Why Money Doesn't Motivate Me

POSTED BY DANNY CHOO On Thu 2013/05/30 16:22 JST in Japan
There seems to be a large number of folks out there who think that money is my only motivation for doing what I do. I find this rather amusing because if money was a driving factor for me then I’d be doing something very different indeed.
Today I will talk about how I currently make money, why its not a motivating factor for me - and then cover some of the factors that do motivate me.

If all I wanted was money

If all I wanted was money, it would be a much much wiser decision for me to not leave corporate life and remain as a salaryman at either Amazon as Website Manager or Microsoft as Product Manager where I was earning about 30000000 yen per year (300,000 USD at today's rate).
Compared to back then, my company now pays me 1200000 yen (12,000 USD) per year - less than what I pay my employees ^o^
Also, at the same time that Amazon gave me the job offer, I got an offer from eBay too. My recruiters got them both in a bidding war - the more they paid, the more the recruiter gets which is about 30% of my annual salary. eBay ended up offering *much* more but I chose Amazon. I felt I was more familiar with e-commerce rather than auctions - it was not the money that counted.
If you are interested, you can read what life was like at Amazon and Microsoft in this post.
I get by on my current salary because my job is my hobby - most of the things I need or do can be expensed to my company.
Much of the items that are involved with my line of work (figures, dolls, hardware etc) fall through the hole in the ceiling meaning that I do not need to spend a load of moolah on the stuff I want.
Most of my travel overseas is also covered by the conventions that have invited me.
But why don't I pay myself more? Because I don't require more money than I need - the most important thing is to keep as much money in the company as possible so that I can feed my employees, keep the company running and help it grow.
Alternatively, if all I wanted was money, I could take one of the open job offers I currently have from comrades who work in senior positions at companies like Apple or Google - not only would I be earning more money than I do now but I can also:-
  • Sleep more than a couple of hours a day.
  • Not have to worry about income and feeding my employees as I would have a steady paycheck.
  • Have more time to spend with family.
  • Have more time to spend on health instead of putting constant pressure on my Spinal Hernia.
  • Spend time to relax on some beach - which I did manage to do from time to time as a salaryman.
  • Finish work at 6PM - which I did when I was at both Amazon and Microsoft.
  • Buy my dream car which is a Nissan Fairlady Z ^^;
I left corporate life at just below Director level but if I continued then not only would I have received more money, I would have started to receive incentive bonuses too - things like “reduce headcount by 10 and get another 100,000 USD bonus.”
By the way - this photo taken at the Google HQ in Roppongi. This is their canteen where food is unlimited and free!

Life is a jigsaw puzzle

The basic needs of humans is food and shelter and in todays society, these needs can be covered by money. Personally, once I had these needs covered, earning more money in corporate life didn't matter to me anymore.
Life is a jigsaw puzzle. You don't know what's going to go where, you don't know where the pieces are but you do know that you need to keep looking for the pieces and figure out where they go. All events that happen to you is a piece of your puzzle. if you are stuck in a rut at school or work and keep asking yourself the "what if" question then its a sign telling you that there are no more pieces of the puzzle to be found where you are.
One of the reasons I left corporate life is because I felt that there was no more room for me to achieve, be challenged or grow - and more importantly - I felt that I had collected all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that I was looking for in corporate life.
It didn't matter how much more money I was going to get - it was not going to buy me any more jigsaw pieces.
Now that I run my own company, Although I’m collecting a load of new jigsaw pieces, I can tell you that its one of the hardest things that one could possibly ever want to try in life!
I’m challenged daily, constantly achieving goals and growing at the same time - although the baggage of running a company has contributed to me growing older much faster too ^^;

