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Zero to hundred: Kosuke Sogo, CEO of AnyMind on scaling to 13 markets in less than 5 years

Written by Taro Ishida Published on 

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Sogo shares his lessons and thoughts in growing a startup in multiple markets.

Kosuke Sogo co-founded AnyMind Group with Otohiko Kozutsumi in 2016. Starting in Singapore, the startup went on to expand into 13 markets with over 800 staff. AnyMind Group’s products have grown to include digital marketing, business intelligence tools, cloud manufacturing, e-commerce management, and logistics. Backed by investors such as Line, Mirai Creation Fund, VGI, Japan Post Capital, and JAFCO Asia, Sogo wants to continue to push his vision for Anymind and achieve further growth across the region. 

Oasis (OS): As a Japanese co-founder, launching a tech startup in Singapore is rare. What influenced you to start AnyMind outside of your home country? Were you influenced by your time spent backpacking?

Kosuke Sogo (KS): When I backpacked in India, I was very impressed by the younger people there. They always tried to sell all kinds of products to me, even though I was still a university student. I was very impressed by their passion for making money, and I felt that India had tremendous potential to grow, seeing how so many local companies were developing quickly. At that time, I thought that ideally, I wanted to do some business in India one day.

My experience in Southeast Asia was kind of different. While working at my previous company, I got promoted, and I had to set up their entity in Vietnam, so I moved there from Tokyo in 2012. I realized that Vietnam also had huge potential to grow, as many young people were quite savvy about using mobile internet. Seeing this, I felt there were a lot of business opportunities in the tech industry in the region. I have a passion for technology, and seeing how young people were utilizing technology to start their own business made me feel very excited. That was one of the original motivations for us to start doing business in the Southeast Asia market.

OS: AnyMind has grown substantially since 2016, even becoming an established firm in Japan. Having started in Singapore, do you see any differences in your leadership style compared to a typical Japanese founder or CEO? 

KS: I’m very open-minded, I can communicate with any nationality, and I am very straightforward. I actually tell everybody what I want to do. This style is a bit different compared to a lot of traditional Japanese entrepreneurs.

When communicating with our employees or management team, I always try to share my opinion in a very straightforward way. Of course, sometimes we will discuss and argue with each other, but I don’t mind that type of discussion. That kind of open culture is unique compared to other Japanese tech companies.

OS: You started AnyMind with your co-founder Otohiko Kozutsumi. How did you know he would be a good co-founder? How essential is it to have a co-founder?

KS: I met him almost 8 years ago in Southeast Asia. He used to work with one of the largest adtech tech companies in Japan, and he set up the local subsidiary in Southeast Asia for them, so we had similar careers.

We also have similarities in our personalities. He doesn’t set limitations on himself. If he thinks, “I can do that,” he will try to make it happen as quickly as possible, which is what I do as well. When you have the same philosophy and drive, it makes it easy to start doing business together.

I still feel he is the best match. He has helped me a lot over the years. I find that what I can do, is what he can’t do, and vice versa. He’s excellent at execution, while I’m good at making future plans, or setting up new business ideas. So that kind of combination is quite suitable for both of us.

OS: As a leader, what have been some of the biggest lessons you have learned?

KS: Hiring the best people in each market, and finding the correct management team composition is super important. Because we are doing business in multiple countries, we need to have a strong global management team to run the business. I’m good at the zero to one—the early startup phase—but I realized I need to have someone who can help grow the business after passing those early stages. I also need to have someone who can focus on HR and finance. Whenever we hire outstanding management team members, then I can rely on them so I can focus on what I’m good at doing.

Kosuke Sogo with staff in Thailand during sports day. Photo courtesy of AnyMind.

OS: How would you describe your style of leadership? 

KS: I try to dictate the future as much as I can. I always think about what will happen in the next six months, next year, or the next three years. That is very important for AnyMind because we keep looking to improve by developing new products and new features for our existing products. That progress is significant for us to grow.

OS: When you started to hire people for a broader management team, and you let go of responsibilities that you were usually very involved with, did you feel uncomfortable at any point? 

KS: To be honest, yes, I did. I tried to manage every single detail by myself in the early stages, so it was a little challenging for me to rely on other people. But now, I understand that if I can find someone better than me in a specific position, that makes the company much more efficient and helps the business grow much faster. I understand that now and am very okay with it.

OS: You need trust across the company’s staff, and they need to believe in the same vision and goals. How do you instill that in your firm? 

KS: I think this company is unique because we are continually developing something new on our platform, and our staff are also very eager to learn new things. Whenever we make an announcement in terms of the latest technology, or a new future product, people are very excited. I think this process is critical. Every six months, we organize meetings to announce our future product development, brands, and innovations. That makes our employees more motivated to continuously contribute to the company.

WRITTEN BY

Taro Ishida

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