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Toru Tokushige, Founder of Terra Motors Corporation

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Toru Tokushige, was born in 1973 in Yamaguchi prefecture. After getting BA in chemical engineering from Kyushu University, he became involved in management planning in Sumitomo Marine and Fire Insurance Co. Ltd. Straight as his first career. After working in Sumitomo, he earned MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management in 2002. After earning MBA, he executed hands-on support of technological ventures as the president of an incubation enterprise in Silicon Valley. In 2010, he started Terra Motors Corporation. Toru is now a part of a project of the Ministry of Economics, Trade and Industry “Session for Creation of Firms in New Industry”.

The Asian Entrepreneur is priveleged to sit down with Toru today, to learn from the extraordinary experiences and insights of this incredible entrepreneur.

Founder of Terra Motors Corporation

What exactly is Terra Motors?

Terra Motors is a start-up in Japan. Terra provides pure electric motorcycles to the world. As 80% of worlds sales of motorcycles concentrates in developing market in Asian region, Terra’s products are mainly designed to be used in Asia. Terra also provides affordable three wheelers (electric Tuk Tuk).

How did you come up with the idea of Terra Motors?

When I was working in SV, many of my friends and entrepreneurs had interest in electric vehicle. As I researched on EV an automotive industry, I realized that the big shift change from gasoline to electricity will happen soon in automotive and motorcycle industry. That was when I first came up with the idea of starting EV company. In terms of investment, building automobile company required too much investment for me. However, building motorcycle Manufacturer costs only 1/10 investment. In terms of competitors, existing Motorcycle manufacturers are not willing to provide electric motorcycles yet because of their strategy and thankcost.

In terms of human resources, Japanese 4 major motorcycle manufacturers are the best in the world. I was sure that I could hire professional engineers from these companies.

In addition Japanese products, especially motorcycles, are very popular in Asian region. Therefore, I was sure that Japanese electric motorcycles would be welcomed in the region. These are the reasons that I started from electric motorcycle.

Could you walk us through the process of starting up Terra Motors?

In 2010, I started Terra Motors with my own money. The first product was made in associated plant in China. With the products, named ”SEED”, I started to sell them in Japan to acquire second investment. In 2011, Terra sold about 3000 motorcycles in Japan and became the biggest manufacturers in domestic market. At this point, I got the second investment from famous Japanese executives, such as Mr. Idei, former CEO of Sony, and Mr Yamamoto, former vice president of Apple. Since then, professional engineers from Nissan, Panasonic, and Honda have joined Terra. As the second step, I have established two foreign branches in the Philippines and Vietnam in 2011. In 2014, Terra will have new branches in India.

How has it been like managing the business since?

When I first started Terra, many people who I spoke to said that starting motorcycle manufacturer in Japan seems to be unsuccessful because the 4 biggest manufacturers of motorcycle are all in Japan. Therefore, I had hard and long time finding the initial teammates who could see the potential of electric motorcycles. Fortunately, many telented members who had professional experiences in manufacturer industry and consulting firm have joined the team. In terms of the financial management, I have fortunately come across eminent investors in Japan who support Terra. Many. Doing business in developing market in Asia is not easy as well. Terra hires local employees in Vietnam branch. Implanting Terra’s corporate culture is very difficult as they have different culture and work ethics. As to the products, providing affordable and quality products is very difficult job. However, Terra has successfully found good suppliers which can meet the standard of Terra.

Did you find anything particularly difficult during the startup?

Starting new business in Japan is especially difficult compared to doing the same thing in other countries. Japanese peoples’ quality standard is the highest in the world. Additionally, Japanese people put great trust in famous brands such as Panasonic. Therefore, getting a retailor was very tough in Japan. To prove the quality of Terra’s products needed long and patient effort. Terra’s strategy is to start selling products in famous retailors to prove the quality and novelty of the products. We were sure that placing our products in the local motorcycle shop would not be successful. However, since major motorcycle retailors are company stores, relying on Motorcycle shops is not terra’s option. Terra tried to get a sales contract with electronics retail stores. However, most of the retailors were wary of selling motorcycles in electronics stores. We managed to get the contract with one of the top retailors in Japan and that opened the windows for contracts with other major retailors.

