Lancaster MBA Returns To Japan To Set Up Peer-To-Peer Lending Biz

Kaz Ohmae quit banking to start a peer-to-peer lending business. He talks about the unfriendly Japanese media and blending US, UK and Japanese business practices.

Where did you grow up?
Sapporo, Japan

What did you study at Lancaster University Management School?
I did a full-time MBA, graduating in 2000. It’s a one-year degree.

What were you doing before Lancaster?
I was a corporate banker for a Tokyo-based bank

Why did you decide to go to Lancaster?
Firstly, it has a good ranking in the UK. Secondly, the School had a great representative in Tokyo. And third, it’s reasonably priced relative to super expensive London.

When did you come up with the idea of a peer-to-peer lending business in Japan?
Actually I didn't come up with the idea… I was involved in a consulting project for a Japanese peer-to-peer (p2p) lending start-up in 2007, which was my first encounter with the idea of p2p lending.

Then in 2008 I heard from a foreign entrepreneur who took a closer look at what's happing with p2p lending overseas, and in 2009 I was impressed by the founder of the company which was the second entrant in the Japan's p2p lending market.

What’s been your progress so far?
The service is called Aqush, which means "handshake" in Japanese. It was launched in December 2009, and has grown steadily since then. We’ve outperformed our main competitor in terms of monthly loan origination in the personal loan space, and see huge demand for loans throughout the country.

We are still far behind Zopa in UK and LendingClub in the USA, but we believe the market potential is as big as in UK and the US since Japan's overall consumer lending market is just second to the USA.

Is your model similar to any other peer-to-peer businesses?
Thanks to our late entrance, we had the luxury of benchmarking global best practice. We blended good practice from the US model and the UK model, and have created a unique Japanese model in line with Japanese regulations. But I’d say our model is very similar to the British p2p lender Zopa.

What are the challenges of setting up a business in Japan?
First, there aren’t many active VCs and angel investors. Second, finding staff: the Japanese are relatively conservative and reluctant to work for a start-up. Thirdly, getting media coverage. The Japanese media tends to spotlight established companies rather than innovative businesses. Therefore it is very tough to make ourselves understood via "free" public relations.

How are you funding the business?
The founding members have brought their own money and friends-and family money.

How are you marketing the lending scheme to consumers?
We’re still trying several different approaches. Mainstream tactics such as online ads, PR, affiliate partner programs and new ways such as social media, upstream seminars.
 

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