FundersClub Series: How Taro Fukuyama went from sleeping in a minivan to launching AnyPerk

You think you have it bad? Today’s guest had to sleep in his car outside of a Taco Bell.

His idea didn’t work. He was going nowhere.

Then he got another idea, one that led him to launch a successful startup. And you won’t believe where he found his big business idea.

Taro Fukuyama is co-founder of AnyPerk which partners with companies to provide hundreds of great perks and discounts for their employees.

I invited him here to talk about how he did it, and its part of my FundersClub series. FundersClub helped connect me with Taro, so we could do this interview.

Taro Fukuyama

Taro Fukuyama

Any Perk

Taro Fukuyama is co-founder and CEO of AnyPerk which partners with companies to provide hundreds of great perks and discounts for their employees.

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Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: Hey there, Freedom Fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. You think you have it bad? Do you?

Well, today’s guest is a Mixergy fan who’d been listening for years, and at one point, he had to sleep in a car outside of Taco Bell. His idea didn’t work. He was going nowhere. Things just were not working out for him. Then he came up with another idea, one that led him to launch a successful startup. The startup that I invited him here to talk about, because I was so eager to hear how he built it up. And you won’t believe where he came up with his idea. Taro Fukuyama is the co-founder of AnyPerk, which partners with companies to provide hundreds of great perks and discounts to their employees.

Everybody else talks about, “How do you get more employees?” Taro’s company talks about, “How do you keep them, and keep them happy?” I invited him here to talk about how he did it, and its part of my Funder’s Club series. Funder’s Club helped connect me with Taro, so we could do this interview.

And this interview is sponsored by Toptal. If you need a developer, do exactly what I did. I needed a developer, and we have a unique culture here at Mixergy. We have unique needs. And yes, we could have gone to Toptal and said we need somebody for 40 hours a week. We could’ve gone to them and said we need someone for part-time, but I just needed a few hours a week. Somebody to help me out.

I went to Toptal, they asked me questions, and they got me top developers. Two. The first one we talked to, we said, “It’s not the right fit.” So they got us someone else. That second guy was so freaking brilliant, I now hired a designer to design what he coded up, because he’s so good. They guarantee their work, they give you the right person. Go to T-O-P-T-A-L dot com. Toptal, like top talent. And they do have the top talent. Go to Topetal.com. Taro, welcome.

Taro: Thank you. I’m very excited to be here, Andrew.

Andrew: I’m psyched to have you here. You were listening to Mixergy interviews years ago. One of the people who you heard is Paul Graham, whose investment company, Y Combinator, invested in your firm, and at one point, he said to you what, about your accent and about who you were?

Taro: Yeah. We were in YC in 2012, and then our initial idea didn’t work out. So we were kind of changing ideas. And we were still figuring like what we want to do. And at one point, he invited us to his room, and he was like, “Hey Taro. All right. You guys are the worst startup in this batch.” We are like 66 companies there, and he was like, “All right, you don’t have any ideas, you’re changing the idea every single week, and you’re from Japan, so you don’t have any network. You have a Japanese accent. There’s no way you guys can raise money. I’m trying to motivate you guys. Hope it helps.” I was like, “There is no way you are helping us motivated.” But yeah, I’m glad we are here today from there.

Andrew: To you, that’s one of the highlights of your career, that he had that conversation with you. Why? What was it about that conversation that now you say, “Hey, it didn’t really motivate us that much, it kind of scared us.” What was it about that conversation? What was it about him that makes you say, “This is one of the highlights of my career?”

Taro: Yep. Well, when we came to the U.S., we were originally from Tokyo, and we came to the U.S. in 2011. We felt that if you come to San Francisco, anyone can just raise money. And that’s what we thought. So we came to the U.S., and we were figuring what we should do. You know? What we want to do.

Andrew: Did you have an idea when you came to the U.S.?

Taro: Yeah. Actually it was a dating site in the beginning.

Andrew: Okay.

Taro: We didn’t even have a product. We didn’t have, of course, customers or revenue.

Andrew: Did you have a network? Or did you just have a plane ticket, you landed here, and you figured people were just handing out cash, because that’s the way it seems?

Taro: Yeah. I was watching Mixergy. I was reading Tech Crunch, all the things. And I felt that, oh, anybody in San Francisco looks like they can just raise money. So let’s just go there without any plan, any you know, hotels or anything like that. So we just-

Andrew: Before we continue the story, tell me about the first place you went to try to raise money. To see this dream of raising money in San Francisco. What is the first person you talked to?

Taro: Yeah. I don’t remember specific person’s name, but I remember that it was a Starbucks on the Market Street, and then we were talking about all the things. And the investor was like, “Wait. Did you guys come to the U.S. without any plan? Any product? Any customers? Are you guys serious?” And we were like, “Oh, I thought that’s how you do.” But you know, we came there already, and we can’t go back to Tokyo, so yeah.

Andrew: So you can’t go back to Tokyo, and so you continued talking to more people. How’d you find investors to even sit down and have conversations with?

Taro: Yeah. At the moment, Angela kind of started. And Quora was kind of hot. And only the kind of tech people are there, so we used all the connection. We typed, “Hey, we are from Tokyo. If you want to go to Tokyo one day, I can help you for the best restaurants. Or agent expansion or all those kind of stuff. But can you spare 15 minutes for us to talk to you right now?” So I remember I emailed say, I don’t know, 100 investors every single day. Maybe I was a little stunning at the moment.

Andrew: You know what? You’re very modest about the way you were. And maybe you look back and you say, “Oh, I was not… I was stupid back then.” But there’s so much intelligence to the way you did it. Yes, you came in here without any connections, and without really much traction for your idea. But the way you said, “If you’re ever in Japan, I want to give you some introductions to restaurants that you should go to.” That’s smart. The way you emailed so many people. That’s smart.

It’s not as good as getting introductions. It’s not really as effective, but you know, you were hustling. You were… and you know what I found, though, if you do that approach? You end up with fake investors. People who just have the dream of calling themselves an investor on angel lists, but really, they don’t invest. And they don’t have any money at all. Did you find that?

Taro: Yeah. I think we talked to some investors. You know, some investors were not even investors. They just wanted to talk to me or something. Which was okay, because you know, there was nothing else for me to do. So I need to meet as many people as possible. So that was fun. But I don’t want to do it again though.

Andrew: Did you have a car when you slept — or a van you had, when you slept outside of Taco Bell?

Taro: Yeah. So when we came here, the only thing we had was actually a car that we borrowed from a friend. So I was emailing all the friends who live in San Francisco, “Hey, can you give me something because we don’t have anything.” And the only thing we got is a kind of minivan. That’s pretty kind of small, but we thought that’s kind of enough to start with. So we get a van, and we thought, “Let’s go somewhere where we can kind of sleep.”

