An interview with Japanese female founder, Akiko Naka of Wantedly.
Confident. Transparent. And approachable. These are the 3 words that I would use to quickly describe Akiko Naka, founder of Wantedly — the game-changing, professional networking service in Japan that offers two unique services.
One, Wantedly allows candidates who are interested in a particular company to visit the offices of the potential employer — a highly unusual service in Japan. Two, Wantedly’s mission is to create:
“A world where work meets passion.”
“We believe in a world where everyone is excited about work.”
In a nutshell, the company mission is the reason why Wantedly is excelling in Japan and expanding globally.
Words of Wisdom
During my interview with Akiko, we focused on the success factors that have allowed her to start this 50+ person company at the age of 26. And we spoke at length about the advice that she has for any individual, regardless of whether they want to become an entrepreneur, or not.
Akiko advised, “At this moment in time, how do you want to live your life? Then, focus on the opportunity in front of you, and go for it!”
The more we spoke, the more I understood what she was talking about. By focusing on how you want to live your life, based on your priorities — such as making tons of money, studying a lot about X topic, traveling the world, raising children, making a positive impact on the world, etc. — you are more likely to follow your gut and pursue your passions.
If you don’t succeed, learn from the experience and move on. And if you do succeed, you will be able to expand your horizon of obtainable opportunities.
Akiko spent over 6 months working ~16 hour days to pursue her heart’s desire to become a 漫画 anime artist. Nonetheless, the market supply of anime artists was much higher than the demand. So she technically “failed.” But by trying, Akiko took what she could from her experience and used it to her advantage.
Not only did Akiko learn that she needed to pursue a niche market, offering services that were not readily available in Japan, like engineering, but she was able to land roles at Goldman Sachs and Facebook after pursuing her dream.
After Facebook, Akiko taught herself how to code, learning Ruby on Rails to create her first prototype. By pursuing her dreams, she developed the skills necessary to start her own technology venture that now helps people pursue their passions.
By focusing on how you want to live your life, you can live your life without regrets!
Highlights of Akiko’s History
As one of the most prolific writers and open founders in Japan, Akiko has a wealth of information readily available online. Plus, she even offered to answer anyone’s questions about the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Japan.
A 2015 Bloomberg interview by Shigeru Sato, shares captivating insights into Akiko’s personal background, such as how she became fluent in English — attended high school in New Zealand — and how she started a “free campus newspaper that sold ad space” to local shops, while studying at Kyoto University.
Also, Akiko reiterated her company’s mission and her own personal dream in a Slush Asia 2016 interview:
“To create a world in which all employees are able to find their passion and bring out their full potential.”
But very few articles emphasize the importance of her mother’s influence, except when Akiko shares a little herself in a 2013 Japanese TEDXKyoto Talk.
Akiko’s Success Factor — Her Mother
During the course of our interview, I learned one of her most important success factors — Akiko’s mother.
Both her parents were university professors, and both worked very hard to move up the academic ladder. When Akiko’s mother first started working, she was earning a very low salary and had to teach at a variety of universities in distant areas to earn a decent living wage. Even so, her mother absolutely adored what she was doing — researching children's memory.
Because she loved what she was doing, Akiko’s mother often worked late into the night and on the weekends. Now, of course, the hard work has paid off. Not only is her mother a well-respected academic in her field of expertise, but she is also making a large-scale impact by working directly with the Japanese government through public policy changes and training police officers in the most effective, and advanced interview methods.
By observing her mother, Akiko learned that if you pursue what you love, all the other stuff will follow — money, status, respect, social impact, etc.
And with her family’s undying support and positive influence, Akiko was able to pursue whatever her heart desired. Since she was never told she had to do X, or become Y, Akiko had free range over how she chose to spend her time. That’s why Akiko was able to pursue her dreams.
Needless to say, by having a strong safety net of support from family and friends, one can truly achieve the impossible.
Over the past few years, Akiko has been focusing on building her presence in the Japanese domestic market. But now, it’s time to expand internationally! And to make her vision a reality, Akiko went on over 15 business trips in 2016, even visiting my hometown of San Francisco twice.
In a few months, the company plans on expanding its operations in Singapore, and opening a brand new office in Indonesia. Then, over the summer, Wantedly plans on launching in Hong Kong.
Besides international expansion, Akiko envisions a world where Wantedly is the “Facebook for businesses.”
And It’s A Wrap
By combining her creative and technical skills of creating websites, Akiko established a profitable company that helps connect people who are passionate about what they do, with companies that promote the employees’ values and passions.
This article was originally published on Women 2.0's Medium account on March 6.
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