How was the initial reaction from the consumers?

Yes and No.

Yes, sales of our products outnumbered that of our competitors such as Honda and Yamaha. Since Terra’s products are half the price of our competitors (Terra: 120000yen, Yamaha: 250000yen), customers were very satisfied with Terra’s pricing.

No, many of Terra’s customers need more spec. 40km per full charge, 7-9 hours to full charge, and nonremovable battery are not enough to satisfy customers. Terra is now developing new products which can meet the needs of customers.

How have you managed to stay relevant in this industry?

We have gathered important resources as a basis of our business, namely, human, financial,  technical resources, and experiences in Japan.

Our main competitors are both Japanese Motorcycle giants and Chinese manufacturer about chinese company, they are have big strength for price. as we said our main market is developing countries. so, it can be really strong point. But in any market, chinese company already failed. For example in Vietnam in 2008, chinese electric motorcycle company enter that market and they sold really well. But after one year, nobody buy it. Because of quality problem and no after parts and no after service neither.

We already did this kind of things in most customer oriented market(Japan). So, we have well know-how to do this, and we have enough engineer from Yamaha, Honda and so on. Quality is also really fine.

To Japanese giant, they will not enter electric motorcycle market so fast because, they have there own and big infrastructure for gasoline motorcycle. They have lot of engineer, parts supplier, and engine infrastructure. If they change to electric suddenly, they have to cut these things. It is so difficult and even main stream become electric, they should be slow to change.

Against them, we have to have enough speed and motivation to conquer this market as pioneer and if customer know our brand as No.1 electric motorcycle brand in the world, even for japanese giant, it is really difficult to get market share.

What can you tell us about the industry? Have you developed any industry insights that you could share?

Technically, electrification of motorcycle should be easier than that of automobile. Therefore, electric motorcycle should have reached to the market sooner than automobile. However, there are fewer news on electric motorcycle than electric vehicle. This is because Major motorcycle manufacturers are not making shift from gasoline motorcycle to electric ones yet. The reason of not going into electric industry at this point is that major manufacturers do not want to make a drastic shift of their strategy. Their strategy at this point is to expand their market to Latin America and Africa. Electric motorcycles are probably the next step after they saturate these market. They have already done many investment in these regions. Making electric motorcycle require drastic change in investment and human resource. Therefore existing large company are not willing to provide affordable electric motorcycle. Same thing happened in automobile and Tesla took the chance. Terra can be Tesla in motorcycle industry.

What are your future plans for Terra Motors?

At this point, our medium term goal is to be a Tesla motors in motorcycle industry, especially in Asia. Our long term plan is to provide Terra’s products to other developing markets such as Africa and Latin America.

If you could start all over again, would you change anything about your approach? If so, what?

No. I still believe that starting from electric motorcycle was and is the best way into motorcycle and automobile industry.

What do you think about startups in Asia?

In Japan, we need more supportive attitude toward startups. Japanese culture of putting to much trust on traditional and large company should be removed.  In China and Taiwan, there are many startups blooming. Possible future competitors will come from these region.

In Other parts of Asia(South East and South Asia), I think it takes a while until startups can become bigger. Number of professional personnel is not enough. The power of government is too big. Company which cannot collaborate with government are not likely to success. This is not good for startups which normally do not have many credentials.

What are some personal principles or personal values that guide you and your career?

When I was in University, I read quite a lot of books written by Japanese entrepreneurs such as Morita Akio, the founder of Sony, and Honda Soichiro, the founder of Honda Motors. Around that time, I set up my mind that I will follow these three values, to achieve a great deed, to be an entrepreneur, to enjoy my life.  These are my personal values.

What is your definition of success?Success is accumulation of the past failures.

Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?I had a great influence from books written by Japanese entrepreneurs.  I was particularly amazed by the scale of their thought and their belief to contribute to better life for the people in Japan. I really thought that I wanted to be person like Akio Morita someday.