Mirai Suenaga

After leaving Microsoft, I started up a company called Mirai Inc. The company was to do web consulting and I initially did so for companies like Disney and Columbia - I even got a job offer from Disney while I was consulting for them ^^;
I also created a mascot character for my site called Mirai Suenaga and since she was born in 2007, I’ve been working on growing her brand worldwide. Mirai has made appearances in Japanese games, anime and has even become a mascot on Malaysia’s electronic payment system cards called Touch n Go.
Mirai has also had figures made of her such as figma and Nendoroid with more to come. Find out more about Mirai and her collaborations on her page.
Mirai has a fair following around the world and here is just some of the cosplayers who support Mirai - more can be found on her cosplay page.
Mirai has also been illustrated by many popular illustrators who participate in the Japanese pop culture field. Many of these illustrations are used on the products that we produce. Wallpapers that include these illustrations can be found here.
While Mirai has a following around the world - she is certainly not as popular as some other characters. If all I wanted was money, instead of making Mirai products, I would make products based on popular licensed titles instead like Madoka Magica and make much much more money - I could do what COSPA is doing and *only* manufacture licensed products.
Some folks say I take advantage of my supporters by selling them stuff - thats kinda like saying Starbucks takes advantage of people who want to drink coffee, Tesco’s take advantage of people who need groceries, and Japan Rail takes advantage of people who need to take the train!
This is a Japanese learning set of flashcards called “Moekana” that we have developed. We have sold tens of thousands of packs worldwide (also became the 2nd most popular anime product on Amazon Japan) but I could have sold much more if the characters were other popular titles like K-ON! - and thats what I would have done if the purpose of the product was to solely make money.
If money was my main drive, instead of printing Mirai Suenaga T-shirts, I would only print Hatsune Miku, Sword Art Online or other character T-shirts as they would sell waaaaaay more than Mirai T-shirts - then I would sell them at the same price as other companies because I know that the market would tolerate 6000 yen for an anime T-shirt.
If I wanted to make sure that as many readers as possible buy Mirai-chan merchandise, I would not distribute the high res photoshop files for free to those who can't afford our stuff so that they can make their own T-shirts or posters.

Culture Japan & Japan Mode

I direct and produce a few TV shows which include Culture Japan and Japan Mode with sponsors being companies such as Panasonic, Toyota, Good Smile Company and Bushiroad.
Some folks say that I only produce these TV shows to make money but suprise suprise, making TV shows *does not* make money!
While other TV shows have large production quotas, the shows that I produce only have a shoestring budget. I don't *make* money by producing TV shows but I’ve learned how to *save* money by doing a lot of the production myself instead of outsourcing. I learned how to use camera and sound equipment and also how to use Final Cut Pro by simply asking Google Sensei.
Products of sponsors do appear in the show from time to time but that makes sense as they are paying for the production - its kinda difficult to say to a sponsor - “Give me your money to pay for production of the show but you won't see any of your products or branding.”
I’ve been spreading Japanese culture through photos on this site for many moons but there are some things which cannot be captured or expressed in a photo and requires video to do so - the sound and atmosphere at a Japanese festival for example. This is the reason why I went into TV.
This photo taken with the Konami team who use a web platform called Mirai Gaia (which is used by this site too) that my team develops and licenses. Konami pay me a license fee and I license and maintain the platform for them - a very simple business transaction.
For some of my clients, we also maintain their social media networks like Facebook and Twitter too. My clients are mostly in the anime industry and include Production IG, King Records, Good Smile Company, Bushiroad, Kadokawa, Ascii Media Works, Yuzu Soft and more.
I often get contacted by companies who offer me money to promote their stuff. While this would be a normal business transaction or business model for other companies, I'm only keen to share things which I personally am fond of and I’m willing to do it for free - it simply goes against my programming to be paid to share something that I have absolutely no interest in.
Since a few years ago, I’ve been working with the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry on various projects. This year, the Japanese government appointed me as a member of their Creative Industries Internationalization Committee (CIIC) where I gather with the top folks from companies such as Bandai Namco Games, Sony Music Entertainment, Horipro, Kodansha, Isetan, Mitsui Fudousan, TBS etc to decide what measures should be taken to help the proliferation of Japanese content around the world.
I take on this role for free because its an honor that the Japanese government has recognised my work to share Japanese culture with the world which started off as a hobby but turned out to be a business.
The gentleman standing next to my right is Isshu Sugawara - the State Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry. The full member list is up at the METI website.

