Chairman of DMM.com Group on why he is investing 10 billion yen in Africa : “What we want in people is not the ability to think of original ideas, but rather the ability to execute in a challenging environment.”

DMM.com Group Chairman Keishi Kameyama was once rumored to be a businessman of mystery due to his extremely limited media profile availability. Nowadays, however, he has been deliberately increasing his media exposure.

"We don’t do capital injections for mere 5% or 10% stakes. That’s because I feel that if we are going to do something with someone, we are going to be firmly and wholeheartedly committed for being there together in every sense of the word.
Even in cases where all you might be looking for from us is a sponsorship deal money---we might just prefer to take ownership of the whole project instead. We enjoy committing to a whole cake."

On October 14 Fri, a start-up experience simulating event took place in Tokyo over the course of three days.
"Startup Weekend Tokyo Africa Sponsored by DMM.Africa". In kicking off this event, DMM.com Chairman Keishi Kameyama, gave the opening remarks.
He responded to a variety of questions from the participants, sometimes even evoking jokes and laughers yet answering in an original yet approachable fashion.

Investing 10 billion yen over the course of five years in Africa:

For Startup Weekend, this was the first event ever that was themed “Africa”

"Aimed at kick-starting entrepreneurship in 54 weekend hours" That is precisely the concept of this event.
Participants have 54 hours. Within that time, they complete the following:
presentation of ideas that would become the core of their entrepreneurship, recruitment of fellow participants, market research, business model evaluations, delivery of the final presentation, and finally receiving critical reviews from subject matter experts.
Startup Weekend, as an organization, is an entrepreneur support platform. Startup Weekend hosts these events at a rate of one location per week rotating globally. For this particular event, however, the theme was one that had never been done before---for the first time ever, the event theme focused specifically on "Africa”. And the company behind it all---the one that provided full support and sponsorship for the event is none other than DMM.com Group. DMM.com is the company known for launching its Africa investment projects last year. Its current areas of other businesses include online FX, internet video content distribution, mail order businesses, online English learning platform, amongst a wide range of other businesses including online social games.

After launching its Africa project, DMM.com made a very public announcement voicing their commitment for” investing 10 billion yen in Africa over the next five years" and started their recruiting process along with that announcement. They completed their successful hosting and sponsoring of its local African business contest series named Africa Business Idea Cup (ABIC), which took place in five East African countries. Leveraging this success, they are now actively evaluating a wide array of future core business ventures for Africa---providing local event support such as their ABIC 2016 continues to aid in that search.

But why focus on Africa now? And what kind of ventures are looking promising and worthy of both money and time? I scored a chance to directly inquire Mr. Kameyama the chairman, in person---here is the excerpt:

Q:
To begin, why, of all places, did you become interested in doing business in Africa?

A:
I went on a trip. By myself to Africa for about a month. There, I encountered some local people and other Japanese people trying out a variety of businesses there. I instinctively felt that there was abundance of untapped possibilities and potential there---even more so than that in Asia.  Immediately upon coming back to Japan, I sent an email out to all employees at my company asking, "people who want to go to Africa, come gather!"

Q:
About how many people did you gather initially?

A:
About 10 people. I handed them each an envelope containing 1 million yen, and told them "With this, go to Africa. And come back if you run out of it." I told them just a few things---I told them not to form groups with each other, and to make decision on your own as to which country to go, and if possible, pick a place that is perceived to be rather dangerous and less explored. That’s because I feel that the less penetrated the place, the less competition and more opportunities.

First revenue of DMM’s Africa business is 50,000 yen

A (continued):
So everyone whom I sent initially for the trip completed their initial objective and came back.  They used all of the 1 million yen, but the various business plans that they picked up from these trips were not exactly up to par with what I was looking for. They were helpful in coming up with more ideas.
However, none of them was something for which I wanted to actually invest.

So I sent about half of the trip’s members back to their original departments.
I then went on to recruit people from outside the company, announcing "I'm going to do Africa Division at DMM!" Applications came quickly (up to about 380 people at the time of this writing). Now we have a team in place of about 25 people total, including people from places including Africa, France and more.

Q:
At DMM, you have announced that you are set to invest 10 billion yen in the next five years in Africa.  After about a year and a half from that launch, what are the areas of business that you find appealing?

A:
The one that I find most interesting thus far is in the area of electronic payments. There are other ideas varying from solar energy to one involving bakery business and more. But no other ideas have gotten to a point of actually discussing specific numbers.

The Africa business division is also yet to come up with a large amount of revenue.  The other day, the division’s first revenue was booked---for providing a business consulting service to a Japanese client company for about 50,000 yen. We were like “First sale booked!” But to take a more objective view, at this point, the planned investment of 10 billion yen is yielding a return of only 50,000 yen (laughs). At this point in time, flow of money is mainly outgoing monthly labor costs.

Q:
Electronic payments---what are the things that you find attractive about the business?

