American Lauren Kocher is not the kind of person who backs away from a challenge. When it seemed she was set to climb the music industry’s corporate ladder, she stepped off, opened the startup parachute, and cofounded a company.
Today, she is the chief operating officer at Zaiko PTE Ltd., which creates ticketing platforms for events. The platform can be used by individuals, communities, and companies.
Looking back at her career, it isn’t obvious that her entrepreneurial journey would come so soon or that she would reach a leadership role so early. And yet that is what she has done.
DESIRE TO LEAD
Was there a singular moment when Kocher decided she was better off in a startup than a big company? Not really. Rather, the once-in-a-blue-moon opportunity, as she saw it, to do something new seemed right.
“In terms of what Zaiko is trying to do in the Asia market, the timing couldn’t be better: That is, providing a platform for multilingual, white-labeled ticketing solutions that are data driven.”
And while her corporate life was largely enjoyable, Kocher believes it is in the nature of large companies to be averse to risk. For someone who likes a challenge, a startup seemed the place to be.
“I felt that it was about time that I did something a little bolder. And I really wanted to be in a role where I assumed greater leadership—as in, running my own company.”
Is leadership, then, something she always wanted? It is.
“I think I’m well suited for it. But if you’re climbing the corporate ladder, you’re not likely to be in such a position until much later in your career. I’ve always had a lot of drive to be the boss. There’s a lot of ambition in there,” she confessed.
But is drive alone a sufficient explanation for a desire to lead? Perhaps not. Kocher offered secondary, yet equally important, explanations.
“I enjoy working in the entertainment industry—even since that first job that I had. There are a lot of characters and personalities in this world, so you don’t have to censor yourself.”
Sometimes aggression or a go-getter attitude is sometimes rewarded in the entertainment industry, Kocher said, and as there isn’t much by way of formality. Out-sized personalities can thrive. “I love that.”
What’s more, there are a lot of female role models in the music world—not just artists but also managers. It’s not surprising to find women who are at the top of the game.
Born in a small town in Indiana, about an hour outside Chicago, Kocher attended the University of Chicago, where she majored in Japanese and history.
Not long after graduation, she relocated to Japan and taught English for a year. That was in 2008. She then transitioned to a position at Kyodo Tokyo Inc., a company that promotes music, including tours and concerts.
“They’re famous for bringing The Beatles to Japan, and they promote anything—from concerts to dance—by international and Japanese artists.”
At Kyodo Tokyo, Kocher worked as a general assistant responsible for international artists visiting Japan. She also assisted the company’s chairman.
“I was there for a couple of years, and that was my first music industry job. It’s where I learned the basics.”
That said, Kocher, even then, was not afraid to go it alone. No sooner had she dipped her toes in the corporate world than she decided to become a freelancer.
“I was hired on interpreting jobs, especially for clients in the music industry—for guests on television programs, in corporate meetings, or acting as a chaperon for visiting artists. A lot of production- and events-related work.”
On an ad hoc basis, she also supported Japanese music production companies. But when an old contact recommended her for a position at Sony Music Entertainment Inc. which required industry experience and bilingual Japanese–English ability, Kocher took it.
“There was opportunity to do a lot of things outside the normal album release, working on projects with international artists such as One Direction,” she recalled.
In her position at Sony Music, where she worked in the corporate marketing division for six years, her tasks revolved around business development and new ventures, and included rights acquisition, merchandising, endorsements, and community-building in Japan for domestic and international artists.
However, late last year, Kocher made the decision to leave the corporate world once again, this time to cofound Zaiko.
TICKET TO RIDE
Zaiko’s platform allows third parties to create their own ticketing service. If you’re an event organizer, you can use it as a white-labeled service, allowing you to create your own website with customized branding.
“You get to control your data via our APIs and use our analytics platform to understand your users or customers better.”
Instead of building an event, raising awareness, and billing attendees—but passing that user base over to the platform provider—Zaiko gives organizers control over customer and user data.
Which leads one to ask: How does Zaiko generate revenue?
“When a customer buys a ticket, we charge a service fee on the sale. But, unlike other companies, we give the event organizer control over the size of the user fee,” she added.
Zaiko’s customers include media companies and organizers of music festivals, as well as individuals and businesses organizing private functions. Theaters, fan clubs, and social media influencers are also jumping on the bandwagon.
Zaiko is still in its first year of business. That said, what’s been the most rewarding part of cofounding a startup for Kocher so far?
“Having the chance to create a company culture from scratch.”
Would she recommend taking the leap to anyone thinking of creating their own company—especially those seemingly set on climbing the corporate ladder?
“Any small business is going to be difficult, as you have to handle everything— whether it’s purchasing office supplies, cleaning, or providing customer support. I underestimated the huge drain those tasks are on my productivity,” she said.
But that’s just the beginning. Startups need streams of funding or revenue. However, the appropriate level of funding is rarely clear. Seed funding never seems to be enough, and series funding may compromise your ability to stay in control of the company, she said.
“In Japan, specifically, there’s a ton of options for corporate venture capital, but rarely do you get the access or synergy that you are promised—and sometimes it’s the worst of both worlds.
“Potential clients know you have a big backer and distrust you because of it. But that backer is only offering one-time financial support and not driving business, sharing expertise, or contributing to your bottom line.”
SHE WHO DARES
Kocher had a word of advice for women founders in particular, urging them to know their worth.
“You do not need to wait for more experience before starting your own company. You can do it now. Pretend you have all the confidence in the world.”
Instead of trying to acquire more experience, she encouraged women to gain more supporters. “Especially if you are younger, you unfortunately won’t be taken as seriously by investors or potential clients as others are. So, it’s good to have prominent business people—respected in their fields—who are 100 percent on your side and will help pull you up.”
And if you have moments of doubt? “Just ignore that feeling. It’s the patriarchy talking.”
Custom Media publishes The ACCJ Journal for the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan.
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