Global Agents’ business is booming and things look like they are only going to get better. Founded by real estate investment veteran Takashi Yamasaki, Global Agents is on the cutting-edge of social business, innovating new lifestyle platforms of shared living and hotel development in Japan.
Yamasaki cut his teeth in the finance world with Goldman Sachs in Singapore. Despite having a very high-profile position with the company, Yamasaki took the unorthodox move of leaving his job with Goldman Sachs to return to his own business, Global Agents. It was a bold move due to the future of Global Agents being unclear due to financial shortcomings. In the end, the move paid off, and Yamasaki has overseen an incredible amount of growth with his real estate brand.
Recently, Yamasaki took time out of his busy schedule to speak with Totalprestige Magazine. He explained his unique company and told us just why it is on the cutting-edge of the hotel business.
Takeshi, can you please tell us about Global Agents?
Some people have labeled us a real-estate developer, which in a sense is accurate, but the extent of our activities goes a fair bit beyond what that name would imply. Since our portfolio specializes in community living and common spaces, a lot of our projects focus on creating and maintaining common space and a great deal of effort goes into striking a balance between proper management and curation of these spaces and giving communities space to thrive.
This is best illustrated in our co-living Social Apartment properties, a living solution offers the perfect blend of private space and shared living that has been wildly successful in Tokyo. In addition, we have recently been rapidly expanding our hotel operations, with designs and operations focused heavily on allowing travellers and locals to interact.
In all of our projects though, our running design philosophy of creating “gathering places,” we look to spend most of our time focusing on spaces that facilitate dialogue, exchange, and the creation of microcosm communities within bustling urban environments.
Tell us how Global Agents began and what have been some of the highlights?
Global Agents have been in the development and property management business for over 13 years now, and we have been heavily involved in the co-living concept from the very beginning. I actually founded the company while I was still in school, and always had in mind that it would be great to create a sharing culture in Japan that I had been seen during my time living abroad. At our core, we are a development and management firm, but our passion is community building.
We take the design of spaces very seriously, and if you talk to any of our staff, they are typically able to articulate some of our main design philosophies and how they contribute to the makeup of our portfolio. That’s why it’s been a really great point of pride to collaborate with some of the best in the design and architecture industry here in Japan. For example, our main collaborator is also famous for designing many cafes for a famous Japanese chain, and we’ve worked with several well-known artists to provide graphics and design elements for our properties.
Recently, we’ve translated a lot of our success in creating shared spaces over to expansion into the hotel marketplace with a variety of boutique, designer hotels that focus on a balance between shared lounge and lobby spaces, and well-designed individual rooms. Even more than Social Apartment, there’s a lot of room for creativity in the design of our hotels, and it’s an area I’ve been really enjoying throwing my effort into.
Please tell us more about Social Apartments. What is the concept of Social Apartment, and what led you to this development?
We believe that Social Apartment represents a new standard in what life in a shared property can look like. While one of the main concerns that most people have is the lack of privacy in a shared apartment, we meticulously design our properties to have the perfect blend of private space and public interaction. Every resident has their own private apartment unit, but they also have unfettered access to common living areas, so they can decide to be social, however, much they prefer. Starting from the stylish designer lounges, we provide residents with a variety of amenities all focused around the unifying concept of bringing more fulfilling social interactions to their lives. Depending on the property these include in-house cafes, billiard rooms, fitness studios, business lounges, and rooftop terraces just to name a few. Because the facilities provided, and the concept implemented at each property are ever so slightly different, the type of community that springs up is also different from property to property.
People, especially in Japan, tend to think of shared living as a low-cost option, with all the negative aspects this could bring. But we want to prove to them this is wrong. We’re committed to providing a shared environment that is also of an exceedingly high quality. It’s a bit of a new idea, particularly here in Japan, but I think our company’s success is a clear indication as to the level of interest Japanese people actually have in the kind of lifestyle we are providing.
