Recently I was asked to make a speech to 250 entrepreneurs at the annual general meeting of the Tokyo branch of the Entrepreneur’s Organization (EO). The audience was very diverse. There were people from their twenties through to their fifties. Some of them had only just launched their businesses, while others had been running them for decades. The businesses themselves ranged from small, unlisted firms to listed companies of $1 billion+ market cap.
But they all had one thing in common: entrepreneurship. I therefore decided to speak about the positive role that entrepreneurs play in society. That boiled down to five things every entrepreneur can (and should) try to do.
1. Create wealth
Through innovation, entrepreneurs spark change, create new value, and drive the world forward. The simplest way to get a sense of the value that entrepreneurs create is to look at the current top five US-listed companies by market capitalization: Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon. Their combined value is over $3 trillion—roughly half the $6 trillion value of the whole First Section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
I have a VC business that invests in digital innovation. The companies we’re invested in have a combined market cap of around $10 billion.
It’s an entrepreneur’s responsibility to create wealth, first and foremost.
2. Create jobs
Entrepreneurs generate wealth, but also employment. The bigger their companies become, the bigger their positive social impact is. To generate as much wealth and create as many jobs as possible, I encourage entrepreneurs who launch businesses to aim for massive scale from the start. Aim to be No. 1 in your home market, then in your region, and finally in the world. Setting an ambitious goal like this is energizing and inspiring for everyone involved.
That’s certainly been my experience. GLOBIS University, the business school I set up in 1992, is already the biggest business school in Japan by enrollment. Now we’re aiming to be No. 1 in Asia. Combined with my VC operation, GLOBIS has contributed to creating an estimated 100,000 jobs.
Creating jobs is how you begin to reach out beyond your personal ambitions and make a positive impact on society.
3. Shape public opinion
Entrepreneurs have plenty of front-line experience making change. It’s the role they play in transforming societies. Every entrepreneur should take advantage of their visibility to contribute to the public debate and help shape public opinion, perhaps even establishing non-profits to promote social change and transform society.
Bill Gates is one entrepreneur who has morphed into a full-time thought leader. He works hard to raise awareness on issues like global health, development, and education via LinkedIn, his personal “Gates Notes” blog, and the “Impatient Optimists” blog of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
I took part in a three-and-a-half-hour online debate with Masayoshi Son, the CEO of Softbank, on energy issues after the 2011 meltdown at Fukushima put nuclear power under the spotlight. The winner of that debate was neither of us—it was every Japanese citizen who received a new perspective on a contentious issue.
4. Give Something Back
Most entrepreneurs will admit that luck played a part in their success. As such, they feel that they have a duty to give something back to the less fortunate.
One of the best examples of giving back is the Giving Pledge, which Bill Gates and Warren Buffett launched in 2010 to encourage wealthy individuals to donate half their wealth to charitable causes. So far, 170 people from 21 countries have signed up. The list of signatories is a who’s-who of the great entrepreneurs of our time: Richard Branson of Virgin, Reed Hastings of Netflix, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Elon Musk of Tesla, Brian Chesky of Airbnb…
For my part, I am throwing all the money I make from my VC activities into the revitalization of Mito and the surrounding Ibaraki Prefecture, where I was raised. There are countless opportunities to give back nowadays, whether you do so through an organization or your own initiatives.
5. Be a role model
Plenty of entrepreneurs successfully create companies, fortunes, and ideas that outlive them. But how many of them really inspire us by the way they live their lives?
Japanese writer Kanzo Uchimura famously wrote that we can only leave four things to posterity when we die: “riches, a business enterprise, ideas, and the example of a life nobly lived.”
In the spirit of humility, I do my best to be a role model. After all, entrepreneur or not, perhaps that last thing—the example of a life nobly lived—is the most important goal we should all aim for.