Takafumi Horie Talkasia Transcript
Hello and welcome to Talk Asia, I'm Lorraine Hahn. My guest today is flamboyant entrepreneur and the founder of Japanese internet powerhouse Livedoor -- Takafumi Horie.
Born in 1972, Horie founded a small Internet startup called "Living on the Edge" when he was just 23.
He dropped out of Tokyo University to concentrate on his business, and in a few short years turned it into a multi-billion dollar enterprise, with a staff of nearly 2 thousand.
Renamed Live Door, the company's internet business now encompasses networking, consulting, e-commerce, e-finance and software development.
But Horie has been as much in the news for his personality as his business acumen.
Bold and brash, he has shaken up the Japanes establishment with attempts to gain control of FujiTV and buy troubled Osaka baseball team, the Kintetsu Buffaloes.
Failing in both bids, the undeterred Horie turned to politics and recently ran as an independent candidate in Japan's parliamentary elections.
Takafumi Horie -- Welcome to the Talk Asia! Thank you very much for spending time with us. Appreciate that. You have said you are not interested in politics, but you recently ran in the elections. Why?
TH - It's not that I'm not interested in politics, but rather, I think that the people who become politicians in Japan are not very dynamic. Honestly, I find business much more interesting than politics. But the political situation in Japan is critical at the moment. There just aren't enough politicians who have good qualifications. Normally I wouldn't want to get involved in politics, but I think we have a dangerous situation in Japan, and I felt I had to do something about it.
LH - What changes then do you think Japan needs?
TH - In particular, it needs financial reforms. We need monetary reforms to better regulate how money is spent and how it flows. Japan is a country that's good at trade and commerce. There are many people here who are very good at doing business, so that's where we should be channeling our energies. We should look to develop areas that have the potential for growth -- areas such as biotechnology, IT, life-science and financial services. I think these are very important areas for the future development of Japan's economy.
LH - And you think you can be the person that can bring these changes?
TH -- Yes I think so! That's why I ran in the election. Although I failed to be elected, we did see the public come out in support of reforms. In this election, the candidates who were seen as reformists, as candidates who can accelerate change in Japan, they were the ones who did well. In the Cabinet, the members who are in the position to promote financial and monetary reforms, such as Minister Heizo Takenaka, gained power.
LH - Some people called it a publicity stunt. Was it?
TH - No, as I said, the reason I entered the election race was to promote reforms. For us who engage in business, we will be severely affected if financial and structural reforms don't proceed.
Another reason I declared my candidacy was to create a situation where people go to vote because they have an interest in the election, not because they think it's a duty. If my running in the election creates an interest among the people, then they will feel more involved and understand that the election is an important event.
LH - How far in politics do you want to go? Do you want be prime minister one day?
TH - I do want to become Prime Minister! But it's all right if I'm not as long as a good, brilliant person gets the position.
LH - Some people say that you are into this shock therapy, you like to shock people out of their complacency. Is this something that you actually really do?
TH -- Maybe in some ways it's true. But it's not that I'm deliberately trying to shock people all the time. I'm just doing things that are obvious to me. It's because the public doesn't understand my way of thinking that they get surprised. Sometimes, I find it frustrating, but I suppose that can't be helped. The problem is with Japan's education system. Japanese children grow up with very narrow and inflexible education, compared with children in other countries. Fixing the way they think when they grow up is difficult. So when I say things that, to me, are obvious, others often find it shocking because they're not used to a different way of thinking. For example, Japanese people really like savings, and they value the system of "lifetime employment" and seniority. It's difficult to change that way of thinking.
LH - It seems so un-Japanese to think the way you do and to do the things you do, a very maverick sort of approach.
TH -- Well I don't really perceive myself as being typically Japanese. In a way, I feel I'm a Citizen of the World, a universal person. I look at things from a very neutral perspective and I'm able to look objectively at what people in Japan and elsewhere are thinking. Because I'm thinking in a broader way, I feel like I am able to make better decisions.
World history and geography are subjects that really fascinate me, I enjoy studying them. And the more I read up about the history of religions, cultures and so forth, the more I realize how little most people know, how limited their knowledge is about the world. And I think that's why there are many conflicts and problems in this world. They happen because people are trying to deal with things with limited, insufficient knowledge and that's not ideal.
