FEATURED MEMBER - Natalia Roschina
Interview - July 2004
Natalia Roschina (33)
For ALL Co., Ltd.
Russian-born New Zealander, time in Japan over 8 years doing post-graduate studies at the Osaka Gaidai University, working for the Japanese government in Nagasaki, working for Japanese companies in the timber (Shizuoka-ken), fisheries and agriculture industries (Hokkaido).
Incorporated For ALL Co., Ltd. in March, 2003. Natalia aims to introduce fresh ideas and new techniques into the Hokkaido? and Japanese farming industry, as well as economy. Her main business goals are to affect change for the better to help Japanese farmers keep up with what is happening in the rest of the world, move with the times by becoming more multi-skilled and to help them enjoy their life more.
If there ever was a 'typical day' in Natalia's life, it would
include anything from selling and training staff at her HEALTH for ALL retail outlets, selling grassfeed meat online (ducks, rabbits, free-range turkeys, goats, pork, chickens, etc.), organic and non-organic vegetables throughout Japan, creating new food and beauty recipes using honey and other agri based products, offering practical computer training and other IT related assistance, providing market research on topics ranging from cattle genetics to once a day milking and goat cheese production, giving new ideas and direction to small towns that are trying to revitalize their economies, renting out farm animals for events, organizing local and international agribusiness tours and farm-stays in Japan and overseas, to writing articles for Japanese newspapers or presenting business training workshops throughout Japan
Interview with Natalia:
1. When did you start your first business? What was it? What lessons did you take away from that experience?
I decided to quit the Japanese company I was working for in the role of international business development and marketing team manager. I loved my job, but I did not agree with the direction the company was heading in so it was time to find another company or do my own thing. So I changed my contract with them to part-time halving the work time and salary, and started building my business in the free time. I wanted a cheap (under 30,000 yen) office in central Sapporo, somewhere with many IT people around. So after a bit of a hard search I found a place 4 mins walk from Sapporo station, in the incubation of Hokkaido Venture Capital, with 10,000 (ten thousand) yen monthly rent. If you put your mind to something and ask people to help you, you are likely to make it happen. My first business was IT for ALL (as in I.T.) and I started it in May 2002 with launching IT Cooking Classes where I teach computers and cooking at the same time. My next business was AGRIBUSINESS for ALL (Oct 2002), and HEALTH for ALL (July 2003). Now all the three are inter-linked for many parts.
Lessons I have learnt:
*See good in people you don't like and be brave enough to admit it in public
*Create your own resources/networks, if the currently available ones don't satisfy your needs
*Don't waste your time on losers, jealous people or those who constantly try to discourage you
*Dare to be different!- is a great attitude to have.
*Entrepreneurs don't need to be good team players, they are leaders. If you are not a good team player, don't let it worry you for a second!
*If things don't go well, keep reminding yourself that things could be much worse. I often think of my only brother who got killed at the age of 32, and it helps me get over problems in a flash, or not even see problems as problems.
*Listen to people's criticism, analyse it well and try to make it work for you, especially if some criticise and others praise you for the same thing.
I was often told off (as well as complimented) for writing too many long emails, talking too much, being too outspoken, somehow rather I managed to turn that into getting high paid journalism and public speaking work, where constructive criticism and possible solutions are the central theme. If you are told off for being stingy, maybe there is an opportunity for youto be a financial advisor, or if you tell people toomuch about what they should be doing, maybe you could be a great coach.
Doing what you are naturally good at is probably the easiest money and the highest profit margins you could ever make.
*Be yourself. You will never succeed if you try to be false. I would never succeed if I suddenly become a polite person, stop occasional arguing and stop criticizing! Because people might think you are sick or something.
*Invest in your staff. I send my staff to seminars, buy them biz books, etc.
I really believe even if they quit my company, they will be grateful for the experience and they will support my biz. If you help people grow, they will help you grow. Only paranoid people wouldn't.
*If you have any scandals or interesting life happenings, don't just forget- find a smart way to use them in your business publicity. Any publicity is good publicity, and there is no famous interesting entrepreneur without a scandal! Those kind of things only make you more human opposed to entrepreneurs who can sink in a bath of gold and are boring like hell.
*Don't waste your time on things you hate doing. I should have outsourced my accounting long time ago.
