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Category: Startup

CEO Blog: February 7, 2020

Induced pluripotent stem cells or iPS cells were discovered in 2012 by the Nobel prize winner Shinya Yamanaka, who is a professor at Kyoto University. Despite the option of building wealth by keeping this world-changing invention private, Dr. Yamanaka has decided to open source iPS cell-related technology to encourage researchers and pharmaceutical companies to adopt iPS cells. He thought this was the best option for patients with illnesses that could not be cured with existing treatments.

Almost ten years have passed since, and a number of clinical trials using iPS cells and transplantation into actual patients have been performed. Japan has always been a frontrunner in this field, and thanks to Dr. Yamanaka, the Japanese government has decided to invest $1B in regenerative medicine research in 10 years. While other countries have focused on research on ES cells rather than iPS cells, it was difficult to perform clinical trials and transplantation on humans given the ethical challenge that ES cells can only be produced from human embryos.

Japan was indeed leading the regenerative medicine field. Until recently.

Now, there is a bio-startup that Dr. Yamanaka calls “a threat.” That is BlueRock Therapeutics in the United States. The company has begun a clinical trial to transplant nerve cells made from iPS cells into patients with Parkinson’s disease and is working on treating heart failure with cardiomyocytes made from iPS cells and severe intestinal disease with gut nerve cells. These are completely competing with the efforts of Kyoto University’s CiRA to which Dr. Yamanaka belongs.

BlueRock Therapeutics is a bio-startup that was originally funded by Bayer and other companies and became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Bayer in August 2019. The amount raised by the company at the time of its establishment was about $225M, far exceeding the sum of all the funds collected by CiRA in the past. In addition, Fate Therapeutics in the United States has started making immune cells that attack cancer using iPS cells and administering them to actual patients.

Japan wins in technology and loses in business. This composition, which has been often said in the industrial world, has just begun to appear in the field of regenerative medicine. Japan is beginning to lag behind the United States in funding and commercialization. Moreover, the Japanese government announced a $10M annual budget cutoff for the iPS stockpile business, which was withdrawn at a later date, but the fact that the Japanese government once capped iPS cells remains unchanged.

So what should we do in Japan? Moving to the United States and continuing research is one way to do that. Although one may argue about national interests from a short-term perspective, there are patients all over the world who want treatment using iPS cells. For such patients, it doesn’t matter in which country they were made. If human life is paramount, crossing national borders should be a valid option.

Another way is to enter from different industries. A prejudice, which iPS cells and regenerative medicine should be handled only by researchers and companies involved in biotechnology, should be eliminated first. There are many areas where Japan has strengths, such as robotics, FA, and IoT. By having the companies from these fields enter in biotechnology and having them invest in research, at least the funding problem can be solved.

Also, there is “integration” that Japanese people are good at. By combining things originally made for different purposes, Japanese people kept creating a completely new added value. This is the way Japan has come a long way in industry and fought the world. I think this analog tactic is what is needed in the field of biotechnology and regenerative medicine in Japan.











CEO Blog: December 31, 2019

I hope everyone is having a good new year’s holiday. I’m writing this blog post at my home in Kyoto with my family, and this is going to be the last post for this year.

First off, I’d like to use this opportunity to thank everyone for working at Hacarus. It’s been a wonderful year working with you all. Now that my 5th year at the company I started back in 2014 is about to end. I had this mission to make people live longer and healthier, but I wasn’t exactly sure if I’d be able to build a company on top of that mission 5 years ago.

Fast forward to today, we have 50+ people trying to achieve the same mission. That mission is no more just mine. It is the mission we all share and want to achieve. We tried so many different ideas and tactics to execute that mission. Some worked and others did not, but we will keep trying in the future until the mission becomes reality.

I know some of you guys are a bit unsure about the company’s direction given the recent introduction of new services and new ways of doing business as I explained in the previous general meeting. Maybe the company looked like pivoting from the original idea and changing its direction just based on the feedback from our investors.

Let me say that it is not true. Yes, we as the board members take the feedback from the investors very seriously and sometimes change the strategy accordingly. The investors are the ones writing us actual paycheck every month and they are the reasons for keeping us alive. Thus, we need to listen to them. To me, there is no distinction between our employees and investors as they are both important stakeholders.

