If you’re going to perish anyway, you better give it your all
Just a motorcycle delivery service business
Simply put, I’m just a motorcycle rider who loves motorcycles. I began my motorcycle delivery service because I loved motorcycles, created my motorcycle shop so that I could maintain the motorcycles that I loved, and started a motorcycle import business because I wanted to import the motorcycles that I loved.
In 1992, my motorcycle delivery service that I began at 26 was able to survive because I noticed a delivery route that nobody else had paid attention to. Once 8 years had passed since that time and I became 34, I began my motorcycle shop, as well as a specialty store focused on importing scooters—something that nobody else was doing at the time. Even now, we are still selling the highest number of European scooters in Japan. My import business that I started at 39 is the sole distributor of the 2nd top Italian scooter maker, so I also take trips to Italy 3 to 4 times a year. I wanted to have conversations with an Italian person that I got to know there, which is why I began to learn English in 2009, when I was 44. At that moment, I found the golden ticket that would let me launch myself into the whole world.
I now run the largest English conversation school in the Philippines, where we are able to accommodate both an online program and a study abroad program in Cebu, Philippines. We have over 1,000 employees globally, and the 700 and more teachers we have in Cebu teach over 100,000 students on our online program, as well as the approximately 6,000 students that come each year from all over the world.
A life in which I just did the things that I loved
I only have a high school diploma, but I believe I live a life that is truly blessed. I work with and am constantly surrounded by the motorcycles that I love, and my job also has me running across the world everyday—a dream that I’ve had since I was a child. I live on a tropical island, work together with people of many different origins, and am constantly on the go to our offices in 6 different countries.
I lived my life how I wanted to even before coming to the Philippines, but upon learning to speak English, everything changed drastically. Originally, I had planned on just having the end goal of being able to surround myself with the motorcycles that I love. However, a new door opened when I became able to communicate with people from different countries. Overseas businesses are unpredictable, and you can never be certain as to what lies ahead. But now, as I run at full speed on this unpredictable path, I’m reminded of my street racing period, where I would step on the gas without a worry. Going full speed on a mountain pass that I’ve never driven on—and when turning on the next corner, I would wonder, what is the road like? What kind of scenery will I see? This feeling of running excitedly and wondering what’s ahead is how I feel right now.
Before beginning my online English conversation school, I felt that many of my opportunities were beginning to dwindle with time. But the thing is, the door that I could never find while I was in Japan was clearly visible once I took a step out of the country. I began with my motorcycle delivery service, then my motorcycle shop, and then my import business, so it took me 18 whole years for me to find the door that would open up the world to me. What lied ahead of this door that finally opened was a vast number of business opportunities. If humans have multiple lives, there is a never ending list of things I would like to do. To live a life without knowing that such an amazing world is out there is just too wasteful.
Please look around yourself. How many people are there who can speak English? In Japan, there would be very little, if any at all.
Back when driver’s licenses were rare, those who even just had a license were able to work fairly lucratively. And until computers were commonly used, you were highly valued if you had even a small amount of knowledge about computers. But now, the ability to speak English should be acquired even before driver’s licenses and knowledge on computers. Once something becomes a widely spread skill, you cannot stand out anymore by just having it, and it eventually becomes absolutely necessary. But don’t worry, you don’t have to be highly fluent in English yet. Even if you’re like me—someone who began learning past the age of 40—you will still be able to be competitive in the world. There is no other chance like this. Most people have not realized that by learning to speak English, their lives will drastically change. For me, learning to speak English opened up the path for me to start my English conversation school business in the Philippines.
From now, through my experience of creating an online English conversation program and study abroad program for English in the Philippines, I’ll talk about how I, as a high school graduate, found new business secrets, fought against the elites, and how I made my business a reality. It’s a method that even someone who runs a motorcycle delivery business was able to accomplish. Your occupation doesn’t matter. Your experience doesn’t matter. I promise that anyone can do this.
Everything began with my motorcycle delivery service
QQ Delivery Service, the business that I began at 26
24 years ago, anyone who simply had a driver’s license and a motorcycle could create a motorcycle delivery service business. As for me, I began my motorcycle delivery service business 10 years after the first one was created, so I already had a lot of competition. At the time, close to 200 companies, both big and small, were battling against each other.
