Headline Asia has recently invested in JPYC as the lead investor of Series A, along with Circle, which issues a USD-pegged stablecoin USDC, and Infinity Ventures Crypto, which invests in promising startups in the Web3.0 ecosystem globally.
Founder Spotlight of JPYC: Noritaka Okabe
JPYC Inc. was founded in November 2019. In January 2021, it started issuing JPYC, a Japanese Yen-pegged stablecoin, as Japan’s first ERC20 prepaid payment instrument. JPYC Inc. is actively working with various partners in order to increase the use cases of JPYC online and offline.
In this article, our investor Jonathan M. Hayashi, who was in charge of the investment in JPYC, will be interviewing the founder and CEO of JPYC, Okabe-san.
You have such an interesting career, as you have been an entrepreneur your whole life. Can you please briefly share your life story with our readers?
I was born in 1978 and am currently 43 years old. I enrolled in Hitotsubashi University, majoring in economics, but I barely went to classes. In 2001, at the age of 22, still in school, I started my first company. Similar to a money exchanger, which was a server-to-server trading company for in-game currency. A sort of money exchanger.
Afterward, I’ve also operated several other websites, such as a prize point website (which was the third one in the industry at the time) and some affiliate websites. On the side, I was also assisting with developing games. Eventually, in 2017, I carved out a second company with the mindset and goal to help users stay healthy by making them walk more.
We issued a virtual currency that would be allocated as compensation for walking. In late 2019, I founded my third company, which is now renamed JPYC Inc.
Tell us more about the virtual currency that you issued in your last company. Is it legally registered as a “crypto asset” in Japan?
It’s called “Arukcoin”. (“Aruku” means “walking” in Japanese) It’s still up and running, but I’m not involved anymore. The service connects to the users’ smartphones to check how many miles they’ve walked. The more the users walk, the more Arukcoin they get. They can also earn additional Arukcoin by going to specified locations.
It is not registered as a “crypto asset” in Japan, so it cannot be listed on any local crypto exchange. It could only be distributed for free, but could not be sold at a price. Also, the company could not be custodial, meaning it could not hold the Arukcoin on behalf of the users.
One thing that’s amazing about JPYC Inc is the age diversity of your employees. I heard that your CTO* joined the company when she was 16?
Yes! The average age of JPYC Inc. is about 24 years old now. The youngest member joined the company when he was 15 and now he’s 16. Many young people approached us because of our former CTO. She is now 18, while she joined when she was 16.
*Currently there are two CTOs at JPYC
In JPYC, we do not judge our employees by gender, age, or previous experience, and we only hire people who can resonate with this culture. We have very young people here, but on the other hand, the oldest employee of our company is 65 years old.”
What is it like to run a company with such diversity in gender and age? Is there any lesson learned from this process or any secret sauce?
I am a big fan of the Japanese Go chess game. Also, I was a little addicted to playing this game called “Ingress,” which is developed by Niantic, the game developer behind Pokemon Go. Playing these games, I was able to learn a few lessons about management.
As for Go, it’s a game about giving and taking. That is, you need to balance how much benefit you’re willing to give to the opponent, and how much benefit to take away from him. You also need to decide the timing of that. And this applies to company management too. Also, it’s a game of decision-making. Every time you put a stone on a board, that’s a decision, and every single one of them could be the decision that lets you win or lose the game. So I think I’m well trained and very used to making decisions.
As for Ingress, that’s an online war game where I got to give orders to thousands of other players. In Ingress, I learned that a top-down organization, where a small group of authority gives exact directions to a huge group of people, performed so much worse than a decentralized organization, where everyone can decide what to do based on a set of principles. With that, I am applying the same logic to running JPYC Inc. too.
How is the company decentralized? Does everyone get to do what they want?
Well, first of all, many of them are digital nomads and haven’t even met each other in real life, until the anniversary party we held recently.
As for decision-making, they can decide the working hours by themselves. If they want to do new things, they can just go ahead and do it. If they need additional resources, they can send out a request for resources, which we call a “help”. Then the finance department of the corporation would evaluate the “help” and provide resources accordingly.
There are many things that happen in an autonomous way. For example, there are many club activities within the company, such as Shogi chess club, sauna club, crypto trading club, etc. They just go ahead, start a new Slack channel, and get together.
What do you hope to achieve in the next 12 months?
Well, 10 billion is a good number. I would aim for an issuance amount of JPY 10 billion for JPYC. As for hiring, we are actively looking for engineers as well as English-speaking talents. I’m hoping the people who join us now would become a JPYC Mafia, similar to the idea of PayPal Mafia, so that they would learn a thing or two and from there on, be able to start their own business in the future.