With that being said, our mission has not changed a bit at all since the company foundation in 2014. Hacarus’ mission is still to make people live longer and healthier. Please remember you joined the company with this mission, not an AI startup. To us, AI is just one of the means to enable our mission.

The business we are trying to build requires a fair amount of investment. Any product and service in the medical field need extensive validation before releasing them to the market in order to make sure they don’t cause harm to human and animal. This is the reason why Hacarus focuses on two primary fields: medical and non-medical. The former takes time to build business much longer than the latter.

Next year, we will be launching new products and services in both fields. They may seem totally unrelated on the surface. However, they are deeply connected and they are considered as necessary wheels to drive the company. We are trying to maintain constant cash flow from the non-medical field and use that cash flow to make an additional investment into the medical field. It’s like building a rocket launcher while building a rocket itself.

Once again, we are not just an AI startup. We use AI to make our mission happen. If there is a better way to make it happen, we will adopt it. We would not be surprised if Hacarus does business in the biotech, surgical robot, or food industry in the next 10 years. They are all possible means to us.

Happy new year, everyone!



まず、この機会を利用して、Hacarusで働いてくれたすべての人に感謝したいと思います。今年は、皆さんと一緒に仕事ができた素晴らしい年でした。 自分が2014年に立ち上げた会社での5年目が、もうすぐ終わろうとしています。人の長寿と健康を実現するというミッションを掲げたものの、5年前は、このミッションの上に会社というものを作れるかどうか正直分かりませんでした。




そんなわけで、2014年の創業以来、自分たちのミッションは少しも変わっていません。Hacarusのミッションは、人の長寿と健康を実現です。 AIスタートアップではなく、このようなミッションを持つ会社に参加したことを忘れないでください。自分たちにとって、AIはミッションを実現するための手段の1つにすぎません。



繰り返しですが、自分たちは単なるAIスタートアップではありません。 ミッションを実現するためにAIを使っています。ミッションを実現するためにより良い方法があれば、それを採用するだけです。 Hacarusが今後10年間にバイオテクノロジー、外科用ロボット、または食品業界でビジネスを手掛けていても驚くことはありません。それらはすべて自分たちにとって可能性がある手段であると考えます。


Why We Switched from HubSpot to Pipedrive

For B2B startups, CRM is a critical tool not only to keep track of prospective customers but also to efficiently communicate with stakeholders including employees and investors.

At our startup, we send the most up-to-date pipeline of all prospective customers to the stakeholders every two weeks. This regular update helps me as a CEO to grasp the overall sales activity of the company and get proper feedback from them. Sometimes we get a direct sales channel via an introduction from the stakeholders. This is another reason why I encourage other startups to do the same.

I believe all employees at any level at an early stage startup should have access to CRM, understand what is going on at the company, and dive deep into an individual project if they want to. This is one of the fundamental rights that should be given to the people working at a startup.

We have been using HubSpot about a year and decided to switch to Pipedrive. This wasn’t the easiest decision to make because we knew what it takes to transition from one CRM to another from our previous experience when we migrated from eSales Manager (Japanese CRM/SFA developed by Softbrain) to HubSpot. But yet we moved to new CRM. Why?

First off, the price was just too expensive. Thanks to HubSpot’s startup program where they were giving us a 50% discount for the professional line of their product. Despite this discount, we weren’t able to add all employees to CRM because doing so would have resulted in nearly $2,000 per month just for CRM and it’s simply too much to pay for the early stage startup.

Next, I was not able to track all email conversations between our sales team and prospective customers in chronological order. Yes, I know HubSpot provides that feature called Team Activity in Sales Dashboard, but it limited to only the most recent 20 email conversations. If I were to look up any older email conversation, then I was forced to look into an individual project and see the conversation there. This was a very time-consuming task at least to me.

Lastly, HubSpot had lots of marketing features that weren’t relevant to us. Again, we know HubSpot offers a separate line of product for marketing purpose but we felt we were paying a bit extra for those marketing features bundled with CRM. We just wanted to use the CRM part of HubSpot and pay for it.

Amongst many CRM solutions available in the market today. Pipedrive caught my eyes. I knew about Pipedrive since 2015 or so but I thought it wasn’t for us because of a lack of Japanese support. However, when I saw this press release saying they opened the official Japanese website and support in Japanese, it changed my mind and made me test-drive this new CRM.