I was able to start my business without outside funds, but surviving in the industry was a great struggle. I was working every single day, including Saturday and Sunday, for 23 years, with the single exception being New Year’s Day. When I started my business, I would be the first one in the office to start off the day with cleaning, and I would be the last one to leave as well. This was my daily routine. For someone that does not have beyond a high school diploma, the single path that was left for me was to work harder than anyone else.
I began to seriously think to myself, if I have to work this hard to have my business succeed, I should have just studied harder during the three years of high school so that I could have gone to a good college.
I had a slightly different strategy of delivering on a route, but because I was aiming for a spot that the top business in the industry hadn’t undertaken yet, I could never become the best no matter how hard I worked. At the end of the harsh battle to survive, there are now around 10 motorcycle delivery service companies left within the city. I’d say QQ Delivery Service is now around 3rd or 4th place.
Even the English conversation school business that I started 7 years ago has around 200 rival companies when it comes to online English conversation programs. When it comes to study abroad programs for English in the Philippines, there are around 200 rival schools as well when you include ones with Korean management. There’s no doubt that a weeding out process will begin soon, where the number will dwindle to around 10. And from my past experiences, I’m certain that I know how to have my school survive at 3rd to 4th place. You should mimic the best one, adjust it a little, and offer your service at a slightly lower price. I personally know how difficult it is to play catch up as a business. But this time, I’m determined to use an idea that nobody has ever done before and become the top business. So, I won’t be surviving at 3rd to 4th place. I’m going to survive at the very top.
A harsh competition has begun in the Philippines now. My rivals are very brilliant people. My Japanese rivals were my classmates during my time studying in the Philippines, and they attended Kaisei Senior High School. Kaisei Senior High School is considered one of the top high schools in Japan, and it is ranked the highest in terms of number of students admitted to the University of Tokyo. The two also went on to graduate from the University of Tokyo and Hitotsubashi University; they are really amazing for their young age. As for my Korean rivals, many of them have graduated from Seoul National University. The young Chinese person who built an office in Cebu the other day said that they graduated from Tsinghua University. Needless to say, everyone is rushing to establish online English conversation programs as online businesses and gather many students so that they can aim for an IPO.
Despite this, I’ve discovered a blind spot in the battle against my smart rivals. The elites who run solid businesses with pre-established plans on how to solve problems have no chance against me. They would have had a chance of winning if they had created a new business model without a pre-established method on how to succeed. The thing is, I started my English conversation school in a way that the smart ones didn’t.
There is something that I’ve realized in my battle against them. My rivals think in a rational manner and do not go beyond what is necessary. By doing this and thinking that international businesses are a waste and illogical, they are missing out on a precious opportunity.
I decided to go down the path of being unafraid of failure. Like I did with my motorcycle delivery service and motorcycle shop, my battle strategy is one in which I challenge myself to do things that nobody has done before. I’ve had a lot of failures, but the reason why I’ve gotten to where I am now is because I’ve failed more than anyone else. My highest successes exist because of what I’ve learned from my lowest failures. I know it doesn’t sound logical, but human brains become very active when unexpected events happen. The result was the exact opposite of what I expected from failure. By failing, I was able to come up with ideas that the smart ones couldn’t. In developing countries, answers won’t come to you no matter how hard you think. What you need is intuition. In foreign countries, people aren’t afraid of failing or of being embarrassed. They take the lead and charge at full speed. No matter how hard or how many times they fail, they will eventually succeed. It’s all because they repeat experiences that they have not gone through before—which is the ultimate way to train the human brain and improve one’s intuition.
Trying things motorcycle-delivery-service-style
No matter if it’s for my online English conversation program or English study abroad program in the Philippines, I’ve decided that when it comes to utilizing human relationships to turn ideas into a reality, I’ll use the method that I used for my motorcycle delivery service. When you go motorcycle touring and your members need help, everyone always helps each other. “The Spirit of Motorcycle Riders” is the idea that on a regular basis you are a bunch of extravagant, bold motorcycle riders, but when one of your members runs into trouble, you selflessly focus on helping them out no matter what. And this spirit is what I have applied to my businesses.
Elites fully utilize their leadership and guide their team using the ideas of independence, responsibility, and choice. In contrast, I’ve followed “The Spirit of Motorcycle Riders” and have created a team in which the members trust each other and believe in the importance of fate, compassion, continuation, and bonds. People are able to reach their greatest potential when they feel that they are being trusted and believed in. It’s because of the feeling of wanting to meet the expectations of the people that believe and trust in them. I’m just an owner of a motorcycle delivery service after all, which is why I decided to create a great team that builds each other up, fights together, and trusts and believes in each other with the idea that we can accomplish anything if we put our mind to it.