A:
Over there, basic businesses such as banking and financing are still weak. Underlying currencies themselves sometimes cause tremendous inflation, and there are also areas where people do not have a savings account. But those regions are actually well positioned to accommodate new things like mobile money, possibly even faster than places like Japan.

Even mobile phones themselves spread more rapidly in countries where fixed-line phones were not available in the first place. Electronic payments and money business is similar - unpenetrated means there is no conflict with people who are already in possession with vested rights and interests. So things like drones might see faster adoption rate in Africa than in Japan. Land is vast, high-rise skyscraper buildings are scarce, and no strict regulation is in place yet.

Q:
When would you envision that you will have full-fledged revenue sources for your Africa business?

A:
Can’t tell yet… Perhaps in the beginning of next year I can share more. At this moment, there is nothing presentable enough for me to tell you just yet.

Africa's young people start companies "out of necessity"

Q:
Regarding the scale of your team, are you planning to expand going forward?

A:
Because we are at a stage where we are at the “from zero to one” phase of business development, we do not need much more at this point.
In reality, the person who can really pull through the said “from zero to ten” phase of is about 2 or 3 out of 25 people. People who are suited for more of a “one to ten” phase of business development are also important. However, there is no running business venture toward which we would apply the additional resources at this moment. Once core businesses earn momentum, however, I wish to make hires, but rather out there locally in Africa rather than in Japan. We would provide training and education for as much as it takes in Japan. But simply sending in large numbers of people from Japan would not be well received by the local side in Africa.

Q:
Do you find youth in Africa more entrepreneurially minded than in Japan?

A:
I feel that people there do entrepreneurship there "out of necessity” as opposed to starting because they want to. For college graduates and people who were excellent enough students to have been selected to study abroad, there are not many attractive employment opportunities there.

OR, people who get exposed to services and infrastructures from having been overseas, they go "that was convenient, but it’s not available in my country. And nobody is providing the product/service. So why don’t I do it by myself?"

At DMM.com, we want to advance African businesses that are closely aligned with the nuances and feelings of people that are local mainstream there in Africa. I think there is value in participating in things that involve partnering up with local governments and agencies, but I would prefer to be involved in businesses whose models are more sustainable and do not disappear because of their strong attachment to a certain government regime etc. I want to commit to something where people would go "it would really be convenient without being able to access this product/service.”

Q:
Not limited to your Africa businesses, with respect to starting new business ventures in general, what are your expectations from your internal resources (i.e. your employees) as well as external resources such as other start-ups?

A:
With regards to ventures in Africa, I expect people from Africa to be the main driver of start-up success there. I do not come across many Japanese people who go out of their way to choose Africa of all places to attempt their entrepreneurship. Recently, in most cases, focus of entrepreneurship attempts revolve around IT, so even something involves starting businesses abroad, place like Silicon Valley or China are more common choices.

First of all, it should be noted that in non-IT areas, there is practically no soil from which start-ups can grow in Japan. There is almost no one who would invest money in unproven young people who are wanting to attempt architecture projects or a ramen noodle business. But Africa is different. There is no infrastructure already in place such as having convenience stores all over Japan as a norm. Logistics businesses are also yet to be built, meaning, there is room for growth and entry in almost any field.

People that can make things happen, rather than ideas:

Q:
At "DMM.make AKIBA", you are providing support to hardware manufacturing start-ups.  You provide a one-stop solution that includes a wide array of tools including 3D printers as well as a physical location for them.

A:
Everyone is freely enjoying the process of making things there.
With businesses like IT and video content, it is possible to start essentially without even setting a foot outside a room. But manufacturing requires a lot more. If there can be a ‘platform’ for the makers, we can have investors gather there as well as provide them our advice for mass scaling as well as possible sale routes for the hardware products.

From DMM.make AKIBA, there are some products that are getting market ready now. I am yet to know if they will find actual traction in the market, but I certainly wish to see them take off successfully from our AKIBA place. I wish to see some companies making things like you see in movies like iRobot.  It would be huge for DMM.com Group as well.

Q:
There is the “Kame Choku” system where you hire people with ideas on outsourcing basis, and then provide that person with a team resource as well as capital to have him/her work on the idea and report directly to you. On what basis/criteria, would you determine that the person is someone you can say "I can trust placing money with him/her”?

A:
It’s not so much the idea itself. But rather, I look at if it’s the type of person who can actually realize the proposed idea. It totally depends on the individual that brings the idea. Is this a type of person who can logically answer questions such as "what if some competition starts working on your idea?” Is this a field where the person’s prior experience becomes an advantage? You need proof of feasibility as well as some signs of success to go with the idea. For example, right now DMM.com is trying to do “DMM Aquarium”. I feel it is only possible because the individual in charge of that project is someone with a firm track record of successfully having operated similar facilities at theme parks.

Q:
I get the impression that your method of identifying things is down-to-earth.

