Looking for investment opportunities in Silicon Valley
It all started in the spring of 2018. There I am in Tokyo, when suddenly the word comes down: “Go to Silicon Valley. Find us an innovative business we can’t find in Japan.”
As a company, Mitsui gives its employees plenty of latitude. In that sense, my boss’s attitude was typical. He was very hands-off and willing to trust my judgment. On the one hand, I was being thrown in at the deep end. On the other hand, there’s nothing quite so stimulating as finding yourself in a sink-or-swim situation!
I flew to the West Coast in July and spent five months looking into a range of companies. In Japan, I was working in Mitsui’s retail business, which is active in three areas: production, which means making food and beverages; distribution, which means transporting them; and retailing, which means selling them. What we wanted to do was to find digital tools that could bring us even closer to the end-consumer and to consumer trends. The ultimate goal is to create an organic loop that links all our retail activities—from manufacturing through to product development and final sales—to one another and to the consumer.
I contacted businesses in all three of those areas: meal-kit makers, specialists in warehouse robotics, companies that use AI beacons and cameras to analyze how shoppers move in stores, you name it. I was trying to find a cutting-edge business model that did not yet exist here in Japan.
In the course of my research, I started hearing about a company called Tastemade. It’s a global digital media brand that makes and distributes video content with a focus on food, travel and the home. In the end, I identified Tastemade as the company it made the most sense for us to invest in.
What about Tastemade appealed to me? There is a lot to the brand beyond the straightforward media aspect. It is a marketing tool that can provide a new touch point with consumers. As an online network, it can deliver messages to millennials—a group that’s pretty much unreachable through conventional advertising formats. Thanks to all the data the platform collects, we can fine-tune the videos and the advertising to target today’s highly diverse consumer base in a very precise way. Data can also provide insights into latent consumer needs that we can leverage for new product development purposes.
Going one step further, Tastemade has the potential to become an online retailer, with the audience purchasing the products that feature in the videos.