We recently sat down with Otohiko Kozutsumi (fondly known as just Oto), the co-founder and CCO (Chief Commercial Officer) of AnyMind Group. Both him and Kosuke Sogo (CEO and co-founder of AnyMind Group) started the business in April 2016, and he shares with us how he met Sogo, the birth of the company and other behind-the-scenes stories that were never made public before.
Before founding AnyMind Group, Oto held a range of roles in digital marketing, advertising technology and business development for more than 10 years. He helped smartphone ad network company Nobot Inc to expand its overseas business and also contributed to the subsequent acquisition of Nobot Inc by Mediba Inc. He is currently Chief Commercial Officer for AnyMind Group and leads the company’s D2C for Enterprise business line across APAC.
We met in Vietnam and decided to start a business together – we’ve always been running in the same direction
Please share with us about your first meeting with Sogo
I first met Sogo around 10 years ago in Vietnam, where I was stationed at that time. Back then, I was working for a mobile marketing company and we held an event with local partners in Vietnam. I gave a presentation in English to a group of Vietnamese people! During that presentation, I saw a guy who was sitting in the front row and he was listening intently with a big grin on his face. That person was Sogo and after that encounter, we had the opportunity to work together. We hit it off so well that I ended up joining the company where he was working at the time.
So how did the founding of AnyMind come about?
As we all know, Sogo was inspired by his grandparents and grew up admiring their entrepreneurial gusto – he knew that he wanted to start his own business since he was a young boy. One day, when we were having dinner together, Sogo casually brought up the question, “would you like to start a business with me?” I replied: “Great! Let’s do it!” That’s how AnyMind came about. I was confident as we worked closely together in my previous job, and I realized that we were a perfect match, and I was confident that we could create a successful business together. Since Sogo already had experience in setting up various offices across Southeast Asia, we started AnyMind Group with him taking care of the expansion and I took care of projects and clients. From that time on, I called Sogo “shachō” (meaning president) and he called me “sensei” (meaning teacher), and we had and have a trusting relationship that works really well!
What do you think was the fuel for the company’s rapid expansion?
We started operations for AnyMind Group (formerly AdAsia Holdings) back in April 2016 and quickly expanded in our first eight months. By the end of 2016, we were already in five markets. Since then, our business has continued to grow, and in less than six years, we’ve grown to 17 offices in 13 markets with over 1,000 staff. The key to our rapid growth is that both Sogo and I have always been running in the same direction. Although Sogo has a strong side, what he and I basically have in common is that we approach everything without fear. We didn’t put too many brakes on ourselves and approached new markets and major clients vigorously. As a result, that was the reason why we were able to grow so quickly. Sogo has strong leadership skills and always has a clear idea of what he wants to do, so I focus on how to get the team excited so that they can follow his momentum and exceed the expectations of clients and people around them.
From two founders to a five-person board of directors
Since you co-founded the company, you seem to have a very good relationship with Sogo
He and I work really well together, and we have never had any conflicts in all the years we’ve worked together. However, there was one time after we started the company, that I didn’t quite agree with Sogo’s idea of starting a new business. I remember asking him: “Is this really a business that will grow?” This was when Sogo said to me: “I’d like to start an influencer marketing business, what do you think? I don’t know if it would grow or not, but I would give it a try.” When we first started it, I was skeptical, but the business has since grown rapidly. After a while, I apologized to Sogo and said: “You made the right decision at the time.” I really have to take my hat off to his foresight. Of course, there are times when we are on the same wavelength and in the same groove, and we end up getting too engrossed, but also our CFO, Keizo Okawa, balances things out. With Keizo as the balancer, Sogo and I are able to step on the gas medal as much as we want. I feel that we have a very good balance. In 2020, we acquired and merged POKKT, and Rohit Sharma and Vaibhav Odhekar joined our board of directors. Now we have a more stable leadership setup that will allow us to compete on a global scale. We have found a good groove and I believe that the relationship and balance amongst board members is an important engine for AnyMind’s growth.
Playing an active role on the frontlines
Is there anything that you actively do in terms of how you interact with customers and employees?
One of the characteristics of our company is that the distance between employees, founders and management is small. We sit close to the teams’ desks, so it’s easy to talk to them. Both Sogo and I still play an active role in the business, and we still do sales together. I often create sales presentation materials together with employees, and have a close bond with many of them. Currently, I’m in charge of the D2C for Enterprise section of the business, and when we speak to clients, we will naturally talk in terms of numbers and make proposals, as I feel it’s important for me to still keep abreast of the situation out in the field. Also, since our platforms continue to be updated every week, I use and check our various platforms for our clients as I want to see first-hand what kind of value we provide to our clients from a technology standpoint. I want to always maintain a customer-first approach, so I try to follow the progress of each project as often as possible.
