At some point, most expats in Japan have a rare moment of inspiration; “Now that would definitely be a hit in Japan!” we say confidently, or “Why didn’t anyone think of that before?” Indeed, great ideas abound but few of us have the courage to bet our livelihood on them. This article is written for those of you who have come up with a business idea and want to see how good it is. Be warned, this article asks some difficult questions to challenge your idea. But if you still have confidence at the end, then you might just be on to something! So let’s start with a reality check.
Reality Check : Japan is different!
Even though this is the reason why so many of us love Japan, we often forget this in business. Very odd things become popular in Japan (…my favourite is the ganguro “panda” girls…) and some things that should become popular just don’t. Japan is a notoriously difficult market to penetrate and Japanese consumers are more diverse and fickle than ever. Just ask eBay, Carrefour and Prêt a Manger, who brought successful concepts from overseas to Japan and failed. To succeed in Japan, a foreign entrepreneur needs to really understand the Japanese consumer’s needs and wants, which may be very different from his own.
Go back to basics
So what business ideas stand a chance of succeeding? Let’s go back to basics. A successful business does 3 things namely i) it identifies a need ii) it creates a solution iii) it sells the solution. If any of these key elements are missing, then the business will not be successful. So here are a few exercises to test whether your business idea has got what it takes.
This is a simple but revealing exercise to find out what your unique selling point is. Be careful, it can be extremely humbling! Write down your idea in a short sentence or two. Then ask yourself honestly “so what?” Then write down why it is such a good idea. Then ask yourself honestly again “so what?”. Try to write down the essence of the business idea. Then ask “so what?” one more time. Try it and you will find that seeds of doubt will appear in even the best ideas. If you can answer convincingly 3 times, then you probably have a good idea!