Long story short, now we are finally able to add ALL employees to the same CRM while maintaining the monthly cost significantly low as compared to HubSpot. I can see all email conversations at a single place called Email (Wow, it cannot be more simpler than that!) and Pipedrive excels in just one category, which is CRM. There is no additional marketing feature that we don’t use and don’t want to pay for.

For those who haven’t tried Pipedrive, here is a personal invitation from me. You will get an extended 30-day trial if you apply for a trial through my invitation. Let me know how you use this CRM at your organization.

Different Perspective of Domestic and International VCs

As I started having a conversation with international VCs and CVCs, I noticed there is a big difference in the way they ask questions when they meet a startup founder for the first time.

Domestics VCs or Japanese investors always start a conversation by asking a question like what kind of problem the startup is trying to solve, a product or service the startup is offering, and traction the startup is having at the moment. In short, they want to know a product/market fit and potential market size. Simple.

In contrast, those who are based in North America, the Middle East, SE Asia, and China tend to start a conversation by asking how co-founders meet, the background of each founding member, and a history of the company formation. Their focus is on the people, not on the product. This applies to a startup beyond series A stage that is ready to scale its business.

When I talk to domestics VCs, I never pay too much attention to talking about the founding member’s background because I’m never asked to do so. The slide about the founding members always comes at the end in the pitch deck and I often have to skip it by running out of time. However, I was recently advised to bring that slide to the beginning when I talk to international VCs because that’s what they want to know first.

Why the difference? My understanding is that the belief of the latter group of people is the best investment return comes from a strong founding team, not a strong product. This makes sense given that the startup might have multiple products or businesses in the future. Some might work out okay while others might not.

The startup can survive as long as there is a strong founding team even if all products fail. They can pivot or make adjustments according to changes in the market, and release a new product along the way. If the startup has a strong product but no strong founding team, then it will have to face serious trouble when a big company enters the same market or the product is not selling well anymore.

Maybe this difference is partly due to the fact that there are more serial entrepreneurs internationally than in Japan. VCs need to justify if the founder is a serial entrepreneur or not because that fact alone can change the success ratio of their investment a lot.

Not sure if I’m considered serial enough, but I like the way they treat entrepreneurs. I really encourage Japanese investors to take a hard look at the founder’s background and put more weight on the uniqueness of the founding team.

Book Review: Super Genba

I’m writing this blog post at my hometown in Shiga since we are in the middle of a long holiday (golden week) here in Japan. Just like every other entrepreneur, I’m spending most of my time reading books, learning new things and thinking about what our startup should do in the near future.

Among the books I’ve read, Super Genba caught my eyes. Although this book was written quite some time ago, I was advised to read it by one of our stakeholders so I did it.

What the book insists throughout all chapters is very straight forward. The company that can create a system to manage customer touchpoints and turn them into cash quickly wins.

Apple is a good example. The company manages customers touchpoints by operating its retail store worldwide, and its inventory period is less than 5 days. In other words, Apple can pull hundreds of dollars from your wallet and put them into its bank account very quickly once you decide to purchase any Apple products.

All Apple devices connect to iCloud every couple of days to send the usage data of products whether you like it or not. This is their way of understanding what the customer wants. There is no middleman in between.

A bad example is a typical Japanese company in which its sales activity heavily relies on middlemen like resellers and distributors, and its inventory period easily exceeds 60 days. Again, in other words, they don’t know who their customers are and what the customers really want, and they are paying billions of dollars to keep these inventories. There is no way for them to win against the company like Apple.

We are now living the age of the cloud where creating a direct customer touchpoint is easier than ever. If your competitors are understanding the customers better than you do, then you will lose. It doesn’t matter how good your product or service is. It all about managing customer touchpoints and how fast you can turn them into cash.

I strongly recommend this book to any CEO and entrepreneur running a company in Japan.

The Japanese edition is also available.

Narrowing Down To Two Slack Channels

First off, I’m not exactly a big fan of Slack. I feel like I’m forced to find a tiny comment within a thousand lines of source code written by someone else. If you are a software developer, you know what I mean.

That feeling is coming from the fact that Slack is mainly designed for a software developer and it’s a very text-heavy product. Slack is an awesome communication tool when you use it properly in your organization. But at the same time, it can kill your time as CEO.

