“It’s like a snowball. If you keep rolling, then the snowball gets bigger and bigger.”
Adam describes his experiences as an entrepreneur. He has been capturing and making the most of every opportunity and now his business is one of 10 startups selected (from a pool of 1,200+) worldwide by Startupbootcamp(SBC) FashionTech Milan, a Prada-sponsored global accelerator program. So what is his secret of “rolling” the snowball in the right direction?
To get started, tell me about yourself and your business
I’m Adam, CEO of aoiShip. I grew up in the States (US) most of my life. About 2 years ago I moved to Japan. I’m a software engineer by trade. Previously I was a Risk Manager working in the US Fortune 500 sector for about 8 years in Aviation, Insurance, Manufacturing and Digital Gaming industries.
I came to Japan to teach myself how to code, and joined a coding bootcamp called Le Wagon. I decided that if I’m going to learn how to code and spend three months of my life to do so I wanted to visit somewhere I had never been to. Tokyo was the city that interested me the most on my list.
At first I wasn’t planning on living in Japan. I wanted to travel, learn, and experience new things, and I thought I was gonna go back to the US and find a job as a product manager or something. But pretty quickly I realized I wanted to stay in Japan. After the bootcamp I was hired as a junior web engineer, and I did that for over a year, I really wanted to improve my skill-set. A coding bootcamp will get you to maybe 10% of the way to becoming really an independent developer, but it’s enough to give you the foundation to absorb knowledge from somebody who really knows what they’re doing. I looked at coding as a necessary skill to build my own digital business; I wanted it to be digital because my dream was to be able to make a living while being able to travel anywhere in the world and all I need is an internet connection.
“aoiShip” is a social-media-powered e-commerce platform. We are here to bring Japanese, and eventually Korean, fashion to the world, and we’re really changing the way e-commerce integrates with influencer marketing. Our aspiration is to become Asia’s “Net-a-Porter”, one of the world’s best examples of a large e-commerce site for luxury fashion. Today, we are now one of 10 startups selected out of 1,200+ worldwide to be selected by a Prada-backed global accelerator in Milan in 2020.
How has your entrepreneurial journey evolved so far? We hear that Venture Café Tokyo took some part in your journey. What was it like?
When my friends found out that I moved to Japan, they asked me “Hey Adam, can you go to the store to buy these clothes?” and I replied “Why don’t you buy it online?” and soon found out that the stores themselves many times didn’t have an online presence, or they have one, but do not have the specific item (SKU) online. Then, the idea came that if I can gather unique clothes from these brands, store them, and then put them online on a web storefront, then maybe it can be a profitable business by making Japanese fashion accessible online to the world.
As we sat down with the designers, we soon realized that there’s actually a bigger problem to solve — all the fashion brands in Japan, they want to share their fashion and culture overseas but they don’t know how. There is a huge language and cultural barrier to overcome. I saw an opportunity to solve that by integrating technology with influencer marketing.
Around February (of 2019) I started sharing this message with my personal network, and started public speaking. In the beginning, to be honest, I wasn’t great. On paper, our messaging was clear, but my pitch needed a lot of work. Around April, we received our first funding, a startup loan, which really began to kickstart creating our momentum. We were finally able to grow our business and technology. Then, around September, we found out about a so-called “Rocket Pitch” event at Venture Café Tokyo coming up and decided to make that as our next opportunity to improve our message to become clearer.
This time I did something a little different. I prepared as much as possible to make the most of the Rocket Pitch Night. So I started to obsessively practice and rehearse my pitch, even renting out studio space for two days, and I even invited a couple of friends to watch me pitch and give me honest feedback. By the time pitch day came around, I was much more prepared.
This time when we pitched it came out much more clear so that was a really good feeling. A lot of opportunities came out of Rocket Pitch afterwards. “Plug-and-Play Japan” reached out to us after the event and invited us to pitch at CEATEC (“Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies” — a big technology conference) and then we were also selected by Tokyo Tech Startups to pitch out at an event with Venture Capitalists in the crowd, held at Yappli HQ. I would even say that these events led us to becoming accepted to SBC FashionTech. Had I not prepared the way I did for Rocket Pitch, perhaps the result would have been different today.
