part of a program for the Japan Society's U.S.-Japan Innovators Project.
Let me explain the background for meeting innovators. I first heard about the Japan Society three or four years ago.
The Japan Society was set up in 1907 after the Russo-Japanese War and is believed to have been the brainchild of President Theodore Roosevelt and Jutaro Komura, with the objective of helping Americans to learn more about Japan.
Its activities waned during the Second World War, but became active again after the war following a donation of land and funding from the Rockefeller Foundation. Since the Rockefeller family also donated land to the UN, it would seem that they had vast landholdings in that area.
I have given speeches on two occasions at the Japan Society Building, which is located near the UN building in New York.
The historic Japan Society held a series of commemorative projects to celebrate its centennial in 2007, including the U.S.-Japan Innovators Project.
This project selected six innovators from the U.S. and Japan, who were invited to visit each other's nations for a week to participate in dialogue with innovators in his/her area and to promote exchanges on innovation between the countries.
These six were chosen from the three sectors of business, society and culture, with two from each sector. I was honored to be selected as a business innovator. I was very lucky in the sense that the Japan Society not only covered the expenses for flight, accommodations, and transportation, but also arranged all my appointments with U.S. innovators, so I would be able to meet people who would otherwise be impossible to see.
I provided the Japan Society with several names of innovators I wanted to meet as options, and also had them give me a list of names and schedule appointments in a short period of time.
I narrowed down the area I would visit to the Bay Area, including Silicon Valley. I was free to choose the days for my visit, and so I set it up to follow my Boston schedule.
In my case, I decided to split my week into two parts. This visit would be the first stage and I would arrange a similar schedule again before March. After the second stage, I am required to take part in an open discussion with Japan Society staff in New York and then to summarize everything in a report.
In the evening of October 23rd, I boarded a direct flight from Boston to San Francisco. That evening I met up with Ms. Miyamoto, the person in charge from the Japan Society, and we had a preliminary meeting over Chinese food.
The innovators who had kindly agreed to meet me on this trip were:
- Mr. Regis McKenna (Author of "Relationship Marketing")
- Mr. Randy Komisar (Partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers)
- Mr. Robert Joss (Dean, Stanford Graduate School of Business)
- Mr. Alex Vieux (Publisher and CEO "Red Herring" Magazine)
- Mr. David L. Sifry (Founder and CEO, Technorati)
- Mr. Stuart Gannes (Director, the Stanford Digital Vision program, Stanford University)
- Ms. Kriss E. Deiglmeier, (Executive Director, Center for Social Innovation, Stanford Business School)
In between these appointments I scheduled the following:
- Meetings with investors
- Recruiting dinner with Japanese students at the Stanford Business School
- Meeting with several entrepreneurs who I might invest in
During this period, I even woke up at 5 am to participate in international teleconferences with Investment Committee at Globis Capital Partners; I was really kept very busy,
Every day was really exciting. At the start of the assembly, Ms. Miyamoto from the Japan Society explained the purpose of the program and introduced me as an innovator from Japan.
I then explained about my business school and venture capital and the discussion began.
Everyone I met had their own distinctive personality, making each discussion very different and genuinely thought-provoking.
I met Mr. Regis McKenna over breakfast at the hotel. He has incredible insight, and the bearing of a wise man. At the risk of seeming presumptuous, I asked him a whole list of questions, such as, "What kind of people drive innovation?" "What kind of environment is important?"
He is one of the founders of Silicon Valley and has advised Apple, AOL, Genentech, and Silicon Graphics. During our conversation, he shared fascinating anecdotes of the "garage days" of Apple CEO Steve Jobs. He comes to Japan twice a year, so he is somewhat familiar with Japan, as well.
I met Mr. Randy Komisar in his office at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in the "mecca" of venture capital, Sand Hill Road. His open-designed, mountain-cabin style building was completely furnished with bright, wood-grain furniture, and every conference room and individual room had glass walls.
It was here that legendary capitalists like John Doerr, Vinod Khosla, and more recently, Bill Joy, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems, and even Colin Powell, former U.S. Secretary of State are working.
