Let’s talk with 3D Printer Companies Series
This interview project is to hear about ideas from 3D printer companies half seriously and half playfully. For the seventh interview, we will talk with Mr. Asakura from Kabuku Inc. He is called the rich man poor woman of the 3D printing industry. This is the second time to cover Kabuku.
Last time, I was too lighthearted and received 144 correction requests, so this time I will be more serious.
Masafumi Asakura’s Profile
Chief Corporate Development Officer at Kabuku, Inc. He worked at Mizuho Bank, did overseas business planning at Recruit Career, and was the CEO of two companies in Singapore before joining Kabuku. He oversees finance, business strategy, business alliances, personnel affairs and legal affairs.
On finance for manufacturing
Mr X: Mr Asakura, you worked at Mizuho Bank before and now you are an Chief Corporate Development Officer at Kabuku, where you oversee finance, management and personnel affairs in the corporate division. So, I would like to talk about finance in manufacturing this time. Personally, I feel that there is not much news about finance for manufacturing companies. What are your views about this?
Mr Asakura: That’s right. Unlike IT, financing when it involves manufacturing is difficult from the viewpoint of IT logic as it can not be applied. Manufacturing is unlike IT-based or Internet-based business, so it is difficult to scale exponentially. However, the market for manufacturing has exceeded 100 trillion yen in Japan, and there are very large markets exceeding 1,000 trillion yen worldwide. Even if it is a 3D printer, things are made physically, so it is a bit different part from how the Internet spread.
Mr X: I see. There are overseas companies that can raise funds, but it seems much less so in Japan.
Mr Asakura: I think that the conditions for the startup investment market is different for each country. I feel that it is a capital difference in the startup investment environment.
Can Japan prevail in manufacturing?
Mr X: In such circumstances, is there anything you would like to talk about from the perspective of finance for 3D printer companies.
Mr Asakura: I think that it would be nice if you could get excited for finance as well. Because I think that it is an indispensable factor in the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is beginning to have a major global impact in the United States and Germany, as well as Japan.
Markets are dominated by GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) in the Internet related field, and it is the standard. However, in Japan and Germany, we can lead the domain of Industrial IoT (industrial IoT), including 3D printers, which is also an element of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Japan is led by a large number of manufacturers, has strong manufacturing skills in the field. I think that it is an area that can be overtaken.
Mr X: Certainly, in the area of AI, I think that it will not be possible to beat Google with their access to the WEB, but I feel that there is still room for entry in interface for sensor or other things.
Mr Asakura: It is certainly difficult to beat Google with just IT technology. As the base technology and infrastructure for handling information has already been developed with considerable investment by Google, it is very difficult for startups to enter and to produce results. In that case, I think that for artificial intelligence it is better not to compete in the IaaS area (infrastructure area) and PaaS area, but to use it in an application-specific way specialized in the industry.
Mr X: What are your views on the JMC listing and iJet company buyout which was big news recently?
Mr Asakura: I think that is very wonderful. I think the important point is that we have a track record of finance in the industry. The 3D printer industry has this strength as well and I look forward to it in the future.
Also, I was surprised about iJet. I think that startups have various exit strategies I think that it is good that two easy to understand cases (IPO, buyout) happened in the industry.
3D Printers are more for corporations than individuals
Mr X: What do you think are the areas that are likely to grow in the future? I think there are model makers, 3D data distribution, 3D print service bureaus, etc.
Mr Asakura: For the area, I think BtoB will become stronger than it is now.
Mr X: Is it more for businesses than individuals?
Mr Asakura: I think that it will take time for individuals. Even though I look at Shapeways and the potential customer needs, I still think that it will take some time.
I think that there is a time for everything. Both printers and PCs initially funded for research, then introduced to large corporations like IBM’s supercomputer, where it was used it for small and medium-sized companies, and finally personal computers for came out. This is the order which has become normal. Even if I look at the past trends, I think that it will flow from the private side to the individual.
Mr X: It certainly seems that there are not many companies that are profitable for home use.
Mr Asakura: But there is a good chance for a paradigm shift. I think that it will be enough to grow bigger in 6 months to a year.
Mr X: I see, in terms of the personal marketplace, what is the difference between Rinkak and Shapeways?
Mr Asakura: Shapeways has many western users but few Japanese users because of lack of Japanese support. Meanwhile, Rinkak marketplace is widely used in Asia, especially in Japan.
Joining Kabuku after being CEO twice
Mr X: At this time, would you please introduce yourself? The timing is different than for regular interviews.
Asakura: Yes. In my career, I first entered Mizuho Bank as new graduate and was in charge of corporate financing. I decided that I wanted to manage funds for people, goods. Also, at the time it had world’s leader in total assets. I wanted to work in a simple world class environment.
After that I was a Recruiting Adviser and Career Advisor at Recruit Ablic (now Recruit Career) working with the recruitment HR department, the system department, the business planning department, and doing global management planning for Singapore, China, India, and Vietnam etc. I was in charge of project manager on a global basis in places such as Boston and New York and introduced a system from a company in San Francisco.
After leaving Recruit Career, I was the CEO of two companies in Singapore. I worked with members from Spain, Ireland, China, India, Myanmar, Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore to establish businesses in Indonesia and Thailand or M&A in China.
After that I joined my present company Kabuku. Since joining, I have helped to hire excellent talent from countries all over the world such Estonia, Sweden, Germany, the USA and China.