When “SBC” found us, they sent us a message on LinkedIn. They were touring the world to scout the best FashionTech startups, and their only stop in Asia was going to be Prada’s offices in Shanghai. They asked if we could come pitch for them there, so we flew over to China and discovered that we were the only participants not from China (out of the14 startups). By the end of it, we eventually moved on to the next round and found out that we were fast-tracked to one of the top 40 of their 1,200 applicants. That was a really big moment for us.
We believe you have been leveraging every opportunity pretty well including “Rocket Pitch,” What do you think is important to fully utilize those opportunities?
There are three things that are really big to me;
№1: Always be a “Yes Man.” If somebody gives me an opportunity, even if I’m not ready I always try to say “Yes” because I know it will lead to multiple new opportunities. If I had pitched only when I felt ready then I don’t think we would ever get to the next level and improve.
№2: The other thing is really rehearsing right before the pitch. That is so critical. A lot of people think they can just wing it right? And I think if you do that, you will really waste your opportunity to give a great pitch and make the most of the opportunity without practice. After the success of Rocket Pitch, I now make it a point to practice before each pitch at least for an hour the day before.
№3: Using social media to engage with an audience is important. I really believe that you have to be able to create your own momentum because no one else is going to do it for you. And once you have that momentum you have to nurture it because once you lose it you’re not going to get it back. It’s like a snowball. If you keep rolling, then the snowball gets bigger and bigger. A lot of opportunities are finding us now with every bit of news we share to our networks.
So what is your secret of “rolling” the snowball into the right direction?
So startup is not an easy thing. Especially if you don’t have a network that can boost you. I really believe that you have to really latch on to those who are already connected and try to align with their interests and their goals. A lot of people just think “because I have a perfect idea and I’m a good pitch, that should be enough.” You have to do a lot more than that because, for example VCs, once you have their attention, you have to realize they have a lot on their plate to look through all the opportunities. You need to be more than just a good idea. It has to be interesting, but also you have to align their interests with your interest. No one is going to help you out of kindness, so you have to consider what’s in it for them. So I try my best to align everyone’s interest with ours in order to grow.
What’s your vision for the future?
We’re in such an interesting time now. I was born in New York to a Korean mother and Moroccan father, both who are immigrants. And now, here I am living in Japan having a conversation with you (interviewers) in English. And in a few weeks, I’m preparing to move to Milan (Italy), fashion capital of the world, for 5 months in order to learn from the best of Milano’s fashion leaders, in order to create value for Japan’s fashion industry, by building this e-commerce, an “online bridge” let’s say, between Europe and Japan. Our world is globalizing faster than we realize because of technology. That’s something I embrace. In about 40 years time, we’re probably going to be one human race with a mixture of everything and I really think it’s a beautiful thing. My vision, moving forward, is to help continue enabling this.
Speaking about my business there hasn’t been an outlet for Japan to share their culture online, especially for fashion. Japan’s biggest export is not cars, electronics, or plastic, it’s actually “culture.” But the culture, it hasn’t been monetized, it hasn’t been shared easily because of the language barriers. If you can find a way to share it with the world… the whole world already loves Japanese culture and Japanese things. Even China, now has a 45% favorable opinion rating about Japan by its people. There are huge opportunities to capitalize on it, and I want to help share what I think are the most beautiful things globally, and I just happened to land with Japanese fashion.
Interviewee: Adam Boujida
Adam is a Digital Entrepreneur, Software Engineer, Bourdain-inspired Food Enthusiast, and a New York City native. After earning his Bachelor’s Degree from St. John’s University in 2010, he practiced Corporate Risk Management within the US Fortune 500 sector for eight years in New York and Los Angeles. Early interest with Cryptocurrency and Blockchain opportunities led him to pivot into the Tokyo Tech Scene at the end of 2017, allowing him to gain skills and knowledge in coding technologies and become a Full-Stack Web Developer in Japan. Since then, he has developed several web applications projects for clients in Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan with focus towards Platform and e-Commerce technologies, while also launching aoiShip with co-founder Kazumasa Ito in September 2018.