How Japan inspired a U.S. startup culture

The fifth annual Japan Association of New Economy’s New Economy Summit Tokyo, or NEST, starts tomorrow. We’ll be following all the action on topics such as sustainability, fintech, startups, autonomous vehicles and drones. One of the highlights will be a session on driving innovation and entrepreneurship, featuring Mike Jaconi, co-founder and CEO of Button.

Jaconi was one of the leaders of the Boston startup FreeCause, which was acquired by Rakuten in 2009. He went on to become an Executive Officer of Rakuten two years later with responsibilities including investing on behalf of Rakuten and helping build strategy for the company’s loyalty division. Fast forward to 2014, and he and a group of entrepreneurs founded Button, a company dedicated to connecting the mobile economy, making it easy for consumers to discover and purchase what they want, when they want it. Button achieves this by deep-linking between well-known mobile apps such as ticketmaster, OpenTable and, connecting user intent with what comes next. As an example, a user might be given the option of buying concert tickets after reading about an artist.

Rakuten Today sat down with Mike to discuss his background, approach to business and, of course, NEST.

How did your experience with Japan business shape who you are today, both personally and as a business leader?

Being at Rakuten and working closely with Mickey (Rakuten’s founder & CEO) taught me more about both leadership and running a business than any experience I had prior. Specifically, Mickey’s detail orientation was extraordinary. He could cite the key statistics from my business at will – and this was one of over 50 unique businesses operating under Rakuten at the time. Additionally, his conviction and belief that nearly anything was possible when you combined hard work, great talent and focus – it was inspiring then and it guides how I interact with my employees still today. Rakuten shaped my approach towards process, testing and analysis (we called it shikumika), and kaizen. Entrepreneurs must have dedication to these values – and Rakuten gave me the tools to appreciate and implement them properly.

Mike Jaconi says omotenashi is at the core of Button.
Mike Jaconi says omotenashi is at the core of Button.

What inspired you to start Button?

Starting Button was something that I felt I needed to do, in part because I wanted to follow in my mentor’s footsteps. Mickey is a mentor to many entrepreneurs, and one of the things that he impressed upon me was that it is important to “be entrepreneurial” and to “follow your dreams.” I felt the opportunity that Button could pursue was massive, and taking Mickey’s guidance and a similar view to him that “life is short,” I embarked on an entrepreneurial career pursuing the opportunity to build a culture, a team and a business from the very start. What is fun to see three years into the process is how much my time at Rakuten has shaped the company that is Button. The learning and the mentorship I experienced there are some of the largest contributors to our success, and I’m extremely proud of the fact that I have taken some of the values I learned from that time and implemented them at Button. Specifically, our dedication to omotenashi, the Japanese principle of service and anticipating customers’ needs ahead of time, is at the core of Button.

What are you hoping to do at NEST?

I am coming to NEST to share my experience as an entrepreneur. I hope some of the thousands of people attending will benefit from hearing about my experience. When I attended the inaugural NEST event in 2013, I was so impressed by the entrepreneurs who attended from around the world. For me, it is an honor to have the opportunity to be on that same stage now. I also have a great respect and admiration for the Japanese culture, for Mickey, and for my Rakuten family, and I wanted the opportunity to share my story with all of them. Lastly, I am also interested in expanding Button’s business into the Japanese market and elsewhere, and I can think of no better partner in the world…than you!


Read more on how Michael is applying omotenashi at Button here.

Show More
Back to top button