Written by Isao Tokuhashi
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Anthony Joh (Canada)
The 5th guest for the “MET Morning Interview” is Anthony Joh, Business Development Director of GPlus Media. Anthony is in charge of developing the GaijinPot website, which is the largest online resource for anyone looking to work, study or live in Japan.
We first were introduced to Anthony by one of his colleagues and met up in a bar in Roppongi to hear of his business background. We’ve met many foreign entrepreneurs up to now, but we’ve never met a person like him. Most of entrepreneurs we’ve met have an IT background and they started their business online, but Anthony was totally different.
The theme of his speech is “Challenge of Change”. He broke his speech into three categories, the “Fear of change”, “How change can become normal” and “How change creates opportunity”.
So now let’s hear his roller coaster-like life story!
*Interview at GPlus Media
OK for kids to make changes, but NOT OK for adults
Growing up I lived in a number of different countries around the world and I was exposed to lots of changes. I lived in Canada, USA and even Japan for a short time. We lived in Oita on the island of Kyushu and since this was back in the 1970’s there weren’t a lot of other foreigners in Oita.
Most parents would encourage their children to experience a lot of changes in their lives. We were encouraged to try new things as this teaches us the value of learning from experience.
But when we become adults, suddenly we’re told NOT to make changes. No parents will ever NOT encourage their child to try something and yet our friends and parents are the first to discourage us from trying something new.
At what point do we suddenly say “Stop! I am now this and I will do this for the rest of your life”. Why do we lose the enthusiasm for change?
These are the kind of questions that I had as a child from living in different parts of the world.
Copying what big companies do brought rapid growth
Back in Canada, I started a small auto detailing business, which is basically a fancy word for “cleaning cars”. When your customers have expensive cars, you can’t say “I’m going to wash it”. You say “I’m going to DETAIL it”. This way you can charge a lot more.
One of the first key lessons I learned early in my business was to, “Always treat your business like a large company”. I was in my early 20’s when I started my business and since I really didn’t know what I was doing. I looked to Fortune 500 companies for guidance.
For example, I need to make a brochure for my business. At the time I didn’t know anything about design or typography but I knew that Apple did. I guessed that Apple probably hired some of the best designers in the world and so if I copied their design my brochure would also look the best.
Now my brochure didn’t turn out looking as good as the Apple design but it looked a lot better than my competition and that was noticed by my clients.
Adding a higher level of professionalism to your business will always pay off in both brand awareness and bottom line profitability.
Within a very short period of time my business grew and I expanded to a number of locations around the city. This was a very exciting time as the business was growing very fast and I enjoyed the challenge of growing the business and the comfortable life I had built.
One of my customers who was an investor asked me if I wanted to expand across Canada. I’d been running my business for about 7 years at the point and while it was doing very well, I was a little bored.
If anybody runs a business, you know that the startup phase is the most fun as starting a business is always more fun than managing the business.
It was a really difficult decision for me because I’d actually been considering whether I should sell the business at this point and yet I was offered this huge opportunity to expand my business all across Canada.
For the past few years I had been thinking that I wanted to sell my business and try something new. I wanted to make a dramatic change but I didn’t know what the change would be.
I’m sure some of you felt the same in your career. You don’t like your job, you want to change it, but you don’t know what’s next, so you are holding off.
If we knew what the next step was it would be easy to take it but the fear of the unknown keeps us stuck in our current position.
I started my business from very small and grew it to very big, and the logical part of my brain was saying, “It’s crazy to try to sell it!” Building a successful business is hard but letting go of it is even harder. In some ways the success of your business paralyzes you from taking on new challenges.
Difficult questions to make a difficult decision
The big decision I had to make was do I give up the security of my business for the risk of starting something new?
To solve this issue I had to ask myself three difficult questions:
1. Have I learnt everything I needed to from this business?
The answer to this was YES. I took a small unproven idea and turned it into a successful business. I had made a lot of mistakes in the beginning but felt that the current success of the business was a reflection of everything I had learned.
The next challenge for me was to run a large company and to do that I had to move on from my small business.
2. Do I want new opportunities in my life?
Of course the answer was YES, but I wanted both to hold on to my business and get the opportunities. But life doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes, you have to let it go so you can move forward.
I had to think of the opportunities that I would be missing if I didn’t sell my business. Of course it was impossible for me to know what those opportunities were but I had to have faith that something new and exciting would show up.
3. Could I re-create the success that I had before?
This was the hardest question for me to answer. Since this was my first real business that enjoyed some success, I always wondered if I could do it again?
Many first time entrepreneurs who are successful with their first business battle in their minds as to whether their success is a result of luck or their business acumen.
Since I started my business so young I didn’t have a track record to fall back on. It was a big fear of mine that if I sold my business I might never be able to replicate this level of success again.
What helped me answer this question was my clients. Many of whom were extremely successful and I had seen how they were able to go through both up and down times. They never lost the mindset that they would be successful no matter what their current situation was.
Finally I decided to decline the offer to expand my business and instead made the decision to sell it. I was confidence that I could answer yes to all three questions and this would lead me to new and exciting challenges.
Small things provide big challenges
As soon as I sold my business, the first thing I did was to take a vacation to Thailand. For 10 years I had run my business and I didn’t take any holidays. The reason I went to Thailand is because when I was in my early 20’s, all my friends were backpacking around Europe and Asia but I was stuck running my business.
I felt that I was missing out on the experiences I had as a child of visiting new countries so as soon as I sold my business I flew to Bangkok.
I’d never been to Thailand before and it was a huge shock to my system. All the stories my friends has told me about their trips to Thailand were totally different than actually living there.
