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Q&A: Japan's 'Zuckerberg' on his own success

By Andrew Stevens, CNN
March 7, 2012 -- Updated 0238 GMT (1038 HKT)
  • Yoshikazu Tanaka is billionaire founder of mobile games company, Gree
  • The company is valued at $7 billion; personal wealth $2.2 billion
  • Tanaka is often compared to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg

Tokyo (CNN) -- He is the face of New Japan Inc. 35-year-old Yoshikazu Tanaka, founder of mobile social gaming network Gree, is the world's second youngest self-made billionaire behind Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg.

The similarities don't end there. Tanaka, son of a Japanese salaryman, launched Gree initially as a social network in Japan before moving into mobile social gaming.

I caught up with him at his HQ in the Mori Building in downtown Tokyo, one of the most desirable business addresses in the city.

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He may be flying high, but philosophically he remains down to earth, from the tips of his shaggy hair to the soles of his bright red crocs.

What do you think when you're compared to Mark Zuckerberg?

I started my business in 2004 and Facebook also started around 2004. Facebook became such a big company and I think they are doing well in how they are changing society. I think we (Gree) can change society in that way too, so I want to continue making a challenge.

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How would you like to change Japanese society?

We should change the way of thinking in the whole of Japan. To do that, rather than by saying, "we should do this," or "we should do that," we should show what we can do by a new successful example. People say there is no culture of venture business in Japan, but actually social games and our company, Gree, became successful within seven years. So we want to have an impact on Japan by showing that it can be done.

What drives you?

Gree originally started as my personal business using my money and my spare time. So of course it is good if I can make money out of it. However, my motivation is that I want to have an impact on society with my business.

Do you think your industry will become the most important part of Japan's economy?

It is true that the social gaming industry is an important industry for the Japanese economy. Originally there were many Japanese game companies like Nintendo which became successful globally. Japan is an island and an industry like ours doesn't have to worry about importing raw materials or exporting. In that sense we can do our business without having the disadvantage of being on an island, so I think it is a good industry for Japan.

What is the problem with older, traditional manufacturing businesses?

If they have a problem, I think it would be that they tried to compete only in the domestic market and didn't try the global market. That means they can only be successful in Japan and they need to think more globally.

What Japan should do now?

Of course it is easy to blame politicians but Japan is democratic and its citizens choose the politicians. So the problem does not only exist in them. I think the biggest problem is that so many people have not been able to accept the fact that we cannot survive without trying to compete globally.

Do you think mobile game industry can be a savior of Japan?

I don't know whether we can be a savior or not but I can say there are not many industries which can generate this much profit and become successful globally. Not just our company but the whole of Japan should consider developing an industry like that.

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