Three Japanese founders of women-led companies share how they overcame their hardships.

Women Founders I: Pinpinkorori, Radiotalk, and Spider Labs

Women Founders I: Pinpinkorori, Radiotalk, and Spider Labs

Countless businesses have changed societies, environments, and people’s lives, and many of these inspiring businesses were founded and led by female entrepreneurs. According to PitchBook, in the U.S., one of the most active markets for entrepreneurs, companies founded or co-founded by female founders are drawing an exponential increase in capital deal flow. Compared to 2020, there’s a 75% increase in deal counts for women-led companies in 2021 as well.

US venture capital deal flow by female (co-)founded companies

US venture capital deal flow by female (co-)founded companies

However, that’s not to say that all the challenges women founders had faced previously have vanished, especially for those who lead their own businesses in Asia. The Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs 2020 report shows that “very few consider themselves to be perceived as innovative by others” in Taiwan and Japan where cultural stigmas and unsupportive societal conditions still looms large in the business world. explains (Japan’s ranks 47th place out of 58 economies for progress of women entrepreneurs and business owners, while Taiwan comes in 12th on the list).

Although there are many factors that frustrate female entrepreneurs, many of them stand out and surprise the world with their business talents. Three Japanese women founders — Eri Kohinata, Kaori Inoue, and Satoko Otsuki — share their entrepreneurial journey of how they came to be who they are.

Eri Kohinata, CEO of Pinpinkorori

Eri Kohinata, CEO of Pinpinkorori

Eri Kohinata, CEO of Pinpinkorori

Eri Kohinata, a finalist in IVS2021 LAUNCHPAD NASU, decided to support the employment of seniors after she saw that her 88-year-old grandmother lost her energy after quitting her job. In 2017, she started Pinpinkorori to provide “Tokyo Kaasan” (Kaasan means “mother” in Japanese). Pinpinkorori is a senior employment support service that both supports working mothers and eliminates the loneliness and anxiety of elderly women by providing a family-like relationship that differs from conventional housekeeping services.

As a woman founder, what is one challenge you faced starting or running your company and how did you overcome it?

I don’t have any particular difficulties because I am a female entrepreneur, and in recent years there has been a wave of support for female entrepreneurs, which I feel is more of a tailwind.

I was 31-years old when I started my own company, Pinpinkorori. I was busy with my entertainment business as a celebrity at the time when I was in the midst of launching my service. I thought my shareholders might be worried about me being a female entrepreneur, so I announced to them at the shareholders’ meeting, “I’m going to concentrate on my work, so I won’t get married or have a baby for the next two years!” The shareholders were stunned and said, “Don’t say that, you should get married and raise children. Show the world how you balance work and family. That’s what Tokyo Kaasan is for, isn’t it?” I was ashamed that how I think in such an anachronic way.

Tokyo Kaasan

Tokyo Kaasan

What is a piece of advice you would give to a fellow woman entrepreneur who is just starting out?

I think it’s best to avoid labor-intensive work styles, where working hours are proportional to results. As an entrepreneur, there is no difference in ability between men and women, but, relatively, women’s physical strength is less than that of men. (Of course, it depends.)

Dads can take care of children, but only women can give birth. Women’s working hours are reduced during this time. However, if you can work in a way that allows you to demonstrate your value as a business owner in a short amount of working hours, you do not have to give up your family. I think it’s a good idea to rely on others for those things that do not need you to do in person, both in your work and personal life. Housework is one of them.

“However, if you can work in a way that allows you to demonstrate your value as a business owner in a short amount of working hours, you do not have to give up your family.”

Can you name three traits you have that you think have helped you on your journey to becoming an entrepreneur?

  1. Rarity

Women founders are still rare, therefore are special. Having more opportunities such as supports that only for female entrepreneurs, etc.

2. Empathy

Many people communicate differently, and this is an asset for management skill-set.

3. Our mindset

[With lived experience, we have] better sensitivity towards business services for women.

Kaori Inoue, CEO of Radiotalk

Inoue-san, one of the finalists at LAUNCHPAD Entertainment, got her hands dirty to launch the voice distribution platform “Radiotalk”. She is targeting a market that is said to be 300 billion yen in size in voice entertainment.

As a woman founder, what’s one challenge you faced starting or running your company and how did you overcome it?

I don’t really have any. When I was about to answer that I don’t have many friends with whom I can feel free to ask for advice and catch up with, but this is because of my own social skills, not because of gender. There are women entrepreneurs who have made it [easy] engaging in the community.

If I had to mention something, it’d be health problems. Once I had uterine bleeding while giving a speech (luckily it didn’t lead to any trouble and I was able to concentrate). It was being live-streamed and almost caused a broadcast accident. I’m aware that unexpected situations happen, thus now I take precautions even if it’s not my due date. I have been able to prevent accidents well enough.

Radiotalk

Radiotalk

What is a piece of advice you would give to a fellow woman entrepreneur who is just starting out?

This is probably not going to be helpful to many people, but I’m going to try to speak to a small percentage of women entrepreneurs in similar situations.