As a company gets bigger, you as a CEO get invited into so many Slack (or Facebook, WhatsApp, whatever messaging app) channels that you should not be part of. Even though I’m making my position crystal clear, I keep getting such an invitation from the people inside and outside the company all the time. When that happens, I simply share my above blog post and quit the channel with a little apology.

My ultimate goal is to narrow down my Slack channels into just two. They are not #general and #random channels, where you are a member by default. I’m talking about #whatceoisthinking and #troubleshooting channels.

The former is what the channel name says. It’s a place for the CEO to share his/her thoughts company-wide. The latter is the place for the employees where they can request a special assistance from the CEO in order to troubleshoot anything that’s preventing their job from getting it done.

Troubleshooting is the privilege of the CEO and not so many CEOs think that way. Let’s take a look at my typical day schedule. I will explain why.

Amongst the tasks listed above, everything except for the last item can be done by other people. You can delegate these tasks to your employees. However, there are types of troubles that can be solved by the CEO only and they range from fixing a relationship between employees to making an apology to a loyal customer.

You as CEO want to troubleshoot anything as early as possible because it gets really messy if you leave it for quite some time. In order to do so, you need a channel to watch out for any potential trouble within the company. This is the reason why you need a dedicated channel for it and you need to be open for feedback from the employees.

Hopefully, one day I can be the CEO who runs his company by dealing with these two channels only.

CEO Must Not Work More Than 8 Hours A Day

This is my response to the latest episode from This Week in Startups podcast. The talk was done by Joel Spolsky, a founder of Stack Overflow and Trello. The latter was acquired by Atlassian for $425 million as we all know.

During this 50 minutes long conversation, I particularly liked the below statement.

“I rarely worked more than 8 hours a day in my entire career because I figured if I’m working more than 8 hours a day then I have failed to delegate something.”

A delegation, in other words, letting someone else do a job for you is one of the fundamental tasks that a CEO needs to do. If a CEO can leave the office before anyone, it is a good sign that the CEO is actually doing the right job.

Instead, the CEO should spend 100% of his time for hiring people smarter than him and making sure a company doesn’t run out of money. Telling a vision and defining a long-term goal is another thing only the CEO can do.

If you are a CEO working more than 8 hours a day or doing jobs other than ones stated above, then you are not doing the right job. You need to hire people to whom you can delegate a job. You need to finance in order to hire these people. You need to tell them a vision and a long-term goal so they don’t lose their way.

New Policy At Tokyo Stock Exchange

As anticipated, TSE (Tokyo Stock Exchange, Inc.) announced its new policy about the companies listed in the 1st section as well as restructuring plan for other 3 sections.

First off, I really like the ideas behind these changes. TSE 1st section has been criticized by foreign investors for so long by the fact that there are simply too many companies listed and very few companies are doing disclosure in English.

To them, the TSE 1st section is a hard-to-choose market and hence wasn’t appealing until now. Plus, there wasn’t a clear set of rules for the companies to be disqualified from the 1st section. Now that a company whose valuation is below $250M and not doing disclosure in English will be disqualified and forced to be out of the 1st section.

It’s not just a matter of IR. It’s a matter of CEO running a public company as well. There has been a clear message made by TSE, saying a CEO needs to communicate with foreign investors with his/her own words.

Apart from the new policy introduced in the 1st section, the other 3 sections will be merged into 2 sections, namely Emerging and Standard. I assume current Mothers and JASDAQ will be merged into one and the 2nd section will remain as it is under a different name.

What I would like to point out here is the existence of TOKYO PRO Market, which is TSE’s 5th section that no one ever knows about. The original inspiration of the TOKYO PRO Market was AIM (Alternative Investment Market) at the London Stock Exchange.

For those who don’t know history of TSE, TOKYO PRO Market was named after AIM and it was called TOKYO AIM back in 2009. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a single company that went public in TOKYO AIM for years. Eventually, TSE decided to change the name to TOKYO PRO Market upon dissolution with the London Stock Exchange in 2012.

To me, a concept of the TOKYO PRO Market is still valid and sounds promising. Japanese startups definitely need this kind of alternative market where only professional investors are allowed to participate. By professional I mean, institutional investors who make a decision based on a company’s long term vision and future value created by the company. Not ones who buy and sell a stock based on short term observation.

