Tokyo Photo Walk 6

POSTED BY DANNY CHOO On Sun 2009/11/15 00:40 JST in Tokyo Photo Walk

Going for a photo walk around Tokyo at Night and will be zipping back n forth through time as we do so. As with previous photo walks, I would love to have the usual chit chat.

Identify and live your passion and the rest will just follow - it always does.

T'was something I wrote in one of my previous motivational articles. Tonight I would like to talk about the importance of this phrase.

It's never always been plain sailing running a startup. There have been times where I wondered how we was going to make it through some of the stormy seas filled with giant man eating mer-sirens.

While many startups follow the pattern of getting venture capital or angel investment, I decided to startup my company only on my savings from my times at Amazon, Microsoft and affiliate earnings.
I also had extra income from building websites on the side where I hired developers in Romania and India together with designers in the US to work for me on my clients projects. Obviously still managed to fulfill my responsibilities at work.

I had a life goal of setting up a company by the age of 35. With the amount of money saved up and a steady flow of income on the side, I left Microsoft and started up Mirai Inc (Kabushiki Gaisha) by the age of 34.

For the first year, I was mainly doing consulting work for companies like Disney Japan, Columbia Japan, iKnow and also building up my brand name within the Japanese Internet industry. I also presented a few times overseas.

As the brand grew, more work started to come my way. At this point in time it was just my wife and I running the company.

After the first year, we saved enough to make our first local hire and some developers overseas. We spent the second year working on our proprietary platform that I named Mirai Gaia. "Mirai" as in the name of the company and "Gaia" as in "goddess of the earth and mother of Cronus and the Titans in ancient mythology."

During my salaryman times, all the websites I made were completely different on the back end. Each had specific functions for each client - ecommerce functions, job recruitment functions and what have you.

I knew that if we took the same route and made websites just for each client that came on board, we would end up with a mess and the only way to maintain the mess would be to hire more heads.

Many web development companies just throw code together which is quick and cheap to develop. They also screw their clients by charging them extras for small changes to the website.

I wanted to change this situation by empowering the client to have the freedom to change what they want without being shafted for more money.
By empowering the client to change stuff on their own also means less work for us.

My vision for Mirai Gaia was a platform that could support hundreds of clients and yet be supported by a minimal number of staff.
In order to do this, the platform had to be developed using the Model View Controller method. It meant that the development time would take much longer but eventually end up being a highly scalable platform that could cater for any clients needs with minimal amount of work.

I wanted Mirai Gaia to be a robust and scalable publishing, CGM and ecommerce platform and decided that we should built it ourselves.
We could have gone for open source solutions but most of them have limitations and a learning curve - two reasons good enough to build our own.

I felt it was important to build the platform based on my learnings and experience of running a website visited by millions of users per month.
I feel that many products (including open source frameworks/platforms) are just built assuming what consumers want because the people building it don't eat their own dog food.

"Eating ones own dog food" is a term we used a lot at Microsoft. It means to use the products that we sell.
As we want the best for ourselves, we implement improvements in the product which can then be enjoyed and consumed by our customers.

We had many clients lined up in 2008 who gave a tentative "Yes" to wanting to use Mirai Gaia.
Despite the economic climate, we had so many clients lined up. I was feeling on cloud nine.

However, Mirai Gaia took longer to develop than initially planned and while we was working on it, our savings were being depleted like there was no tomorrow.
We had clients waiting but could not deliver in time. Most clients canceled their order of Mirai Gaia and decided to use other solutions.

Considering what I would have earned if I stayed a salary man and the wages we were paying local and overseas staff, the development of Mirai Gaia had costed us something in the region of 35000000 yen - quite a bit of change.
The company bank account pretty much dried up and we was running the company from our own personal savings which were being sucked dry too. My salary was 0 yen for a couple of years.

At one point in time, we thought we had to sell the house to keep the company afloat.

Advertising from helped but things were looking pretty grim. Wifey supported my decision to give up a high paying stable job at Microsoft to startup the company. Through the past few years, she has been understanding and supportive.

Sure I could have theoretically asked my dad "could I borrow some moolah until I get out of this situation" but that to me would have been like throwing in the towel and giving up on life itself.

I'm sure he would have been disappointed if I did end up asking him. I keep hearing from mutual friends that goes on about how proud he is that I made it thus far without any moolah from him ^^; (sniff/tears).

When we spoke on the phone I would always tell him how well things were going.

Apart from having a lovely understanding wife, I feel that I have also been blessed in another way - I blog about Japan and otaku subculture which has lead to free samples of figures, Dollfies and related merchandise. This obviously helped a lot during tough times ^^;;;

So how come I managed to stay rosy most of the time?
Well I wasn't rosy all the time but in times where I got rather down in the dumps, I always repeated to myself what I preach:-
Identify and live your passion and the rest will just follow - it always does.

From my past experience, I always found that just continuing to do what I believed in would always bring about those clear blue skies and calm seas - no matter how stormy those rough seas got.

Its kind of like continuing to fight through a storm by steering the ship back on track and making sure that it does not go off course. By bailing out the intake of water. By adjusting the sails in whatever way needed to get through it all.

The belief in your passion that you have been living is strong enough to get you through everything.
Don't let go of that rudder, don't let the ship go under. You will make it because you continue to try your best. The important thing is to continue trying. Something always leads to something. Nothing always leads to nothing.

In mid 2009, we hired Chris Gaunt. Hired as a front end UI developer but ended up knowing more than he let on. He was certainly more than meets the eye!
Chris re-engineered much of the Mirai Gaia code and things really started to take off.

I also believed much in It was initially set up as a place for me to experiment with web technologies, turned in to a blog which then completely changed my life in terms of the people I have met through it and the opportunities that it has brought me and the company.
I continued to write what I was passionate about and share with the world my interests and life in Tokyo.

The advertising revenue was helping us get by but I knew that it wasn't enough to keep the company afloat. But I still continued to be passionate about what I believed in. Reading your comments reminded me that we have a great community here at DC which further egged me on to continue plowing ahead. started to get profiled heavily in local and overseas press which started to bring in more clients in Japan.
With Mirai Gaia in pretty good shape, our client base grew and the company bank account started to come back up to healthy levels.

And how come I didn't talk about this before?
Well I was waiting for us to get through this all as I knew we would ^^;

I'm sure there will be more rough seas ahead but I'm armed with a phrase that you and I share.
Identify and live your passion and the rest will just follow - it always does.

Going to stop lecturing you now - enjoy the rest of the walk. All photos taken on the Lumix LX3.
Uploaded all the original photos in this post to Mediafire - 193MB.

Only kidding about Gaia meaning "goddess of the earth and mother of Cronus and the Titans in ancient mythology."

The Gaia meaning is that it encompasses everything - a multi-purpose platform.