A Buddhist monk targets the IPO for startup. How he started the business

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Campfire Inc., which helps individuals and small groups raise funds online, is looking to list stocks this year at a valuation of up to 200 billion yen ($ 1.8 billion), Ieiri said in an interview. . This is a long-awaited IPO for the notorious crowdfunding operator, the largest such company in Japan.

Ieiri, 42, is one of a growing number of CEOs who have abandoned the typical path to success in Japan, but are now making their fortunes in the tech startup scene. Campfire, the third company founded by the Buddhist monk and former candidate for governor of Tokyo, has funded more than 50,000 projects since its inception in 2011.

It’s a remarkable turnaround for a man who learned to code in his bedroom during his teenage years there with social anxiety issues.

“I was saved by the Internet,” Ieiri said at the company’s headquarters in Tokyo. “I was able to make my voice heard through it.”

The pandemic has increased the need for sites like Campfire, as coffee shops, restaurants and small businesses facing a decline in customer base have used it as a means to supplement their income. People who found themselves without a job also exploited it to start new businesses. The company’s gross merchandise volume more than tripled in 2020 from the previous year to 20 billion yen ($ 180 million), Campfire said.

Ieiri also helped found Base Inc., the e-commerce platform operator founded by one of his former interns. Base went public just before the start of the pandemic, and its actions have since increased by more than 500%.

Ieiri’s success in building businesses – he is Campfire’s largest shareholder and owns a stake in Base – means his days of poverty are behind him, but the serial entrepreneur says he’s not here for money. He said growing up in poverty shaped his desire to help others in financial need.

Ieiri was bullied as a child and dropped out of school as a teenager. He retired to his room, becoming what in Japan is called a “hikikomori”, a young man who flees from society. There, he found solace in chatting on online bulletin boards, connecting with others going through the same experience.

He graduated from high school via distance learning and worked as a newspaper delivery boy to support himself while preparing for college exams, with the intention of studying art. But he failed to get into the school he wanted, as a family illness meant he had to become the breadwinner.

Ieiri got jobs in several companies, but he quickly discovered that the life of an employee was not for him. He quit or was fired and eventually decided to start his own business, one that didn’t require him to interact with other people.

“It occurred to me that I could do something using the internet,” he said. “That’s where it all began.”

Ieiri founded his first business in 2001 at the age of 22, and later renamed it Paperboy & Co. after his newspaper delivery days. It initially rented internet servers to individuals. In 2004, he sold it to GMO Internet Inc., the Tokyo-based company founded by entrepreneur Masatoshi Kumagai. It still exists today as one of the many units of GMO, GMO Pepabo Inc.

Ieiri invested the proceeds in other startups while considering his next business before founding Campfire. He chose to help others raise funds because of the days he spent alone with no resources, he said.

“Everyone is born in different situations – whether they have money or not, whether they have someone to support them or not, and that opens up wedges between them,” he said. . “But maybe we can use the democratizing technology of the Internet to solve this.”

The crowdfunding market is growing in Japan, which bodes well for companies like Campfire, according to Tomoichiro Kubota, senior market analyst at Matsui Securities in Tokyo.

“There are a lot of people who are interested in putting a little into something that they believe in,” agrees Tim Morse of Asymmetric Advisors. “I think crowdfunding could really take off in Japan.”

However, Morse warned that barriers to entry are low, meaning it doesn’t have a competitive advantage “gap”, while Kubota said some could question the sustainability of the business model. .

Ieiri said that one of the reasons he is aiming for an IPO is that he wants to expand the business and be able to lower commission fees.

“It is our duty to be able to hand over even one more yen to these people, and for that to happen, the gross volume of goods has to be much, much more,” Ieiri said. “An IPO is something that’s about to get there.”

This story was posted from a feed with no text editing. Only the title has been changed.

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