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Interview - November 04, 2003

Andrea Konuma is co-founder of Look Consulting Group and currently serves as Director, Sales and Marketing. Andrea's experience prior to Look Consulting Group, includes 6 years with IBM in the San Francisco bay area, and nine years in the training industry in Tokyo. Andrea was born in Texas; and yes, she is an Aggie.

1. When did you start your first business? What was it? What lessons did you take away from that experience?

We established Look Consulting Group in 1999. We are a training and development consulting company with specific expertise in simulation-based training and the associated technologies. Probably the biggest lesson from the early days regarded financing. Cash flow from Operations is the best form of financing. We had the good fortune of lining up a large customer before we officially opened our doors. From that point on, we were able to pour our energies into understanding and delivering what our customers needed rather than chasing venture capital.

2. What are some of the challenges you have faced in starting your business(es) and how did you overcome them?

Every day presents new challenges because we are in a business where we are establishing the market to a large degree. But two points really stand out from the others. First, we learned that we must be vigilant about cash flow. We keep a 6-month rolling forecast of cash flow, and we always know where cash is coming from and where it is going to go. It is almost an obsession.

The second biggest challenge we faced was in assembling the right team. The kind of work we do requires a broad skill set. It was and still is essential for us to have a tightly knit group of professionals who share a common vision and are able to wear multiple hats. Finding the right people, and then getting them into the appropriate role was our biggest challenge.

3. How did you form your business(es)? (Yugen Kaisha, Kabushiki Kaisha, etc.) How long did the start-up process take?

We started as a YK and two years later became a KK. The process for each took about a month. There are benefits to both forms, but we have found the incorporation structure to be relatively unimportant. What is interesting to note is that we do not have a President/CEO. Our company is headed by three directors, each with very different expertise. Leadership is shared among the three of us. The structure works because we value the differences in perspective and we share strong mutual respect. I know that my strength is in Sales, so that is where I focus.

4. Where do you see your business(es) in 5 years?

If I were looking for financing right now, my answer would be, "Five years from now, we will be widely recognized as the leader in our field in Asia." As the owner of a 4-year old small business, I think more about tomorrow. Wherever we are next year or five years from now, I am sure it will be challenging and lots of fun.

5. Do you see yourself as an entrepreneur? Why?

Our company is a team with an entrepreneurial spirit. We share such qualities as passion for our work, willingness to take risks, sense of ownership, desire to use our creativity, and the optimism that we can accomplish anything if we work together. Personally, I thrive in this kind of environment. Coming to work each day is fun.

6. What is your definition of an entrepreneur?

I define an entrepreneur in rather broad terms. Many large companies have successfully cultivated an entrepreneurial environment inside the company. So, the term entrepreneur should not be limited to someone who has started their own business.

7. What piece of advice would you give to a person wanting to start his or her own business in Japan?

I have found one concept particularly useful. Think about three things: what do you love to do, what are you best at doing in your selected market, and what drives your economic engine. If you can find the point where these three questions are answered, you will have a successful concept around which to build your business. (Few ideas are truly original and this is no exception. To learn more read Jim Collins book. Good to Great.)

8. Can you recommend any resources such as books, websites, or support centers for entrepreneurs in Japan?

This organization (EA-Tokyo) seems like a good place to start. But it was not around when we got started. We talked to a number of people who had their own business and listened carefully to their advice. There is really no substitute for the experience of starting and running your own business to know what works and what doesn't. There are lots of people out there who are willing to take your money in exchange for their "advice". My advice is talk to people who have tried and struggled or even failed. Usually they will tell you their story for free if you are willing to listen.

9. Who are your mentors in business?

Our customers are our best mentors. We strive to engage our customers in a dialogue where they can feel free to tell us what we are doing well and where we need to improve. Also, we are fortunate to have experienced people sitting on our Board of Directors. Finally, because work is not just work, but a key element of my life, I find it beneficial to look for mentors outside of business. Sir Winston Churchill once said, "Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm." Keeping that quote in mind has helped me maintain a positive outlook on particularly challenging days.

10. What makes you happy?

As far as the business goes, what makes me most happy is coming to the office each day and having tons of work to do. It is a very different feeling than I had working for someone else. Also, it's great when a customer says, "Job well done." We get a real charge out of doing good work and making a customer happy.


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