Tell us about your approach to work
I try to have the mindset of “doing whatever it takes.” Each employee has his or her own role, and it is a natural instinct for them to do their best. I think it is important to continue growing all the time by expanding one’s own role and domain. I am conscious of the fact that when I get an opportunity, whether inside or outside the company, I do not block it by saying: “This is not my area of expertise,” but I’ll instead approach this opportunity with eyes wide open. This also applies to interactions with clients. Basically, I will accept the responsibility first and then work to exceed their expectations, which is how we have been able to grow our business in the past. In order to keep up with the speed of the company, it is very important to have this kind of flexibility and adaptability. I believe that the key to growth for any employee is to be able to make long-term commitments, stay positive and approach work with a flexible mindset. For me personally, this is the approach I take and is one of the points I would like to keep emphasizing.
Sogo is a genuinely positive person who is able to motivate all employees across markets
From your point of view, what kind of person is Sogo?
First of all, Sogo is a person who not only has passion for what he’s doing, but he also has a strong love for the people around him. Sometimes, when employees make mistakes in their jobs, he treats them with “love” in the sense that they can do better the next time, rather than just approaching the situation as scolding them outright. He really likes people and continues to believe in the potential of each employee. In addition, Sogo is an exceptionally positive person who does not see pain points negatively. When you talk to him, you will not get a sense of negativity. He is basically a person with an inner flame of passion, and when I talk to him, the passion is transferred to me and I am motivated by it. I think there are many employees who are attracted to join the company because of his personality. Even though there are many barriers, he will find a way to remove all the barriers in the end. I feel that it is because of his personality which is why he is loved by our employees across the region. Everyone trusts him, just as I do, and we can all run together in the same direction, which is an undeniable strength of the company.
Thank you for sharing about the strengths of our employees and Sogo, but what are some of the other strengths of the company that you think is worth mentioning?
We are proud of our capabilities in tech, which is something that we have been focusing on since our founding. I feel that the impact of our development team is getting stronger every year. We started out providing offerings in marketing tech, but now we have developed platforms for a wide range of businesses and industries, including AnyFactory, AnyManager, AnyTag, AnyLogi and more. We want to make Asia a better place by creating a world where it is exciting for everyone to do business. In order to realize this, product development is crucial. I feel that our growth to date is due to the efforts of our 80+ engineers from across the world, working out of our four tech hubs across the region. They are the ones who are constantly working on improving our platforms. If I had to pick one more strength, it would be the market in which we operate. Since the early days of our company in Singapore, we have always developed products and offerings with an eye on global expansion. We have now expanded our presence beyond Southeast Asia to East Asia, India and the Middle East. We are also seeing more and more cases where businesses that have been successful in large markets, such as Japan and Thailand, expand horizontally and are doing well. Our strength is that we are able to start and grow our various business models and offerings in a wide range of markets – sort of in a matrix style – which few other companies can do in such a short period of time.
Asia as a region that is developing rapidly – where even the streets change and continue to grow each visit
You’ve worked outside of Japan, even since AnyMind Group was founded. Can you tell us more about it?
Yes, I think I have strong feelings about Asia. When I went to various parts of Southeast Asia on business trips a long time ago, I was captivated by the region’s growth potential and hunger to grow. Whenever I visit the region, I will see new buildings being built and the scenery kept changing. I saw firsthand the region’s rapid economic growth. The flexibility and casualness are also quite fresh and welcoming in this region. I always go to work in a polo shirt and my demeanor is informal in the office, and I can feel this in my relationship with clients here too. On the other hand, Japan is strong in working meticulously and in an organized manner, and I think that if we can incorporate the good qualities of Japan and the good qualities of the Asia region as a whole, we will be able to grow in a more hybrid and positive fashion. I believe that our focus on “empowering Asia” will remain unchanged, now and in the future.
Working with people who can push things to “geek level”
What kind of people do you want to work with?
I think an important aspect to look for in members who want to grow the company together is whether or not they are in line with our AnyMind Values
・Be Open – Embrace diversity, and express your thoughts openly while respecting other people’s opinions. ・Be Bold – Don’t set limitations for yourself, keep on challenging for more. ・Move Faster – Be faster than anyone else, and put your ideas into action quickly. ・Stay Updated – Update yourself with information, and use it to achieve better decision-making and outcomes. ・Achieve Together – In all situations, always identify and run towards a common goal. In terms of skill sets, I would like to work with people who have the ability to pursue something like a geek. When you deepen your understanding of one field, you can apply this knowledge to other fields. For this reason, it is important to master one thing first. In my case, I’m probably a marketing geek in this sense! The additional mindset that I look for is “flexibility.” As the company continues to grow at a very fast pace, sometimes a role or the business line you’re working in might evolve and change. It is very important to have a mindset that allows you to adapt yourself to such an environment and showcase your abilities, and I am happy to say that there are many such people working here. If you are interested in working at AnyMind Group, we would love to hear from you!