In terms of concept development, our company has been active in the shared-apartment industry from the get-go, ever since our founding in 2005. But really, everything started when I, before founding the company, went to live in London for six months when I was 19, and shared a flat with other people. I found that this residential style was pretty fun, especially since it’s not common in Japan; or at least it wasn’t at the time. After that I started to think about business ideas and how this concept could work in Japan. I heard that social networking sites were expanding such as Mixi or Gree. They were popular SNS platforms in Japan at the time. I realized there was a growing demand for socializing or connecting with people through the Internet. I thought there should be the same thing in real life so that people can socialize where they live, and the concept of a Social Apartment was born.
The Millennials Kyoto, is a hotel unlike any other. Please tell us what makes it so unique.
Our hotel, The Millennials in Kyoto, is our most recent and innovative project. It’s a re-imagining of the widely known “capsule hotel,” with fully integrated smart-phone control over all the functions of your personal “Smart-Pod”. We opt for the term pod, as all the individual units are substantially more spacious than a standard capsule hotel. In addition, the hotel lobby doubles as a fully integrated co-working space, which is open to all hotel guests, as well as separately contracting individual and corporate members. It’s our hope that this will be a great place for the traveller and the local to interact, giving birth to new collaborations and insights. We really wanted to push this distinctly Japanese concept of a short-term stay into a new generation, while still keeping things as affordable as possible.
It really is like nothing we’ve ever seen before here in Japan, and we’re incredibly excited to see it take root and branch out. And I must say that so far, it has been a great success in Kyoto. So much so, that we are already planning to open another branch of The Millenials in Shibuya in March 2018 as well. We expect the stylish, technology-driven concept to really take off in the Tokyo area, where there is a dire lack of affordable hotel accommodations. And with this iteration, we are planning to implement even more new technology into it, such as LED panels integrated into walls and tables, bringing interactions with guests to a new level.
Takeshi, what have you learned about yourself while running your business?
Having integrity is the key element to leading an organization, moving customers, and affecting change in society. As our company grows, there are more and more places where we could cut corners, but I really believe that holding myself to a higher standard has had a consistently positive effect on my employees, my customers, and the entire atmosphere of Global Agents. It may sound cliche, but as the head of the company, how I choose to carry out business is the single biggest determinant of our corporate culture, so I go out of my way to make that culture a positive one.
How do you find inspiration?
By looking at various business models and lifestyles. We live in a time that is so full of new information and changes in culture that there’s always new sources of inspiration, even in other parts of the world.
I have a passion for technology as well, and always try to lurk around to find the new “thing” that could revolutionize our home and lifestyle. We live in really exciting times, and there are always new opportunities to integrate new technology both in business and my personal life. I’d like to think I’m keeping up pretty well with the newest tech, but there’s always some new idea or innovation out there to excite me.
What is the most challenging part of your work?
I would say the same as any other business relating to real estate development. That sourcing good properties for turning them into assets is always the most difficult part of this type of business. Especially in Tokyo, where there is so much competition for premium properties, we really have our work cut out for us finding buildings and land that suit our fairly specific needs.
What do you have your sights set on next?
Demand for coworking space is growing in Japan, driven by trends toward more flexible work styles, an expanding startup community, and increasing interest from large companies. That’s something we are currently looking at very carefully. Actually, we’ve already set foot into this market with “andwork”, a part of the concept for The Millenials hotels. We’re expecting a lot of growth in this sector, so we’re looking to throw our hat in the ring and try to integrate it into our other options as best we can.
Another area we are focusing on at the moment is ways to integrate new technology into our user experience. We are constantly looking for new tools to improve the lives of, not only our current tenants, but also future potential tenants who are thinking about moving in with us. Because of that, we are now working on developing a few applications and solutions with VR and augmented reality technologies to streamline and enhance the viewing process for Social Apartment. IOT integration is also something we are heading towards, especially with our hotels, as we want everything as connected and easy to use as possible. In the future, we’re looking forward to seeing the ways that we can implement technological advancement to greater enhance the ways that guests interact with the environment around them.
Our company is also aiming to expand overseas in the coming years, and we are very excited to see how our formula works in a different cultural context. However, there’s a lot of new hurdles involved in that so we’re taking our time to find the right opportunity.
Were you ever influenced by other entrepreneurs?
