Yoshikazu Tanaka: “Success Doesn’t Necessarily Require Unique And Great Ideas…”


Yoshikazu Tanaka is Asia’s youngest self-made billionaire, a status he attained in 2010  and has since retained. He is best known for the development of Japan’s largest social networking site, GREE, a name which was inspired by American social psychologist Stanley Milgram’s concept of “six degrees of separation”.

Tanaka life changed at high school after reading a futuristic book titled Powershift, by Alvin Toffler. He then became keenly interested in changes in society by computerisation and in the field of information-communication.

Creativity Turf tanaka

In 2003, at age 26, Tanaka came to know about Friendster, a social networking website that allow its users to play free online games. He did his research but could not find any similar website in Japan, so he learned coding and as a hobby, he developed the SNS GREE (first version of GREE) from his Tokyo apartment.

In February 2004, Tanaka opened SNS GREE to the public and by March 2004, over 10,000 users had joined the website. By the end of the year, SNS GREE had over 100,000 users! It then became increasingly hard for Tanaka to manage the rapidly growing service by himself and in December 2004,Tanaka established GREE Inc. to support its growth.

When GREE started out, it was a PC social network, however with the power of foresight, Tanaka changed strategy and extended the feature to phone users. “In order to create new services and be successful, you have to look ahead and look into the future. I knew the PC era would be over and mobile would come next”. Now GREE is a social gaming network and comes with features that include flash-based games, blogs, news sharing, micro-blogging and several other social networking functions.

According to Tanaka, Japanese companies value creativity, this he believes to be a very important factor in the gaming business. Tanaka admits that he grew up playing so many games which has certainly helped improve his creative abilities, “now when I check out a game, I know what a game lacks and what I should change”.

When asked how he positions against Facebook, Tanaka was of the view that each social network has its own niche market and they can co-exist. “We do see Facebook growing. However, we don’t think it is an ideal space for games”. Indeed, Tanaka saw a hole in the industry and filled that hole by creating a pure platform for games on his site.

A few years after it was founded, GREE was recognized as the fastest-growing tech company in Japan by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu in 2009 as well as in 2010 with 2,636% revenue growth over three years. In June 2010, GREE Inc. was listed on the first section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange, Tanaka was the youngest founder whose company is listed on the TSE first section. The same year Tanaka became Asia’s youngest and fastest self-made billionaire.

Currently with over 200 million users, Tanaka has been able to set his social network apart by creating a niche, acquiring major mobile game companies and by making partnership with Yahoo Japan. He also closely watches the moves of his Japanese rivals, particularly social networking sites Mixi and DENA. Tanaka targets a billion users, so he’s expanding the company worldwide, his goal he says is to build the leading mobile social gaming ecosystem for developers as well as users across the world. 

Now 36, this Asian Billionaire who started out in 2003 by coding a personal website from his Tokyo apartment is worth an impressive $1.9 Billion. Yoshikazu Tanaka has certainly shown that “success doesn’t necessarily require unique and great ideas; it can be replicated with hardwork and passion.”

Dola Adesanya || is an astute lawyer with a good business acumen. She loves everything motivational.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Michael says:

    Good piece, Dolapo. A clear example of ‘locate a need, meet the need’. His story simply shows that success revolves round the value we are able to give to the society.

  2. Dola says:

    Indeed! Thanks for taking the time to read Michael…. 🙂

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