What do you think are the most important things entrepreneurs should keep in mind?

Passion and logic. I think that Entrepreneurs without passion and logic cannot be successful. You need to have right balance of passion and logical thinking.


In your opinion, what are the keys to entrepreneurial success?
Passion and logical thinking. I think that Entrepreneurs without passion and logic cannot be successful.
Any parting words of wisdom for entrepreneurs out there?

Entrepreneurs should think of their business in the global market. There are plenty chances when you look around the world, especially in emerging market. I usually spend half a month in Asian countries and the other half in Japan. I am always amazed by the speed of the development and energy in countries like Vietnam.
Connect
Website: http://www.terra-motors.com/jp/
Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/TerraMotors.jp?ref=ts&fref=ts

Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Tara Velis, Growth Hacker and Digital Innovation Strategist

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

I am talking to Tara Velis, Growth Hacker and freelance Digital Innovation Strategist. Tara was selected and recognized by TheNextWeb.com as one of the 500 most talented young people in the Dutch digital scene during the 2017 TNW edition. Tara is known for her creative, entrepreneurial spirit, which she is using to her advantage in leading the change in SMEs and corporates around the globe.

What makes you do what you do?

I tend to see life as a big, complex puzzle. Because of my curious nature, I am in constant development, looking for new angles and new approaches to business problems. Innovation through technology is exploring ideas and pushing boundaries. The most radical technological advances have not come from linear improvements within one area of expertise. Instead, they arise from the combination of seemingly disparate inventions. This is, in fact, the core of innovation. I love going beyond conventional thinking practices. Mashing up different thoughts and components, connecting the dots, and transforming that into something useful to businesses.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?

I consistently chose to follow my curiosity, which has led me to where I am today. If you want to succeed in the digital industry, you need to have a growth mindset. Seen the fact that the industry is evolving in an astoundingly quick rate, it’s crucial to stay current with the trends and forces in order to spot business opportunities. I believe taking responsibility for your own learning and development is key to success.

Why did you take on the role of Digital Innovation Strategist?

The reason for this is twofold. On the one hand, I got frustrated with businesses operating in the exact same way they did a couple of decades ago. Right now we are in the midst of a technology revolution, and the latest possibilities and limitations of cutting-edge technologies are evolving every single day. This means that companies need to stay current and act lean if they want to survive. On a more personal level, I noticed that I felt the need to use my creativity and problem-solving skills to their maximum capacity. In transforming businesses at scale, I change the rules of the game. I love breaking out of traditional, old-fashioned patterns by nurturing innovative ideas. This involves design thinking, extensive collaboration and feedback, the implementation of various strategies and tactics, validated learning, and so on. I get a lot of energy from my work because it is aligned with my personal interests.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries?

Yes, I look up to Drew Boyd. He is a global leader in creativity and innovation. He taught me how to evaluate ideas in order to select the best ones to proceed with. This is crucial because otherwise,you run the risk of ideas creating the criteria for you because of various biases and unrelated factors. He also taught me a great deal on facilitation of creativity workshops.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I tend to have the characteristics of a transformational leader. People have told me that my enthusiasm and positive energy is motivating and even inspiring to them. Even though I take these comments as a huge compliment, I am not sure how I feel about referring to myself as a leader. To me, it still has a somewhat negative connotation. I guess I associate the concept with being a boss who’s throwing around commands. But if a leader means listening to others and igniting intrinsic motivation in people, then yes, I guess I’m a charismatic leader.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?

Yes, one hundred percent. I believe that creativity and innovation flourish when a highly diverse group of people bounces ideas off each other. Diversity in terms of function, gender,and culture is extremely valuable, especially in the ideation phase of a project, as it can help to see more possibilities and come up with better ideas.

Do you have any advice for others?

Yes, I have some pieces of advice I’d like to share.
First of all: Develop self-awareness. You can do so by actively seeking feedback from the people around you. This will help you understand how others see you, align your intentions with your actions, and eventually enhance your communication- and leadership skills.

Surround yourself with knowledgeable and inspiring people. They might be able to support you in reaching your goals, and help you grow both personally and professionally.

