Masayuki was the co-founder of DeNA, a successful social mobile gaming network in Japan which he started with two McKinsey colleagues in 1999. After the success of DeNA, Masayuki moved to London and started Quipper, a mobile platform for knowledge sharing and individual learning.
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
I was a co-founder of DeNA, a successful social mobile gaming network in Japan, which was listed in the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 2005. I was in charge of New Business Development, Strategy and Mergers & Acquisitions. Before that I was a consultant at McKinsey.
Tell me how you initially got into business?
After leaving DeNA in Japan, I came to London with the idea of building a mobile platform for knowledge sharing and individual learning. Through my contacts I started building a team to get the project off the ground, and in late 2010 we founded Quipper. Our first employee started in January 2011.
How did the idea for Quipper come about?
The idea was inspired by the improving wireless broadband capabilities of smartphones, in combination with the increasing growth of social networks. I thought there was an opportunity to create a new kind of knowledge-sharing platform, one that allowed teachers and learners to connect with each other by combining these capabilities. For us, mobile isn’t just about convenience – one of my ambitions with Quipper is to bring education to poorer nations and developing countries. I want Quipper to have a positive impact on global access to education, to enable learning where it was previously impossible.
Tell me about the early days, what was the hardest part of starting the business?
The hardest part was attracting the best talent. It’s especially hard to attract developers, because competition for the best candidates is so fierce in the technology sector. It was important for us to pitch the idea and values of Quipper to potential employees, and convince them of our vision. We didn't want people who were just looking for a paycheque – we needed to build a team that really believed in the undertaking.
What is Quipper? And what are you trying to solve with it?
The core idea behind Quipper is a platform where anyone can share their knowledge. With our Quipper Quiz app, anyone can create a quiz and share it online and on the Android and iPhone app. But we’re constantly iterating on our key concept of knowledge sharing through mobile, growing our platform’s capabilities. Our goal is to eliminate all the restrictions from traditional education and training – to create a platform that allows anyone, anywhere to share knowledge and learn.
How have you been able to fund it?
We got seed funding from Atomico and angels in September 2011. In May 2012, we completed our Series A funding round with Atomico/Globis and Benesse.
What sorts of advice do you having for entrepreneurs looking to raise money for their startups?
Build a good relationship with potential investors! It’s very important that you make the right contacts and pursue a professional relationship. As well as money, investors can offer insight and advice, or suggest new ideas and directions. They can connect you with other businesses, giving you more expertise to tap into. Building a good relationship takes time – don’t try to rush it!
About the first few months, how excited were you, tell us about how those months felt, what happened?
There was a degree of uncertainty before we released. Whenever you’re trying to do something new, or different, you’re venturing into the unknown. That’s exciting, but it’s also hard, because you have to push through your doubts, and keep faith in your ideas. I remember how exciting it was once the app was out and we started getting users. There was a great pleasure in watching those numbers rise!
How did you initially get traction?
In the early days, we focused on app store optimisation, and growing the app socially. Paying attention to SEO was crucial to ensure our app was discoverable. We released a number of apps, and used them to cross-promote each other, essentially improving discoverability by casting a bigger net.
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow your business?
For Quipper, our priority has been to provide solid value on both ends of our user experience: to give app users and learners a smooth, satisfying experience, with plenty of interesting content to keep them engaged, while also giving content holders the capability to leverage their content, reaching thousands of users through both mobile and the web.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
The highlight is yet to come! I can’t wait for Quipper to become as big as I know it can be. For me, the journey is always about where you’re going. The best parts are always in the future.
What should we be expecting from yourself and the Quipper team for 2013?
2013 will be the year Quipper really takes off. Everything is coming into place. I feel like we covered a lot of ground last year, and we’re now on the verge of breaking through.
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
Firstly, build a strong team. Without that, you’re going nowhere. Secondly, know who your customers are, and hear their voice. You have to really understand their needs – to understand what your business means to them. And finally, be flexible. You have to be agile enough to respond to challenges and changes. Don’t be too fixed in your ideas – be ready to pivot, if necessary!