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The Amazing Surprises of Living in a Japanese Home



The time-tested ways to get a quick exposure to a new country are to go grocery shopping and, if you are lucky enough, be invited to stay with a local. For example, a US grocery store visit quickly reveals national obsessions with teeth whitening, dieting, and red meat. A visit to a Japanese store reveals obsessions with germs, pickled ingredients, and adorably cute sweets in every possible form.


This weekend in Tokyo I was fortunate to be invited to stay with a Rakuten colleague/HR executive for two nights. I asked her permission to photo my experiences. Being a designer, I really only focused on the appliances and products in her home. I would have to stay a lot longer than two nights to really know anything meaningful about how she lived.

But here goes. Chizy is 49 and has lived in France, Pakistan, Sudan and is currently dividing her time between Boston and Tokyo. A few years ago she bought a house in the same neighborhood where she lived after university. It’s a quiet and calm west Tokyo location called Nishiogikubo with many small crafts shops and tiny charming restaurants lining the narrow dense streets.

This is Chizy’s own street. In contrast to most of Tokyo, Nishiogikubo is markedly low rise and homey.

IMG_1390 This is her house, below, which she renovated after purchase. It’s probably about 1,500 square feet in size.

IMG_1389While relaxing alone in the living room–with the big grated window opened–I heard a grandfather singing to a baby, the whoosh of cycles passing, neighbors calling to each other, and children playing. As I quietly tapped on my computer a–dare I say–sense of Zen fell over me, being in the company of those soothing but untranslatable foreign sounds. I heard no cars, sirens or air traffic. The immediate neighbor behind Chizy’s house has a large yard so there were also lots of bird and cricket sounds and gentle breezes cooled the rooms.

Here is Chizy, serving cake after a small dinner gathering. It was interesting to me that she served a variety of store-bought small dishes as the dinner. It was kind of like an assemblage of appetizers, with one substantial dish in the form of roasted pork. I was happy for this efficiency as she had spent the Saturday in a training course and the last thing I wanted her to do was cook. It struck me that an American friend would probably have knocked herself out to prepare something homemade–and there would have been a great loss of conviviality sacrificed for that purpose. Chizy calmly served the array of tasty treats and was able to focus on the conversation rather than inventing a culinary extravaganza.


Her home is full of strange wonders, many electronic. It reinforced my perception that much of Japan is just slightly over-engineered, or over-featured, or over-personalized.

Here’s an example (I think). I had some time in Chizy’s home by myself and had half a mind to do a load of laundry, being out of clean clothes. One look at this “jet engine” dashboard on the washing machine and I decided my dirty duds would have to do.


As a business sidebar, this control panel reminds me of every Japanese PowerPoint I’ve ever seen. Japanese presentations are always ten times more complex than an American version. My Japanese colleagues seem totally comfortable with the density of information and I can only speculate that either 1) they fake that they understand their colleague’s work, or 2) they can take in complex visual information more easily than an English-language-reader, because at a young age they all learned to read a very complex pictographic alphabet, Kanji.

Speaking of complexity, any visitor to Japan knows the Ph.D it takes to use a toilet. Here is the wall-mounted control panel example from Chizy’s home. Just what button would you push to flush, anyway? (It’s not the orange one.)


This was a really cool feature of her sanitary fixtures: there is a tiny hand-washing sink right on top of the tank that starts flowing the perfect amount of water after a flush. The blue thing is a sanitizer doo-hickey. One odd thing is that in both private and public restrooms I rarely see hand soap. That is not consonant with the whole germaphobe Japanese society.


What is consonant is the ever-present pair of slippers in every Japanese bathroom. I am not quite sure their purpose and I forgot to ask. When I was raising young boys with bad aim though, I would have liked to follow that custom.

IMG_1385 While Chizy was preparing dinner I did ask her about the giant 7” diameter sink drain. She showed me a gauze “basket” under this drain that she periodically disposes and replaces. Chizy said she is constantly clogging the drain of her American apartment because it does not have this two-step sort of system to catch the big stuff before it flushes down. I neglected to ask her about the oh-so-tiny sponge scrubber next to the drain, but I saw them for sale in packs of eight or so. I can’t imagine why they are a good idea.


