FEATURED MEMBER - Caroline Pover
Interview - June 27, 2003
Caroline Pover, author and independent publisher, founded Alexandra Press in 1999, when she wanted to self-publish her book 'Being A Broad in Japan'. Alexandra Press now publishes other authors' works, and acts as a project manager for others including for the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan's book, Living in Japan. Caroline has also established the Being A Broad support network: formally a magazine and now an online and in-person support and information network for women living overseas, and Go Girls: an online matching site and community for female language students and teachers.
What inspired you to start your first business, Being A Broad magazine?
Being A Broad was not intended to be a business. One day I woke up and decided that I wanted to make a magazine. Several things inspired that decision:
- I felt that foreign men and foreign women had a different experience in Japan. There weren't many resources for women to get advice and resources. I wanted to change that.
- There was no outlet for foreign women to get together to share their thoughts and feelings about living in Japan. The magazine and what is now the Being A Broad network, an online and in-person information network for women living overseas, provides numerous outlets for women to learn and share their feelings and experiences.
- English media was, at the time, predominantly male dominated in terms of staff and content, which left out a huge segment of the foreigners in Japan - women.
What has been the single most difficult aspect of starting your three businesses? What are some of the challenges you have faced in starting your businesses?
Being a Broad and Go Girls - I don't think there is ever any business that is smooth or easy to start. It's all challenging, whether it's finances, staff issues, space, systems or business development, it's always challenging. That's why we (entrepreneurs) start businesses. We wouldn't want to be doing something that's always smooth. The kind of people that start businesses are not particularly inspired by anything that's going to be easy. They want a challenge.
With Alexandra Press distribution was by far the most difficult aspect. The book publishing market in Japan is extremely difficult to enter. I got my first break through a contact I had made 3 years earlier, with an executive at Tower Records. Shortly after launching the book in the Shibuya, it became the #1 Best Seller in Tower Records (Shibuya). After that the same book stores that had originally said no to stocking my book were placing orders.
How did you form your businesses?
I have partners with Go Girls so we had a lot of resources between us, with the other two it was just me. My accountant has been a great resource! He has been very helpful on advice as to which type of business is the most beneficial, as well how to set one up, doing the paper work etc.
How long did it take?
After organizing the funds, roughly 6 weeks.
Where do you see your businesses in 5 years?
I would like to expand to other countries in Asia. I want to keep Tokyo as my home base but expanding into other countries seems like a logical step to make.
What / Who / Where has been the most valuable resource in learning about starting a business in Japan?
I would recommend that anybody interested in setting up business hires an accountant with experience in setting up businesses. It saves a lot of hassle if you can find an accountant with experience in immigration and the legal issues in addition to setting up the business.
But my friends, mentors and network have been the best resources I could possibly ask for.
Do you see yourself as an entrepreneur?
I wouldn't say I'm an entrepreneur, although other people do. I usually say I'm an accidental entrepreneur.
How would you describe an 'entrepreneur'?
It's very hard to describe an entrepreneur. They are so many things. An entrepreneur is someone with a vision and it is impossible for them not to pursue it. Work is not work for them, work is life. Some entrepreneurs do have money as the final goal but I don't think they are the entrepreneurs who feel particularly happy at the end of the day. I think for many it's about pursuing a dream or a vision. It provides them with a way a living that they can control, such as who they work with, what they do, where and when they work. I think a lot of entrepreneurs have general desire to leave the world as a better place.
Who are your mentors in life and in business?
I have lots of mentors. They are all people I have met here in Tokyo. Alison Pockett is a great mentor of mine. Roger Boisvert was a huge mentor to me. I don't even know if 'mentors' is the right word. They are more my 'guardian angels'. I have so many! They all have something special about them that inspires and encourages me.
Can you give one piece of advice to others wanting to start their own businesses?
Network!! Don't be afraid to let people know who you are and what you are doing and what you want to do. Build genuine relationships with other people. You need to be interested in what other people are doing. Your relationships need to be mutually beneficial. People get a very good sense if you are out there only to benefit yourself. The business community is very small in Tokyo and if you don't have a genuine desire to help others build what they are doing, you can't expect them to help you. People are generally very helpful; you just have to be sincere.