Aim High, Let’s Create a Startup Company in Okinawa!
Payke, Inc., CFO Yoshihiro Higa
I was born in Itoman and graduated from a junior high school there, then went to Koyo High School. After that I attended the University of the Ryukyus. I majored in economics and learned the basics; I also took a course on venture enterprises, and a lecture on how to create business models. Initially there were 60 students, but all the lecturers were very strict so by the end there were only about 5 students left.
Furuta, our current CEO, and I were 2 out of those 5 students.
I got a job at the Bank of Okinawa after I graduated. Although working at the bank was very challenging and worthwhile I was always interested in starting a new business, so I used to spend my days off discussing business models with Furuta and another person. With so many ideas coming out, one day I felt an itch and was so eager to make those ideas come alive.
As an experiment, we decided to take the most interesting business model out of what we came up with that month and actually make a company out of it. Each of us came up with one idea, and the most interesting one was the prototype for the current Payke. Banks have a rule that prohibits dual employment, which meant I couldn’t work both jobs. I was hoping to get around it; I spoke to my branch manager, but he told me he couldn’t ignore the issue after hearing about it, and told me to choose one. I decided immediately, as I felt that my 20s was the right time to take on new challenges while my salary was still low.
As I resigned from the bank, I started a new business called Payke. This is my history.
What is Payke?
It’s a smartphone app, a service in which a user only has to scan a product barcode for translated product descriptions in multiple languages to appear on their screen. The main users are mostly inbound travelers.
For example, if you go to a Don Quijote store there are many foreign customers who are doing their shopping, and it is not surprising that most of them cannot read Japanese. They research in advance and rely on the packaging to find what they want. I think that’s a tremendous amount of work.
As I see it, a similar product to what they are looking for is stocked just next to it.
I would buy that similar product, but for them, even if they are interested they have no way of getting new information apart from what they have researched in advance. I wanted to solve that problem and develop a service to scan barcodes to provide product descriptions.
Why did you establish the head office of a startup venture in Okinawa?
I didn’t focus on Okinawa in particular to establish the company. Furuta and I were in Okinawa, we both studied at The University of Ryukyus, and the only Regional Legal Affairs Bureau we could use to register our company was in Naha, so we spontaneously set up the company in Okinawa. We didn’t really think about it when we started.
I became particular about our location after our company was established. Our company was very immature at the time since there was only me, fresh out of university, and the CEO, who was still a student. The service was very poor and it was fairly inadequate as a business.
Looking back, we probably had many unprofessional instances as a business, but many clients supported us from the beginning; they encouraged us by telling us that this kind of service will become very handy, or that they would use the app once it was completed. I became very particular with the location, because the people around us in Okinawa had such high expectations and believed in what we were doing.
What are your business goals and future prospects?
We are aiming to create a tool that travelers all over the world can use. I hope for more opportunities where overseas travelers can use it in other countries. Like how we refer to those traveling from China to Japan as “inbound travelers”, Japanese tourists to America are also “overseas inbound travelers”. We are testing our first stage here in Japan.
As for the business, going public is one of our goals. As an IT venture in Okinawa, I am aiming high as we pursue both profit and growth. We are devoting ourselves to be publicly listed as an IT venture company that can profit and benefit from foreign investment.
The business environment in Okinawa, and future expectations
Due to the nature of the location, the hiring prospects in Okinawa are limited, with no variety in pretty much any industry.
Currently many talented people leave Okinawa to work for IT companies in Tokyo, believing they will be able to actually create services that they have in mind.
I think this is a loss for Okinawa; these are people that can make something out of nothing, and if they had stayed in Okinawa, I believe many great companies would have been established here. I admit that it was hard work to start a venture company in Okinawa because no one had done it before, and the only way to research was the internet or receiving information second-hand.
In Tokyo there is a method to acquire money with stocks called equity finance, but it took us a year to obtain that information. However, now venture capital investors come to Okinawa every year to hold seminars, and we are also here to share what we know; I think now there is no shortage of information.
I believe it has improved in that aspect, and there are currently many support projects for business startups in Okinawa. In that sense, I feel that the sharing of information has increased considerably.
A message to those who want to form a startup in Okinawa
I want people to aim high.
When we first decided to create a company, our rivals were Facebook and Google. We truly thought there is nothing we couldn’t do that they could, knowing it was very arrogant of us to think so.
Recently, there are some students who look up to us and aim for what we do, which is very exciting. We are treated like the model startup company, but Payke itself is still in the developing stage and it has only achieved 3% of the company goal. It still has another 97% to go from its current position.
I want people to set big goals and not just settle for Okinawa, but also looks towards Japan and the world. I’m looking forward to people who are cocky enough to say, “We don’t want to aim such a small company like Payke”, because it is a challenge for us. Those people will shake things up, so I want them to be bold and arrogant, and try their hand at various things.