Not really to be honest. It might sound a bit cocky, but I’ve always tried to create my own way of doing things. That’s not to say that there haven’t been people in my life I’ve learned from, but I think as an entrepreneur, I prefer to do things with my own style.
What is a day in your life like?
Busy, busy, busy. Challenging too. But I like challenge, so it’s also very fun in its own way. We are currently expanding our activities all over Japan, so I’m always on the move, visiting different areas all the time. So, one day I might be in Osaka, then the next day I’ll be flying to Sapporo, and it’s back to Tokyo that evening for a meeting with designers for our next project. It keeps me moving a lot, but there’s nothing better than watching things transition from concept drawings and blueprints to real, functioning assets. And of course I have to squeeze in some time for surfing in the morning, and some time with my family at night.
What makes you smile?
My family, my friends, my co-worker. Gathering with “my own community” in general is what really puts a smile on my face everyday. We each have our own individual personalities that make us who we are and while sometimes that makes life crazy, a lot of times that makes life more fun. And that’s what I believe makes life more interesting and allows me to go through any challenge. That’s why I’m so focused on community interaction, because it’s really the secret to my own happiness.
What scares you?
Not much to be honest. I always try to use things that could potentially scare me as a strength to motivate me to do something better in my life. But if I had to say one, then death, probably. Not because I’m afraid of dying, but more because it’s something I have no influence over. And the thought of leaving my loved ones behind, especially my wife and daughter, is pretty heart-wrenching.
What has been your greatest achievement?
One of my greatest achievements was when we passed the symbolic bar of 10,000 rooms under our management throughout all of our activities, for example Social Apartment and hotels. It was a big milestone, and the first of many such achievements to come I’m sure.
What is your secret talent?
I have to say I’m really good at seeing things from various perspectives. If you offer me one option, I can see so many different paths and results. Everything just appears and flows naturally in my mind. Because of that, many people come to me for advice, because I can usually offer them a new way of thinking about things.
Which historical figure do you most admire?
Walt Disney. Without any doubt! He gave people a sense of fantasy, dreams, kindness, love. He didn’t care about being famous; he just wanted to make people laugh. He never hid his creations from the world, but instead he would always find ways to share them with others. His works teach us a lot of things, like the value of love for friends and family, and hoping for a brighter tomorrow. I believe this kind of education would definitely make the world a better place.
Takeshi, do you have any hobbies?
Surfing. I try to surf least once a week, even if the weather is bad. Even when there is a typhoon coming. That’s actually when you get the best waves.
What are you never without?
Classic answer, but I would say my iPhone and my Microsoft Surface tablet. I have such a hectic schedule, I always try to catch up on various projects, even on public transportation. Having a small PC that can easily switch to a tablet is very useful, so I’m never without it.
What have you sacrificed for success?
Besides time, not much. Even when I’m busy, I like to keep a good balance in my life. I think that’s important to keeping your mind sharp. That being said, I can’t be in two places at once, so there are times when I have to give up on things I want to do for things I have to do. But I think that is something that any businessman deals with, and I honestly don’t feel like I miss out on much.
You left Goldman Sachs to start your own company, what advice would you give to anyone starting a new business?
Actually, I had already started my company before working for Goldman Sachs. I really wanted to get more experience in finance, so I decided to leave my own company and join Goldman Sachs in Singapore instead. It was one of the toughest decision I had to take in my life. After three years, I decided to give up my position at Goldman Sachs and come back to Japan to take back the lead of my company. I had a really good position in Singapore, so it was very hard and risky for me, especially since the company I was coming back to was struggling with a cash shortage at that time. But it actually didn’t take that long to get everything back on track, because I strongly believed in the potential of the Social Apartment business and never gave up on my vision of things.
So for people starting out, I would say tenacity and commitment to your vision is a must. As Walt Disney said, “if you can dream it, you can do it!” and I really think that having a solid vision of what you want your company to accomplish is crucial. If I hadn’t had that vision, I wouldn’t have had the guts to leave my job at Goldman Sachs. Never stop trying, never give up your ideas, and believe that you can make them a reality.
For more information on Takeshi Yamasaki, please visit www.Global-Agents.co.jp.