Jimmy Choo

Now I’m going to go over some of my past. Many people know that my father is the shoe designer Jimmy Choo and automatically think that I must be loaded with cash - but just because the people who are saying this would easily accept or ask their parents for cash, it does not mean everybody would.
My parents gave me everything I needed to earn for myself - a pair of arms n legs and a reasonably healthy body - I do have asthma and spinal hernia but not complaining as thats nothing compared to illnesses that some others have to deal with.
The best thing that my dad has ever done for me was to let me achieve and earn on my own - he didn't want me to turn into a vegetable.
He did pay for the foster homes to look after me way back then and I did get a few pounds now and then but I was pretty much on my own since college when I started to live with mum - good thing college and university was covered by a government grant back then. If I wanted pocket money then I had to earn it and I did so initially by working for dad part time.
This photo snapped a couple of years ago when vising the UK.
While working for my dad, I learned everything about the shoe design and the manufacture process. I could design, cut patterns, stitch and last Uppers too. I even made shoes for Lady Diana.
I also worked with fashion journals such as Elle and Vogue to get them samples for their model shoots and attended many of the fashion shows. While the work was interesting, I knew that this wasn't something that I wanted to do in life.
As I continued to learn more Japanese and discover more of the culture through anime, manga, games and spending time with my Japanese friends, I found a purpose in life at last which was to pursue my knowledge of Japan - I knew that I couldn't do that while working part time for my dad. As I was living with my mum, I didn't see my dad for a few years after I left his studio.
You can read more about what happened during this time, how I learned Japanese and how I made it to Japan in the How Discovering Japan Changed My Life post.
Some folks think that I must have a bad relationship with my dad for taking off like that - I was given a bashing labeling me as an embarrassment to my father by becoming an Otaku ^^;
My dad thinks what I do is great and is also a big fan of Mirai Suenaga. He always comes to the events that I participate in when I’m in Malaysia too. This photo taken at Culture Japan Night Penang.
Not working at my dad's studio anymore meant no more income at all which is generally a bad thing ^^;
I signed up to a talent agency called Richard Starnowski. Whenever Asian looking folks were needed, I would be given a call and have been in TV dramas, commercials and documentaries.
A memorable moment while on a shoot in the sticks for a documentary about fireworks for the Discovery Channel was when a bi-plane flew by the cast and camera crew at low speed and altitude. It was a clear blue evening and the sight sent a tingle down my spine. Was an inspiring sight that made me want to do something with this life.
This photo here is for a publication called "Let's Oshaberi" which teaches basic English phrases to Japanese families in the UK - I found part time work with the publisher to translate English to Japanese.
I also started to work part time at a Japanese restaurant called Benihana. Not as one of the chefs who threw around knives which occasionally hospitalized customers but as one of the waiters who ran around the halls carrying dishes, washing dishes and occasionally breaking dishes ^^;
I chose Benihana for a few reasons. One of the reasons was so that I could speak Japanese with the many Japanese customers that Benihana had.
The other reason was so that I could save enough moolah for a ticket to go to the land of the rising sun. I wanted to travel to Japan and absorb as much of the culture as possible.
I remember my first paycheck - worked a tough schedule only to see a couple of digits. But I knew not to expect too much at the beginning. It took a year to save enough cash for a ticket to Japan with some money leftover to spend. I would come back to the UK and continue to work at Benihana to save enough money for a trip the following year.
If my dad loaded cash onto me, I would not have lived in this dingy place in London with my wife - we would have at least got a place where we didn't have to wash our clothes in the kitchen sink. Although I’m not complaining as I’m fully aware of many folks out there who don't even have a roof over their head.
After university, I got a job as an Engineer at Japan Airlines and then moved to Japan managing Web Marketing for the scientific journal called Nature. From there I proceeded to build my career at Amazon and Microsoft.
If my dad was off loading cash onto me and all I cared about was money - there would be absolutely no reason for me to earn for myself and build my own career.

Thank you dad

I recently interviewed a candidate for a full time job. He spoke excellent Japanese which he learnt on his own from playing games and watching anime - but that was about all he could do.
He was going on about how he would improve the Pixiv website user interface - and when I asked him how he could not answer.
He said that he was studying in Japan and was being funded by his parents - his huge collection of anime stuff was also being funded by his parents.
I asked him why he wanted to stay in Japan after his studies - he said so that he can attend anime events to buy stuff using money given to him by his parents.
I gave him a hypothetical question - what would he do if he won 1 billion yen?
He said he would buy a house.
At this point, the interview was over. I paid for his meal, wished him the best of luck and let him go.
I’m soooo glad my dad didn't turn me into a veggie.

