Japanese VC Kei Shibata: I can always see whether they really want me or just my money!

Kei Shibata - Venture Republic Group CEO

Kei Shibata – Venture Republic Global CEO

Graduated from Havard Business School, went to work for Mishubishi Japan and then co-founded eCommerce & travel startup Venture Republic including the shopping comparison site Coneco.net and the two largest travel portals Travel.jp & Hotel.jp. Till now the three sites have more than 15 million monthly visits in Japan. And more than that, his comparison site Coneco was aqquired by Yahoo Japan. 

Now still keep runing the two mentioned travel sites , Kei is probably the most successful travel entrepreneur based out of Japan. Not satisfy with his acchievement, Kei has aggressively expanded his journey to Asia by investing in some startups in Singapore, Indonesia and South Korea and doing some new travel sites Trip101.com and Thelist101.com.

480402_511074178943649_48365569_nHere is a self-brief of Shibata san from a travel site
* What is your favorite travel destination? Iceland, yet still on the bucket list.
* Where do you dream of traveling to? Safari in Namibia and heli-skiing in Russia’s Kamchatka.
* What do you want to learn more about? Cooking.
* Three words that describe why we should travel? Friendship, family, fun

kei top ten apacHaving known the notable Japanese entrepreneur for several years, now I have the opportunity to catch him again at WebinTravel Singapore 2015, a prestigious travel conference where you could fortunately find yourself mingling or even sitting next to C-level executives of Agoda, Booking, Uber, GrabTaxi… And Kei was also one of the key speakers in this event. Let’s get some insights from this …outsider entrepreneurial VC for this rare chance as usually he’s always travelling somewhere in the world to deliver his speeches.
the truth that the interview was done via email back and forth for a while after the event, so till now, i think the interview already went around several countries together with Kei’s trips.

 Exited successfully to Yahoo Japan with the shopping comparison site coneco.net, keep running the two large travel portals in Japan, is a well-recognized expert and speaker in the online travel industry in Asia. Was this what you wished for when you were young? Now what is your motivation in life? what are the key things you really want to acchieve now?

kei shibata tnooz-featured-image-1I didn’t expect to be this deep into travel when I was young.  Honestly, I still feel like I am an outsider in this industry.  I still often have a hard time figuring out some of the jargon. GDS, CRS.. Lol.  (But I also believe that being an outsider in a new industry is a good thing for bringing disruption as a start-up.)
My motivation lies in bringing innovation.  In the travel space I would really love to see that our services are changing the way travelers behave.
How is it like one of your typical days?
My typical days are mostly traveling. I travel more than half of my time.. Large part of my travels comes with business conferences around the world. While traveling or not, I work on lots of emails, am engaged  in quite a few meetings (both offline and online like on Skype) and typically do lots of business related dinners, lunches and breakfasts. All sound boring, don’t they?! Lol

Japan and Japanese VCs are playing a bigger role in Southeast Asia, so generally what is the view of Japanese VCs on Southeast Asia in Asia context, and your investment view on some major countries in Southeast Asia? 

Japan has been running ahead of the game in tech/internet over the years.  To their eyes, there are many opportunities in which their knowledges/expertise can be leveraged.  I also think that certain cultural similarities make them feel comfortable when investing.
I, personally, feel that there are a number of great young entrepreneurs in the Southeast Asia region – that matters the most.

Recently you invested in Telunjuk price comparison site in Indonesia, Flocations tour and activities in Singapore, Allstay mobile meta travel search in Korea,  so what are the common points among them?

Telunjuk - online comparison site in Indonesia

Telunjuk – online comparison site in Indonesia

People. People. People. They are all great people whom I always love to work with.

How would you evaluate a startup? eg what is the high quality startup? 

A good team always comes first.  I also typically like to see their passion and persistence.  The ability to listen and to see the big picture are also key elements.

What kind of startups you would be interested in? And how should startups approach you? 

Besides having a good team and being good people, they have to be in a big and scalable market.  I would also love to see some game changing concept in their business plan but yet to hear their realistic plans to make the financials work.
I am an early stage, strategic investor. Once I have invested, I like to work with the entrepreneurs closely. One of the key elements that I always can see is whether they really want me or just my money.
 Note: he mentioned before a good team should have a strong tech element.

Travel is a super competitive field with dozens of giants, it’s really hard for any founders to tackle the industry. Do you have any advices for travel startups in Southeast Asia? Any niche markets and how should they do to increase the probability of success?

AllStay - a mobile travel meta search in South Korea

AllStay – a mobile travel meta search in South Korea

There is only one way to compete with giants – Focus of strategy.
What you really do and not to do.  As a new travel start up, you can have a strong focus on either (product) category or maybe a country or region.

If you were a young person now, eg twenty something, which country and what would you start out side of Japan, particularly in Southeast Asia?

Without a doubt, I would start from Singapore with the idea of… I’d like to share in a near future.

Japanese people are famous for focusing on working, sometime they even forget to enjoy life, and even love. What is the general definition of Japanese for a good life? How about yours?  And what would you do to enjoy life? 

First, I am not a big believer of work-lifie balance idea.
In this technology/entrepreneurial driven world, a border between work and fun becomes so blur.
Personally, I am fortunate to travel all around the world for my work. I always enjoy being in different places, meeting different people and experiencing different cultures. How can I complain?

Thanks for sharing, Kei.


Finally, one quiz for you, how is the following picture related with the serious typical Japanese VC?


Answer: this is Kei Shibata’s current Facebook cover.

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Minh Bui is a seasoned eCommerce veteran from both Southeast Asian startups and corporates in online commerce and offline retail chain as well. He's also an avid Asia explorer and love to enjoy local foods and learn cultural differences in Asia.

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