The famed elliptical conference rooms where partners gather had glass walls, so you could see inside from the waiting room. Several people were dressed casually but were engaged in serious debate. They seemed casual in their behavior as well, but also dignified. And as Ms. Miyamoto noted, "Even the women working here are beautiful. They just seem different from other working women." A sense of dignity just permeated the air.
Eventually, Randy's secretary (also a beautiful lady) came to greet me, and took me to Randy's room. We shared ideas on U.S.-Japan venture capital and what it took to create a company.
More than anything, he is a staunch Buddhist—he has even written a book, "The Monk and the Riddle (Dialogue with a monk)." I was really surprised when he even mentioned Dogen. Then, I explained Kukai to him.
He had traveled all over the way from India to Bhutan by bicycle. This meant covering 500–600 km of mountain roads over three weeks. Then he had gone from China down to Myanmar and on to Laos and Vietnam. All of this on a bicycle. The conversation couldn't help but be fascinating. I was completely taken up in our conversation in spite of myself.
David L. Sifry of Technorati met me at his office in a slightly run-down neighborhood of San Francisco near the Golden Gate Bridge. The setting was steeped in the atmosphere of a garage start-up.
David actually lived in Japan for three-and-a-half years and knows about Japan well. Technorati is his fourth major venture. Linuxcare, the second of his venture companies, received investment from Apax (formerly Patrikof), a GLOBIS partner.
It was so interesting to hear about his blunders. Unlike an investor, an entrepreneur puts his or her whole life into something, so it is easy to empathize. The most valuable thing for me was hearing about what he had learned from failure and how he is now putting these learnings into practice.
I met with the Dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Business at his office on campus. Dean Robert Joss has had a very unconventional career. Although he had received an MBA and PhD from Stanford, he had walked straight into the business world without dealing with academics at all. After receiving his PhD, he joined Wells Fargo, and then became bank president at Westpac Bank in Australia. In 2001, he was invited to be the dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
I was most interested in learning how these business schools are run. I asked many, many questions, like "What's the difference between a dean and a CEO?" At first he seemed a little taken aback, but he ended up graciously spending 40 minutes with me, smiling the entire time.
This all happened just after I had participated in the HBS Alumni Association's Board of Directors meeting, and I was able to compare the management styles of Harvard and Stanford with GLOBIS from a fresh perspective.
I met Mr. Stuart Gannes and Ms. Kriss E. Deiglmeier of Stanford University on campus.
I met with Mr. Alex Vieux in his office, 30 minutes north on the expressway from Palo Alto. I had previously met him in Tokyo, Seville, Cannes, Seattle, Shanghai and Seoul, but this was first time I had visited his office. When I encountered Mr. Stuart Gannes' daughter there, I realized how small the world really was.
This was such an exciting time. There was one thing I had decided to do when I met U.S. innovators.
I intended for us to become friends, and not to just meet them.
There's nothing interesting about just meeting and swapping ideas. I think it is crucial to strike up a friendship. Once I do that, we can meet again whenever they come to Japan or whenever I return to Silicon Valley.
I resolved to send these new friends an email when I get home, and to ask if there were any other people they thought I should get to know. I'll follow through on their introductions when I come back for the second stage.
In this way, I hope that American innovators can get to know Japan in a positive light, and presumably a new innovative exchange will be born. This was the channel for exchange the historic Japan Society had envisioned as a commemorative project for their 100th anniversary.
In fact, it has been said that the ceasefire declared in the Russo-Japanese war was able to take place because President Theodore Roosevelt and Kentarou Kaneko had been friends since their days at Harvard, and Jutaro Komura, who studied with Kaneko at Harvard, had followed up on this connection in the negotiations, resulting in U.S. arbitration. The U.S.-Japan friendship network is clearly vital.
Bidding farewell at the San Francisco Airport to Ms. Miyamoto, who had arranged all my appointments, I headed home to Japan.
At this time, my fifth son was only three weeks old.
I was a little worried about my wife, who had just given birth and now had five kids to look after.
October 27, 2005
On the flight back to Japan