In Japan, only the rare startup finds success. Venture capital is scarce and failed entrepreneurs have a tough time getting another job. One of the few women to overcome these odds and found a Japanese public company is Tomoko Namba, a former McKinsey & Co consultant who received her Master of Business Administration degree from Harvard Business School.
Namba started Tokyo-based social gaming company DeNA Co Ltd (pronounced “DNA”) in 1999 and led it to the top of Japan’s mobile auction and social gaming markets. DeNA’s mobile gaming platform, MoBaGe, is now rolling out worldwide.
Namba stepped down as chief executive officer in June 2011, although she continues to serve on the company’s board. Thanks to her stake in DeNA, Namba has a net worth of $545 million, making her the 47th richest person in Japan, according to Forbes magazine.
BBC Capital spoke with Namba about her secrets for success and what she has learned about starting and managing a multi-billion dollar global brand.
BBC Capital: What are you doing now that you’ve left the CEO role at DeNA?
Tomoko Namba: I’m a member of the board involved in important decisions. I’m leading one or two new business development projects and I’m in charge of our e-commerce business as well as leading recruiting. When we founded the company it was an e-commerce company. (But now) our biggest business line is social gaming, MoBaGe. We keep growing in the social gaming business, but the growth rate has decreased and now we are paying more attention to e-commerce. It’s fun to be back.
BBC Capital: How did you get started?
Namba: I was a management consultant. In 1996 I made partner at McKinsey and around that time I started doing a lot of internet-related projects, giving recommendations to old-fashioned or established companies about new businesses using the internet. I was 34.
I was really happy at McKinsey. I was able to do almost everything I wanted to do, but as a consultant I was not able to be involved in the implementation of recommendations that we made. In 1999 I got the idea of starting my own company.
BBC Capital: How did you get the courage to leave and start your own company?
Namba: I was having dinner with the CEO of an internet service provider, Senji Yamamoto of Sony’s So-Net service. I was telling him to start doing internet auctions. There was eBay in the States, but nothing like that in Japan, and I thought it would be a great idea for them to start internet auctions. I got really energetic and the discussion got heated.
Finally Senji said, “Why don’t you do it? You look really excited about it.” It was the first time in my life I thought about starting my own business.