Ask “why?” a couple of times. This simple and powerful method is useful for getting to the core of a problem or challenge. Make sure to often remind yourself and your team of the outcome of this exercise to have a clear sense of direction and focus.

Data is your friend. Whether it’s extensive quantitative market research or a sufficient amount of in-depth consumer interviews (or both!), your data levels all arguments. However, always be aware of biases and limitations of research.

Say “Yes, and…” instead of “No”. Don’t be an idea killer. Forget about the feasibility and budget, at least in the ideation phase. Instead, encourage your team to generate ideas without restrictions. You can compromise certain aspects later.

Prioritization is key. There is just no way you can execute all your ideas, and, quite frankly, there is no point in trying to do so. Identify the high potential ideas and start executing those first.

Encourage rapid prototyping. Don’t wait too long to experiment, launch, and iterate your product or service. Fail fast and fail often. Adopt an Agile mindset.

If you’d like to get in touch with Tara Velis, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/taravelis/

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Callum Connects

Marek Danyluk, CEO of Space Ventures

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Marek Danyluk has a talent for assessing the competencies of management teams for other businesses and pulling together exceptional teams for his own businesses!

What’s your story?
I am the CEO of a venture capital business, Space Ventures, which invests in seed and pre-series A businesses. I also own and run Space Executive, a recruitment business focused on senior to executive hires across sales, marketing, finance, legal and change.

My career started as a trainee underwriter in the Lloyds market but quickly moved into recruitment where I set-up my first business in 2002. The business grew to around 100 people. I moved to Asia in 2009 as a board member of a multinational recruitment business with the mandate to help them scale their Asian entities, which helped contribute to their sale this year, in 2017.

My main talent is assessing the competencies of management teams as well as building high performing recruitment boutiques and putting together exceptional management teams for my own businesses.

What excites you most about your industry?
Building the business is very much about attracting the best talent and being able to build a culture which people find invigorating and unique. It’s an exciting proposition to be able to define a culture in that regard and salespeople are a fun bunch, so when you get it right it’s tremendous.

From a VC point of view there is just so much happening. South East Asia is a melting pot of innovation so the ideas and quality of people you have exposure to, is truly phenomenal. The exposure in the VC has taken me away from a career in recruitment. Doing something completely different has given me a new level of focus.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Whilst I came here with work, both my boys were born in Singapore and to them this very much is home. That said, my father in law spent many years in the East so coming and settling here was met with a good degree of support and familiarity.


Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Possibly Hong Kong. It’s the closest I’ve been to working in London. Whilst there are massive Asian influences people will work with you on the basis you are good at what you do and work hard. I find that approach very honest and straightforward.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Always treat people well on the way up!”

Who inspires you?
I like reading about people who have excelled in business such as Jack Ma, James Kahn, Phil Knight, Sir Richard Branson, Elon Musk, all have great stories to tell and they are all inspirational. No-one has inspired me more than my parents and they are well aware as to why…

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Pretty much any technology innovation blows me away.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Whilst it is important not to have regrets I do continually wake up thinking I’m still doing my A’ Levels. So, I’d have probably tried a little harder in 6th form.

How do you unwind?
I like the odd glass of red wine and watching sport

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Japan skiing. I love skiing and Japanese food and it’s a time when I can really enjoy time with the wife and kids. I recently tried the Margaret River which was divine, although not technically Asia.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Barbarians at the Gate

Shameless plug for your business:
Space Executive is the fastest growing recruitment business in Singapore focused on the mid to senior market across legal, compliance, finance, sales and marketing and change and transformation. Multi-award winning with exceptional growth plans into Hong Kong and London this year, and the US, Japan and Europe by the end of 2022. We are building a truly global brand.

Space Ventures is interested in any businesses that require capital or management and financial guidance or any or all of the above. We have, to date, invested in on-line training, food and beverages, peer to peer lending platforms, credit scoring as well as other tech and fintech start-ups. We are always interested in hearing about potential deals.

How can people connect with you?
[email protected]

Twitter handle?
@Spaceexecutive

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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