We still don’t know the exact criteria about the new Emerging and Standard sections. However, there is a rumor saying the hurdles for these two sections will be raised too. I’m hoping TSE will do something about TOKYO PRO Market so that startups can choose a proper market according to the nature of their business when going public.

If a startup is B2C, then what used to be Mothers where a lot of individual buyers/sellers participate might be appropriate. If a startup is B2B, biotech or R&D oriented, then TOKYO PRO Market might be the right one.

The biggest problem about TOKYO PRO Market is there is no unicorn listed there and the amount of transactions is nearly zero. It’s a chicken and egg problem, but it can be solved. We need to create demand first so having a unicorn going public in that market is crucial.

RISC-V Is Not Free, But It’s Open

I’m writing this blog post in Hsinchu, Taiwan. I’m here to attend the RISC-V Workshop, which is a 2-day event where people in the community come together and share their latest activities regarding RISC-V development.

For those who don’t know, RISC-V is an open-source hardware instruction set architecture (ISA) based on reduced instruction set computer (RISC) principles. Because it’s open source, everyone can make their own RISC based processor without paying a royalty to anyone.

There were so many things I learned from not only the speakers but also the people I’ve met during a networking session. Among them, I want to bring up this one in order to highlight the biggest misconception about this new ISA.

“RISC-V is not free, but it’s open.”

RISC-V is free in the sense that it’s a royalty-free architecture, but it does not mean cost free. In fact, RISC-V could be more costly than the established architectures like ARM since there aren’t enough tools out there in the market yet and you will have to create them by yourself at least for the moment.

However, it’s completely open in the sense that anyone can refer to its specification, download the RTL, run it on FPGA, make necessary changes and even propose changes to the RISC-V Foundation if they should be part of the specification. There are some physical boards available so that you can run your code on actual RISC-V processor if performance is a crucial factor.

I’m happy to see the workshop is taking place here in Taiwan. At the same time, I’m a bit disappointed by the fact this whole movement is happening without much involvement from Japanese companies.

This reminds me of the days when Linux just came out. Japanese companies insisted to keep using a proprietary OS like Solaris and WindowsNT because they could get an enterprise level support from vendors. Now that we have RedHat and no one argues the cost-effectiveness of Linux today.

In exchange for not being part of early Linux adoption, Japan lost its position as an innovator in the Linux community. Japan could make the first Linux based smartphone. Japan could be the major PaaS player built with Linux. Now, these seats are taken by Android and AWS respectively.

I always tell my team, “the longer you delay getting feedback, the more risk you will have to deal in the future.” This applies to the release of new products and services to potential customers as well as the understanding of game-changing things like RISC-V.

Right now, the best way to get real feedback and minimize the risk is to listen to the people in a community and become an early adopter by ourselves. I’m hoping Japan won’t miss this opportunity and make the same mistake twice.

Should A Company Pay Dividends?

February and March are the busiest months for IR, CFO, and CEO since a fiscal year ends at the end of December for many Japanese companies and they publish their annual report during the following February and March.

I try to read a relevant company’s report as much as I can. In fact, I enjoy reading it a lot. It shows where the company was and where the company is heading in the future. While I was reading it, I stumbled upon a quite interesting comment from the CEO who runs a big Japanese public company.

He said that people who buy a stock just because a company pays dividends are not looking at the core value of the company. According to his theory, these people are willing to make extra money by holding a stock that yields dividends and not willing to re-invest into a company that paid the dividends. That was the reason why his company never paid dividends.

I’m not sure if he really means it, but that’s how it was said during the briefing. Assuming it’s true, I thought this is a very self-oriented way of looking at the stock market.

Every CEO who runs a public company needs to ask himself/herself this question: “Where is this money coming from?” People are buying your company’s stock because they have extra money to spend, and that extra money might come from the dividends paid by other companies.

If your company doesn’t pay dividends, then there is less money going back to stockholders. Hence, there is less money going to other public companies because these stockholders do not have extra money to spend. Simple.

If all CEOs start to think like that, it means the beginning of the market shrink. The amount of money floating within the market becomes less and less over time. You need to give first before you get.

It’s almost irony to see CEOs whose company doesn’t pay dividends are the ones criticizing difficulty of raising money from the stock market. These CEOs say like buying the power of people is weakening or there is an economic winter making stockholder not to buy anything.

Well, think again. That’s because your company is not paying dividends.