When one is not a veggie

I know that some of you are attending school which is being paid by your parents and that you receive pocket money from time to time - this is fine as its only natural for parents wanting to lend a helping hand to their kids.
Just as long as you know where the boundaries are and not to take liberties - your parents didn't create you so that you can live off them for the rest of your life.
Once upon a time, I wrote that one of the immediate goals that I had was to earn enough money so that I could buy what I wanted, eat what I wanted and travel to where I wanted.
These days, I’m neither loaded nor strapped for cash but have come to a stage to realize that what I want from life right now are things which money can't buy which is to achieve goals that I set and improve myself through gaining experience from learnings and failures.

What Motivates Me

My latest project is developing 60cm tall doll robots - a challenge because I have not done it before and don't exactly have a large amount of cash in the company to enable me to move faster than I would prefer - but these are just examples of the challenges that I get to work with which are helping me to grow and I’m learning so much while I join my comrades as a hobby maker.
You can read the latest on this project in the How To Mass Produce Your Own Products post.
Projects like these that I initiate ultimately have a goal that I need to reach. Goals that I set for myself is just one of my sources of motivation and I think I tend to perform better when the odds are bleak and there are a bunch of naysayers for me to prove wrong.

My readers are my motivation

During my early years as a child, times were tough for my parents who both worked hard day n night. As they were both busy trying to make ends meet, they decided to put me in various foster homes which I lived in for most of my childhood. In some of the homes, I wasn't treated incredibly well but didn't say anything to my parents as I knew they were having their own financial and other problems. I ended up living with a white, black and then with an Indian family for what seemed like an eternity.
As luck would have it, one of the foster homes had guardians who would take my clothes and consider it theirs while their kids would constantly bully me - was easy to pick on the boy who had no parents. I was made to feel as unwelcome as possible in their house.
I remember a particular evening where we came back to the house to discover the front door open. We walked in to discover that the place was a mess - burglars had got in. I was scared and started to cry. The eldest child of my foster family shouted at me:-
"What are you crying for?! This isn't even your house!"
I didn't have much fun in school either. Was constantly bullied and most of my memories were of being dragged through gravel, gang beaten up, having my possessions burned, football constantly aimed at my face, and having the big guy in the school playground say to me "If I smash your head with this bat and kill you then I would go to jail. But it would be worth it." I remember having to ask the same person to punch me so that I could be part of his posse.
Back then my only comrade was my imaginary friend Buck Rogers coming to visit me with his trusty robot Twiggy.
The contrast is incredible when I compare today and back then. Today, I have supportive comrades from all over the world who I have connected with through sharing my life and interests on this website and on my TV shows.
This photo taken in Tokyo during a meetup recently where I got to meet readers from all over the world - they were complete strangers at the beginning of the evening and are now comrades.
When I travel abroad for conventions, I get to hook up with comrades in that locale and its great to be able to spend time with them.
While I dont get to reply to all of your comments on my posts - I do read pretty much most of it and seeing your feedback is also another driving factor.
The friendship that I bond with my readers is something that I value and is true motivation for me.

Motivational Wifey

I met my wife when I was working in that Japanese restaurant Benihana and we’ve been together ever since. She has provided me with the support throughout the years and I certainly would not be sane without her!

