Combining golf and fertility in one successful business: Meet CURUCURU’s Yumiko Tokita
umiko Tokita was born in Aichi and received an MBA from GLOBIS University. Her childhood dream was to create a company that enriches women’s lifestyles. After working as a CTO of IT security, she founded CURUCURU in 2008.
The company focuses on two sectors: golf and fertility. The Golf Life business promotes the idea that golf can expand your circle of friends and Yumiko says that she chose to focus on golf because she saw it as a great way to make new friends of all ages and genders. Its popular website includes an ecommerce platform for golf clothing, a free club rental service, articles and a platform to search for like-minded friends. The Life Event business part of CURUCURU operates a social networking service for women trying to conceive.
For Startup Guide Nagoya, we spoke to Yumiko about her journey as an entrepreneur.
What was your entrepreneurial path?
I decided to start a business when I was a child. My father passed away when I was four years old, and I suddenly became part of a family of three with my mother and sister. I wondered why my mother was struggling so much and why I had to work so hard, even though I was a child. It felt unreasonable. I thought that a society where someone has to fight alone is wrong. But at the same time, I was also impressed by the relationships that my mother had. I remember that volleyball saved her. I learned that you could overcome difficult circumstances if you have friends.
There was a time when friends and others supported me, and I realized that to live life to the fullest, I had to help my friends. I want to create a world where people don’t feel alone, no matter what kind of environment they live in. This has become my life ambition. I wanted to contribute to society by creating a business to achieve this goal.
The first time I took on the challenge of starting a business was in my early twenties, and it didn’t go well. I started my current company when I was thirty.
What early struggles did you face, and how did you overcome them?
Two things caused me problems. The first was that I had no industry knowledge or connections. For example, when I wanted to start a golf apparel ecommerce business specializing in young women, I didn’t know how to manage inventory. Secondly, I didn’t have anyone to talk to as an entrepreneur. I had no one with whom to discuss how to expand our user base or solve our management problems. I wasted time and repeated small mistakes, but I was able to sign up for outside coaching and advice, and I learned how to build a network of contacts in Nagoya and Tokyo. This was a positive thing. It helped me get over the hump.
Also, our company’s only source of funding was debt financing, so I was careful to be aware of our financial statements and avoided going into the red. I had a safe investment style. I was so focused on increasing revenue and profit that I phased in our system and personnel investments, which led to service growth.
The biggest failure in decision-making I made was allowing the capacity of operations and mechanisms that support service growth to lag behind demand. This was because we gradually made investments in systems and personnel. As a result, we were unable to fulfill our responsibility to our users and business partners.
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It is essential not to try to do things all by yourself. Ask for help from others.
Were there any turning points in your business?
There were two: one was the tailwind created when golf became a popular movement among young people. Golf used to be a sport for fathers. Now, it has changed and is considered a fashionable lifestyle. The fact that we were in a good position to take advantage of this at that time was very positive.
The other factor was a change in our management perspective. The 2011 earthquake and COVID-19 each caused a pinch for our company. We reassessed what the company is for and what our mission is. When you go back to your vision and reaffirm your commitment to accomplish something, you have a clear idea of what you want to do and what needs to be done.
What is your company’s strength?
Our wonderful users. Interacting with them makes it possible to update our mindset and make changes before other companies can. I feel that B2C companies have the advantage of having cultures that strive to create user value without wavering, in good times and bad. We operate in niche areas that appeal to women, such as fertility and the golf market.
Our user-first attitude of making a difference in their lives makes us a good fit even in the current COVID-19 situation. We will not waver, even in a disaster. We value a sense of trust and are determined to continue meeting the expectations of our users.
How do you differentiate yourself from other companies?
We are a company with a niche differentiation strategy. For example, women golfers make up only 10% of the golf market. That’s where the problems and needs that only women golfers have exist. By solving those specific problems and needs, we can create value that other companies cannot provide. Also, we differentiate ourselves by branding the company as one that meets users’ expectations.
Is there anything you wish you had known before starting your own business?
It is essential not to try to do things all by yourself. Ask for help from others. There are many people outside the company who can help you, help with your dream or whom you can ask for advice. It’s a normal thing for me now, but I wish I had done it sooner.
What was the most poignant piece of advice you have received?
Even Ichiro (the famous baseball player) bats 30% out of one hundred. Even professionals swing the bat ten times, but only hit it three times or fewer. This is a lesson in the importance of how many times you must swing the bat because the number of failures is naturally higher. If I’m going to fail, I don’t want to fail in a small way. I want to be bold, to challenge myself, and fight the good fight even when I fail.
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When do you find business most rewarding?
Our services are often based on the theme of problem-solving, so when the value of one of our services is conveyed to us by users, I feel happy that I created it. For example, someone saying “I started playing golf through your site and made a friend for life,” or “Thanks to the Fertility Voice social networking service, I was recommended for fertility treatment.” This kind of feedback is rewarding.
How do you make use of the feedback from your customers in your business?
We conduct a survey of 2,000 users every year and also conduct user interviews. User feedback has two roles. The first is to understand the needs and demands of our users. The other purpose is to understand the issues that users do not yet see or have been unable to articulate. We want to create services that are one step ahead of the competition, so we use this information to improve and develop services.
Are you facing any current issues?
Each business has its own set of challenges, but we are facing several market issues. Our golf fashion business has already captured 30% of the young women’s ecommerce market, which we have been targeting, so we need to expand our market and respond to our users’ diversifying needs.
Our fertility-focused social networking business is all about market recognition, but privacy about pregnancy is an issue we have to consider when increasing our presence.
It’s all about articulating your mission and vision.
What are your goals and outlook for the future?
We aim to become Japan’s leading lifestyle innovation company that creates connections with friends, family and colleagues. To this end, we aim to expand our golf business from women in their twenties and forties to men and other sports. In particular, one of our goals is to create the best sports fashion ecommerce site in Japan.
What professional advice would you give to those who are thinking of starting a business or who have just started their own business?
It’s all about articulating your mission and vision. First of all, articulating your mission is a pledge to yourself when you start a business. Then, you will use it to tell someone else about your dream, and it will give you the chance to gather a group of friends with a similar mindset. Businesses exist to realize a mission and a vision, and strategies must be created to align them.
You can also turn to your mission and vision in times of hardship, and they can function as a decision-making axis for management when making significant choices.
What is the appeal of working in the Nagoya area?
First is the ease of living in the city. It has affordable rent, nature and it is a good environment for raising children. There are plenty of universities, vocational schools and hospitals. It’s a city that has the power to invest in things when it’s motivated.
Second is the location. It is a major transportation hub. The travel time to Tokyo is short, and it has an international airport and an abundance of hotels. I currently live in Tokyo and commute to Nagoya once a week, but it’s an hour and a half one way, so there’s no inconvenience.
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Written by Carter Witt.
Repackaged by Hazel Boydell.