The weapons I use in the battle of English conversation schools in the Philippines are my spirit of challenging myself without fear of failure, and the important values that my motorcycle delivery service have held, which are fate, compassion, continuation, bonds, and also the ability to trust and believe in one another.
Our Corporate Philosophy
• Globally spread the heat coming from the liveliness of Asia and help change lives with the power of English.
• Create a school that that truly improves one’s English skill by combining an online English conversation program with a study abroad program for English in the Philippines.
• Foster the values that people already have, which are fate, compassion, continuation, and bonds, and also create a team that trusts and believes in one other.
• Don’t fear failure, and always have the mindset that you can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it so that you can continue to challenge yourself with new experiences.
The reason why I was able to have my motorcycle delivery service business survive is because I chose a system that nobody had been paying attention to. Motorcycle delivery service businesses value the importance of speed when delivering, but what was different was that I also paid attention to ways that we could avoid traffic and be as accurate as possible with time. We couldn’t carry many packages, but being able to deliver packages at a certain time was perfect for motorcycle delivery services. Motorcycles are less expensive than cars, have better fuel efficiency, and can also go to many more places within the same time frame, so they are very efficient overall. I also began a mail delivery service to deliver mail between various companies’ several branches. Although it was just a small market for emergency mail delivery services, there was still stable demand for it.
I also opened a specialty store focused on importing scooters—something that no other motorcycle shops were doing at the time. Motorcycle shops at the time were either specialty stores of just the maker of the motorcycles or shops for used bikes, so I specialized my store even further by focusing on not just scooters but imported ones. Early on when it was established, we sold domestic ones, such as Honda and Yamaha. But as we reached our 2nd year, I challenged myself by boldly changing it into a specialty store for imported scooters. Since it was ordinary for motorcycle shops to offer many different types of motorcycles, I would say that it was more of wanting to take on the challenge of changing the design of our store, rather than an adjustment in strategy.
For my import business, it started from me wanting to import the scooters that I liked, which led me to dive into the business in Italy. I went to motorcycle manufacturing factories all over Italy and since they never had a Japanese motorcycle shop owner visit them before, I was very warmly welcomed. I have memories of being bombarded with questions like, “Why Italian scooters? There are many world-class manufacturers in Japan.” I tried to communicate even with my broken English, so I was able to establish new meaningful relationships that eventually led me to begin my import business.
The future of English conversation schools in the Philippines
This battle for online English conversation programs and study abroad programs for English in the Philippines requires me to unleash all of the strength that I have. You could say that it’s just been the domestic preliminaries up until now. Now, as the major businesses join in, the national championship is about to begin. My team of street racers raced into this competition during the preliminaries, and we have no intention of losing. My goal is not only winning the grand prize in the Japanese competition but to also give it my all during the world championship that comes afterwards. As the representative for Japan, I am determined to battle against the whole world and run out everyone as 1st place.
My goal isn’t just to become 1st though. It’s also to create jobs for 100,000 people in the Philippines and to create the world’s largest English conversation school with annual sales of 100 billion Japanese Yen. But that’s not all either, my actual goal isn’t to have annual sales of 100 billion Japanese Yen. I want to create 100 billion Japanese Yen worth of jobs in the Philippines. The Philippines is still a developing country, and there are not enough jobs in the country. Those born in the Philippines cannot find good jobs unless they go overseas to work. I want to repay this country that has given me so much over the past 10 years, and one way I can do that is by creating many jobs for those in the country. If 100,000 teachers can teach English with our online English conversation program, then 1 million students can study English everyday. If everybody in the world is able to speak English, I believe that there would be no conflict and the world would change for the better. My dream is to have as many people learn English as possible and to change their lives significantly.
I’m blessed to have many companions while fighting against the world in this battle. The high school graduate who lost his battle against college entrance exams 30 years ago is now fighting against the world’s elites. I started my motorcycle delivery service business with 7 veteran riders. And now, with the help of 7 Super Teachers, I lead over 700 teachers. I created a new learning method that didn’t exist before for online English conversation programs and study abroad programs for English in the Philippines.
So before the world championship battle begins soon, I’ll talk about how I’ve survived up until now!