2. What are some of the challenges you have faced in starting your business and how did you overcome them?
The main challenge was not knowing how to get things done. Everyone seemed to know what you couldn't do. It was almost like a game of having obstacles in front of you and noone very forthcoming with answers. Many people tried to discourage me, although I got amazing support from total strangers. Lessons I learnt: you have to keep cool, keep thinking, learn how to work out what people you need to know and meet to give you solutions to the puzzles, bounce your ideas off people you can trust. I learnt to filter advice, some of it even from people you don't like. It might sound a bit ruthless but you are either in business, or out of business. Another challenge was dealing with people trying to copy ideas. I am still working on learning to deal with that one, and presenting my ideas for the first time in journalism articles or public speaking is probably one of the solutions
3. How did you form your business? (Yugen Kaisha, Kabushiki Kaisha, etc.) How long did the start-up process take?
When I went independent, I never thought I would start a company, but then it happened naturally. I hired a scrivener for 50,000 yen who organized all the incorporating formalities for me. I am glad I did not waste time on running around like a headless chicken doing it myself, as I never intend to go into business of incorporating for others so why bother learning that particular aspect. I used the new incorporation law with 1 yen capital for my yugen kaisha. I consider I am still in the start-up process one and a half year after my incorporation, as I keep bringing new ideas in which themselves generate new ideas.
4. Where do you see your business in 5 years?
Solvent. I see myself and my company spending more time working in Tokyo and other parts of Japan, while living in Hokkaido. I like to have a flexible business plan. People always tell me I should have a 10 year detailed plan. But I see myself as a real opportunist. I have a general direction in mind, but the plan can change from day to day. I have given up worrying about not having a solid plan. Why commit to a franchise or retailing deal, if you don't know if it is worth or enjoyable doing? Try it, then decide- drop it or push it. You've gotta have fun with what you are doing, not everything is about money. My big business goal is to affect change in the Japanese agricultural and not only economy as it is all linked, to make it more efficient and genki, to make money and have fun while I am doing it. I have affected many changes already, and I know I will not stop doing it in 5 years. I enjoy giving people ideas so they make their own changes, with whatever they see necessary.
5. Do you see yourself as an entrepreneur? Why?
Yes, because I see opportunity, I think up solutions and I take risks.
6. What is your definition of an entrepreneur?
People who make business happen and are really to loose or make money along the way. I also divide entrepreneurs into interesting and boring ones. Richard Branson is an interesting one. I will not list boring ones here, and I would hate to be one myself.
7. What piece of advice would you give to a person wanting to start his or her own business in Japan?
Do your homework, get real about the situation you currently have. Talk to friends and make them tell you the truth. Be prepared to be broke for a while, and have lots of unexpected downs, ups and downs. Make sure you enjoy your part of Japan. If you hate the heat, why start a business in Tokyo? It is not all about money, you must enjoy your lifestyle and be happy with your family along the way as there are too many stressed business people in Japan and not only.
8. Can you recommend any resources such as books, websites, or support centers for entrepreneurs in Japan?
Entrepreneurs in Japan is a new webbboard to help entrepreneurs from all over Japan to network, get questions answered and more. Many peoplefrom outside Tokyo need it, and I am sure people from Tokyo could see more biz opportunities there. Thinking and acting beyond Tokyo is the first step to going global I think.
Women Can IT Japan is a great helpful email list to help with IT related questions, and to learn using IT as a tool for any business:
IWIC email list is great for finding interesting people to network with. I even found a business sponsor on it. But you must ask for what you are looking for, to make it happen.
And I am a member of numerous Japanese networks (mostly related to food and agri industries), where I get most of my work from.
Richard Branson, Virgin King: Inside Richard
Branson's Business Empire (Tim Jackson)
Getting Everything You Can Out Of All You've Got (Jay Abraham)
Funky Business: Talent Makes Capital Dance (K. Nordstrom, J. Ridderstrale,Kjell Nordstrom, Jonas Ridderstrale)
Japanese industry newsletters (I get all sorts from MAF, agri, food and Biz related networks).
cold calling (seems to work for me in many cases)
All sorts related to your industry and business. My year networking membership fees total 178,000 yen (mostly Japanese networks), but I get much more back from generating biz with them.
Motivational quotes (find some for you and keep them handy to cheer you up anytime)
Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can somehow become great.
When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.
(1880-1968, American Writer)
"If you're going through hell, keep going."
Any publicity is good publicity.
9. Who are your mentors in business?
My husband John is my best mentor, coach, friend and lots more. Between us we have lots of life experience that seems to get us through. I als o get lots of help from my current and past Japanese clients. Peter Aitchison (Aitchison Industries) and Leith Pemberton in NZ have been a great support not only with the agricultural business. By reading about successful entrepreneurs (Richard Branson, Estee Lauder) I can often take enthusiasm and ideas, which is like being coached but cheaper and more convenient. I have a sticker on my wall which says “What would Richard Branson do? Eand when I am in a difficult or awkward situation, I look at it, smile and get going.
10. What makes you happy?
Making an idea work and proving all the doom merchants wrong. A cup of goat milk with some honey in it. First snow in Hokkaido at the start of each winter. Happy customers. Creative ideas of my staff. Working for myself!