S03E01: Yuka Imanishi, Founder & CEO of CURIO Japan Inc., Japan

Many Japanese business people are very capable. They can do a lot, but because of the lack of understanding of different cultures, diversity and not being used to working with people with very different backgrounds, they don’t do well.

Yuka imanishi

Welcome to Season 3! I am starting Season 3 with a Japanese entrepreneur, Yuka Imanishi.

yuka imanishi curio japan womenpreneur asia

Yuka is the founder and CEO of CURIO Japan Inc. 

Before she started CURIO, she had chalked up a lot of valuable experience working with multinationals and international brands. She started her first job at Sony Music when she graduated from university.

For 7 years Yuka was involved closely with the music industry and handled marketing communications for celebrities such as Beyonce, Mariah Carey and Jennifer Lopez. Although it sounded glamorous, Yuka spent a lot of time travelling between Japan and the US. When it was time to start a family, she chose to scale down the frenetic pace of travel and work and moved to the cosmetic industry where she worked for the French brand, Clarins. It was then that she gave birth to her son. 

Not too long after, she felt she was getting bored and decided to work at a startup by a Korean conglomerate, Lotte. This was in the e-commerce industry which she felt was going to be huge in time to come. Finally, she moved on from Lotte to work for the German intimate apparel brand, Triumph as its digital marketing manager for about 3 years.

Start small and experiment. First to see the needs and understand what’s needed and what the market needs. Sometimes people want to wait until they’re ready and for the product or service to be ready, but the market changes rapidly. When your products are ready, maybe they don’t need them anymore. 

One day she chanced upon an American brand that sold subscription boxes for children based on a monthly country theme. She was enthralled by the concept and emailed the company to ask if she could distribute these products in Japan. They turned her down but it didn’t faze her. She decided to create her own version for the Japanese market and started her business, CURIO Japan Inc, based on the word “curiosity”. 

However, she didn’t realize that the subscription box business model was more than just putting together interesting products in a box; it also meant creating unique content that delighted customers as well as logistics. The creation of content and curating products was challenging. Eventually, she and her partner decided to put the idea aside because it was simply eating up time and resources.

Still, she didn’t give up on her global education idea. Yuka felt that the idea had merit and it just needed some tweaking to get the business model right. She pivoted her business to match international students in Japan with Japanese families who needed tutors or sitters for their children. After all, the international students were opportunities for Japanese children to open up to diversity, cultural exchanges and languages! 

This was a hit with the Japanese market and at the same time, she came upon another idea when these international students graduated. They sometimes stayed back in Japan, looking for work and this was how Yuka grew another division of her business – providing international talent recruitment to Japanese companies. Last year, she and her partner developed training for Japanese companies so that they could easily understand how to accommodate non-Japanese employees. Everything was going well until the pandemic hit and her business suffered a serious downturn. 

Not one to give up, Yuka spun off yet another cultural exchange through online learning. This time, she had her international student database to help her with teaching Japanese children about international cuisine through live cooking! In this way, even if the children were at home, they could still learn about other cultures through food. 

This is why she lives by the saying, where there is a will, there is a way. Yuka says she derives inspiration from her parents, husband and son. 

Before I started my own business, I didn’t think I could enjoy the process. But now I can. And I think it’s because it takes time to achieve something. So unless you enjoy the process of going towards your goal, you can never continue. So I realized that and I learned how to enjoy the process.

I found Yuka to be highly creative, resilient and adaptive to changes. At every turn of her business, she found ways to turn things around and leverage her large network, honed over years of being in different industries from music to makeup and more.

She believes that being a connector helps and her ability to pivot makes her an incredibly valuable innovator. Despite the various pivots, what underlies each one is the firm belief that it is always about people and a curiosity about the world at large and the desire to introduce the amazing, wonderful world to her Japanese market. 

Her favourite books include Anne of Green Gables and music by Savage Garden and she absolutely adores Michael J. Fox and Angeline Jolie.

In this episode, Yuka talks about:

  • Why she is in a happier place now that she is a solo founder
  • The myth of the perfect product or service in order to start a business
  • Why all businesses is simply about this one key thing 
  • Her desire to transform diversity into power 
  • Her hope and belief in young people for the future
  • How one concept changed the way she thinks about business and success
  • Why she believes that while outcomes and results are key, there are times when other rewards are far more satisfying 
  • Her creative pivots each time her business hits a brick wall but each is threaded to her overall business mission
  • One book that changed her life (and made her study English and got her where she is right now) 
  • What her mentor used to say to her and why she holds this dearly in her heart to spur her onwards 

Connect with her: https://www.linkedin.com/in/yuka-imanishi-koike/

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