InCloud is a B2B technology company that is focused on bringing global cloud and IoT solutions to Japan. InCloud offers consulting and development services to help Japanese businesses properly implement cloud and IoT solutions, which include InCloud’s Project Hercules.
Japan Today hears more from CEO Chris Baek.
What's your background?
I’m a 2nd generation Korean-American born and raised in Los Angeles. I lived in LA my entire life prior to moving to Japan. I was always a terrible student, almost getting kicked out of high school on multiple occasions. I wasn’t necessarily a bad kid, but just completely uninterested in school and infinitely more interested in Starcraft and Counter-strike.
As you could imagine, I didn’t end up getting accepted into any of the universities that I applied to. However, I committed to busting my ass through community college and ended up transferring and graduating from the University of Southern California (fight on!) with a degree in business administration with a concentration in corporate finance. I graduated in the middle of the financial meltdown of 2008 with a degree in corporate finance, great timing.
When did you first come to Japan and what brought you here?
I first came to Japan in December of 2010 after quitting my full-time position at a real estate data management company and started as a language student right before the big earthquake (great timing #2). It was also a period where it was like 80 yen to one U.S. dollar, so it was especially painful to be living in Japan on savings. I had always been interested in Japanese culture, anime, and music, so it was my dream to come live in Japan. I was a typical otaku growing up.
Living in Japan as a language student was always meant to be a temporary thing. Live in Japan for one year, get it out of my system, and go home and be a useful member of society. Nine years later, I’m still trying to figure that last part out.
What was your first job in Japan?
Apart from doing random part-time jobs teaching English, my first full-time position was with a then startup, which helped students apply to language schools in Japan. I was their second full-time hire and was integral in building the company to where it is today. I joined the (then three-person team) as a customer service representative and after six years and change, left the company as the COO. Helping build a company from three people to over 50, with offices in three countries, gave me the confidence and the experience to go all in on entrepreneurship.
When did you start InCloud and why?
InCloud was officially established in May 2018, but a lot of the setup work was done in the three months leading up to establishment. I had left my previous position, even though it was a very cushy job, due to the fact that I felt that I had achieved all that was possible in that circumstances.
I also wanted to be involved in an industry that was much more dynamic and with a greater potential impact. I had always been fascinated with technology and even at a young age fiddled with building computers, websites, hanging out on IRC, etc. It was a natural move.
Were you the sole founder?
I founded InCloud with a partner, who is our CTO and genius wireless and IoT engineer.
It must have been a risk at first? Was it tough?
Yes, but I felt that it was now-or-never to pursue entrepreneurship and see if I could build for myself, what I built for someone else. Entrepreneurship is NOT for everyone. There is no structure, no one to tell you what to do, you don’t know if your product will sell, or when you’ll get the next project. It is just a bunch of unknowns, but what you get is complete and utter freedom. You choose what to do, when to do it, where to go, what to sell, everything. It’s really tough to get used to the fact that everything is on you, so in a sense, it really shows you all of the strengths and weaknesses that you have as a person.
What are InCloud’s main services?
InCloud has two functions, one is providing consulting and development for web, mobile, and IoT applications to companies and the other is building our own products. To date, InCloud has successfully completed 18 projects of various nature in web and mobile development. Most of these projects are web applications that are connected to embedded systems (IoT). However, our most recent project that we have been working on is a SaaS web application for a U.S. based healthcare startup. We currently have three internal products that are in development that we are looking to sell.
• SmartQA (Project Hercules on our website), which is a project management and communication tool specifically for Japanese companies.
• Athena, which is an AI-powered digital panel reader for manufacturing factories that can be run 100% locally without connection to the internet.
• Hermes, which is just in the planning stages, but will be a marketplace for IoT sensor firmware.
If someone is confused about how or which cloud service can help their business the most, what would you say to them?
Cloud services really help companies maintain their infrastructure in a much more cost effective, reliable, and scalable way compared to traditional infrastructure methods. However, there are many nuances to cloud platforms, deployment, cost structure, etc, that can determine whether or not you get the most efficient usage of cloud services that you possibly can. It really depends on the needs of the company that wants to take advantage of cloud services and products.
For example, recently we’ve been doing a lot of work on the Google Cloud Engine and without being overly complicated, if you build your web page or app a certain way, it can be extremely cost effective to scale to millions of users versus if you did the same on Amazon Web Services (AWS). Also, the major cloud platforms allow you to access their AI and machine learning resources which is really cool for the future of tech.
How do you market your company?
Currently, our business has been fortunate enough to have incoming business completely by word of mouth from successful projects with clients. Once we have our internal products ready for launch, we aim to start advertising.
Has 2019 been a good year so far in terms of sales?
Yes. We focus on making sure that we provide great quality to whatever we do and take a no BS stance. If we can’t do it, we won’t take on a project, but we will advise what we think would be the best course of action and try to steer you in the right direction. We’ve been really fortunate that this approach has worked great for us and has brought us more leads.
Is it a competitive industry?
Absolutely, but there is still so much opportunity available, especially in Japan. The industry keeps growing and due to the lack of skilled engineers, more and more companies are looking to external companies to fill the knowledge gaps. Many companies still do not truly understand cloud services or need help with web or IoT development.
Do you find there is a large pool of talent out there or is it hard to find the right people?
I’ve always found Gaijinpot to be one of the first places to go to find employment, especially entry-level positions when I first came to Japan. As talent becomes harder and harder to find, it is platforms like Gaijinpot that will help connect job seekers with employers.
What advice would you give to any foreigner wanting to start their own company, as you did?
Starting a business in Japan isn’t any different than starting a business anywhere else. Just make sure to have a very comprehensive business plan and a clear vision of what you want to achieve or build. Keep mindful of what makes your service or product unique or valuable and work at perfecting it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Reach out and MAKE CONNECTIONS. And lastly, no BS, because that will catch up to you.
Is Japanese-language ability a must?
For future hires, no, we do not require Japanese-language ability, but it is definitely a plus. The quality of life for someone who picks up the local language is much better in the long-term versus someone who never does. We are actually considering offering language courses for future hires who do not have any language ability. That’s a little further down the line though.
How do you promote a work-life balance?
We believe happy workers are the most effective workers. Flex time, working from home, no dress code, things like this are always negotiable. My management philosophy is that I work for my employees and not the other way around because their success ultimately means my success.
When you are not working, how do you like to relax? Any hobbies or sports?
I’m an avid traveler, both in and outside of Japan. I’m usually flying somewhere once every one or two months, especially with how affordable flying from Japan can be sometimes. I still play video games, mainly mobile and console games. Fitness wise, I hit the gym and I used to dance hip hop and am looking to get back into that. Snowboarding is definitely the main hobby for the winter season because I’ve been snowboarding since I was around 14 years old.
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