Andrew: And you, I guess you would live on Taco Bell food, right?

Taro: Yeah. So we realized that we forgot to kind of book hotels. And then we realized that oh, minivan is kind of small for three people. But maybe enough for a few nights, or until we get the money. So we started sleeping there. We were kind of scared of sleeping on the street. And there was a Taco Bell sign [inaudible 06:45] that says “24-Hour” so all right, let’s go there, because it looks like it’s free to stay in a parking lot. So that’s kind of how we started.

Andrew: I want to speak out to my audience here for a moment. If you are listening to this and find yourself sleeping in a van outside of Taco Bell, please let me know. You should come here. I will have… usually I just do scotch, and I have cheese and crackers, and edamame, and things like that. I will have food delivered here. You should have a conversation and feel like you don’t have to sleep out in front of Taco Bell and eat Taco Bell. I want to take care of you guys.

I can’t bring you into my house anymore, because now I have a family and a kid, but I want to still make sure if you’re sleeping out there, that you come in here, and I’ll get you some food. And we’ll have a conversation and help get things right.

Taro: I wish you told me three years ago.

Andrew: I wish I did. I wish I knew. I wasn’t here at the time. I don’t want to pretend that just a conversation is going to solve everything, but I do want to help as much as I can. And at the very least, I can give somebody a home away from home while they’re here. So you were sleeping out there. You’re smiling the whole time you’re talking. I’m looking at this, and I’m looking at you on video. But you couldn’t have been happy about it. Tokyo, Japan, it feels like a very proud culture. You don’t leave that proud culture to sleep in a van and feel good about yourself. Do you?

Taro: I don’t know. At the moment, I felt that every day was kind of tough for us. You know? Every time you meet investors, you feel like you have the kind of best next Facebook idea, or something like that. But every investor was politely saying no to us. And then we feel like, you know, we had only a few months that we could stay with the visa. So it was like, oh, time is the kind of clocking. But on the other hand, somehow I felt that probably tomorrow we will meet investors that will give us the first check. That will be kind of the game-changer.

Andrew: So every day you’re sleeping in your car, you’re saying to yourself, “Yeah, this stinks, but tomorrow, we could have that first big check. And we could be on our way.”

Taro: Well, yeah. That’s the kind of why we came to the U.S., we felt like you come to the U.S., something could happen. So we thought, “All right, maybe tomorrow could be one. Maybe tomorrow could be one.” And then two months pass and we were a little bit kind of scared. But yeah. That’s kind of how… we were happy at that moment. We were very excited about what we were doing at that moment.

Andrew: Honestly you didn’t feel depressed? You didn’t look at your life and say, “Maybe I bought into a dream that doesn’t exist. Maybe I’m a failure. Maybe my parents will be humiliated”?

Taro: Maybe. I don’t know. Maybe I should have. But not really. One thing I realized on the other hand was I felt that all right, we can sleep in a parking lot, it’s free. And you can just keep buying tacos for your meal. That’s I don’t know, $15 per day or something. That means as long as you have $15 per day, then your borrowing can be $15 per day.

That means even if you don’t have the best idea today, probably if you have 10 years, you can have the best idea one day. And then something can happen. So as long as you have enough money for $15 per day, that means you can keep doing until you have some good idea. Or something that happens. So we felt very optimistic that something could happen in the future. We just didn’t know if that’s tomorrow or two months later or 10 years later.

Andrew: That’s such a great way of looking at it. We should talk about where you met Paul Graham. It was at Tech Crunch Disrupt. That’s a very expensive conference, right? Tech Crunch puts it on. They want to get thousands of dollars in ticket sales. How does a guy who sleeps in his van outside of Taco Bell afford to get in there?

Taro: Yeah. So though we were excited for the first two month, we were staying… we were talking to all the investors. I think we met at least 100 investors, but no one gave us money. So we felt that, all right, though we were confident that our idea is awesome, probably, it doesn’t work right now. Let’s go back to Tokyo, and then maybe raise money from Tokyo investors, which seemed easier than raising money in San Francisco.

And the last day, there was a conference, Tech Crunch Disrupt. We felt that all right, this is the last day anyway. And let’s have fun, because we don’t need to hustle anymore, because we are going back to Tokyo. And then when we went to the conference, so that maybe we can listen to speaks, or we can meet other companies, or something like that.

And then we went there, but Disrupt, as you said, is pretty expensive. I think it was $2,000 if you didn’t resist, or something like that. And then they were like, “Hey, you’ve got pay $2,000.” But we were, at the moment, sleeping in like, $10 per night for three people motel. So we were like, “Oh, that’s 200 nights. There’s no way we can pay $2,000.”

So what we said instead was, “All right. There is some Japanese kind of people coming to this conference. And they’re buying all the expensive flights, expensive hotels. They don’t speak English, so they won’t have fun. So probably they won’t come back here.

So what I can do is if they can find somebody who can speak both Japanese and English, then they might have fun so they can come back to this conference. So you guys should invest in hiring translators so that it’s going to be a good investment for you guys. And I’m actually here who can speak both languages, and I can do it for you for free if you’ll let me in for free.” That’s how we got into the conference.

Andrew: So they let you in for free just in case somebody needed a Japanese translator. And did you have to translate for anyone?

Taro: Yeah. I think they were like, “All right. This guy’s crazy. Let’s just give in. Let him in.”

Andrew: Oh, so you didn’t even have to translate. Did you?

Taro: I found some Japanese people, but I was focused on my thing, so I didn’t translate at all.

Andrew: Okay. I kind of get the feeling that Tech Crunch likes that kind of attitude. And if they knew that that’s what you were doing, they still would’ve let you in, just out of pride that that’s the kind of person they want in their community. I know I would.

So before we continue about how that led to Paul Graham, you’ve told both these stories a bunch of different places. I saw it I think on PandoDaily. I saw it on Business Insider. You told it to our pre-interviewer. These are fantastic stories. It takes some kind of PR awareness to know, “this is the story that I should talk about,” instead of being embarrassed by it. You have that kind of PR awareness, right? How did you realize that these are the stories that you should be talking about to the press?

Taro: Oh. So I thought this how you start a company in the U.S. And then I really… I know it looks like I’m trying to kind of fake it, but I really didn’t know that this was going to be a PR story or anything like that. So when I realized was, we hired a few reps here and then they were hiring new people under them. I think interns or something. Then I listened to how these people interviewed those people, and I realized that they are telling the story that, “Oh, our founders actually started the company in Taco Bell. Our founders got in Tech Crunch for free. That’s how much hustle our founders have. So you should come join AnyPerk.”