Here is Chizy’s living area and kitchen. We had dinner gathered around the coffee table. Her “office” is the little desk behind the plant. I was pleased to see that Japanese women really do have giant stuffed animals in their homes (note the green one) because we launched this same Japanese company as a Grommet. I always pray that our Discovery team is not duped when a foreign manufacturer tells us “This is very popular in our country.” I fear someone selling us the Japanese or Spanish or Australian equivalent of say, a Cabbage Patch Doll or Spam.

IMG_1381Chizy’s windows were covered with a type of shade that filters the light, lets in air, but prevents people looking in. The windows and screens were engineered to within an inch of their lives, for easy operation.

IMG_1380Chizy lives very, very sparely. Even with such a small footprint house, most of the storage spaces were empty or uncrowded. Walls were largely bare and the furniture minimalist. I have no idea if this is typical but I know that when I stay in traditional Japanese inns there is a similar aesthetic. The simple but pleasing details of this staircase feel all the more luxurious for not competing with a great deal of ornamentation or décor.

IMG_1379Ascending the stairs I had two silent disappointments. One, the hard tiny pillows worried me, as a person who needs a good fluffy pillow, that I’d be up half the night with my head on a rock. This is not unusual—Japanese hotels usually have a small buckwheat pillow on the beds (alongside a soft Western one). I speculate that this practice keeps the Japanese tough, as there is zero comfort in laying your head down on those hard, unforgiving sacks. At Chizy’s I ended up wrapping the colorful little lozenges in the generous comforter and getting by just fine.

IMG_1387The other worry was the humidity and heat in the second floor room—it was positively oppressive on entry. We opened the windows and relief seemed possible but the coup de grace was this “air cleaner” appliance. It is some kind of combo dehumidifier and purifier and it works a charm. The room was soon very comfortable and I slept like the dead.

IMG_1388The next morning Chizy showed me the shower and I had to ignorantly ask “Where do I stand to use it?” The answer was that you sit on that little stool and basically the whole room turns into your shower.  OK then! It’s a lot like the shower set-up at a traditional public onsen bath. I should have known–I’ve been to at least ten.

IMG_1382I was curious about the cover on the bath and was surprised to roll it back and find the bath full of water, whose warmth was retained by the double walled insulated protection. Baths are religion in Japan so the various rituals and industries built around them clearly extend to the home.


Chizy shared with me her precious supply of a fairly unusual breakfast treat: a paste made of sesame and honey, on toast. It was delicious. I wanted to bring some home as it is also meant to have health benefits. I also adore looking at the cartoony graphics. This new addition would complement my fanatical devotion to a weekend toast ritual. Below is what I usually have in the summer. (I love it so much I took a picture to remind me in the winter when I am stuck indoors with my Maine blueberry jam.)



This is the neighborhood restaurant where I subsequently had a delightful solo lunch.  Re:gendo is in a very traditional building transported to this location and restored to a lustre. It’s operated by a cadre of sweet, pretty former housewives. In this singular place, I finally found my dream “local” Tokyo restaurant, nicely complemented by a small craft shop.


Chizy says there is another restaurant in the neighborhood manned by older women– “grandmothers” who are very slow and often screw up your order. But their warm charm and steady conversation are the draws to the establishment, not speed or accuracy. In contrast there is a small local bar owned a silent bartender where Chizy says she goes if she is tired of talking and just wants to slam down two drinks in peace.

I’ve been to Japan five times since last year. I’ll be back many times and I am hopeful that I was a good guest to Chizy so I can return to her lovely abode. One of the secrets to surviving this kind of travel, according to my globe-trotting Japanese colleagues, is to establish firm routines around the flights you take, the food you eat, where you stay and the public transport routes, and preserving your personal exercise routines.

I’ve not managed to find that balance on prior trips but I can now see a way to create a little bit of home in Chizy’s neighborhood. And maybe next time I will brave operating the washing machine.