A plummet in student enrollment & the threat of bankruptcy
The biggest challenge
In the fall of 2013, the world was focused on the Philippines. The reason was that within just a month, the country was hit with an earthquake and a typhoon, resulting in harsh damage. Footage of the damage caused by the typhoon in particular was played across many television networks. Leyte Island is the island next to us that was strongly affected, but from a global point of view, there is not a big difference between theirs and ours.
Cebu, which is where our school is located, luckily did not have much damage and both our online English conversation program and study abroad program for English were back to normal within a couple of days. However, we received great damage in the form of reputation.
During those days, my brain was working at its highest level, whether it be for good or for bad. We had fully prepared ourselves for the typhoon, but I did not expect at all for the aftermath to become the biggest challenge. I was expecting the worst, but this was beyond that. I’ll now explain how I was able to escape this crisis.
At that time, my school was 4,400 square meters in size and had a separate dorm that could accommodate 180 students during their time studying abroad with us. We had an emergency meeting in our large meeting room on the 8th floor of the school, which is the floor where we had the office for our online English conversation program.
The 7 female Samurai
The original 7 Super Teachers, who now were working with us as supervisors, thought of plans with us.
“Raiko, it’s an emergency. Our number of inquiries for studying abroad at our school has decreased–no, there’s actually none now,” shrieked Mia, who was in charge of our study abroad program. 11 years ago, Mia was my teacher at a different school, and I had her join my team when I established my own. Her dad worked at Manila International Airport, so apparently the acronym for the airport became her name, Mia. She always speaks extremely quickly, so it’s thanks to her that my listening skills have gotten better.
There’s also Helga, who is in charge of human resources and accounting. She also speaks surprisngly quickly. “We’re short on money. The 150 students we had have now decreased to 37, and our sales have gone down by 5 million pesos. If this continues, we’ll go bankrupt,” she stated. Helga has short hair and has lost a little bit of weight recently. She has a gentle personality and always listens intently to other teachers’ requests or if they have anything they’re discontent with. For this reason, she’s nicknamed “Momma Helga.” Her hair is short because of surgery from when she battled life and death from a subarachnoid hemorrhage. While in the hospital, she repeatedly said she would absolutely return to work at our school, and miraculously, she recovered and returned to us.
Dolly, who always has it together, said, “There’s no use in worrying. Isn’t there something we can do right now, at this moment? We have to think of something.” Dolly usually is in charge of our new projects. She has immense popularity amongst our young teachers, and she is able to handle many different kinds of projects. She’s logical and has the ability to take action. Now, she is the lead for volunteer activities.
Grizette, who usually goes by Zette, is the oldest and is respected by everyone. But on that day, she was a little off. “We have to save our money. That’s our only option,” she said. Everyone was surprised that she participated in our discussion. She is a top teacher and was called the school’s treasure at her previous school. We had 4 supervisors that lead 300 teachers, and she was one of them. I was glad that she joined us, as she was one of the best teachers for the largest company within our industry. Of course, she is a top leader with us too.
Helga replied, “This isn’t an amount that can be endured by just saving money.” For these women who had grown up in average households in the Philippines, 5 million pesos was such a massive amount of money that they couldn’t even envision it. They were panicking because it would equal to around 15 million Japanese Yen.
“Isn’t there anything that my team can do?” asked Gayle, who is in charge of training new teachers. She is the shortest, but her passionate teaching style makes her a very popular teacher. Since she was so talented with teaching, we put her in charge of our new teacher training team and told her to create lots of teachers like her.
Desiree is the one who does quality control for everything besides new teachers. She is the smartest, and she always is involved in creating new textbooks for our online English conversation program and coming up with new methods of teaching. She also handled the evaluations of our 400 teachers at the time, so she was definitely feared by the others. Desiree didn’t say anything in this discussion; it seemed like she was deep in thought.
Lastly, we have Noreen. She is a tall, slender beauty, and despite conducting many demo lessons and unexpected lessons as well, she always remains calm. She has a strong heart and isn’t swayed by anything. She said, “What we can do for our study abroad program is limited. But, I have an idea.”
The greatest crisis - “Sell us!”
We’ll get students for sure
Noreen began speaking. “Let’s work with our online program. Even if our study abroad program won’t do, the number of students on our online program hasn’t decreased. If anything, it’s probably increased from everyone worrying about the news about the typhoon. We should increase our sales through our online program.”