And I was like, “Wow. That’s a story that you even tell to the candidates?” And then those people told me, “No, this is an awesome story that you should try to tell more people through maybe PR or through the interview process, because this is such a kind of way to show how much hustle we have.” So I really didn’t know, but I found it out through the existing employees we have.

Andrew: Ah, that’s a good way to notice the kinds of stories that travel and communicate who you are. How long did you sleep in your van, or in your car outside of Taco Bell?

Taro: I think it was actually in the first few days, and then we got kicked out. And then we went to a cheap motel. It was Mission 16th, and that was a pretty dangerous place. And then $10 per night for three people, so three people are holding legs when we were asleep.

Andrew: $10 per night for three people in the room?

Taro: Well technically it’s $10 per night for one room. Like one bed. And then we were convincing the owner that, “Hey, can three of us please stay, because we entrepreneur. We are going to be big and come back here in the future.”

Andrew: And how long did you stay in that hotel?

Taro: I think we stayed for the entire two months until we got the first investment for [inaudible 00:14:14].

Andrew: Okay. So even though you were in the van for a few days, that gave you the street cred, and frankly, I would rather be in a van for a few days than in hotels on Mission and 16th for $10 a day.

Taro: Maybe.

Andrew: But that gives me a sense of who you are. How you put this, how your story has gotten out there. Let’s continue and see how you built up, how you found your idea. So Paul Graham was one of the speakers at the conference. That still doesn’t mean that you have access to him. I’ve seen when Paul Graham and people of his caliber speak at events. Everybody wants to talk to them. And not just everybody who’s an entrepreneur like you who’s hustling. Even other investors want to get to know him. Other people who are on top of their field want to get to know him. And so he’s got a mob. How did you approach or connect him at all?

Taro: Yeah. So frankly before the Tech Crunch Disrupt, I didn’t even apply to the YC, because there was no Japanese founders before we applied to YC. And we felt that it’s kind of impossible for outsider to be in YC as well. So we didn’t even actually apply. And then I met Paul Graham because he was speaking at the conference, and then he was walking on the aisle. I thought that’s the kind of last investor that we can pitch, because we are going back to Tokyo the next day.

So we went there with iPads saying that, “Hey, this is the product we are building. This is awesome. Can you invest in us?” And he was like, “Oh, you guys are kind of funny. But Japan is a pretty huge market, and why don’t you just start in Japan? And when it scales, come back to San Francisco so we can help you scale more.” But I thought, “All right, this is the last opportunity. We can’t just let it go like this.”

And then you know that he writes a lot of essays and blogs. And one of the blogs says that if you want to do big things, you’ve got to come through either San Francisco [inaudible 00:15:52]. So what I said was, “All right, Paul. You wrote a blog saying if you’re going to do big things, you’ve got to come to San Francisco. That’s why I came here. I think it’s a time to take responsibility, because I came all the way down to San Francisco –”

Andrew: Oh.

Taro: And he was like, “Oh you guys are so funny. Come try it up at YC.” And we lucked out.

Andrew: Really, that line? Where you said, “Hey, you told people to come to San Francisco, we did it, now it’s time for you to live up to your responsibility. You drove us here.” That line was so funny, that he got you to come in. Oh, that’s fantastic that he would do that, instead of being resentful. But the idea then, was it built out on the iPad? Or are we just talking about…

Taro: It was kind of beta, that you can kind of see it’s working. And he was asking me a bunch of questions. “What’s your growth rate? What’s the blah-blah-blah?” I had no idea how to answer those questions. So I remember making up some crazy answers and giving them kind of randomly.

Andrew: And what you had was, you had a dating site?

Taro: Correct. It was a dating site.

Andrew: And how many people were on the dating site?

Taro: Pardon, sorry?

Andrew: How many people did you have on the dating site?

Taro: I think it was all my friends and family, so probably 10 or 20 users or something.

Andrew: Okay. Now, if it was a jerky idea, he wouldn’t invite you to come and apply for Y Combinator. There’s something about that idea that even though it only had a few dozen people, said, “Hey, I’m not an idiot. I think intelligently. If this isn’t the right thing, I can get it to the right thing.” What do you think it was about that idea that made him see value in you?

Taro: There are two pieces. One is about the idea itself. I remember that he wrote a blog that one of the problems that’s happening to the dating site is a lot of dating sites look very same. And it’s got a very old kind of traditional way. So there needs to be kind of some disruption that needs to happen in dating sites. So I don’t know if the idea was outstanding, but at least I knew that he was interested in dating site market.

Andrew: Okay.

Taro: Two, after we got into YC, I actually asked them, “Why did you guys accept us?” And they were like, “Maybe your idea was okay, but we were not impressed with the idea. But we knew that you guys all came all the way down from Tokyo. That means you have the real dedication to do something here. And number one reason a lot of startups fail is when founders kind of stop writing codes or stop working for the idea. And we felt that you guys came here all the way from Tokyo, so we knew that you will never give up until you succeed.” So I think they invested more in, I don’t want to say myself, but I think they invested in the team more than just the idea.

Andrew: I do remember that interview that you saw a few years ago. He said that that is what they look for. That sense of persistence. And one of the challenges he has is that entrepreneurs know that that’s what he looks for at this point, and so they try to fake it. And it’s hard for him to figure out who’s faking persistence and who has it. My hunch is that flying in, as you said, shows that you’re not faking it. Right? No one can pretend to have flown in. Unless you put on an accent, in which case that’s even more impressive.

Taro: Agreed.

Andrew: So you get in front of the partners. Do you remember who you were presenting your idea to at Y Combinator?

Taro: Yeah. We were following the kind of same process. So we did paperwork, and then we got an invite to the in-person meeting. I was with PG, Jessica, and two other partners there.

Andrew: Okay. And what did you say to them that got them to say yes? Beyond the fact that you just came in from Japan? Because tons of people come to San Francisco from Japan.

Taro: Yeah. Gosh. I think there were a bunch of kind of websites, a bunch of places where Paul Graham shares what kind of things they look for, and what kind of questions they ask, and what kind of answers they expecting. I knew that my English was not that great, at least at the moment, so what I did was I made 500 questions that I thought he would ask, and I gave the simple one sentence to answer those questions. And I remembered everything. And I did exactly the way that I felt that he will like it. So I don’t know it’s what I said. I felt I tried to focus how I say, because Paul Graham is very impatient, and that he doesn’t listen to longer than three sentences.

Andrew: Yeah. You had basically three or five minutes to talk, right? Before he decided whether to invest in you and bring you into Y Combinator or not. All right. You get in. You have your idea. You have your hustle. You have your team. You guys are connected. You’re bonding enough that you’re going to sleep together in a $10 place, which is not really that… that’s closer than my wife and I are living together. So you’re clearly committed to each other, and the idea, and being here. Why does the idea change? Why not pursue this dating idea?

