I just turned 40 today. Here’s a brief playback of the 30s.
When I was 30, I decided to create the private-sector version of the World Bank, providing financial services for everyone. I clearly remember the moment — it was when I was viewing the ending ceremony of Summer Davos of the World Economic Forum held in Tianjin in 2012. I felt that WEF is the private-sector version of the UN, and I thought that I would be able to do the same in financial inclusion.
Since then, whenever people interviewed me, I kept talking about the plan. Many people laughed at me. That is a good thing. If the people don’t laugh at your aspiration, especially at the outset, you are not aspiring high enough.
At the age of 31, I left Unison Capital. Actually, not true. My last day at Unison was supposed to be 30 September, but I needed to be at the office until 6:00 on 1 October, my 32nd birthday, to finish the final task. It was about the performance evaluation framework for PE investments. Unison was a great place to work. I owe a lot to my former bosses who taught me everything about the business, especially the importance of governance and capital structure. I still cannot fully express my gratitude for being able to join the firm.
I experienced two hardships when I was 32. First, I started a 1,648 km ultramarathon across Japan’s main island. I do ultramarathon, but I am not a fast runner (my body shape is cut out for martial arts). I still vividly remember how often I was about to despair because of the cold, the heavy rain (and sometimes snow), and the acute pain in the entire body, especially heels. Finishing the running trained me perseverance and grit, which helped me overcome all the hardships after starting the company.
Second, I formed the first team of my startup, but it was dissolved due to my lack of leadership. It was a big setback for my work life. For a few months after the event, I was alone thinking about the business plan again. Then I changed my plan from making a PE fund for financial institutions to a holding company — one of the best business decisions I have ever made. During this period, I learned that sometimes we cannot make everyone happy, so I gave up wishing to be loved by everyone.
With Sanjay and Tsuyoshi, we founded Gojo on 4 July 2014, when I was 32. Since starting the company, time has flown fast. Perhaps that is because I’ve been so absorbed in the job.
When I turned 33, I was in Cambodia. Since the company’s establishment, I had spent the first 12 months in the country, working on the business improvement of Gojo’s group company in the nation. Looking back, it was the most peaceful period in my life at Gojo. In fact, things get more complicated every year.
The highlight at the age of 34 was fundraising. The ecosystem for startups has grown considerably in the last decade, but it is mainly for the internet and pure tech companies, not for a company like Gojo. We don’t offer metrics with which investors are familiar. We could not find a single institutional investor who would invest in us.
We needed to grow the business anyhow, so I decided to start raising funds from individual shareholders. I visited many places, all around the company. It was not easy, but we managed to raise $12 million from individuals. I owe a lot to our shareholders, many of whom still keep supporting us in many ways.
During this period, I experienced a number of humiliations (I don’t want to give examples). From time to time, I asked myself, “why am I doing this despite all these indignities.” It made me a real entrepreneur. I now know what I want.
Thanks to the fundraising efforts, we managed to grow the business, and Dai-ichi Life decided to invest in us when I was 35. Then many other investors followed. We started the business in India.
Takefumi’s joining as the COO changed Gojo a lot. Until then, we didn’t have a proper organizational structure and process. After his joining, Gojo’s staff turnover declined considerably (for the two years since his joining, we had no turnover).
He also coached me on how the CEO should be. He used to say, “now the company is Shin & Company, not Gojo & Company.” (By the way, Gojo means five values of Confucianism.) The biggest breakthrough that I made at the age of 36 was that I accepted what I am not good at and that I started relying on others. Then the members of the next level began to join the company. The joining of Kohei and Takao led Gojo to the completely next level, and I turned 37.
I traveled a lot when I was 37 and 38. Almost every week, I used to cross the border, visiting the group companies. The business growth was robust. A bit delayed, but we started to hire tech talents. We needed to improve operations first because any tech applications don’t work well otherwise. Stuart joined Gojo as a Director and taught me a lot — I realized that microcredit alone does not solve the problems and that we will have to think deep.
When I turned 39, I was in London after the pandemic. After looking at how Londoners cope with the new normal, I became confident that the pandemic would not change our characteristics. Despite many hardships, Gojo managed to grow the business despite the series of lockdowns. Some tech application efforts started to blossom, and there will be much more in the next 18 months.
Today I turned 40 and am on a one-month leave now. Until recently, I never thought that I would be able to take it. Now I am surrounded by colleagues who are better than me, and my role as the CEO is changing gradually.
Now Gojo group serves 1 million households in 5 countries. The growth speed is the industry world record so far (for example, it took 17 years for Grameen to reach 1 million customers). The goal since the establishment is to reach out to 100 million people in 50 countries. We can achieve it by growing the business at 75% speed from 2021 to 2026 and 50% after that. On top of the growth, we will have to develop truly useful services for the clients.
The objectives for the 40s are as follows:
- Work: build the private-sector world bank.
- Family: be a great dad and a husband.
- Self-development: obtain a blackbelt of Jiu-jitsu and learn something new at university abroad.
I don’t remember who said this, but a dream at a young age is for the sake of dreaming per se, but one of the adults should be something that they achieve. I’m a grown-up now. It’s time to make it happen.