The person who reacted first was Dolly. “We’ll teach! Let’s set up shifts now, we can do it immediately. Sell us at 100 points. We’ll get students for sure”
For our online English conversation program, we have teachers at various levels of points. Our newest teachers are 25 points, and our average teachers are 50. Lately, we’ve been calling our popular, veteran teachers as “Super Teachers”, and they are 75 points. Originally, Super Teachers were just another name for our supervisors. At the time, one of our staff members from England said that calling them Super Teachers was weird, and that calling them senior teachers sounded more normal. However, I thought that calling them Super Teachers sounded better because it makes them sound cool, like supermodels. The native English speaker from England gave up his opinion, and now we call all of our top teachers, “Super Teachers.” That staff from England is called James, and he actually graduated from Oxford with a degree in linguistics. He’s a genius that has also attained 3 master’s degrees.
We have 7 supervisors, who are the original Super Teachers. Under them, we have 20 teacher trainers, who do not directly teach classes. And then we have our actual Super Teachers, who are the leaders on the field.
What Dolly said was that we should sell those who are higher in rank than the Super Teachers. “It’s a given that we, as supervisors, should be worth 100 points. There’s no doubt that we’ll sell. I’ll show you,” she said.
Whenever issues would arise, Zette would always lead in the front to solve the issue. She’s considered a charismatic leader, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that she received respect from all 400 of our teachers at the time. Zette announced, “First, we have to gather our team leaders and have a meeting. We’re also going to have to have the teaches that already work on our online program work even harder as well, so that we can raise our customer repetition rate. The higher our goal, the better. Desiree, let’s work on organizing the plan together. We’re absolutely going to raise at least 20% in sales.”
How to overcome a crisis
We had 2 options of overcoming our crisis. The first is restructuring. If we laid off around 100 teachers, we could solve our problem quickly. The other option’s style is Japanese; we motivate everyone to use their full power and potential. I decided on the latter—to trust them and overcome this with our values of fate, compassion, continuation, and bonds. We were going to use the power that comes from wanting to meet the expectations of the people that believe and trust in them
The team leaders were quickly gathered. We got 30 members from our study abroad program and 10 members from our online program. Almost all of them were Super Teachers and were considered as 75 points. Each team consisted of 10 people, and there were 40 teams. The teams usually compete with one another through factors such as student satisfaction, how they deal with complaints, attendance, and retention rate.
The person leading the team leaders was Desiree. She started to speak. “From now on, we need everyone’s support. I know you are already aware, but this is important because our number of students studying abroad with us has greatly decreased.”
“I thought so. We don’t see any students in the afternoon anymore,” some of the team leaders would say. “Isn’t there anything we can do?” one team leader asked.
Zette answered, “We have to give our full power to the online program. If you are a teacher who does not have classes to teach, please help us out.”
Desiree began to give out instructions. “We are going to create new shifts as soon as possible, so everyone, please prepare your teams.”
The teams always take care of our value of “relationships” and hold meetings everyday to help out teachers within their team who are not doing well. In Japan, leaders are looked up to by many staff and will choose team members who can fight together with them as one singular power. Companies who connect staff who are at the top all the way to the very bottom can fight together with hearts that beats as one. This is the reason why they are strong. It is human nature that when leaders take important care of their members as if they are taking care of themselves, the members will trust and follow them.
“Now is the time to work hard. Let’s stand together.” Instead of thinking about their own interests, they help each other out—a skill that these strong women are very good at.
“My team can raise sales by 30%.”
“We’ll work overtime too. Is it okay if we come in on Saturday or Sunday?”
More and more ideas arose. Zette said, “The supervisors will join in as 100-point teachers. It’s been a while since we’ve done this, so we’re itching to put our skills to use.”
Everyone started getting excited, and you could hear even more motivated statements.
“We were the original Super Teachers after all. We won’t lose to you guys.”
“Raiko, call the Tokyo office. Let’s increase the number of lessons as soon as possible.”
“Make shifts for 7 supervisors and 20 trainers, an increase in 27 teachers worth of shifts.”
“Also, don’t forget that we’re going to have the teachers who teach both online and study abroad students to shift to just online now, so include that amount too.”
“Don’t forget our shifts for overtime!”
The values of fate, compassion, continuation, and bonds do not develop within just a day. However, once you create a team that trusts and believes in each other, crises will be overcome from the members helping each other out, rather than a talented leader solving it in a logical manner. When an unexpected issue arises, it is in the spirit of the Japanese to unleash unbelievable power through teamwork. Whether it be when we recovered from the war or the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, we are able to unleash power at a level that the whole world admires.