LH - In terms of your bid for a controlling stake in Fuji television, what were you thinking? How could something like this benefit Livedoor, for example?
TH - Well, the Broadcasting Administration in Japan is extraordinary. The TV stations for terrestrial broadcasting have enormous amounts of power. In Tokyo, there are 6 stations -- 5 private ones and "NHK public broadcasting" -- and they have a monopoly. And because they have a monopoly, satellite broadcasting has been doomed to failure. Why has the era of "multi-channels via commercial satellite" NOT come to Japan like it has in countries such as the United States?
Japan probably has the highest viewing rate of terrestrial channels in the world. In the US, the big three networks are collapsing. In South Korea too, with the penetration of broadband, terrestrial TV stations are losing power. In fact, terrestrial TV stations around the world have ALL been losing power, except in Japan. So if we get the viewers of the terrestrial channels into the internet, access to our portal site will increase, and we can expect to see viewers shifting from TV to the internet. That's what I wanted to do.
LH - Were you surprised at how fast and how aggressive the industry was in closing ranks?
TH - No I wasn't really surprised. The terrestrial TV channels have a "vested interest," nursed by the old-style "administration of broadcasting" governed by the Ministry of Telecommunication. They have been enjoying benefits and see no need to change. At the end of the day, it's the consumers who are losing out. I don't know if they even realize it or not.
LH - Mr. Horie, we're going to take a very, very short break. When we come back, we'll ask Takafumi Horie about the power of the internet and what he thinks the next big boom will be. Stay with us.
LH - Welcome back to Talk Asia. My guest today is the founder of Livedoor, Takafumi Horie. Mr. Horie, you formed a website consulting company and design firm called Living on the Edge when you were only 23 years old. That's very, very young.... Where did the idea and where did the money come from?
TH -- I borrowed 6 million yen from an acquaintance to start the business. I first became aware of the internet 2 years before starting the business. I knew it would change the world.
LH - Now when the internet bubble happened a few years ago, didn't that scare you off the business?
TH - Because we paid attention to the internet early on, we were able to conduct our IPO before the Internet Bubble burst, and we managed to gain a huge capital from that. After the bubble burst, a lot of companies failed, and we were able to buy them cheap. I always had faith in the internet. I believed in it and thought it was obviously going to change the way the world worked. I really did not understand why others were selling their stock. As stock prices plunged, I just bought them, one after another, since I had the money. I guess I was rather lucky.
LH - What do you think will be the next big boom for the internet?
TH -- I think wireless broadband will be the next big wave.
LH - What is next for Livedoor and for you, personally?
TH - Next is working with a Russian company to host a space trip within 2 years. We're going on the orbit around the earth.
My other goal is to promote world peace. We have set up a fund for biological development, and have invested in a company called "Yugu-Rayna". It develops a "green bug" -- a single-celled algae, a micro-organism -- that produces nutrition with just carbon dioxide and water. It has all the vitamins, and human beings can survive by eating this. (pause)
There are two uses for it, I think. One is to help people in poor countries like Africa, where many don't have enough to eat. If we give them water and this single-celled algae, we can supply the nutrition. And by extension, we would be able to save some people from poverty and hunger.
The second use is to help the environment. This green bug has the ability to stabilize carbon dioxide 80 times better than a rice plant can. Therefore, it can help stop global warming. If you put a bio-plant in your factory, you can greatly decrease the amount of carbon dioxide output. We are also working on that project.
LH - When you said space, what did you mean? You mean actually going up into space?
TH - Well I DO want to go up into space, but more than that, I'm dissatisfied with the fact that humans have only gone to the moon. I want to go to Mars! I want to eventually go beyond the solar system! I want to make it happen for all the people who have come out saying things like that!
LH - Mr. Horie, we're going to take another very, very short break. When we come back, we'll be talking to Takafumi Horie about how a small town boy, made good. Stay with us.
LH - Welcome back to Talk Asia. My guest is Livedoor's Takafumi Horie. Mr. Horie, talk to me about growing up in Fukuoka. I mean, it must be so different from now, having... living in, in Tokyo.
TH - There was very little stimulation there. I was very bored! It was difficult to meet people, especially interesting people. I wanted to move to a place with a larger population, where there are a lot of smart people, interesting and eloquent people. So I came to Tokyo.
LH - Did you always want to be a rich and powerful business man?
