For JPYC CEO Noritaka Okabe, age is just a number

Headline Asia led Series A of JPYC with Circle, which issues a stable USDC linked to the US dollar, and Infinity Ventures Crypto, which invests in promising startups in the Web 3.0 ecosystem.

JPYC Inc. was founded in November 2019. In January 2021, it began issuing JPYC, a Japanese yen-indexed stablecoin, as Japan’s first ERC-20 prepaid payment instrument. JPYC Inc. is actively working with various partners to increase JPYC use cases online and offline.

Jonathan M. Hayashi of Headline Asia, who was in charge of investing in JPYC, recently interviewed JPYC Founder and CEO Noritaka Okabe. Here’s what the pair discussed.

The following interview has been translated from Japanese. It has been consolidated and edited for brevity and clarity.

Jonathan M. Hayashi (JH): You have had such an interesting professional background, because you have been an entrepreneur all your life. Can you briefly share your life story with our readers?

Noritaka Okabe (NO): I was born in 1978 and I am currently 43 years old. I enrolled in Hitotsubashi University, majoring in economics, but hardly went to class. In 2001, at the age of 22, while I was still in school, I created my first business. It was a server-to-server trading company for in-game currency, a sort of money exchanger.

Subsequently, I operated several other websites, such as a price point website (the third in the industry at the time) and affiliate websites. At the same time, I was also helping to develop games. Finally, in 2017, I started my second business with the goal of helping people stay healthy by making them walk more.

We issued a virtual currency that would be allocated as compensation for walking. At the end of 2019, I founded my third company, which was eventually renamed JPYC Inc.

JH: Tell us about the virtual currency you issued in your last business. Is it legally registered as a crypto asset in Japan?

NO: It’s called Arukcoin. (Aruku means “to walk” in Japanese.) It is still operational, but I am no longer involved. The service connects to users’ smartphones to check the number of kilometers traveled. The more users walk, the more Arukcoin they get. They can also earn additional Arukcoin by going to specified locations.

It is not registered as a crypto asset in Japan, so it cannot be listed on any local crypto exchange. It could only be distributed for free, but could not be sold for a price. Additionally, the company cannot be a custodian, which means it cannot hold Arukcoin on behalf of users.

The JPYC team. Courtesy of JPYC via Headline Asia.

JH: One thing that’s amazing about JPYC Inc. is the age diversity of your employees. Heard that one of your CTOs joined the company at the age of 16?

NO: Yes! The average age of JPYC Inc. is approximately 24 years old. Our youngest member joined the company when he was 15, and now he’s 16. Many young people have approached us because of our former CTO. She joined the school when she was 16 and is now 18.

At JPYC, we don’t judge our employees on their gender, age, or previous experience, and we only hire people who can resonate with that culture. We have very young people here, but on the other hand, our oldest employee is 65 years old.

JH: How does it feel to run a business with such diverse gender and age? Can you share any lessons from this process?

NO: I am a big fan of the Japanese chess game Go. Also, I was a bit addicted to playing this game called Entrance, which is developed by Niantic, the game developer behind Pokémon Go. By playing these games, I was able to learn some management lessons.

Go is a give and take game. That is, you have to balance the profit you are willing to give your opponent against the profit you will get from him. You also need to decide when. This also applies to the management of the business. It’s a decision-making game. Every time you put a stone on a board, it’s a decision, and any one can be the decision to win or lose the game. So I think I’m well trained and very used to making decisions.

As for Entrance, it’s an online war game where I’ve given orders to thousands of other players. In EntranceI learned that a top-down organization, where a small group of authorities give exact instructions to a large group of people, worked much worse than a decentralized organization, where everyone can decide what to do based on a set of principles. With this, I apply the same logic to the execution of JPYC Inc.

JH: How is the company decentralized? Does everyone do what they want?

NO: First of all, a lot of our team members are digital nomads and hadn’t met in real life before the birthday party we had recently.

As for decision-making, they can determine their working hours themselves. If they want to do new things, they can just go ahead and do it. If they need additional resources, they can submit a request, and then the company’s finance department assesses the requests and provides the resources accordingly.

There are a lot of things that happen on their own. For example, we have clubs within the company, such as our Shogi Chess Club, Sauna Club, Crypto Trading Club, etc. Members have just started a new Slack channel and are meeting on their own.

JH: What do you hope to accomplish in the next 12 months?

NO: Well, 10 billion is a good number. I would aim for an issue amount of JPY 10 billion for JPYC. Also, we are actively recruiting engineers as well as English speaking talents. I hope that the people who join us now become a JPYC mafia, like the PayPal mafia, so that they learn a thing or two and then can start their own business in the future.

This article was written by Jonathan M. Hayashi, Senior Partner at Headline Asia. It is republished here with permission from Headline Asia.

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