Taro: Yeah. So [inaudible 00:20:16] YC, on the first time, either Paul Graham or maybe Sam today tell that all right, three months later, there is going to be a day called Demo Day, which all the investors going to show up, and you can pitch to more than 500 investors from all over the world. And that means that’s that kind of most leveraged day as an entrepreneur, because there’s no other day that you can ever pitch to more than 500 investors.

So that means on that day, you really need to have something that’s really growing. And something very attractive to investors, because we had 66 companies at the moment in that batch. And you have to be somehow outstanding, otherwise you can never receive check from investors. So they were like, “Make sure you’re working on something that’s working. Make sure you can show the growth in three months. Otherwise, stop doing whatever you’re doing, and do something else.”

And we felt that we’d been working on this dating site for the first six months. We were very excited for this idea, but we felt that all right, this may not be the best idea because it’s not growing already. So maybe we should find some other idea that we can show some growth in the next three months.

Andrew: I see. Because you needed to show growth. Growth was the goal, and that’s one of the things that they talk about at Y Combinator a lot. In fact, they define startups as growth engines. Not as young companies, but as companies that grow fast. All right. I said at the top of the interview that you had an interesting discovery, that this idea came from someplace unique. Where did you come up with the idea that became AnyPerk?

Taro: Yeah. So we were kind of thinking about what should be the next idea that we really want to work on. And then we were talking to all the potential customers, “Hey, what’s the biggest problem? What’s the biggest problem?” And literally all the companies were telling us, “People are the number one important things. That’s why we are hiring more and more.”

But what we felt was, all right, people are hiring a lot of people, but on the other hand, especially in San Francisco, every two years, people look for new opportunities. And there was a study that shows more than 87% of employees are not happy with their companies. So we felt that all right, companies are spending maybe too much time for their new hires, and not enough for the current employees. So we felt maybe employee happiness is something that’s going to be very big in the next 10 years. And then we talked to YC partners, “Hey, do you think it’s the right problem?”

They told us, “All right. Your uniqueness is you’re from Tokyo. So make sure to research Tokyo industry that what’s working in Tokyo and what’s not working in America yet. And then when we took a look, there were actually two public companies in Japan that were doing the same thing as AnyPerk, which provide employee perks to companies. And they were both making $300 million revenue in just in Japanese market in total.

And in the U.S., there was no public company or market leader yet. So we thought, all right, it’s something that we found something that’s working, we really found something that worked in Japan already, which we know a little bit advantage of. And then that’s not working in the U.S. yet. So that’s kind of how we felt and founded.

Andrew: All right. And Y Combinator had something similar going on, right?

Taro: Oh, yeah.

Andrew: What did they have?

Taro: Yeah. So if you’re talking Y Combinator, there’s a kind of place called YC Deals. That means as a YC funder, you can access a lot of discounts on say, Amazon server. Or you can make cheaper business cards, or you can access other YC companies’ service with 20 to 30% discounts just because you’re a YC founder.

Andrew: So is YC Perks where you guys might get Olark, for example, for free?

Taro: Yeah.

Andrew: Does Olark come to you guys for free because Olark was founded by a Y Combinator company, or deeply discounted?

Taro: I don’t remember the specific number, but yeah. A lot of companies give us some free access for the first year, or maybe they give us a lot of discounts or something.

Andrew: All right. I had no idea that that was going on. All right. So that’s interesting that that’s something that you guys get at Y Combinator. And so now, you have to turn this into a business idea that gets traction in a matter of 90 days or less, right?

Taro: Right. So at the moment, we joined in January of 2012, and we founded AnyPerk on February 1st. And we launched the idea March 1st. And Demo Day was the end of March. So we had actually 60 days when we came up with this idea.

Andrew: Okay. So where do you get all of these deals?

Taro: Yeah. So we had three of us, one is engineer, one is designer, one is me. So obviously, engineers and designers work on this product. And what I did was I get all the contact information on those YC Deals list, and I email all of them saying, “Hey, we are going to make a better version of YC Deals, if you give us a discount, then you can access the even bigger than YC Founders network.” And then that’s literally what I did to get deals.

Andrew: You said, “Hey, you know what you’re doing with this YC Deals? Let me do it for the rest of the world.” And that was as simple as the perk.

Taro: Right.

Andrew: As simple as the pitch was, and you pitched every single one of them.

Taro: Every single one of them.

Andrew: Okay. And what was the reaction like?

Taro: Yeah. Of course some companies were like, “Oh no, we only provide to YCs.” Of course we hear no, but a lot of those kind of service providers were looking at YC as one distribution channel. So they were looking for more and more distribution channel, so we were like, “Oh, I think we got at least 50% of the deals that you can find on YC Deal that were happy to give us something.”

Andrew: So I guess what you learned by emailing all those investors, hundreds of them, is something that now actually applied. Hey, did you use any tool to make sure that your email was getting delivered, to see open rates on the emails that you used to see response rates? Anything like that?

Taro: Oh, I wish I were smarter like that.

Andrew: Not even using that?

Taro: No.

Andrew: Okay.

Taro: Just hustle. Keep emailing a thousand vendors and merchants every day.

Andrew: I see. We use, when there’s something new that we’re trying to sell one-on-one to people, even if it’s, “Hey, will you teach a course on Mixergy?” I want to know, are my emails getting opened? Are people responding? What’s the response rate? Et cetera. I used ToutApp for stuff like that. I thought maybe you were using that.

Taro: Yeah. TK, their founder, is awesome and also taught us. We actually use Tout at AnyPerk, so our salespeople use it. But at the moment, I was like, oh, just keep sending out thousands of emails.

Andrew: Back then, you just didn’t even use it. Today, you do. So you got 50%. Great. Now you’ve got the deals in there. That’s only one half of the equation. It’s time to see if you can people to use them. Was your model at the time to sell access to companies so they pay you on a monthly basis per employee, and then they get access to all these perks?

Taro: Right. Of course, obviously we have to start with a lot of sharp discounts. Or you know, sample for free for some extent of the month to get some initial traction. But how we came up with the idea was, what I did on the first day was we copy and pasted all the YC Deals into Google Docs, and then shared to the people who are not in the YC. And asking them, “Hey, this is something that YC Founders are getting. Would you actually pay $10 every month if we can provide you access, even if you don’t join YC?”

They were like, “Yeah, those discounts are awesome. There’s no way that we don’t pay you $10.” And that’s when we felt that all right, this is something that’s working. If we can get those deals, then at least one day we can start making money. So we know that there’s customers that want to use us one day.

Andrew: I’ve got a note here that says you sent it to thousands of prospects per week, this thing that you just described.

Taro: Yeah. I don’t know a specific number, but at least a thousand. And then I think, it doesn’t matter on the weekends. We had only two months to go, so every Monday morning to Sunday night, I was just keeping emailing.

