FEATURED MEMBER - Amir Ayalon
Interview - January 2004
Sozon.com is leading the Japanese market in the field of Search Engine Optimization being the only company to offer a comprehensive suite of Search Engine Optimization and total online marketing services.
Sozon.com is the creator of SeoSpy(TM). Japan's #1 SEO software tool. SeoSpy(TM) allows webmasters to carefully analyze and optimize their website providing them the capability to tune their website's code with real-time pin point accuracy to achieve prominent rankings in all the major search engines.
Sozon.com provides total online marketing consulting service. Handling everything from search engine optimization, paid placements, copywriting, press release, conversion rate optimization and brand protection. Sozon's services can help you maximize your marketing dollars by using proprietary marketing analysis and based on our proven expertise in creating Japan's first search engine optimization and marketing software suite.
Interview with Amir:
1. When did you start your first business? What was it? What lessons did you take away from that experience?
My first entrepreneurial experience - washing the neighbourhood cars (hmmm, about 10 yrs old).
Lessons I learned? Adults are lazy (just kidding!)
My first small business experience as an adult - 1988 ∁EDirect selling of novelty items to local businesses.
Lesson I learned? Sales is all about numbers, the more people you contact, the more product you sell.
The most important skill to develop is people skills. Whether you're selling furniture, shoes, computers or insurance, at the end of the day the customer is always a person.
My first Japanese company - 1999 - Marketing & publishing an offshore financial newsletter.
What did I learn? Oh so much
I think people first starting a business often go in with rosey pictures of success, and images of their plan falling into place just perfectly. I certainly did. Whilst you'll be hard pressed to find someone more optimistic than myself, I've learned to consider worst case scenarios in business such is "what other options are available if xxx doesn't work?" or "what else can we do if xxx doesn't go according to plan?". By asking and answering these questions way ahead of time, I've found I've been able to come up with plan b,c & d just in case...
2. What are some of the challenges you have faced in starting your business and how did you overcome them?
Currently, in starting up Sozon.com, a venture that specializes in Search Engine Optimization and Internet marketing, the initial challenge was how to come up with enough funding to launch without giving away too large an interest to VC's and the like. We were able to come to a very amicable agreement with J-Seed Ventures, Inc. which would provide us with an office and overhead until we're able to stand on our own, in addition to some invaluable advice from a very successful and experienced entrepreneur in his own right, Jeff Char.
The next biggest challenge was the preparation phase and how to complete work on our core product SeoSpy and make it market-ready with little or no budget for development.
Once again, some savvy negotiations and I was able to partner up with 2 other entrepreneurs wiling to trade time for a share in the pie. Now, a few months down the track and we have Japan's leading SEO (search engine optimization) software suite.
3. How did you form your business? (Yugen Kaisha, Kabushiki ?Kaisha, etc.) How long did the start-up process take?
I'm a strong believer that "return of investment" is equally if not more important than "return on investment". After careful consideration and discussion, we decided to launch Sozon.com as a division of J-Seed Ventures, Inc. with an option to incorporate it into a seperate company down the track. This way, Sozon.com was able to minimize initial outlay and corporate administration at a time where every second (and every Yen) counts most.
4. Where do you see your business in 5 years?
We are aggressively looking to dominate the SEO software market in Japan, and extend our reach and multilingual expertise into other Asian markets. In this first year of Sozon.com we are currently building our sales channels firstly in Japan and then greater Asia. Although we are still a rather young venture, to borrow a phrase that my friend Steve K coined, we are certainly "the hungrier fish" and as we grow, we will be looking to add to our product mix a number of core IT based solutions aimed at businesses with an online presence and with the help of our partners, customers and those working with us at Sozon.com, we shall never be satisfied with being an also-ran rather seek to carve out new markets we can dominate.
