Borderless Japan was established in 2007 by current board members Taguchi and Suzuki. Taguchi was moved by a documentary program he saw in his school days and wanted to help children in poverty. Initially, the real estate business was started as a means to use 1% of sales to help end poverty all over the world.
At that time, rental businesses for foreigners was not yet active in Japan. So Borderless House started a rental business for foreigners who stayed in Japan, but it didn’t work because landlords didn’t understand our vision. Then Borderless House decided to rent the property and provide a room for foreigners by sublease, and opened a share house where Japanese and foreigners could interact. In particular, the business has begun to meet the needs of international students who have been staying for only a short period of time, such as three or six months, and young Japanese office workers who want to interact with foreigners.
Borderless House CEO, Lee Seiichi
From here, Pilot Japan will talk to Mr. Lee in an interview format.
Pilot Japan： It seems quite difficult to monetise a share house business for young people. How did you make your business so successful?
Mr Lee：We devised the purchase of a property and looked into large houses. No one can afford to rent a large vacant house. We rented them at a reasonable price and renovated the interior to make a share house. Short-term foreign students who can’t rent an apartment even if they have money, or single Japanese who work, sympathised with our concept even if slightly more expensive, so it matched their needs perfectly I think. In 2008, we started the share house business with one 12-room building and increased it at a rate of about 10 buildings per year. Currently, around 700 people live in 67 share houses around Japan and Asia. There is an online site for attracting customers to convey images of daily life at our sharehouses.
I realised that I can make money while helping people in need.
Mr Lee：After the share house business was on track, we launched various social businesses. Firstly, our medical herbal tea business AMOMA. Herbs are purchased directly from small farmers in Myanmar and we have been selling them mainly through online marketing.
Pilot Japan：After the share house business is the herbal tea business. You challenged yourself in a completely different field. I think that sales power is the most important thing in a venture, so how did you cultivate it?
Mr Lee：Watching and learning (smiles). We started with general items such as Rakuten Shop and sold them through trial and error which helped me learn about online marketing. Of course, I think that there was also good judgment and product power to be convinced that “this will sell”.
On to Bangladesh…
Mr Lee：Our next success is in the leather business with Business Leather Factory and JOGGO. We wanted to provide a solution to social problems, and we established that the fundamental solution to the poverty problem was employment stability. The addition to our team of Faruk Hossain, from Bangladesh, when planning our new business was another major reason for choosing this business. We created a low-priced brand of leather products that are thought to be expensive and unmanageable, and started with online sales that had already accumulated know-how. However, since we found that there was a need to check the quality by hand, we opened a limited-time shop and then a direct sales store.
Pilot Japan：Medical herbs and leather products are both regulated, and it seems that they are not easy to sell in Japan. What difficulties have you faced? Mr Lee：There were various difficulties. Whatever you do, you must learn from scratch, trial and error. The important thing is to start the business after identifying the market. In that sense, I think we had strong marketing capabilities. Another strength is that we have been working in “Niche No.1” markets, or in other words, fields that other people do not work in. Pilot Japan：“Niche No.1” sounds very interesting. From here, I would like to ask you more about yourself. You said that you quit your job in a major manufacturer where you worked for 8 years and then joined Borderless Japan. Why did you decide to try social business? Mr Lee：When I joined (about 3 years since Borderless was established), I didn’t call my business a social business. I felt like I joined a friend’s venture company. I was born and raised in Japan, but have roots in Korea. At that time, I wanted to get more into Korean society. Back to my roots. So, Borderless House is now in Seoul and Taipei.
Pilot Japan：I see. So that’s why you entered Korean society from Japan. Students studying in Japan may have the same feelings. So, what is your vision for yourself and Borderless Japan?
Mr Lee：It is not our purpose to grow the group. The purpose is to solve social problems by making many successful businesses. I belong to a group called Borderless Japan, but each new business is like a venture company. We will continue to create new businesses to share and nurture existing know-how. I don’t know what will happen next. A person who has an idea, that is, a social problem to be solved, creates a new business.
Pilot Japan：I see. So, do you mean that as long as there are social problems there will be business? What social issues are you paying attention to next?
Mr Lee：Japanese children in poverty. This issue has not yet been addressed. For us, it is important that our business is directly linked to solving social issues. We set a KPI called “Social Impact“. It is important to know “How much has society been changed by that?”. We don’t do business that only benefits 5 to 10 people.
Pilot Japan：So KPI is “Social Impact”… What kind of interesting things do you think there are regarding this?
Mr Lee：Solving social issues through business. I think there is no other model like this. Business is directly linked to solving social problems. In the future, we must think about how this will be developed in countries other than Japan. I always wonder where the next market will be.
Borderless Japan’s concept and business are unlikely to be conveyed completely in this interview article. For more details, please visit their official site.
On January 2016, “TEDxHimi” was held in Himi city, Japan. CEO KAZUNARI TAGUCHI was chosen as one of the speakers and gave a presentation about “What you work for,” “What the real value of life is,” and “How to ‘make a choice” in a difficult time.”