Andrew: Just emailing them saying, “Would you sign up?” But were you trying to get them to sign up and pay you?

Taro: So two things. For the vendor side who provides discounts, every time I see a website that has pricing page, I just email founders of the company or support at those companies. “Hey, can you give us discounts so we can get you more customers?” And at the same time, every time I see a new startup, I just email founders or support, “Hey, do you want access to a lot of discounts that YC Partners are getting? Just email me if you’re interested.” So I was doing both at the same time.

Andrew: And when you did email those startups, and say, “Do you want access to the kind of deals that YC Founders have,” and they said, “Yes,” did you say, “Great. Pay me here”?

Taro: We were giving some discounts, so some kind of free access in the beginning, because we really needed some initial traction to negotiate the perks. But at some point, we started charging every customer to sign up.

Andrew: Every new, but at first it was while you were still at Y Combinator, were you giving it all away for free?

Taro: Not all of them, but we would say, “Hey, we might start charging you three months later if you’re comfortable, can you please sign up with the fee?” At least we can see if users are interested in using the free trial, and then we can convert them later on. But we knew that something was [inaudible 00:28:40].

Andrew: So Taro, so far, it doesn’t seem like something that cannot be built using WordPress. If I know WordPress, and I know how to just create blog posts, I can create blog posts for every one of these offers, and then give someone… and sell access to it for companies. Is that essentially what it was, or was there more coding involved than I’m seeing?

Taro: In the beginning, I think I have to agree with you. I think our more asset and our strength is more in the partnership, and that’s what I felt more confident with. Which means that I’m not too strong engineer, so what I felt was when we were working on the dating site, while engineers and designers are building their product, the only thing I could do was tweeting about our product, and then hey, “We are building. We are building. We are building.”

So it felt we are not helping at all. But when people deliver any perk, we felt that even when engineers and product teams are working on the product, I feel there’s something that I can really contribute, which is sales and business development. So to answer your question, yes, we don’t have much technology at the moment, but we didn’t care, because technology itself is not a solution for the customers. As long as we are solving pain, then that’s what customers are looking for.

Andrew: Solving pain. And the pain was your employees are not going to stay happy unless you pay attention to them. But are perks enough? If I don’t like my job, if I’m in San Francisco, and I go out the door and people are pitching me for new jobs where if I’m a developer, and I’m getting emails all the time from people who found me on LinkedIn trying to get me to work for them, is the fact that I can get a fitness club for 50% off a month going to keep me in place?

Taro: The answer is yes, and I don’t think you’re going to choose a company based on perks. So that’s why companies need to be still competitive with a salary or compensation, traditional benefits, workplace people, all those kind of stuff. But perks do help on top of that.

If you have two companies, both have given you same compensation, one is saying that, “Hey, our company cares about employees. That’s why we are providing more and more perks.” That’s when you should start feeling more happy and there’s a study that shows maybe it doesn’t impact immediately right now yet, but it impacts a lot especially in the long-term. That’s why Google or Facebook, those leading companies, invest in those employee happiness by perks.

Andrew: I’m looking at your Crunch Space profile, and I see your investors include Gary Vaynerchuck, your investors include SV Angel, and Andreessen Horowitz. And then you ended up with, Digital Garage, DCM Ventures… how did your pitch go on Investor Day, on Demo Day?

Taro: I think my English was not too good, especially at the moment. So I was trying to remember every single word. And YC kind of teaches us the three messages that you really have to emphasize in this kind of Demo Day, and make sure that you clearly pronounce this without Japanese accent. And then I really focused on that.

Andrew: What are the three things that you had to pronounce clearly?

Taro: Oh gosh. I think one was the are two public companies in Japan, so it’s already successful, proven model in Japan outside of the U.S. Two that we got already some customer traction that were using our perks. And three that we are from Tokyo, and we know those kind of successful key, and those three are something that we really tried to emphasize.

Andrew: I see. So you have to say those three things very clearly and make sure that you articulate them all. I have to tell you, Taro, before we recorded, I was warned that you are not an English speaker, and that we might have a hard time communicating, or that the audience would have a hard time understanding you. I have no trouble here.

Taro: Really?

Andrew: Is it that you eliminated your accent? Did it used to be… obviously I hear an accent. I don’t think that you were born in Canada or the U.S. But it doesn’t seem like it’s an obstacle. What happened?

Taro: I don’t know. I just watch, my employees hate this, but I just watch 24, Gossip Girl, and Prison Break every single day.

Andrew: And that’s where you learned. You know what? You’re not the first person to say that. I work with a guy, Sajit Gupta, he was born in India. He grew up in India. I say, “You speak English like anybody else. I wouldn’t have known that you weren’t a guy who just was born here.” “How did you do it?” he goes, “I used to watch a lot of TV. I picked it all up from television.” I can’t believe it.

Taro: Yeah. That’s what I did.

Andrew: All right. So you gave your presentation. Did you do well? Did you get investors right there in the room?

Taro: Yep.

Andrew: You did.

Taro: Yeah. We got a few checks on the day, and then we got a lot of interest from investors and we raised $1.4 million within the next 30 days or 60 days.

Andrew: Unreal. Wow. So that’s the picture that you imagined when you first landed in San Francisco. You just give a presentation and people just fling checks at you.

Taro: Yeah. Finally.

Andrew: But you’re still not an American. We in this country apparently don’t make it easy for entrepreneurs to come and stay here, right? At some point, you have to get out. Get out of the country.

Taro: Right.

Andrew: So what happened?

Taro: Yeah. It took one and half year for us to get a visa. So I do have a visa right now, of course, but until then, we hired some people in San Francisco, but I couldn’t come to the U.S., so I would stay in Tokyo. I had to wake up like 4 or 5 a.m. every morning. And I’m of course in pajamas, and I have to do all the interviews, and all the candidates were like, “Hey Taro, since you’re going to be the CEO, can I see you in movie so that I can see you like moving?” And I was like, “I’m in pajamas, I really can’t turn it on.” But that’s how we hustle in the beginning.

Andrew: And it was all via Skype. You hiring people.

Taro: Yeah. And then I was meeting customers, partners over Skype, and they didn’t know I was in Tokyo, but I had to pretend like I was in San Francisco to show them confidence.

Andrew: Oh really?

Taro: Yeah, because if they feel, “Oh, company is not in here, then probably it’s not…” You know. Startups needs to sell the confidence. Startups need to sell that we actually do help you guys. And if they feel that you are outside of the U.S., then it kind of dilutes the value. So we try to look like we’re in San Francisco and then that’s why you Skype and everything.

