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MAY 20, 2005

On Social Networking, GREE, and Writing a Diary

By Yoshito Hori
Copyright GLOBIS

On May 13, I set off on a week-long business trip to NY and London. I had two objectives: the first was to hold a general meeting with investors in London and NY, and the other was to participate in an MBA Conference in London from May 18 to 20. An investors’ general meeting had been held in Tokyo in mid-April, but foreign investors can’t easily make the trip to Tokyo.

When they cannot come to me, I go to them.

In New York, I checked into my hotel and opened up my email, where I discovered an unusual message: an invitation from Mr. Kobayashi of our venture capital business (GCP) to join GREE. GREE is a social networking service (SNS) where friends meet in cyberspace and hang out online.

Two or three years ago, I joined LinkedIn on an invitation from an investor in Singapore. I joined for the sake of good relations, but I soon regretted it. Right away, I started receiving emails from people who wanted to link to my page. When I was busy, I just wanted to be left alone, and I ended up ignoring all these messages. Later, I was invited by another friend to join the European SNS OpenBC. I decided to forgo this invitation.

To me, SNS seemed a little like a dating siteーnot something I would fit into.

However, this image changed dramatically. One night, just before I left Japan, we were having drinks at the Globis Capital Partners (GCP) retreat. We had been drinking for a while when Osuke Honda began extolling the wonders of GREE. According to him, he found old friends by chance on this service, including a friend he hadn’t seen in over 10 years. A bit drunk, he he told one such story after another, all these friends he had been reunited with through GREE. I thought this was just his experience, but it turned out that many other venture capitalists are using GREE.

With everyone was raving about it, I felt I should give it a try as well. Hence, the invitation. You have to be invited to join GREE. I set up a password and logged in, and there was my page, already created. Entering in keywords and following up links of acquaintances, I began to search for old friends. There were lots of people I knew. They had all posted photos of themselves, and many of my friends had really nice pages.

I found a photo of myself on my desktop, entered my profile information and several keywordsーhobbies and other things of interest. I entered that I enjoy swimming and Go, that I reside in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, and a few other places I like: Karuizawa and Sydney. I then entered my academic history, everything from elementary school to university. I found I was the oldest alumni by far among the GREE community from Mito First Senior High School.

The next day, I opened up GREE and found link requests from CEOs of venture corporations that we invest in. I looked at their pages and accepted their links, realizing at the same time how sparse mine still was, so I tried writing a book review. Despite the risk of seeming pretentious, I introduced my own books, My Personal Mission Statement and Six Dimensions of Life.

Gradually my page started to take shape. In cyberspace, you are judged as a person solely on what is displayed on the screen. It took a little time, but everything began to fall into place for me. In due course, link requests started to come from GLOBIS students, former GLOBIS employees, and juniors at Harvard. I noticed that quite a few people were writing diaries.

I am not used to writing a diary, but I decided to give it a try.

New York (May 14, Japan Time)

Right now I’m in NY. I went for a jog in Central Park this morning, and then took a short swim in the pool. The weather at this time of year is wonderful. Today is Sunday, so I am off to see the newly renovated MOMA and then take in some classical music at Carnegie Hall.

Tomorrow, I will be speaking at the Japan Society around lunch time, and then in the afternoon I will hold a general meeting for U.S.-based investors in my venture capital fund. I head off to London the day after tomorrow.

Another business trip that takes me around the world.

I realized I was writing far too formally, which is really not my style. So, from the following day, I toned it down a bit.

Sunday at Carnegie Hall (May 15)

Went to a matinee classical concert at Carnegie Hall. It was the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Barenboim.

The first half featured Wagner and Boulez, and the second was Beethoven’s 7th. Wagner’s prelude finished rather quietly, so it was tough to listen to while suffering from jet lag. Boulez was closer to contemporary avant-garde music and was a something of a wet-blanket. Part of the problem was that I didn’t have a reserved seat, so I ended up on the fourth floor facing a pillar, making it hard to concentrate.

After intermission, I moved to a seat where pillars didn’t interfere with my sight lines. Beethoven’s 7th was a real soul-shaker. Carnegie Hall is the palace of classical music. Barenboim conducted with real dynamism in that palace, masterfully varying the tempo of the music. He went from one extreme to the other, loud, quiet; fast, slow, filling the music with emotional power.

The moment the final piece was over, a cry of “Bravo!” erupted from the crowd, followed by a standing ovation. The applause would not stop. After the encore, I returned to the hotel. I was in a good mood all evening, and spent the night quietly preparing myself for the next day.

An Energetic Day in New York (May 16)

Making speeches in English takes the most out me, and providing explanations to investors is another task that requires the utmost care on my part. Today I did both, one right after the other, in NY.

I started off giving a speech at the Japan Society on 48th Street. It was only an hour, including Q&A, but speaking in English requires a lot of energy and it really wore me out.

