MP chatted with Hiroshi Takatoh, a tech and food serial entrepreneur. Takatoh is best known for the success of his first company, Momentum, which was sold to Japan's second-largest telecommunications company in 2017. Since this success, he has spent his time working as an angel investor and building his new US-based food company, Thetis, an expert-driven nutritional snack subscription designed for people with diabetes. Takatoh is a father to three daughters and serves as CEO of Teatis. 

The Journey

The entrepreneurial journey is one of self-discovery. What have you learned about yourself while building your business?

Throughout my entrepreneurial journey, I have learned I’m tough enough to overcome hard things. 

While running my last company, my late ex-wife was diagnosed with cancer. We found her cancer in a very late stage, so it was difficult to cure by medical treatment. 

I researched other options using food as a medicine and reformulated her meals to ensure she got the proper nutrients as she fought her illness. 

These days were tough for me as I cared for her, ran my company, and raised our children simultaneously. 

These experiences all connected to lead me to my new venture.

The entrepreneurial journey is often lonely. Have you experienced loneliness as an entrepreneur? 

I went through a separation from the co-founder of my previous company, Momentum, who was also my high school friend. 

At that moment, we didn’t see eye to eye on the company's future, so we parted ways. 

While it was sad to separate from my co-founder and friend, my company’s mission was important to me, and we had made too much progress to slow down. 

Overcoming loneliness isn’t always possible, but I try my best to focus on the present moment.

The Psychological Warfare 

Entrepreneurs generally sleep less, work more, and let their health slip. This combination, combined with loneliness, often results in insecurity, self-esteem issues, and low self-worth. Have you experienced any of these issues as an entrepreneur?

I have experienced anxiety as an entrepreneur. 

It peaked in 2017 when my co-founder decided to leave the company. 

The best way I could overcome this anxiety was to accept the situation and share my feelings with my team members or family, even if I felt shame at the time.

Newer entrepreneurs often equate their success with the success and value of their business. If their business fails, they are a failure. If their business succeeds, they are a success. Have you experienced this warped perception of reality?

In my early days as a founder, I felt envious of others’ successes. 

However, after some time, I realized the success of others is the result of other missions that I don’t necessarily want to pursue. 

The only success that matters to me is the result of accomplishing my mission. When I focus on my own goals, the mission of my business becomes more important than my sense of self.

Woman with Teatis box
Photo courtesy of Teatis

What are your three biggest fears as an entrepreneur, and how do you manage those fears? 

1. Burning Out Before Building Something Customers Want

I always try to learn from customers, listen to their input, and observe their behavior. This mitigates the risk of wasting resources on unnecessary things.

2. Letting My Team Down

When you manage a startup, your team becomes very tightly knit. Open communication and being receptive to feedback have helped me avoid any issues.

3. Failure to Some Degree

Starting a new company is an inherent risk, and no one wants to take a risk and fail. Supporting a personally meaningful mission through your business is a great way to outweigh any fear of failure. 

The Mistakes

What are three mistakes you made early on as an entrepreneur, what did you learn from them, and how can others avoid these mistakes? 

1. Being Overly Competitive

I used to believe that the best and brightest individuals would be the only ones to reach their goals and find success. 

This belief led me to always compete with someone else and try to make myself look smarter. 

When I founded my first company, I was still holding onto this limiting belief, and I couldn’t find what truly mattered to me during that process.

2. Prioritizing Profit Over Purpose

It wasn’t until I challenged myself to find an issue that I was passionate about and devoted my efforts to create a solution for customers in need that I was able to free myself from limiting beliefs about success. 

If I had set a goal of building a larger market capitalization or having a bigger team when I started my second company, I would not have been able to discover a higher purpose in my work.

3. Being Afraid To Ask for Help

Although it can be difficult to seem vulnerable, reaching out to someone you trust can help you overcome the issue of that moment and may also strengthen an important relationship.

What are three things you see that are often overlooked by entrepreneurs you encounter, and how can other entrepreneurs be aware of these things from the beginning?

1. Become a Good Interviewer

I have overcome many barriers by asking the right people the right questions. 

The right question is the one that is connected to your ultimate goal and one that you ask over and over again. 

Once you pinpoint that important question, you do your best to find someone with the answer. 

When I was starting to formulate Teatis, I asked a range of different doctors many questions. I started asking customers about their needs and consumption habits when the product specifications were finalized.

2. Stay Focused on Your Ultimate Goal

I have always been motivated to focus on my goals, which has helped me eliminate minor distractions. 

3. Be Consistent and Persistent

Consistency and persistence can be the most powerful tools in generating support from other people from your story and cause. These are some of the greatest traits anyone can achieve through hard work and focus.

Man with Teatis snack item
Photo courtesy of Teatis

The Successes

What are three seemingly insurmountable obstacles you’ve faced as an entrepreneur, and how have you overcome them?

1. Getting My First Believer

The only way to overcome this barrier is through the powerful will of the founder, as well as being able to tell a compelling story. 

From day one, I had a clear mission to “help medically compromised people eat better.” But this is just a small piece of the entire story. 

So I took a long time to craft a story to include the customers’ needs and solutions to an existing problem, milestones for scaling, and a vision for the future of the product. These are each necessary story components for the early stages of a startup. 

With this fully developed vision, we were able to secure great investors.

2. Separating From My Co-Founder While Running My Previous Company

I found a lot of benefit in confiding in those close to me about the situation and trying to keep the company's purpose at the front of my mind.

3. Learning About My Ex-Wife’s Cancer Diagnosis

When I found out my late ex-wife was diagnosed with cancer, it seemed impossible to run my company, care for her and raise our three daughters simultaneously. 

Staying present and taking it one day at a time was key to getting through this time.

What are three ways you have managed to boost your productivity without causing burnout?

1. Delegation

Having a team you can trust and depend on makes all the difference in productivity. 

Trying to do everything alone is one of the fastest ways to burn out.

2. Set Agendas for Every Meeting

Meetings can run long and become unproductive if not kept on track. Creating a clear agenda for the conversation helps streamline the process.

3. Take Care of Your Basic Needs First

Sleep, good nutrition, and plenty of water are necessary to fuel a productive work day.

Teatis box
Photo courtesy of Teatis

The Advice

How can newer entrepreneurs develop a healthy work-life balance even when it seems like an impossible task?

Always take care of the people closest to you. 

Founders of startups are sometimes lonely and overwhelmed by the work required of a new company. \

To avoid getting lost in loneliness, you must take care of the family and friends who will always shine a light on you. 

The people closest to you know where you are coming from and where you are going and can guide you through difficult periods.

What three key pieces of advice would have made your entrepreneurial journey easier, and why?

1. Find a cause you can work on for the rest of your life

The environment surrounding startups is fast-paced and ever-changing. 

While that can be exciting, if changes and challenges easily bog you down, you will not be able to find and help solve meaningful issues. 

Remember that the problems you need to tackle are always within your own experiences.

2. When you need someone’s help, find someone you can help first

Sometimes it is difficult to find someone who can help you. 

In such a case, try to think of someone you can help first. 

Doing so may form new relationships and meet other people who can support your goal.

3. Never say never

Whenever you are faced with a difficult situation, the last thing you should do is give up. 

There are always many challenges in the beginning stages of a startup, but it would be a shame to immediately throw in the towel on a task you feel you could spend a lifetime on.

Responses provided by Hiroshi Takatoh, CEO of Teatis.

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