Retaliation as a motivator

It’s going to sound very childish of me but I’m going to be very open and honest with you. Another one of my motivating drives is to retaliate against my trolls. But rather than spend time to launch a counterattack, I use that energy to aggressively continue to do my best and accomplish goals. This is the most effective form of retaliation as your trolls just *hate* to see you doing well.
I’ll give you an example of how I was motivated to retaliate without launching a direct counterattack.
At London university, I studied Japanese and Korean language. In my Korean class, there was a half Korean/Japanese classmate who was native-ish Japanese but didn't learn Korean as a child.
During class I spoke to him as a friend but learned from others how he would suddenly bring up the subject of "Hey you know that Danny? He's such an idiot. Why does he need to learn Korean?" I was surprised to learn how much he hated me!
One day in class, while I was struggling reading some Korean text, he suddenly stood up in class and shouted (in Japanese) "Look! Why don't you just study more! You are keeping the whole class behind!"
The experience left me embarrassed and shaking with anger. It's an experience that I don't purposely choose to remember but can recall it like it was yesterday. I read somewhere that emotional experiences can be easily recalled because when one is emotional, some sort of hormone is released which makes it easier to remember experiences and fixes that time and space in memory - this is the reason why most of your emotional memories (sorrow, happiness, anger) can be replayed clearly. I’m not an expert on the subject or terminology though.
I was depressed about the experience but the sadness and anger wasn't doing me any good. I decided to use that energy instead to focus on improving my Korean just as the guy suggested.
I spent every ounce of my time learning new grammar patterns and absorbing myself in the language just like I did when learning Japanese. A few weeks after the experience, my effort was beginning to pay off.
The teacher would basically be going over grammar patterns from the textbook that we done homework from but I made sure that I studied a few chapters ahead and also made the use of other textbooks.
I would be asked to complete a sentence using some new grammar pattern but I would always use new stuff which I studied on my own.
"Very good Danny! Chal Haesumnida! Everybody, repeat after Danny..." I felt like a kid back in primary school being praised by the teacher for being able to spell "d-o-l-p-h-i-n."
That guys face would stiffen up and turn bright red as he clenched his pen which dug deep into his notebook and I made sure that he didn't have the pleasure of me not looking at him. I guess those who laugh last really do laugh the longest.
As for this photo - because I learned Japanese first and Korean is like 95% the same in terms of grammar, I actually used Korean books that taught Japanese to reverse learn Korean.
These days, I get trolled for anything and everything - does not really matter until the trolls start to tell malicious lies to gather recognition from their peers.
But as I mentioned earlier - spending my time on a troll means that they have a double win as not only does the troll gain a sense of achievement, they also have taken away my precious time.
One of the reasons why trolls do what they do is because they do not have the ability to accomplish much in real life but gaining your attention gives them a sense of achievement.
Never ever react against a troll - instead of using your anger to counterattack with small clumsy uncalculated blows that will leave you feeling embarrassed afterwards, use your energy to aggressively continue to achieve your goals and live well.
Your trolls just can't get enough of you and are always watching your every step so they will eventually see your success and when they do - well you have just dealt them a calculated fatal blow as your trolls *just hate* to see you do well - it makes them sick and gutted to watch you advance onwards.
I want my trolls to know that whenever I achieve my goals - this is what my face looks like when thinking of you. Please keep up the trolling - it really does me wonders.
Love Danny.

What motivated me in the Past?

In the How Discovering Japan Changed My Life post I extensively talked about all the techniques that I used to learn Japanese.
Self study can be difficult unless there is a motivation to do so - below are some of the factors why I was motivated to be disciplined and spend every ounce of my time studying Japanese.


I loved anime, manga, Japanese dramas and music but couldn't understand the actual content. I didn't have any Chinese education so didn't have a head start with Kanji either.
The more Japanese I studied, the more satisfaction I gained as I realized that I could read and understand stuff that once sounded alien to me.


London was my home for many years - but I lived in the worst place in London called Hackney and it was such a dump with muggings and stabbings happening all the time. Hackney was also voted the worst place to live in the whole of the UK.
I wanted out and wanted it badly. While I didn't know exactly where my Japanese learning was taking me - I knew that the key was to continue to study as much Japanese as possible - and I think I was right.


While learning Japanese, I made a load of Japanese friends in London who I would converse with. They were learning English and while I tried to help them as much as I could, they always tended to default back to Japanese ^^;
For me to convey my feelings and thoughts effectively, I had to learn as much Japanese as possible.


I confess - the Idol Nishida Hikaru who I fell in love with was another motivation of study for me - I wanted to know as much about her as possible from the magazines, CD’s and VHS tapes so just had to learn more Japanese!
So how do I rate my level of Japanese now? If I studied for all these years and spoke poor Japanese then that would not have been a good use of time ^^;
Currently my Japanese is good enough to be the only foreigner working for the Japanese government on the Creative Industries Internationalization Committee.
You can also hear me babbling away in Japanese on my TV show Culture Japan.