For private health reasons, I am not planning to get married or have a baby (Neither my business nor my position as a board member resulted in this decision). On the other hand, I strongly believe that procreation is a wonderful thing, and it gives me a sense of fulfillment when I see people connect and gain family members through Radiotalk. One thing I would like to comment on in this circumstance is that I can transform the frustration of not being able to have a baby into the energy to start a business.

Can you name three traits you have that you think have helped you on your journey to becoming an entrepreneur?

  1. We are easy to approach to healthcare and work issues that affect women.

As the thoughts I mentioned in my previous answer, I respect both men and women who deal with children. I sincerely want to provide generous support to employees who are about to give birth or raise children. The opportunities to hear the “real talk” of women who have experienced childbirth and childcare come in handy.

You can always do a one-on-one meeting, but when women share their problems together, it is easier to put real issues on the table. In addition, some of them may already have solutions.

For example, recently [at work] we had a conversation about baby-sitting. An employee shared that childcare was getting expensive due to high frequency and we shared that the Cabinet Office provides discounted babysitting services for registered companies, and applicants are not limited to women of course.

When I receive consultations about health problems, I have found that if I disclose the problem first, the other person often feels more comfortable talking about it. Of course, you don’t have to tell them everything, but the purpose of this is to relieve tension for employees who want to talk about their problems but feel uncomfortable initiating the conversation.

Kaori Inoue, CEO of Radiotalk

Kaori Inoue, CEO of Radiotalk

2. Connection with female customers

This comes from the same point as above. After founding the company, I didn’t join in unproductive drinking parties or activities. Instead, I went to brunch and teatimes where we could talk to our women consumers, because it was a good opportunity to explore what they were thinking.

3. Compatibility of community and product

In my opinion, respecting diversity stops shallow group thinking, which creates an echo chamber that leads to poor decision-making.

In my personal case, I am able to recognize and point out when users are not satisfied with the size, color scheme, or language used in a product, even it’s only nuances. When I answered this question, I realized that this is not because I am a woman, but because of my previous experience as a PdM and my background of how I gathered users on my own.

“In conclusion, I think the important thing is not “I start a business because I am a woman” but “I start a business because I am who I am.”

Satoko Otsuki, CEO of Spider Labs

Otsuki-san is the winner of 4th place at LAUNCHPAD SaaS just a few days after giving birth. Headline Asia invested in her company “Spider Labs” in 2021. She is running Spider AF, an anti-adfraud tool while balancing work and life as a mother of three children. In November 2021, she was selected as a finalist at EY Winning Women 2021.

Spider AF

Spider AF

As a woman founder, what’s one challenge you faced starting or running your company and how did you overcome it?

Pregnancy and childbirth. Since I started my business as a startup, I have been making most of the decisions on my own, and I had no choice. However, pregnancy and childbirth, which take me away from my work long-term, not only cut down on resources for the organization but also slowed down the decision-making process. We take “speed” as one of our company’s values, thus definitely we want to avoid slowing down the decision-making process. But the truth is, I’ve given birth three times [laughs].

Spider Labs’ meeting. A diverse and comfortable working environment.

Spider Labs’ meeting. A diverse and comfortable working environment.

What I did to face this challenge was simple. I decided not to do it all myself. I hired and trained people who can do it. Entrepreneurs want to make decisions on their own and be players because they have grown their companies from zero. But entrepreneurs cannot make all decisions forever. I made the decision early to rely on someone during my pregnancy. I feel that this had a positive effect and helped the organization grow faster. In fact, after delegating authority, I feel that the quality of decision-making has improved compared to doing it by myself. I’m really glad that I rely on someone else at an early stage.

Of course, there are other problems in a rapidly expanding organization, but I believe that without delegating authority to someone, we would not have been able to achieve this kind of growth we are experiencing today.

What is a piece of advice you would give to a fellow female entrepreneur who is just starting out?

Currently, I think that society is in a tailwind for women entrepreneurs. There are many reasons for actively supporting women entrepreneurs. One of the reasons is diversity. The “EY Winning Women 2021” that I was recently awarded is one such example.

Also, because attracting foreign investors to the Tokyo market is a part of the national policy, it is important to have a diverse board of directors, just like what overseas companies do. Therefore, being a woman myself is also an advantage to ensure the diversity of the board members from the very beginning.

Can you name three traits you have that you think have helped you on your journey to becoming an entrepreneur?

  1. Hard times during pregnancy and childbirth

The most important trait is the hardship I mentioned as a mother. I consider that experiences of pregnancy and childbirth make the whole team stronger and eager to scale up. I did not target this condition intentionally, but I think that happened in this way because I am a woman.

2. Personal features

Secondly, as I mentioned in the above advice, honestly, due to the lack of representation, our company has been able to win prizes at global pitch events more easily. I think that I tend to be awarded easily because diversity is important in society currently, and I benefit from my niche profile as an entrepreneur, a woman, and an Asian.

3. Benefits

Lastly, I would like to talk about EY’s auditing. Actually, they have a system where they prioritize female entrepreneurs to be audited, so if you are aiming for an IPO, I recommend it.

*This article was translated from Japanese and edited for clarity

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