A:
Yes, to an extent. And that’s because I would be making decisions to allocate real budgets. You can bring your own experience that had been done somewhere before, your skills, and your personal connections. Even if you yourself cannot be the one to execute, if you can identify people or engineers that can, and that you can be in charge of implementing the whole project, then I can determine whether the proposed business is feasible.

To accomplish something real, you cannot do it just by yourself. You need to be someone who can attract at least a few engineers and creators.

Q:
For an event like today, if there are other interesting proposals, would you be interested?

A:
If there is feasibility, we would be interested in making investments. However, we are not interested in people who care only for the presentation aspect of the idea, or people who enjoy making presentations in general. We want people who can actually implement the idea being presented. All I am able to do, is to determine a ‘go-ahead’ permission to people who wish to implement the proposed idea and to allocate actual resources for it. I don’t force people any assignment of ideas or implementation - nowadays companies that do such things are called “black companies”.

I wish to let young people do as they wish:

Q:
Are there any ideas that you want to work on next?

A:
I just take a piggyback ride on what people bring to me. I cannot think of any original new ideas past 50 years old at this point (laughs). I mean, there might be some people who can come up with new original ideas still.  Recently, there have been times when I do go ahead and ‘buy in’ on ideas that I don’t fully grasp myself. If someone comes to me proposing "This app will definitely work!" To that I can just go…”Yea I guess I see it”.

For example, if an engineers at my company comes to me proposing a service like LINE or Facebook, would there be business managers that can commit to investing with total confidence in it? In my opinion, that would be determined by the limitation of youth vs old on the decision maker’s brain. Those decisions, in my opinion, are best being left freely to be made by younger people.

Q:
Even when deciding whether to commit to an idea, would feasibility still be your most important factor?

A:
Yes. “I only thought of it… “ is boring. If you yourself cannot be the one in charge of implementation of the idea, then recruite someone who can do the budget planning and crafting of a business proposal. To be honest, ideas alone are nothing of value.

Occasionally, I hear instances where people discuss how an ideas get stolen or what not. To be direct, there is no value in only stealing ideas. For example, when I go abroad, I come across people who tell me, "It would be lucrative to sell thins in Japan.” In my opinion, in most cases, they have not done the actual examination of the terms and conditions regarding import and export. But then after someone implementing the sale of similar things in Japan, they say "see, I knew this would be a hit!"  Hope that makes sense?

Keishi Kameyama:DMM.com Chairman of the board. Originally from Kaga city of Ishikawa prefecture, he moved to Tokyo with the aim of becoming a tax accountant. However, he ended up apprenticing under a jewelry selling street merchant, and decided to enter the world of business and management. Currently, DMM.com Group is expanding its business reach from online FX, online English learning platform, online social games, solar power generation, 3D printers, VR Theater, and Africa businesses, as well as supporting other start-ups. Kameyama has not disclosed his face to the public.

Q:
Those that made the commitment to bringing things to Japan and then actually having come through---those are the ones deserving real credit.

A:
Yes. I, too, thought that services like Uber (a taxi dispatch application) would most certainly be convenient.

But, I had no clue as to how to even start. I was able to think of partnering up with taxi companies here in Japan, but nothing beyond that. After all, those who deserve credit are people who actually pull off the implementation. It’s the same with most businesses.

I’m only a high school graduate---There is nothing for me to boast to people except for the fact that perhaps I acted, trying things, being mobile and exploring implementable ideas. Nowadays, there are a lot of young talented people who are fresh out of colleges joining our company. It would be cool if these young people can be as mobile, aggressively pursuing worthy ideas.

Working and committing to implement an idea is not something overwhelmingly scary---it’s not like committing your whole life.
Even if pursuing a venture of your own idea at DMM.com happens to cause financial loss, it would be a burden on the company’s part.
On the other hand, if your venture finds success, you might get a chance to be the person responsible for the venture itself.
Either way, you can get the opportunity to try at no cost at DMM.com. It should be a no brainer to give it a try at DMM.com.

Content of this web page is an english translation version of its original article covered by a japanese media, Toyo Keizai Online. Click here if you wish to also access the original text in japanese: http://toyokeizai.net/articles/-/142045

DMM.Africa Brief

Since its inception in September 2015, DMM.Africa has been founded as the frontline of DMM.com's company-wide effort to go global. Given the inevitable future that is defined by abundance of opportunities and explosive population growth, Africa has been designated as the next frontier of DMM.com and other leading global businesses. To secure our best footing in this uncharted territory, we are proceeding at full speed to build our operational base and our new core businesses in Africa. Towards that, in 2016, we hosted one of the largest business competitions the continent had seen: DMM.Africa Presents ABIC---Africa Business Idea Cup. As symbolised by our hosting of ABIC, our commitment remains to continue exploring the best local ventures, talents, and partners across and beyond the industry segments we've known.