For someone who had always been very independent it was difficult to suddenly have to rely on others for every little thing you want to do. I felt so far away from home, far away from my comfort zone and it was a struggle just to figure out how to live in this new environment.
One of the first difficulty I had in Thailand was dealing with all the small changes. Back home I was worried about big things such as my job and future but in Thailand I was more concerned about trying to order off a Thai menu!
Small things like getting a mobile phone, riding a motorcycle taxi, buying furniture, etc. I realized that it was the really small things that were the big challenges.
What I found out was – in your mind, whether you accomplish something big or you accomplish something small, your brain treats it the same way, the sense of accomplishment is the same. By accomplishing a lot of small challenges, I was training my mind to look for solutions and to not be afraid of making uncertain decisions.
The time I spent in Thailand taught me that I could do things that I didn’t know I could do. So take care of small things! Take action on the little things that you have been putting off and when it comes time for the big changes it won’t be so difficult.
The thing which eliminates the fear of change
Another thing I learned while living in Thailand is about the power of flexibility. When I was a business owner, I was very precise. I was very passionate about the efficiency of my business but as anyone who has visited Thailand knows, it’s not the most efficient country in the world.
However what I learned while living in Thailand was that being flexible in your outcome will eliminate the fear of change. Being flexible means being comfortable with the outcome of your decision.
You can make all the changes you want, but if you’re scared about whether you will succeed or fail, you won’t take any action. If you’re flexible, it doesn’t matter what the result is. The key is to focus on the actions you can take immediately and not worry so much about the results.
After a year and so in Thailand, I decided to leave and move to Germany. I have always wanted to live in Europe and since I have a passion for classic sports cars I moved to Germany.
I stayed in Germany for a while and traveled around Europe. It was a fun change from living in Thailand and to this day it is one of my favorite holiday destinations.
Challenges in my mother’s country
I moved to Japan in 2011. One of the reasons I came to Japan is because I’m half-Japanese. I spent almost all my life in the West, so I wanted to spend some of my life in Japan.
Of all the countries I had lived in Japan was the hardest to settle into to. I didn’t know anybody when I came here, didn’t speak the language and didn’t realize Japan would be so different from anywhere else I had lived.
While Thailand is known for its flexibility Japan is the exact opposite. Everything in Japan is governed by a strict (often archaic) set of rules that makes it very difficult for foreigners to live here.
Small things like getting an apartment, mobile phone, id card were suddenly huge challenges of language difficulties and mountains of red tape.
One of the things that amused me when I first arrived in Japan was the reaction of the Japanese people when I told them I didn’t have a job yet. To them the idea of moving to a new country without a job lined up sounded preposterous but for me it sounded challenging and fun!
I soon realized how important it is in Japan to have a support network and since I didn’t know anyone I needed a way to get my name out so I created Tokyo Podcast.
Tokyo Podcast was a weekly English language podcast, where I’ve interviewed different people about living and working in Japan. Within a very short time my podcast was one of the top English language podcasts in Japan.
The reason for this goes back to what I said earlier about treating your business like a large company. Many of the other English language podcasts were just foreigners sitting in their living rooms talking about their lives in Japan.
The audio quality was bad, their websites were terrible and they had almost no social media presence. Worse is that they didn’t have any focus of their show. They were talking about the same experiences that every other foreigner had when moving to Japan so when they run out of things to talk about, their show stops.
For me, I had a professional mindset from the start so I had a new topic every week and a new guest every week. I had professional quality intro music made and made sure my website and social media were all done professionally.
The show became very popular and one thing that surprised me is how popular the show became with the Japanese audience. Almost half of my audience was Japanese! A lot of my Japanese audience told me that they used the show to practice listening to real English conversations.
The benefit for me was that I got to meet a lot of new people and they helped me get settled into living in Japan.
Challenges create new challenges
After a year of hosting the Tokyo Podcast I was contacted by the management of GPlus Media. They saw what I had done with growing an audience for the podcast and asked if I would be interested in running their GaijinPot website.
GaijinPot job board has helped thousands of people work in Japan and their website is one of the best sources for information about living in Japan.
At the time I took over, GaijinPot was not strong in social media. They were relying on outdated technologies to attract users and didn’t have an understanding of the power of social media.
I decided to fix this by making some major changes to the website. First with a complete redesign of the website and adding two new major service, study and travel.
For years GaijinPot was the go to website for information about working in Japan and now it is also becoming the best site for information about studying or traveling.
Along with the site renovation I ramped up their social media presence growing the number of Facebook likes from 9000 to over 100,000! Twitter from 3000 to over 10,000 and our YouTube videos have over 1 million views.
And the good thing is it’s a really good mix of Japanese users and foreign users. We are really building a strong international community through GaijinPot.
Big decision is actually NOT big at all
When I look back of my daily schedule in Vancouver, that life seems to be very foreign now. The joy of having a set schedule has been replaced with the thrill of uncertainty. Knowing that I am free to build any type of life I want is very liberating.
When I look back at the decision I made to sell my business, what seemed like a big decision back then now seems small. I’ve had such amazing experiences over the past few years traveling and working around the world that I never would have experienced had I stayed in Canada.
So I encourage everybody who is thinking about making a big change in their lives to consider the three questions:
“Have I learnt everything I needed to from this?”
“Do I want new challenges in my life?”
“Could I re-create the success that I had before?”
If you answered yes to all then you need to start to make change in your life right away. It may look like a large decision now but in 5 or 7 years you may look back and realize it was the best decision for you.
So make the change that you want to do. And create new opportunities, not only for you but also for others. Because more opportunities create for others, the more opportunities you create for yourself.
What is Japan to you?