Quitting a stable, high-paying job at Goldman Sachs to be a Manga artist: Are you for real?
Akiko laughs. “I wanted to become a Manga artist again!”
The youngest woman to lead a company to be publicly listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, 33-year-old Akiko Naka seems as bright and bubbly as the version of herself years ago. The Economics student from Kyoto University had already experimented with running her own tech start-up in college.
“It was a disaster! While we had orders from clients to build websites, it didn’t really go anywhere,” she said.
Taking up an offer from Goldman Sachs after her fourth year in university, she was in for an unfortunate surprise. With the 2008 Financial Crisis toppling the Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs began letting go of people as well. Fellow colleagues were forced to leave, and with the people she looked up to no longer around, a sense of helplessness descended upon Akiko.
“I chose Goldman because of the people there, but they weren’t going to be there anymore.”
Manga was her refuge. Feeling a lack of purpose for her work in the corporate world, she quit her job and moved to Hokkaido for 6 months, where her mom used to teach in university. Drawing Manga every day from morning to night, she locked herself away in this relentless, obsessive pursuit for Manga.
“I applied for many contests – I made it to the semi-finals but never the finals.”
Passion Never Dies
A self-taught coder and tech-enthusiast, Akiko was always fascinated by the world of tech. At the tender age of 12, she had already created her own website. It was this undying passion for tech that led her to a job at Facebook, and eventually – to create Wantedly.
“I had this idea to create a site where you can post your drawings online and people can translate the content,” she shares, referring to her Manga career. “In the process, I met a Facebook Japan Manager at a conference, who offered me a job back in Tokyo.”
However, she still dreamed of building her own tech start-up. Better armed with newfound knowledge from her experience in Facebook, Akiko started Wantedly in 2012.
The journey was not without fraught. Reminiscing about the past, she shared a photograph of her and her CTO coding in the dead of winter, without any light and wrapped in thermal wear.
“We were trying to save on gas and electricity bills!” she laughed.
Being raised to not stick to the status quo, her parents - who were academics - taught her to only pursue the things she was interested in. It’s then no surprise as to why she began Wantedly, a social hiring platform which connects users and clients through shared missions and values, as compared to salaries and benefits.
Pink is Her Favourite Colour
Written by Daniel Pink, Motivation 3.0 speaks volumes about intrinsic motivation and its role in our lives. Similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, intrinsic motivation refers to our desire to do something due to our interest in it.
Influenced greatly by this book, she related this to her childhood when she saw how her parents genuinely felt excited about their work. Seemingly treating work as their own projects, they didn’t make much money but kept going as it was challenging work that really engaged them.
“My mom, she’s a workaholic in some sense. She still works so hard every day - even on the weekends. But, it’s not like she’s being forced to work so much - she just enjoys what she does.”
Looking back on their careers, Akiko believes that such efforts will bloom in the end.
“Now, they [live comfortably]. They get to travel all over the world! It’s like the race of the rabbit and the turtle. If you keep doing what you like, even if the pace is slow, you will win eventually,” she enthusiastically quips.
Extending this concept to when she first started Wantedly, Akiko shares how the initial obsession over the idea is the most important.
“When Facebook began, it was simply an online directory – nothing about this vision of connecting the world. And Twitter was just a side project of Odeo, a podcast website.”
20,000 companies, millions of users later, and now the biggest business social networking platform in Japan, we daresay this philosophy has indeed borne fruit.
Challenging social norms is no stranger to Akiko. In a country where job security is highly valued, choosing to venture into the start-up scene is a bold step for someone as young as her.
“I feel that a lot of people, especially those who are privileged and highly-educated, often fall into societal pressures from family and society that they need to have a comfortable life,” she says. “They study so hard to work for blue-chip companies or large corporations and think they can’t afford to get off that track.”
Time and tide waits for no man, and in our fast-paced society, every moment counts. Advising us to spend our time wisely on projects we believe in, she shares that our time should be our highest priority.
“You only live once, and every moment of our life is chipping away – its getting shorter and shorter.”
Moving on, she believes that everyone should have a purpose in their life and aim to give back to society based on their capabilities, talents, and knowledge. And Wantedly seeks to help their users do that.
“We take for-granted many aspects of our lives like eating ice cream in the middle of summer or pineapples in winter (in the sixteenth century, kings couldn’t even do this),” she says. “Our comfortable lives now are all due to the efforts of people in the past.”
Indeed, from Leonardo da Vinci in the Renaissance, to Warren Buffett today, we are all standing on the shoulders of giants. As Steve Jobs said “The only way to do great work, is to do what you love.”
And only with purposeful work, can we truly improve the lives of others, making the world a better place.
Akiko's mission inspires us everyday to help spread Wantedly across the world! We're here to help you with landing that dream job you've always wished for.