5. Do you see yourself as an entrepreneur? Why?
Absolutely. Since a young age, I never envisioned myself "getting a job" so to speak. Whilst I've had my share of jobs here and there, they were always something I did whilst I was working on a grander business goal. Some people like to collect stamps, I like to collect money. (just kidding, my collection is really just beginning.) Whether I was consulting, running a company or working in a position at a company, I've always thought of myself as self-employed in every situation.
6. What is your definition of an entrepreneur?
In my opinion, a true entrepreneur is someone who realises one day, that working for someone else is just not gonna cut it, and this includes entrepreneurs who work at a company but think of themself as self-employed. I believe a true entrepreneur is someone who tries until they succeed at what they have set out to do, and if they should die before they succeed then they have indeed still been successful as an entrepreneur who's nature is to keep trying and keep learning and even if the last 1000 things didn't work, the next one just might, and they just have to give it a shot!
7. What piece of advice would you give to a person wanting to start his or her own business in Japan?
An introduction is worth a thousand words! Japan can often appear mysterious to those first starting up here yet once you begin to grow your network of business contacts, you'll find most people are quite helpful. Regardless of what business you are in, a personal introduction to a prospective client or company can often eliminate 80% of your hard work to closing a deal and in many cases be just that break you were looking for.
8. Can you recommend any resources such as books, websites, or support centers for entrepreneurs in Japan?
Definitely EA-Tokyo would be a great place for any one new and old in business to meet like minded people, with lots of experience in a relaxed environment. A few of my favourites books for anyone starting a business (ok, even for those in business):
◁EThe E-myth, Michael Gerber
◁ELetters of a Businessman to His Son, G. Kingsley Ward
◁EGetting everything you can out of all you've got, Jay Abraham
◁EThe Greatest Salesmen in the world - Og Mandino
◁EThe Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Edited by Charles W. Eliot
If you're really stuck for ideas, you can always contact me. Whilst I most certainly don't know everything, I have been most fortunate in being able to meet and share ideas with many successful people and I'm always glad to help.
9. Who are your mentors in business?
Hmmm, that's a tough one, so many (100's) actually. Not in the sense of them having personally taught me, but more that I admire them for being true entrepreneurs, and the lessons that can be learnt from them are timeless. Here's just a few I randomly selected (hey you asked me)...
A few you may know......
- Colonal Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken - What a guy! Didn't start his business till he was in his 60's. Drove around from town to town in his famous white suit, facing rejection after rejection, he just kept on trying, day in day out because he truly believed he had the world's best tasting chicken recipe (and by golly he does!)
- Walt Disney - Another entreprenuer with vision who refused to accept no for an answer. Tirelessly worked to secure financing for Disneyland despite repeated rejections from bank after bank, finally striking a finance deal with the ABC. A reporter once interviewed the Chairman of Disney Corp. and made the remark "isn't it tragic that Walt never got to see Disney World!" (Walt died 5 years before the opening of Disney World) to which the chairman replied "Sir, you're very mistaken. The reason you're seeing Disney World today is because Walt saw it." .Walt Disney was a man with great vision.
- Henry Ford - Entrepreneur, Businessperson, Motivator, one of my favourite quotes "Always make sure you leave enough [margin] so the other guy can make a profit". Great philosophy, if we focus on making a profit for our customers, partners and employees then we have little to worry about our own success.
A few you may not know (but I can introduce you)......
- Definitely my parents :) - from a young age, I can always remember my father trying his hand at something new, in a country where he couldn't speak the language (although he soon learned) he must have had at least 10 different businesses over the years, before settling into his current business where he excels in his chosen field. My mother is also quite a strong minded and savvy negotiator and both of them always encouraged any kind of business or entrepreneurial ventures (as crazy as they may have been) that I embarked on.
- My Uncle. A salesman from as far back as I can remember, I was enchanted by his field stories of how he sold merchandise cold calling on customers out of the blue. Free to work where he wanted, when he wanted, it seemed like the ultimate thing to do. (sure sounds good when you're 9).
10. What makes you happy?
Being alive, being with my family and friends, being able to help others and contribute to making the world a better place.