TH - Oh I just always assumed that I would naturally become one!
LH- Wow, that is amazing. Now, you dropped out of school. I believe you wouldn't recommend that to most people, right?
TH - No, that's not entirely true. I got into Tokyo University, which was difficult to do. In Japan, university entrance exams are extremely hard, and just getting into the good schools is already a proof of one's abilities.
LH - So did you feel that you had to leave university? In order to, you know, become, let's say, who you are now, start a business?
TH -- I often wonder why I had to spend 18 to 20 years in the Japanese school system, which I found very boring. I could have started in business much earlier. Now, I'm having more fun.
LH - Y'know when... before I even met you, there was always this image, this media image, of you. Fast cars, fast women... Y'know... The t-shirt, the very casual look... Is that, is that, really you?
TH - That's the real me. I don't care much about appearances or image.
LH - So is that a symbol of a new Japan?
TH -- Am I a symbol? Hmm, I'm not sure! I just know that there are a lot of people out there who are younger than I am, and I wish to be a role model for them. If they have a dream, I want to help them keep that motivation high, so that they can realize their dream. I want to show people that they CAN have fun in life.
LH - Why do you think the establishment dislikes you so much? I mean, they've called you various names...
TH - That's just the jealousy of the men! That's it!
LH - I was just going to ask you. Is it jealousy, is it fear, and does it bother you?
TH -- Well I find it bothersome but it's kind of pitiful in a way. So I just try to ignore it.
LH - You have authored 5 books, best sellers. And in those books, you said money can buy anything. Do you really believe that?
TH -- You'll need to read all the books to fully understand what I was trying to say. What I meant was that the easiest way to achieve any goal is to make money first. When a person decides that he wants to do something, there are several ways he can go about it. He could spend a lot of time and effort, work hard, and he might achieve his goal. But -- IF you make money first, and use that money to help you get what you want, it will be easier. That is what I meant.
LH - So it's almost reality for you, then, that money can buy just about anything.
TH -- Recognizing that reality is what is important. People like me understand that it is true. But there are very na´ve people out there who have never been told the truth about money, and I think they should be! Why does money not perish? Why is it used so widely? Because Money is human kind's greatest invention. Money doesn't discriminate. Money doesn't care whether a person is poor, whether a person comes from a good family, or what his skin color is. Anybody can make money. Conversely, human beings discriminate a lot. The human mind discriminates all the time. Money doesn't discriminate.
LH - So money can buy love? Yes?
TH - That's a difficult question to answer but I did address it in my book. The rate of unmarried Japanese people is rising. People in other countries, even if they are unmarried, have partners. Here in Japan, there are many guys who are like the character in that recent show "Train Man", who have never talked to girls. As I mentioned in my book, before you can fall in love and have a loving relationship, you need to meet someone. You need to be able to say "I love you" to someone. And what makes you to be able to say "I love you" is confidence. And the easiest way to gain confidence is to have money. That's something that anyone can do, earn some money. Then you can think, I can do it! And you gain confidence.
LH - You own a racehorse. (Horie: yeah) Is that fun for you? Is that a part of a hobby or...?
TH - It used to be a hobby. I like gambling and betting on horse races. But these days I find managing corporate business more interesting, 100 times more interesting.
LH - So what do you do to relax? Do you find time to rest and sleep and... ?
TH - The three desires of human beings are eating, sex, and sleeping. Humans never get tired of those three things. Even though you sleep everyday, you don't grow tired of sleeping. Even though you eat everyday, you don't grow tired of eating. I just love things that you can't grow tired of.
LH - Many people respect you for what you have achieved in your life. What advice would you give to the youth of today?
TH - Probably the most important thing I would advise is to take action. Don't be passive! Don't drag your feet! Transfer the things you are thinking about in your head into real action! You may be thinking a lot in your head, but remember, nothing moves forward with just thoughts. When you think of something, instantly move and act on it. You might fail, but that's ok! It's really ok!
LH - Take a chance, yes?
TH - Yeah.
LH - Yes. Mr. Horie, thank you very much.
TH - Thank you very much.
LH -- I appreciate your time, thank you.
TH -- You too.
LH- You have been watching Talk Asia, and my guest, here in Tokyo, has been the president of Livedoor and Japanese entrepreneur, Takafumi Horie. I'm Lorraine Hahn. Let's talk again next week.
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