About the Author

This article was written by Jules Pieri. Jules is the Co-Founder and CEO of the product launch platform The Grommet. The company’s Citizen Commerce™ movement is reshaping how consumer products get discovered, shared, and bought. see more.


Why Angel Investors are Shaking Up the Global Startup Scene



Candace Johnson is someone who has made a global impact on our modern international telecom and broadcast business. She co-initiated the foundation of SES-Astra and SES Global, which today owns a fleet of 54 satellites and broadcasts 6500 TV channels. And she founded the world’s first Internet-based online service, Europe Online, making it into one of the first broadband Internet services.

But it was in her role as president of EBAN, the European trade association of several hundred business angels, which brought her to Eindhoven’s High Tech Campus recently. She explains why angel investors are making a difference to the global start-up scene and explodes several myths that surrounds the way they do business. She spoke with StartupDelta’s Jonathan Marks.

Building the match between angel investors and hardware startups

“People often think that angel investors are people who do investments around the corner, locally, or in services like e-commerce. To be frank, when the HTCE management told me that they were focussing on the hardware side of things, I was thrilled.”

“What I’m trying to do as President of EBAN, and having incubated MBAN (MENA Business Angels Network) and ABAN (African Business Angels Network) under my presidency, is to extend the scope of angel investments. The vast majority of angels are already tech savvy. But we need to educate our successful angel investors to invest more in hardware and infrastructure. We also need to help start-ups develop a pitch that speaks to the interests of angels, so they can get funding for their initiative.”

“We run the EBAN Training Institute with the goal of raising standards. We’re seeing more and more that the best angel investors are serial entrepreneurs. They bring their trusted network, expertise and experience to the table.”

“Money is important too, but it is not at the top of the list. Business angel investors are high net worth individuals who usually provide smaller amounts of finance (€25,000 to €500,000) at an earlier stage than many venture capital funds are able to invest. They are increasingly investing alongside seed venture capital funds.”

Angels are more important than most people know

“We follow the guidelines and standards developed by the European Venture Capital Association. For over seven years, during the depths of the financial crisis in 2008 until the recent recovery started, it was the angel investors who took over the role of early stage financing. More than €7.5 billion are being invested annually in Europe, with a sustained growth in recent years. Of that €5.5 billion comes from angels. In fact we have had to professionalize our profession to meet the demand of the growth in this early stage ecosystem.”

We always have an exit strategy

“Angel investors can only continue to invest if they have exits. I hear many people talk about investing. Only a few discuss exits. I want to change that. I also stress that proven entrepreneurial success is essential in order to become a member of our association. We need to ensure that useful “lessons learned” are shared with the start-ups. They are always based on hands-on real-world experience. We have no time for people who are using new blood to try and correct mistakes they made in their own failed companies.”

“EBAN was started in 1999 together with the European commission. For the first ten years, I think people were too focussed on the investing part. Now we need to focus on exits and returns on investment. Without returns, business angels are out of business. And remember there is only a short window of opportunity during which start-ups can scale-up to becoming global success stories”.

“Our feeling is that you should not make an investment in a company unless you can see the path for the exit. The exit may be a trade sale, an IPO, etc. The exit also does not have to be 100 %. It does, however, have to bring you a return on your investment so that you can continue to invest. This approach helps you focus on building great companies. There’s always competition in healthy markets, so no-one can afford to waste time. We’re not a charity; we’re doing this because we love building and financing global success stories. We’re therefore looking for companies with a real marketable product, not a prototype or a collection of well-presented ideas.”

Is there specific advice you can share with high-tech startups?

“In the last few years we’ve seen the rise of the accelerators alongside incubators. They have helped raise standards because a good idea needs to be validated by the market before it is the basis for a high-growth company.”

“As investors, we always need to see a start-up demonstrate that they have first clients and initial revenues. We’re not saying that they have had to scale or show market traction. But if we are going to put in our personal money, then we expect the founder to be resourceful enough to work out the first product, to have found the first clients and show us evidence of the first revenues.”