Andrew: I used to have a really crappy office in my first company, and I was too embarrassed to have anyone see it. I had a sponsor who, an advertiser, who was paying maybe $1 million a month or something. And they wanted to fly in, and I still couldn’t get a new office yet, because things just moved so fast for us. I said, “What do I do?”

And I didn’t know about Regis at the time, so I said to him, “I’m really busy. Why don’t we meet at the airport first-class lounge?” Because this guy had first-class access because he was using his investor’s money, and that’s one of those things that burned me. That I was watching every penny, because it was all really my money, and he had like, first-class lounge.

Taro: That’s smart.

Andrew: That’s how we do that. And I said, “You know what? There’s this really great restaurant.” “Yeah, we can meet at the office.” “Let’s go meet at the restaurant.” But I could play that off because I’m there in person. If somebody says to you, “Hey, Taro, where are you, by the way, maybe we can meet in person,” what would you say?

Taro: I don’t know. “I’m traveling right now, probably I will see you when I come back.”

Andrew: Ah, that’s great. Okay.

Taro: Yeah. You have to fake it until you make it, just like your startup.

Andrew: How did you stay motivated when you weren’t surrounded anymore by all these entrepreneurs, by your investors, when you didn’t have your team with you?

Taro: I think that especially at the moment, we were the first Japanese founders get into YC, and actually we still are the only YC founders from Tokyo. And then a lot of Japanese people, especially my fans or my family respect what’s happening in YC, and they feel that if you graduate from YC, that they feel it’s going to be successful. No matter what.

And they have that expectation on me, so I feel like I have to return the favor, and I have to do everything to make them feel like even if you’re Japanese, if you come to the U.S. in the right way, you can actually build a really great company over there. Just like Ichiro did for baseball. I think the expectation was something that I felt kind of keep motivated every day to keep working harder.

Andrew: Look at your prices. I did a search. You guys don’t make it obvious, obviously on your site. The price, can I say what it is?

Taro: Sure.

Andrew: Yeah, I’m a reporter. I should be able to say whatever I want. You’re the one who has to watch himself. What am I asking permission? $10 per employee for companies that have up to 49 employees. That’s a lot of money that comes in to you guys. You, meanwhile, you get this revenue, you don’t have to pay it to your partners, right? You give one of the perks as discounts at Muntri. One of the perks is people get to go to, what’s the one that I really like, the Groc something? This really impressive event where they really kick your butt, and I love to have my butt kicked. When I’m on vacation. But you don’t have to pay Muntri for that. There it is, it’s GORUCK.

I’d never heard of this before until your site, and now I just want to find out how I can do this thing, because everybody in this photo looks tortured in the water. I want that. But you don’t have to pay them. They just give you this discount, and you get paid $10 per employee. The margins seem fan-friggin’-tastic. Am I missing something here?

Taro: Mm-mm.

Andrew: No. Is this why Gary Vaynerchuck invested? It seems like you would make his day. You’d be flying off the handle of how excited he is.

Taro: Yeah. I think our business is kind of like SaaS model, that we collect money, and as long as customers are happy, then they can keep paying us money, and we can keep using those money to invest for the kind of future growth. And also more service on top of it. And we knew that it’s going to work, especially we found that in Japan, there are two public companies. In France, there is actually another public company. In the U.K., there is two [inaudible 00:38:02] company as well. And the U.S. is one of the few large country that don’t have any market with a public company. So we knew that this business model is really, really strong if we can do this really well.

Andrew: I bet. It doesn’t look like… what am I missing with the tech? A lot of times, when people see the front-end of a website, it seems like, “Oh, they’re not doing much work here. It’s all very simple. It’s all WordPress.” What am I not seeing that’s going on behind the scenes that makes this so smart?

Taro: Yeah. So first of all, technology-wise, we are doing a lot of stuff that is really easy for employees to use the kind of perk. It’s not just we are listing the kind of discount, but it’s the experience is really, really good. We are also building mobile app that, it’s easy for people to forget that they have perk, a lot of people say that, “Oh, I wish I’d know our company had a perk for movie tickets” after they watch the movie. So our mobile app can let you know that, “Hey, you’re in the theatre. Make sure to click this so that you can save money.” So we can keep reminding you guys and everything.

And not only just technology, we have customer success team that we can talk to HR team to make sure, “All right, let’s shoot for this goal that we want to do together, and these are the plans we will do together.” It’s not just a tool that you can just use and save money. This is more of a solution that we can help you improve your employee happiness altogether.

Andrew: How? How do you use all these perks to make it about more than just a coupon book, and about really getting employees to feel more excited about the company that they’re working for?

Taro: So if the HR of a company says, “Hey, you can access this, you can save money,” then it’s just maybe coupon book for employees. But if you phrase it in the way that, “Hey, we really like you guys. We really appreciate you working hard at this company, blah-blah-blah. We decided to invest in perks so that we can show more appreciation or more recognition to you guys, because that’s how much we care about you guys.” And then employees feel like, “Oh, our company actually started caring about us. Then maybe let’s get a little bit excited to support.”

Andrew: I see. So it’s the way that you help the company message any perk to their employees.

Taro: Right. So that’s why it cannot be just workplace site. It cannot be just random kind of website that you can just turn on and turn off whatever you don’t like. This is a more solution that we help as a company. That’s why we have already 45 people in San Francisco, not only engineers, but more like customer success team and marketing to make sure everyone’s happy to use it.

Andrew: And so does the company white label this?

Taro: They can kind of do to some extent. They can put their logo, they can put their own kind of perks on the platform if they have special kind of perk on their own as well. So they look like it comes from the company as well.

Andrew: You’re talking about HR. Meanwhile, the first companies you were targeting were startups. At what point did you switch to talking to HR at companies that had a big enough employee base, that they would have a health, what is it, Human Resources?

Taro: Yeah. So in the beginning, we didn’t know who was going to be the buyer. We didn’t know who was going to be the right audience or those kind of stuff. All we need was you know, “Let’s email everybody that I know so that we can see what’s going to be working and what’s not working.” And then naturally, startups were the kind of sweet spot in the beginning. But when we scale the kind of sales team, we scale the kind of marketing team, we found out that those kind of mid-market HR people are the companies that actually do care about it, started caring about employee happiness.

They just raise money so that they are competing talent with Google/Facebook, so they have to make sure, they have to have something just on top of traditional benefits. So it was kind of natural that we didn’t know everything that we know today in the beginning. But we’re confident we are learning every single day, so we can target the right people. We can send the right message. And we can provide the right solution for them.

Andrew: What’s this premium on-boarding thing that you have? $2500 one-time setup fee?

Taro: Yep. So especially for large companies, we have large clients like Virgin America, Salesforce, Cushman & Wakefield, those companies are too big, that it’s not easy to just announce that they launched by emails or those kind of stuff. So we do go onsite and we make sure what’s going to be the message, we send some of the packets that has a lot of free stuff [inaudible 00:41:56], what’s going to be in the perks of those kind of stuff to drive the communication to make sure employees know why companies are using it.

