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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 – Daphne Ng, CEO of JEDTrade

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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.)

Daphne Ng is the CEO of JEDTrade, a blockchain technology company focused on trade, supply chain, and financial inclusion projects in ASEAN. She is also the Scretary-General at ACCESS and Exco. of Singapore Fintech Association

What makes you do what you do?
I was introduced to blockchain technology in 2016 after I left my corporate banking career after 10 years. It was my mentor who first got me interested in this technology, which I then went on to delve further into, on its potential applications in the lending and trade finance space – domains where I came from.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Being in the space for 2 years and actively involved in the ecosystem, I was able to bring on the projects, network and a good degree of thought leadership in this vertical. Early on in the startup journey, our team faced many challenges. And to me, the key to rising above failures are two essential factors – resilience and support. While resilience is innate, I received a lot of help be it in terms of connections or advice. ‘Nobody succeeds without help’ rings very true for me.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
From the start, I focused on my domain expertise in trade finance and the application construct of how blockchain and DLT can be applied to these use cases. Also, my strategy from the start was to build a technology company made up of 80% tech and engineers, which is also our key competitive advantage today. At the end of the day, deliverables are about strategy and execution, which includes building and leading an ‘A’ team.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
I have many mentors, which includes our company advisors (all of whom are well-known in this industry) and mostly informal mentors I meet via my connections, and on various occasions and circumstances. Creating opportunities also means putting myself in the right place, at the right time. And in my case, these were mostly organic and genuine friendships formed from the initial connection.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him?
To me, a match in values is very important. It also takes humility to ask for help and be willing to listen to advice, which is important in order for mentorships to be successful – be it formal or informal.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
I love this question! I am passionate about building strong teams and helping my people grow. I abide by the 3Rs when identifying talents: resourcefulness, resilience and right values. And then I invest in the ‘potential’ and this means giving them room to lead, make decisions and take risks.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
My support of diverse talents, skillsets and characters can be seen in the make-up of our core team – all helming specific roles and each bringing their own value to the table. We need the sum of all parts to build a great company.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
Great leaders emerge in times of failures and challenges, never abandoning the team, and always putting the team’s interests before her own. And I consciously live by these mottos every day.

Advice for others?
My advice to other entrepreneurs: be resolute and dare to be different. If you are going to follow others, then you will end up on the same path as them. No right or wrong; but I would rather chart my own path. This June, we are officially launching our blockchain project, Jupiter Chain (www.jupiterchain.tech), which have garnered much interest in the industry, even before we made it public. We believe this project is the epitome of marrying innovation with practical implementation, and we want to be the first to truly operationalize blockchain for our ecosystem projects in this region.


If you’d like to get in touch with Daphne Ng, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/daphne-ng-%E9%BB%84%E7%91%9E%E7%8E%B2/

To learn more about JEDTrade, please click here.

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Callum Connects

Jace Koh, Founder of U Ventures

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Jace Koh believes cash flow is the lifeblood of your business. Understanding it will enhance your ability to run and manage your business.

What’s your story?
My name is Jace Koh and I am the Founder of U Ventures. I’ve always been inclined towards investment and entrepreneurship. I’ve played a hand in starting businesses across these industries – professional services, cloud integration, software and music. I believe that succeeding in business is tough, but that’s what makes the rewards even sweeter.

What excites you most about your industry?
Everything excites me. These are my beliefs:

  • Why is accounting important?
    The accounting department is the heart. Cash flow is like blood stream, it pumps blood to various parts of the body like cash flow is pumped to various departments and/or functions in a business. It is vital to the life and death of the business.
  • Is accounting boring?
    Accountants are artists too. They paint the numbers the way they want them to be.
  • What makes a good accountant?
    A good accountant can tell you a story about the business by looking at the numbers.
  • Why is budgeting and projection important?
    Accountants are like fortune tellers, they can predict the numbers and if you wish to understand your business and make informed decisions, feel free to speak to our friendly consultants to secure a meeting.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore, and here’s where I want to be.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore is my favourite city. We have great legal systems in place, good security and people with integrity. Most importantly, we have a government that fosters a good environment for doing business. I recently went for a cultural exchange programme in Hong Kong to learn more about their startups. I found out that the Hong Kong government generally only supports local business owners in terms of grants. They’ve recently been more lenient and changed the eligibility to include all businesses that have at least 50% local shareholding. But comparing that to Singapore, the government only requires a 30% local shareholding to obtain government support. In the early days of starting a business, all the support you can get is precious. It’s great that we have a government that understands that.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
The best time ever to plant a tree was 10 years ago as the tree would have grown so big to provide you with shelter and all. When is the next best time to plant a tree? It is today. Because in 10 years time, the tree would have grown big enough to provide you shelter and all.

Who inspires you?
Jack Ma. His journey to success is one of the most inspiring as it proves that with determination and great foresight, even the poorest can turn their lives around. I personally relate to his story a lot, and this is my favourite quote from him, “If you don’t give up, you still have a chance. Giving up is the greatest failure.”

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’ve faced multiple rejections throughout my business journey, and recently came across a fact on Jack Ma about how he was once rejected for 32 different jobs. It resonated very deeply and taught me the importance of tenacity, especially during tough times.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. I live a life with no regrets. Everything I do, regardless of whether it is right or wrong, happy or sad, and regardless of outcome, it’s a lesson with something to take away.

How do you unwind?
I love to pamper myself through retail therapy and going for spas. I also make a conscious effort to take time off work to have a break outside to unwind as well as to uncloud my mind. This moment of reflection from time to time helps me see more clearly on how I can improve myself.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Taiwan! Good food with no language barriers and the people are great!

Everyone in business should read this book:
I don’t really read books. Mostly, I learn from my daily life and interactions with hundreds of other business owners. To me, people tell the most interesting stories.

Shameless plug for your business:
We’re not just corporate secretaries, we’re “business doctors.”
U Ventures is a Xero certified advisory firm that goes beyond traditional accounting services to provide solutions for your business. You can reach us on our website: http://uventures.com.sg/

How can people connect with you?
Converse to connect. You can reach me via email at [email protected] or alternatively, on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacekoh/

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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