Kosuke Sogo is rarely satisfied. The CEO of AnyMind Group could have rested on his laurels. After all, he grew the company from one office in Singapore to 17 offices across 13 markets, a difficult feat considering he did it in five years. But during that time, Sogo also raised US$62.3 million in funding and acquired six companies in Hong Kong, India, Thailand and Japan. His moves have paid off. In 2020, the AnyMind Group generated more than US$100 million in revenue, a 60 percent increase from the previous year.
The Peak chats with the ambitious entrepreneur about his rapid growth.
If I asked your friends to describe you in one paragraph, what would it read?
I am always looking at how I can improve things around me, always staying updated about what’s happening in the world, and always working to improve myself. I was always curious about what’s happening in other countries, in entrepreneurship and in the tech industry. Today I still listen to podcasts about start-ups, business and tech daily. I highly recommend Acquired by Ben Gilbert and David Rosenthal, and a16z Podcast by Andreessen Horowitz.
Tell me about your business experiences growing up. I understand your grandparents inspired you.
Growing up, I watched both sets of grandparents run successful businesses in construction. I really admired how they were so dedicated, not just in growing their business but also how they were so dedicated in caring for their employees’ well-being.
Whenever we had family gatherings, I would hear stories from my grandparents about important decisions they made as business owners, how they helped an employee in need, and so on. From that time, I wanted to start a business to be successful like them.
I used to backpack a lot around the globe when I was a student. These travels really opened my eyes. Through my travels and when I was studying for my degree in commerce at Nihon University, I noticed the gap between technology and how business was conducted. That’s when I knew I wanted to start a business in the technology industry.
But of course, technology is so broad. So I observed how high-growth tech companies (Facebook, Google, Twitter, Amazon, etc.) were growing. All of them had advertising as one of the core growth drivers.
When I graduated, I joined the ad tech industry. Within two years, when I was 25, the company tasked me with expanding the business into South-east Asia. That was when I realised that there was so much opportunity and potential in the region. It was also where I met my co-founder, Otohiko Kozutsumi. We wanted to contribute to economic growth in South-east Asia and the rest of Asia, which is why we started AnyMind Group in Singapore.
Throughout this journey, I used the business lessons my grandparents taught me. They readily welcomed new opportunities, took risks, and moved quickly when they saw the opportunity to grow. They had an “achieve together” mindset, which meant that success is achieved as one team, not as individuals or as business leaders. These have formed the core values of my company.
“A company of 500 people will outgrow the structures and processes you built when the company was at 100. Be humble, don’t give up, and don’t lose heart. No company is perfect and things can always improve.”
Kosuke Sogo on one of the challenges he faced when growing AnyMind Group
What is a question that you wish interviewers would ask you?
“What did you do to grow the business so quickly in Asia?” Because I believe others can learn from my experiences.
My answer is:
- Care about your employees (personally and professionally) and find time to chat with them. They might have really amazing ideas or you might think of an idea because of something they said.
- Constantly develop next-generation technology and business models with a focus on contributing to the growth of the economy anywhere in the world. This has helped our customers to grow, which has helped us to grow.
- Hyper-localisation is important. It’s not just about having offerings in a market’s local language, but tweaking solutions to match what the market needs. To be a successful international business, especially in the technology industry, global expansion cannot happen without localisation. This includes having feet on the ground to understand market trends, nuances and needs, building features and integrations for the local market, and having consultants with the right local expertise to maximise the use of this technology.
- As we scaled quickly, we experienced growing pains. A company of 500 people will outgrow the structures and processes you built when the company was at 100. Be humble, don’t give up, and don’t lose heart. No company is perfect and things can always improve.
What is an outdated piece of business advice that you wish people would stop giving?
That start-ups should focus on doing one thing right. I believe start-ups should focus on doing many new things. Look at Chinese companies. They focus on many things, compared to startups in the US that focus on one. It’s especially important in Asia because the market changes quickly.
AnyMind Group started in the marketing industry, and has now expanded into cloud manufacturing, e-commerce and logistics. We’ve taken the lead from companies like Grab, Sea, Alibaba, Tencent and CyberAgent, all of whom have scaled their offerings to expand their businesses.