Andrew: You know, Taro, this is such a freaking great idea. What’s to keep someone in the Mixergy audience from saying, “You know what? I’m going to do this too. I can put together a bunch of perks. I can send a bunch of emails. I also have ToutApp. I can see who’s responding and who’s not. I’ll go do this too.”

Taro: Awesome. Actually, we don’t have that many competitors right now. Our competitors are maybe other kind of companies. And then whenever you have competition, then you feel more urgency, you feel how we can be better than other companies to make customers happiest. So if you’re interested in that, please, so that we can kind of compete and we can-

Andrew: Oh, you’re saying yes? Bring it on? Bring on the competition?

Taro: Yeah. I think that’s kind of what’s missing today from me right now, personally.

Andrew: I see. You don’t have enough drive.

Taro: I do, but I’m hoping that we can keep this drive in the long-term as well. But on the other hand, looks like there’s no big technology compared to other tech, big data, or those companies. But I don’t think technology is the only way that you can prevent for the competitor, advantageous law. I think building a partnership takes more time. Building partnership takes more than just, “Let’s hire a few engineers to build this.” I think Google can easily copy technology, but they cannot easily copy the partnership as well.

Andrew: Partnerships like The Book of Mormon, where I can get a discount on it if I wanted to go see it, and if I was one of your… that’s a partnership?

Taro: Right. We’ve negotiated exclusively with over 700 national perks. And we have over 1,000 customers using the platform already. And it’s not something you can just build by one day or one week or something. Even if you have the best engineers.

Andrew: Do some of them pay you? Do some of these people who give perks give you money because they need new customers? Or for promotion?

Taro: Mm-mm.

Andrew: None of that?

Taro: We don’t charge money, we don’t pay them any money, if we get the 20% discounts, some companies take immersion here, that dilutes the value to the end-users, but we pass the entire discounts to the employees. That’s why we can charge a little bit more from HR. We can make sure that we can maximize the value to the employees.

Andrew: You know what? I saw that Salesforce was one of your big users. They send tons of traffic over to you, according to SimilarWeb. And so I had a sense that they were using you. How do you get Salesforce, such a big company, to say yes to work with you? They’re not part of Y Combinator. There’s no opening door that’s ready for you to walk through.

Taro: Yep. So of course you know, there’s no magic. No shortcut. Salesforce is another company that we got the right contact at the beginning, and we kept consistently, “Hey, this is a perk we got recently. This is a feature that-”

Andrew: How? How did you get the contact? Walk me through this whole process.

Taro: I forgot. But I don’t think it’s not too hard to find the right contact. And then if you have the right contact with HR person, you can search on internet or whatever. LinkedIn, whatever.

Andrew: Oh. You’re not saying that a friend introduced you. You’re not saying, “Hey, Paul Graham had a friend who worked in HR at Salesforce.”

Taro: Oh, no.

Andrew: No. You’re saying you just found the contact like on LinkedIn or online or something?

Taro: Yeah.

Andrew: Oh. And then you just kept contacting them and saying, “Here’s a new perk that we have,” etcetera.

Taro: Yeah. So that’s step one. But step two we have to make sure that HR understands that employee happiness is important, and perks is one way to make employees happy and excited as well. And luckily Salesforce HR team were already ahead, “Let’s invest in employee happiness. Let’s invest in more perks.” So the demand and our timing kind of got matched together.

Andrew: That’s fantastic that you got them as a sponsor. Everything seems to be going well for you now. In fact, even when it wasn’t going for you, you were smiling when you were living in Taco Bell. Tell me about a time when you were depressed. Let me see that you’re human and not just a guy who’s beaming Tony Robbins, Jr. here.

Taro: Oh. I think I’m in general happy, but I think maybe a little bit last year when I didn’t know how to start a company. This is my first company. I didn’t know how to run a company. I didn’t know how to manage people. And then I felt that a lot of pressure from investors or market that we have to grow much faster. And then I started a little big managing people by anger. That, “Hey, you’ve got to do this. You have to stay until X time, because I’m staying until 11 p.m. every day. You have to stay ’til that,” or, “You have to work weekends.” Those kind of things.

And then those kind of employees started feeling, “Oh, this is not fun anymore.” And then I realized, “All right. We [inaudible 00:46:13], which is employee happiness, and I’m doing the opposite. That’s the moment I felt like, “All right. I’m doing really bad job as a CEO. Maybe I’m good as a founder, but not as a CEO.” Then I was really stressful, I think beginning the last year. Yeah.

Andrew: Because you needed to grow faster and faster. Were you flatlining with your growth?

Taro: We were growing pretty fast. And I think we were growing one of the fastest in the YC as well. But on the other hand, if you look at market, there’s always faster growing companies as well. Especially [inaudible 00:46:42] San Francisco.

Andrew: Oh, I see. So they weren’t comparing you to a competitor. They were comparing you to other Silicon Valley startups, and saying, “Hey, if you really have the hunger, you should have this growth rate, because that’s what they have”?

Taro: Probably more than them, I think I, myself, was setting high expectations of me. That I came all the way from Tokyo. I’m the first Japanese founder. I’ve got to make sure our company is growing as fast as possible. Let’s do everything to grow as fast as possible. Then I made the mistake to manage someone by anger or something.

Andrew: And who set you straight and said, “Hey, listen, Taro. You can’t be this angry at people.”

Taro: I think one of the employees came to me, “Taro, I’m telling you because I love this company. I think we are going… having [inaudible 00:47:26] culture right now. That’s not the culture I think you really tried to design in the beginning. And I don’t think this is the culture you want to create in the long-term, as well.”

And I really didn’t know that was what’s happening, because I tried to look like CEO, tried to start wearing the shirt or trying to stay away from employees, not getting drunk anymore with them. But I felt that all right, we’ve got to invest in employee happiness. Let’s do something and make it more collaborative. Let’s make it a culture that employees can actually create instead of I create a culture.

Andrew: So how did you do that? Did you go back to drinking with your employees?

Taro: That’s one thing. It’s more of, “Hey, employees…” So what I found was, there are three ways you can create a culture. One is a business credit culture. I think if you join a bank, regardless of which bank, probably the culture is same, because bank has specific culture. Two is, I think founders or CEO set the culture. I think if you work for Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, probably you see the kind of same culture, because they have really strong founder CEO. What I felt was probably what we want to build here is let’s create a culture that employees actually create. So let’s open a door that make it easy for employees to create their own culture. Let’s do whatever they think is right for the culture. And maybe sometimes we have to say no, but let’s make it clear that we want to create a culture that employees want to create as well. So it’s going to be-

Andrew: So how did you do it? I remember Tony Hsieh, one of the first Mixergy interviewees, said that he had the employees create the culture by I think it was emailing them and saying, “What do we stand for?” or “What do you think we stand for?” I don’t remember exactly. But he started collecting all this stuff and picking out the things that they had in common. And that they really should stand for as a company. What did you do? What was your process of having the employees in the team do it?

