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Interview - October 04

Born In India and having grown up in the US (Boston) since the age of 10, Prashant graduated with a degree in Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Since graduation, Prashant has gained comprehensive experience working for several MNC' in management and new business development, international sales & marketing and product rollouts. Over the past fourteen years, he has tuned his skills in market analysis, opportunity identification, contract negotiation, building strategic alliances and distributor networks. He is also well-versed in inter-cultural communication and business practices with working experience in Asia (4 years), Japan (4 years), & United States (6 years) as well as with business partners in Europe and Israel; Prashant subscribes to the age old philosophy of working hard and playing hard, always enjoying a round of golf or working up a sweat on the tennis court.

1. When did you start your first business? What was it? What lessons did you take away from that experience?
Although, on a part-time basis, I had started a small trading business around the age of 21 but the real start of a business was in 1995, around the age of 27 when I was entrusted with the task and responsibility of setting up an Asian subsidiary for a large Japanese company. So, this was the first chance to go thru the entire exercise from business plan to building and managing a business. The business entailed sales, marketing and support of high-end digital printing/imaging technology (prices of the systems ranged from 400,000-600,000 US dollars) in several Asian countries. The systems were developed and manufactured in Israel and the venture financing was done from Japan. This challenging stint provided me with a broad spectrum of experience including having gone thru the turbulent Asian financial crisis, which overnight had left a few of our clients close to bankruptcy. The most important lessons from this experience included learning to manage cash flow, cost control & monitoring at all levels and aspects, paying detailed attention to contracts, learning to set up businesses in various countries and conforming to the various legal and accounting formalities.

2. What are some of the challenges you have faced in starting your business(es) and how did you overcome them?
There were several major challenges faced in starting the business including:
・・ Developing the business model and testing it while everything including the organization was still new and fluid (lot of trial and error); so winning the order was less than half the battle - execution required a lot more resources in cost and time.
・・ Recruiting Japanese staff and advisory board - convincing them of the viability of the business model and building trust
・・ Convincing clients to give us the first deal, which is especially (is) tough in Japan as most companies don't take too easily to start-ups.
・・ Major change to the business model after a few critical setbacks was a very difficult experience but helped us get us an effective market strategy.
Overcoming challenges involved mainly perserverence, persistence and whole lot of patience.

3. How did you form your business(es)? (Yugen Kaisha, Kabushiki Kaisha, etc.) How long did the start-up process take?
At this initial phase, as the major business activity is between India and Japan and having researched the tax implications of doing business between these two countries, I decided to establish the head office in Singapore with Japan and India branch offices. For the legal framework, the Singapore company registration took two days while Japan branch registration took nearly two months. We were somehow never able to get any clear guidelines to the process. The company started with a paid-up capital of approximately 10 Million Yen. On the operational side, the start-up took close to 2 months for creating marketing material, website, product pricing, recruiting, etc.

4. Where do you see your business(es) in 5 years?
At this time there really isn't a 5 year business plan but if I were to prioritize some of our goals going forward, they would be:
- Attaining financial stability both thru revenue growth and raising capital
- Providing good opportunities and environment for our employees
- Developing strong anchor clients and partners
- Taking steps for geographic expansion (Asia & US);
- Scaling up from training and placements to having a strong software development center;
- Building and managing offshore software development centers for our clients

5. Do you see yourself as an entrepreneur? Why?
Yes, if all goes as planned. other issues also play a part, such as the continuance of a good climate in the industry. I have an excellent team and am very positive of the future.

6. What is your definition of an entrepreneur?
I don't really have one but I suppose, if I was to give one - an entrepreneur would be someone with a combination of vision, an appetite for risk, self-belief & determination, able to accept failure as well as having the luck to be at the right place for the right duration of time.

7. What piece of advice would you give to a person wanting to start his or her own business in Japan?
When getting started on this road, I suppose it is important to ask yourself a few pertinent questions:
・・ Do I have financial stamina (making it thru the breaking-even hump) or what are the available sources for financing
・・ Can I recruit a good team (hard to do it all alone)
・・ Am I able to convince those around me of the business idea
・・ Are there others willing to invest time and/or resources to help start the business
・・ Do my services or products offer a strong value proposition

8. Can you recommend any resources such as books, websites, or support centers for entrepreneurs in Japan?
During the start up process I did not really come across any good books or resources for starting up in Japan. JETRO did provide some support as we were a foreign entity. Otherwise, it has been mainly our advisory team that has showed the way thru the Japanese regulatory and bureaucratic jungle.

9. Who are your mentors in business?
Through out my career, I have had the wonderful luck and benefit of having mentors from various fields, nationalities and of varying ages. I have also had the good fortune of having been part of many successful ventures and enterprises. At our company now we have several highly experienced business leaders who act as mentors/advisors and sometimes if and when necessary as strict fatherly figures.

10. What makes you happy?
Tough question - I suppose it depends on the situation; obviously winning a deal if it is business; hitting a great shot if it is golf; getting someone to laugh at my sense of humor -- but generally, have learned to take a more philosophical approach by understanding that there will be lots of ups and downs along the journey so just enjoy the ride and learn from the experience.


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