“The incubators who help get an idea into reality and the accelerators have been good at making startups better prepared for angel investment, offering the right coaching to turn an idea into a validated business. That means angel investors are better able to select the growth companies and focus on making a good return on their investment.”

Hanneke Stegweg

“We recognise that young companies need to present their business proposition to the angels attending our annual conference. So we’ve created ways that teams get immediate, honest feedback on the quality of their business presentation. We have one full day of preparation and coaching followed by a Global Investment Forum. The best go on to pitch to the entire network. This year, the “company to watch” category was won by Hanneke Stegweg, who is the Dutch CEO of the iLost company. Together with Neelie Kroes, I am keen to see more women founders lead entrepreneurial teams.”

What needs to change for things to move faster?

“We held this year’s EBAN congress in Eindhoven at the recommendation of several members. They all work in the innovation and financing of innovation field. But this region also came up in our discussions with StartupDelta. We have worked closely with Neelie Kroes when she was with the European Commission.”

“We were tipped off to the High Tech Campus specifically by our Russian members: the Russian Business Angels and the Skolkovo Foundation who are building the Skolkovo science park just outside Moscow.”

“And last, but not least, I know Eindhoven from my work in telecommunications and broadcasting hardware field. We often came here to work with Philips on the establishment of the DVD and MPEG-4 standards.”

“During our visit to the Brainport area it was clear that there is more than enough money in the region and a healthy appetite to invest in innovation. But there are some caveats that we feel need to be addressed.”

“Frankly, I think we are rather tired of the “nice-to-have” e-commerce companies. We would prefer to reinvest in world-class companies who are building something tangible, solving a real-world challenge. They need to demonstrate they can scale and become global.”

“We can see that the efforts by many have helped to raise the bar in the Netherlands and that’s good news for everyone. But remember there is a difference between entrepreneurs and SME’s. Entrepreneurs are the only ones to change our world. They create large companies, worthwhile employment, and that grows into large revenues.”

Failure is not an option

“We should get rid of this talk of failure being an option. If you’re taking angel money, it is NOT OK to fail.”

“If you take third party money, you have a responsibility as an entrepreneur to do everything you can to make a return on the investment of your business angel. The media keeps talking about friends, family and fools. But that’s nonsense! Founders, families and friends build great companies!”

“I have always been a free marketer at heart. Europe and The Netherlands need to create nations of investors. I believe in the power of private sector-led investment. Government needs to follow the leads set by business angels, not the other way round. We are investing our own money and using our years of experience to scale up these companies. An entrepreneur who is not willing to work and dedicate her or his lives 24/7 to achieve the goal should look elsewhere for money!”

“We’re fortunate that the EBAN network acts as a magnet for excellence. We were honoured to have the President of the European Research Council and the Head of Technology Transfer of the European Space Agency address our Congress to show us where the technology trends are going and where we should invest.”

“From a venture and entrepreneurial financing perspective, we were most grateful to our colleagues from the United States who joined with our European, MENA, and African colleagues to set the bar high in creating, building and financing global success stories. Amongst those joining us in Eindhoven from the United States were the president of the Global Accelerator Network from the USA, the president emeritus of the Angel Capital Association of the USA, the President of Start-Up Angels and Board Member of Up Global from the USA. We also welcomed the President Emeritus of the Crowd funding association of the US as well as the chairman of New York Angels. And we were delighted with the presence of David S. Rose, the president of These are some of the world’s best experts in angel investing.”

“They all said they were pleasantly surprised by the high standard of the startups that came to Eindhoven from all over the world. It was well above what they had expected. Start-ups from Africa, Middle East and Europe traditionally explain what they do, rather than explaining to investors why their idea is important. But that’s changing rapidly for the better. Entrepreneurs are also getting better at defining what they need in order to scale-up.”

NEXT STEPS : It’s all about active networking

“I should explain that in expanding our reach in Europe, with have formed alliances with the European Space Agency and the European Research Council. They also have their own accelerators and incubators. I think the onus is on the angel investor community to help bring this scientific community to a higher level of entrepreneurship. They need to think about the market for their inventions from the beginning. I believe we can help these organisations filter out the very best ideas and give those the attention they need to scale ideas into real businesses. There needs to be a validated market need for the technology they are developing.”