Taro: Yeah, I think specifically, I started talking to employees on a one-on-one basis. “Hey, let’s go take a walk.” And we walk for several blocks, and I kept asking, “Hey, if you were the CEO, what would you do today to make the culture better?” And they have a lot of ideas, they just don’t know how to suggest or how to propose to me. So let’s try to create a place. And whenever they say some ideas, I was like, “Oh, that’s a great idea, why don’t we try it and see how it goes?” And then they feel motivated. They feel like they are creating the culture, and they actually do it. And other employees are like it, so they feel, “Oh, we are creating culture together as well.” So that’s exactly what I did.

Andrew: So what’s something that they didn’t bring to you until you sat down and asked them?

Taro: So one thing was we were growing I think last year a lot, and then we are having a lot of new employees. And there’s going to be a distance between current employees versus new employees, because they don’t know who they are. They don’t who they are as well. So what we did was, it’s called Anyone Guess. That on the first day, we do a kind of quiz show that one of the employees do a quiz that, “Hey, this person’s favorite actress is…” either I don’t know, “Britney Spears, or either Blake Lively,” or those kind of stuff. And read our quiz, and if you win, you can get a t-shirt with printed of the new employee’s face on that.

So that’s something actually I didn’t know what’s going on, but they felt those reconnection to new employees was getting important, and let’s do something here to make it funny.

Andrew: Oh, that makes sense. Still no really depressing part. I guess it’s just the person who you were. I actually heard that you went to Missouri as a kid. You went to school here. And people saw that you were Japanese. And what did they say to you? Because I think that this is pretty surprising.

Taro: Well, I thought if you come from Tokyo, people are going to admire me. That they’re going to ask me a lot of cool stuff, because I felt Tokyo is kind of cool stuff. But what happened was, they were like, “Oh, you’re from Tokyo. Do you still have samurai on street, or do you have PlayStation 9 or something like that?” And then like, so gosh, no one knows Tokyo. No one thinks Tokyo is cool.

But at the same time, I saw Ichiro or Kazuo Matsui playing really good on baseball, and those same people were screaming their name on TV. “Hey, Ichiro, do this better.” or something like that. That’s when I felt, all right, this is a country that if you do this really well, regardless where you’re from, that’s when people start screaming your name. So maybe it’s too late for me to play baseball, but let’s do something for my industry, and come here to do something awesome.

Andrew: And you really did. And you’re right, this isn’t a country where if you come in from a foreign country, people are going to be too excited about it. But once you do something really amazing, they are. And that’s one of the reasons why I asked you to come on here. So you’re a guy, before we close it out, you’re a guy who used to listen to Mixergy interviews. What did you like about Mixergy? What is it about this culture, the way that I do the interviews, that you think I should keep on going with?

Taro: Yeah. I think one of the things that I really like this about is a lot of articles, a lot of PR say a lot of good things about the company, and that’s one of the things that I felt that all right, running companies is fun. Running companies is easy. Let’s go to San Francisco and raise money. Which is great, but on the other hand, I think you really make sure that what’s the actual secret sauce behind all the success? What was actually downside or what was actually the challenge that all the founders are having? And then this is one of the rare source that I can actually hear directly from the founders or CEOs what actually was the challenge.

So I felt that running companies was going to be very challenging as well. So that’s why I had really high expectations of the challenge. So even when I was sleeping in Taco Bell, I thought, this is not even a challenge compared to other founders’ stories. So I think as long as we can keep sharing those challenges to the audience, I’m confident this is going to be the best kind of source for future entrepreneurs as well.

Andrew: You know what? That is one of the biggest things that I try to do here. And it’s a challenge to get entrepreneurs to talk openly about their challenges. To talk about their toughest times. And now that you’ve said this, I have an example to use when I talk to people. If I just tell them, “Hey, you should talk about your challenges, because there’s some entrepreneur somewhere,” it’s not as powerful as saying, “You should talk about it because listen to this guy Taro and what he was going through. And how hearing that kind of stuff helped him.” One final question, since you know that I push, what kind of revenues did you guys do in 2014?

Taro: We don’t disclose revenue right now, but I remember that we grew at least 200% more than that in the last six months. And I hope to keep doubling every six months, every year.

Andrew: I told you before we started that according to my research, and we had no inside information about your company, so this isn’t as good as my other research, you guys were doing $1 million in sales last year. And you said?

Taro: We had more than that, at least.

Andrew: It was more than that, right? I wonder which… where they got that. That’s actually the kind of thing that we should put an attribution on when we put it in our notes. I’m going to talk to them about that. But congratulations on doing so much better. Blowing through it. Man, this is such a great freaking idea. Do not be upset when people in my audience say, “I’m going to copy this thing and take it to I don’t know what.” Really, remember what you said right now. “I’m going to fight them, I’m going to be better than them, I’m going to use it to motivate me and the rest of my team.”

Taro: I’m excited for that.

Andrew: I’m excited for that, too. So good to have you on here. I’m so proud, oh, so proud to have had you on. I want to say, the “oh” was I’ve got to thank Founders Club for introducing us to you. Founders Club is a place where people can buy and sell stocks of non-publicly traded companies, like startups. Right?

Taro: Yeah.

Andrew: Right?

Taro: Yeah. That’s correct.

Andrew: And are they trading your stocks on there?

Taro: So I don’t know how exactly they work, but they have a lot of investors that don’t want to give a lot of checks, but a little bit small amount, so they aggregate those kind of individual investors and they invest as a chunk to us. So it’s easy for us to manage, and they can kind of take the cut, as well.

Andrew: Ah, that’s your connection. And I think what we did internally was say, “Who has access to big companies that are growing fast? Oh yeah, this group, Founders Club.” And that’s why we connected with them and asked them for intros.

Taro: Yeah.

Andrew: All right, thank you so much for doing this. Everybody in the audience, please, thank you for doing this, for being a part of Mixergy. But please, if you are sleeping in a Taco Bell here within driving distance, if you’re huddled with two of your closest buddies in a $10 an hour or $10 a night hotel here in San Francisco, I’ve got to meet you. I will take you out for dinner. I will bring you here. I want to make sure that you are taken care of and that you’re not feeling like you’re homeless and nobody gives a rat’s ass. I give a rat’s ass. Thank you so much for doing this interview. Thank you all for being a part of it. Bye, everyone.


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