After a few visits to Japan on holiday, I knew that Japan was where I belonged. During those times in Japan, I would record the sounds of Shibuya and capture all the hustle and bustle of the crossing which included conversations of folks standing nearby waiting for friends.
Back in the UK, I set up speakers around my room and played the recordings of Shibuya and closed my eyes - I was transported back to Shibuya instantly.
I knew I could not be in Japan for another year until I saved up enough money at Benihana but listening to the sounds of Shibuya motivated me so much and I would always play it in the background while I continued to self study Japanese.
I would say to myself daily:-
"I must make it to Japan"
"I must make it to Japan"
"I will make it to Japan"

Default Life Template - fine for some but fine for you too?

From various surveys I’ve seen, most people seem to hate mondays and most would quit their job if they won the lottery. From this, I gather that these folks work purely for money and not for anything else.
But lets face it - money is a necessity in this day and age to cover our basic human needs of food and shelter. Family members also need to be looked after and its the money thats going to help do that.
The DNA of living beings is programmed to give us instincts that help us stay alive and to do so for as long as possible through reflex actions and our will to stay alive. In todays society for the case of humans - we need money to do that so it's natural that money becomes a major factor that influences the decisions that shape our lives.
But what happens is that most of us start to only live a life which is based on the concept of money - we start to live the Default Life Template.
The Default Life Template says that we should go to a good school so that we can go to a good university so that we can get a well paying job so that we can pay the bills - this then allows us to go back to work the next day to earn money to pay for the bills. This cycle is repeated until we retire and die.
I’m not saying there is anything wrong with the Default Life Template - I’m sure it's perfectly fine for some - but is it a template that you want to shape the rest of your life?
As for this photo - its some lottery tickets that we buy from time to time just for the heck of it. But my wife and I always say - even if we won - nothing much would change in terms of the work that we do. Probably buy that Nissan Fairlady Z though ^^;

If I don't do it for money, why don't I do everything for free?

Interesting question! But unfortunately maybe not such an intelligent question that I often get asked.
There are 3 construction workers who are building a playground. We ask them what they are doing.
  • Construction worker 1 says “I’m working for money.”
  • Construction worker 2 says “I’m building a playground.”
  • Construction worker 3 says “I’m making a place where children can gather together and play.”
Construction worker 3 is being paid for his work but his perception on what he is doing is more holistic.
Yes money is important to help us not only cover our basic human needs but also to help us cover some of the other stuff that we want that helps compliment our lives.
As mentioned above, money is not a motivating factor for me because if it was I’d be continuing my corporate life printing money and not caring about what goes on in the world - meaning that you would not be reading this post and there would be no website.
Being focused on money would prevent me from having a holistic view to achieve the big world changing goals that I have in mind - changes which would hopefully stand the sands of time.
Money on the other hand only lasts until one dies - no matter how much of it one has.

Have you thought about what motivates and drives you?

I know that achievement, challenge and growth are my main drives but I want to know more about what drives us so am currently doing research on motivation studies. I’ll share what I come up with in the future but I thought of something that can help us start to understand what drives us.
Think back to times in your life where you were working hard towards something - it could have been completion of a goal or a goal to get somewhere or a goal to acquire something. Think what was driving you at that moment in time.
Why did you try to complete that goal?
Why did you try to go to that place?
Why did you try to acquire that object?
How about those of you to participate in competitive sports? Do you do it because you enjoy it and does not matter if you win? Do you do it because you want to better your best? Or do you do it because you want to be better than the other man?
Would it still be interesting if your competition performed badly and it was always easy for you to win?
Since I started my study on motivation, I’ve been consciously thinking about what motivates me to do every single action throughout my daily life - why do I wake up? Why do I eat? Why do I get on the train to head to a meeting?
Some of these motivating factors can be linked to our human instincts which keep us alive and avoid destruction - and then there is the other intrinsic and extrinsic motivational factors that I’ll talk about when I learn enough about the subject to share with you in the future.
Hopefully, by spending time to think about what motivates us, we can learn how to better achieve our goals and start to make decisions sooner than later which will shape the rest of our lives.
You can read more of the same in the posts listed up below in the career category.