I held an investors’ general meeting starting at 2 pm at the office of our partner Apax on 53rd Street, with six companies (7 people). These people had invested a total of 5 billion yen in us, so I really psyched myself up. I explained in detail using materials I had prepared. Halfway through the explanation, each of them started asking questions. I immediately answered in rapid-fire style. I spoke for two hours without a break, and after a while I could feel my brain turning off. Eventually, I wasn’t even sure what I was talking about. I started to make mistakes in my English, and my pronunciation began to falter. I guess I still have a long way to go in terms of English presentations.

There was another investor meeting after that. I was all wound up, and lost my temper half way through.

After a meeting with the CEO of Apax at around 6, I had dinner starting around 7 pm with the founder of Apax, Mr. Alan Patricof. He is a friend I know very well, and we had a great time together.

I found time to access GREE in the midst of all of this and discovered more and more link requests sent from friends. I also had more access from other people. Widening my social circle was getting to be fun, and I decided to continue writing my diary.

From NY to London (May 17)

I got up early on the 17th, checked my email, then packed my bags. The pool opened at 6, so I got in a quick swim. The hotel pool is only 10 meters long, so you have to go back and forth 5 times to cover 100 meters. All those quick turns made me dizzy.

I checked out at 7 and went to JFK airport. My flight to London left at 9:30. I have crossed the Atlantic over ten times by now. I arrived at Heathrow at 9 pm, local time (5 hours ahead of NY). I took the Heathrow Express into town, and by the time I reached my hotel, it was 11 pm. Then I went out to meet friends.

I didn’t get to bed until 2 am. What a day! All I did was travel, swim and enjoy a night out. Well, what enjoyment would there be on business trips without these things?

London – Work Begins (May 18)

I had a meeting with investors in the morning. It turned out that an investor from Michigan was in town, so I also met with him.

Then, at around 11, I went to the Apax Office in London. The investors meeting started at 12, but I arrived early. I had spent six weeks in this office in 1999, so this was like a trip down memory lane. The investors arrived at 12. I explained the current state of affairs over sushi and sandwiches. Saying the same thing over and over again gets boring, so I tried adopting a different style.

I returned to the hotel and took part in the Association of MBAs (AMBA) conference at 4:30 pm. The reception was all about networking, and I met people representing graduate management schools from Brazil, Portugal, Germany, Montreal, New Zealand, Hong Kong, and the U.K. We were soon discussing potential tie-ups. This was the best part of the conference.

After traveling all the way from Tokyo to N.Y. and then to London, I was beyond simply being jet-lagged. My body was absolutely confused. It was almost like being jet-lagged, but no longer knowing what time zone would even be “home” anymore. Very strange.

Tomorrow’s schedule is also jam-packed…but I really want to have fun, maybe I should go out tonight…

Investors in Investors (May 19)

I had a 9 o’clock meeting with investors who had come from Norway, seven of them altogether. Apparently, they were all investing in our venture capital fund through another fund. This means they are investors in investors of our fund.

In the U.S. and Europe, these Fund of Funds (FOF) investments are increasing. Simply stated, investors are linked to each other through various different funds. Venture capitalists like myself would not typically have an opportunity to meet face-to-face with FOF investors, much less meet with investors from Norway. They just happened to be in London on a private equity inspection tour, and by chance I was in London at the same time, so they asked to meet.

My role in London on this occasion was to explain to investors how their money was being used in an island nation miles away in Asia. I gave it my best shot, with a smile on my face, but I found it difficult to read the reactions in their faces. After about an hour, though, they seemed satisfied and were off to their next meeting.

As we parted, I firmly shook hands with each of them. I would probably never see them again. I was determined to do the best I could for them in Japan.

West End Musical (May 20)

The evening was scheduled as a free night as a part of the conference, so that participants could enjoy the London night life. I checked out the Royal Opera House, but it was presenting a modern opera, “1984,” so I decided pass it up.

Checking out musicals, I came upon the mega-hit “We Will Rock You.” I immediately called up and luckily managed to get a seat toward the front. When I arrived, the place was in a state of wild excitement. It felt more like I had arrived at a soccer match or a baseball game than an opera or a classical music concert.

The musical began. About 30 nostalgic Queen numbers were played, and then the time for the finale drew close. Everyone started singing along with “We Will Rock You,” and then “We Are The Champions” began with all the performers joining in, and the entire audience stood up. With the place absolutely on fire, the show came to an end.

As an encore, they performed “Bohemian Rhapsody.” This made me tingle. Above all, they were just such good singers, and the ensemble cast was kind of cute, as well.

I heard this musical will come to Japan during the second half of May. I wonder if they will be able to translate British humor?

Until now, I had some reservations about writing a diary within my blog, but I think I’m going to continue writing my entries within GREE. It may not last very long, but if that’s the case, then so be it.