“We have two main events. There is the annual EBAN congress, this year in Eindhoven and next year in Porto, Portugal. And we run the EBAN Winter University, this year running from November 17–19th in Copenhagen. We’re doing this with leading organisations active in Europe’s creative industries. And all this is in addition to individual events and competitions organised by EBAN members at a local, regional and national level.

Increasingly we’re assembling cross-border syndicates, both between European countries and increasingly inter-continental networks linking Europe with innovation hubs in Africa, Middle East and North America. As companies scale and go global, it is important they have access to an international shareholder network. It’s a softer landing when they cross continents.

We also believe there is a way in which we can build partnerships with techno-business parks around the globe, led by the flywheel initiatives shown by High Tech Campus Eindhoven over these very fruitful days in the Netherlands.


About the Author

This article was written by Jonathan Marks, Executive Director at Photon Delta. See more.

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Myths & Facts about Entrepreneurship



Today, there is a pervasive and nearly deafening mantra insisting that you quit your job and become an entrepreneur. The collective says you should do it today because every day you wait brings you closer to a life of poverty and regret.

A central theme in the entrepreneurial world is challenging the status quo and questioning conventional wisdom in search of new and better ways of doing things. If you’re just going to follow the pack, you may as well just get a real job and call it a day.

Entrepreneurship can be incredibly rewarding. Starting your own business may be the best decision you ever make. But it’s not for everyone. There’s a lot to consider before you take the plunge and a lot of myths to expose, starting with these.

Let’s take a glance at some of the Myths of entrepreneurship:

1. You’ll be Happier

Entrepreneurship can be incredibly rewarding. Starting your own business may be the best decision you ever make. But it’s not for everyone. There’s a lot to consider before you take the plunge and a lot of myths to expose, starting with these.

2. You’ll have more freedom, control and work-life balance

If you’re on your own, chances are you’re going to find yourself wearing all sorts of hats and working 24×7 for a very long time. Work will become your life. There’s nothing wrong with that, but not everyone feels more freedom and control that way.

3.You’ll be more fulfilled

Do we know what just about everyone loves to do? Great work that accomplishes goals they can be proud of. One can do that working for a big company, a small company, or their own company. Fulfillment has nothing to do with business ownership. If one wants to manage, lead, or run a business, it’s better off learning the ropes in a good company before starting your own.

4.There are no jobs; technology and outsourcing killed them all

It is shockingly untrue. If technology destroyed jobs, then which one will you call the most lucrative and fastest-growing industry on the face of the earth.That’s right: technology. If you can’t find a job, chances are you lack in-demand skills or education, in which case, yes, you might want to consider starting a small business which does not require much of exclusive skill sets in particular.

5.Entrepreneurs Live a Glamorous Lifestyle

That’s again untrue. Most entrepreneurs do not live a glamorous lifestyle; if they do, their investors should cringe. Entrepreneurs are notoriously frugal, hard working and opportunity-obsessed with little time for outside activities. These qualities are not hallmarks of the glamorous life.

Now,Let’s look at some of the facts of entrepreneurship.

  1. Most successful entrepreneurs succeed by exceptional execution of ordinary ideas: See Jiffy Lube, Starbucks and Charles Schwab.
  2. Most successful entrepreneurs concentrate on minimizing risk rather than taking huge risk at the time of starting their companies.
  3. Successful entrepreneurs use their innovative passion in many ways, such as buying companies, creating new ventures within larger companies and re-strategising nonprofits.
  4. More than 80 percent of new ventures are boot-strapped from personal savings, credit cards, second mortgages and the like. The median start-up capital is about $10,000. Waste Management began with a single truck; Sam Walton started with $5,000. So, in short access capital is not required to startup.
  5. Being first to execute well and delight customers is not at all important for success. A lot of startups have entered quite late in a particular startup industry and have done well.


About the Author

This article was written by Utkarsh Sharma.

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