▼Before joining Kabuku, Mr Asakura worked as the CEO for HR related companies based in Singapore. He has been the CEO for two companies.
Mr X: Why did you choose Kabuku?
Mr Asakura: In my case, I have experience with major companies, start up companies and entrepreneurs. I decided to work at a startup for these reasons: 1: Market potential, 2: Excellent engineers, 3: Investment cash. Kabaku has market potential in the 3D printer area, there are excellent engineers like our CTO, Mr Adachi, and there is 750 million yen that can be invested. At the time, I had the option to work in New York, Singapore or as an entrepreneur but I chose Kabuku.
Mr X: I see.
Mr Asakura: There were other reasons, but the deciding factor was the people. I strongly felt that I wanted to work with these people.
Mr X: Do you mean the management?
Mr Asakura: No, everyone. At Kabuku, there were interviews with all members and the system requires approval from all employees and directors before joining.
Mr X: Really, great!
Mr Asakura: The level of Kabuku employees is extremely high and working with such outstanding people is worthwhile.
Mr X: Mr Asakura, you recently became an Executive officer, so what are your main duties now?
Mr Asakura: Basically without regard to job title, I contribute however I can to our stakeholders, customers and employees. Since Kabuku has talents in the business and engineering side, I think the key is to manage and prepare a comfortable environment. As for the Corporate Planning department, I support a wide range of areas such as personnel system planning, legal affairs, general affairs and marketing, medium-to-long term business strategy, and monthly and annual accounting. By supporting the business in various aspects, I feel that I can grow the business more.
Also, I was in charge of Managing Director of Rinkak marketplace and overseas business until December 2016 but handed it off to another member from January 2017. We create new businesses and departments, then hand it off to other members with the idea to create our next new job. I am also good at ordering supplies.
Mr X: Do you have any criticisms for the CEO, Mr Inada?
Mr Asakura: No, there are really none. Strictly speaking, management is basically bottom up but may be better to have a little top down. Mr Inada thinks on an employee based basis and he is a CEO that is truly easy to work for. I feel that the fact that Kabuku has grown to this point is due to Mr Inada’s personal vision.
Mr X: Nothing, really?
Mr Asakura: Nothing.
What is the hiring criteria for Kabuku?
Mr X: What are the standards for recruitment on the personnel side?
Asakura: First of all, it is a necessary to understand the vision of “democratization of manufacturing”. And, in terms of “virtue and talent”, we want “a person with virtue”. Besides having skills and experience, I take into consideration virtue of a person. Also, I think that it is difficult if you do not want to work at startup. People in a mindset that want to work in a large company or in a stable environment are not going to fit. Lastly, as a startup we must think about the whole rather than the individual optimum in order to succeed.
Mr X: Do you have a favorite company?
Mr Asakura: Personally, I like the great businesses of Elon Musk.
Mr X: Mr. Inada also admired Elon Musk!
Mr Asakura: In addition, I am aware of Terra Motors’ President Mr Tokushige. I feel that it is one company representing Japan as hardware startup. While I am experienced in Silicon Valley, it is amazing to go to the hardware side like EV (electric motorcycle) instead of the Internet. He also has a drone business right now, and I think that it is really amazing to be doing hardware as a start-up.
Are you a fan of Mr X?
Mr X: Are there any interesting companies related to 3D printing in Japan or abroad?
Mr Asakura: Yes, there are.
Mr X: Where is that?
Mr Asakura: I’m very interested in Mr X’s company.
Mr X: Thank you. Does that mean you want to have a meal later? 🙂
Mr Asakura: No, I really do pay attention. DMM thinks that after acquiring iJet it will have a different way of competing in the future, and at that there is a rise in operating profit. Meanwhile, Mr X started from scratch, and I am paying close attention to the fact that they are challenged more and more in new areas. I really hope that you are finding venture companies. Recently the website has become better recently.
I want to expand the market!
Mr X: Can you say some last words?
Mr Asakura: Thinking about the state of the industry, there are areas such as VR and drones. One company is not focused on everything. Everyone wants to compete in a good sense and I think that it important to expand the market.
Since it is a non-mature market, I think the first thing is to recognize the market. Once the market is established, it will become standard afterwards. This way of thinking is based on my own experience. When I was in Recruit Career before, I started a career change market. At that time, a job change in one’s 20s was not common and it was usually said that “Early career change is not good.”
However the Recruit Group had the idea that a person life had many appropriate options. As a result we increased the market for changing jobs and I feel the human resources industry has grown tremendously.
Since the 3D printer indsutry is still in the early stage, I would like to expand its activities. In the future, we should be able to go to a convenience store and print in 3D. It would be good to copy something like a PDF format and then 3D print it.
So, I think that first we must boost the industry. To be exact, I would like to continue to expand the industry toward democratization of manufacturing.
- Manufacturing does not scale like the Internet industries but the market is very big
- Japan’s startup market is still small compared to the US and China, so he wants to make it bigger
- 3D printers are for corporations first and then for individuals
- Kabuku gathers global talent
- To make the market bigger, recognition takes precedence
- For industry, competition in a good sense is important
Mr Asakura is like okuyuki
I am also a CEO and I look forward to his success at Kabuku. Kabuku is actively looking for talent so if you are interested, please contact Mr Asakura.
For this interview Mr Asakura came to the STL office in Hamamatsucho. It became “DMM.make 3D PRINT TOKYO Factory” in January of this year. We will continue with interviews. Please feel free to visit the office.