Unfortunately, even though we worked hard to sell our 27 teachers at a high price and greatly increased our number of teachers on our online program, we still lost around 15 million Japanese Yen. It wasn’t enough.
I’ll now explain how I fostered human relationships and overcame this unexpected crisis.
The ultimate learning method
Why I began to study English
People often say the quote, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” If you think about it, it’s also saying that continuation is just that hard. When it comes to not plain continuation, but rather, reforming and improving, Japanese people are actually skilled at this. I think Japanese people are the type that set small goals, and in the end, do something that nobody else can mimic, even if they couldn’t just blindly continue something in the beginning.
I didn’t exactly set a large goal in the beginning either. It was just that I thought of and implemented a system that was fun and that I could continue. By the time I realized, the guy who ran a motorcycle delivery service business got so far as to run an English conversation school in the Philippines. I’ll start explaining about why it became necessary for me to speak English and why I specifically studied in Cebu, Philippines.
Simply put, I’m just a motorcycle rider who loves motorcycles. I began my motorcycle delivery service because I loved motorcycles, created my motorcycle shop so that I could maintain the motorcycles that I loved, and started a motorcycle import business because I wanted to import the motorcycles that I loved.
The beginning of why I started learning English occurred 10 years ago, when I visited Italy to purchase scooters for my shop. I found a wonderful scooter there and dove into the business. The manufacturer was Malaguti, an Italian company that has been established for almost 90 years. I became close with the founder, Antonio Malaguti, and desperately wished to speak to him about motorcycles. Because of this, I started to study English.
I initially thought of studying Italian, but Italian is a very complex language. There are many different kinds of verbs, and even gender affects the structure. I could count from 1 to 10 in English, but for Italian, I didn’t know male from female, let alone colors or numbers.
I thought that I didn’t know English at all until then, but I realized that Japanese people actually do know English. Luckily, upper class Italians can all speak English fluently, and that was when I felt a sense of reaffirment that English is truly a universal language. So, I decided on studying English.
At the time, I could instantly tell the maker and even how many CCs the motorcycle had just by hearing its engine. Still, I had poor listening skills when it came to English. It wasn’t even at the level of not being able to hear the difference between “L” and “R”, I couldn’t hear what people would say at all. Therefore, I really started at the very basics when learning the language. But by studying English in the Philippines, I was able to learn how to speak it eventually.
My English is not the best, but I am able to communicate. Whenever I conduct negotiations in Italy now, I can do it without translators. I was able to become even more close with the founder and owner of Malaguti, to the point that we invite each other to our homes.
Mr. Malaguti has 7 houses in Italy, and he’s wealthy enough to even sponsor golf courses. Although the Italian meals that I personally eat on my own are simple, the Italian meals that he treats me to taste absolutely amazing.
His company is based in Bologna, the city that is famous for Spaghetti Bolognese. The funny thing is that the people of Bologna never eat spaghetti with bolognese sauce. He would laugh and tell me, “The only people that eat spaghetti in such an unappetizing way are Americans and the Japanese.” Apparently, Bolognese sauce is best suited for wide, flat pasta, such as tagliatelle. And when bolognese sauce is served with round pasta like spaghetti, the meat sauce doesn’t combine well with the pasta, so it doesn’t taste good.
Sorry, I got off topic. The point that I wanted to make is that thanks to learning how to communicate in English, my life has changed drastically.
Reform and improve
In 2005 I thought, “By going to America, anyone can easily learn how to speak English.” It’s kind of like how a lot of people say that the children in America can speak English, so you would be able to learn how to speak it there too. Since I felt like I couldn’t study in Japan if I didn’t have a strong will, I was looking for somewhere to study abroad. And due to also having a job, I was searching for countries that were cheap, close, and offer short-term programs. The country that I found my way to was the Philippines. I was in favor of it because it was the closest English-speaking country to Japan and that it offered one-on-one lessons.
The website of the school that I was looking at had a catchphrase that said, “95% Foreigners.” I went thinking that I would be able to be surrounded by many foreigners and study together with them. Sure enough, I was wrong—when I went, it was 95% Korean and it was an English conversation school run by Korean management. Speaking of which, the homepage at the time also said “You can eat kimchi with all 3 meals.” They taught English with a Korean-style method, so that it would be suitable for Koreans. I personally thought they should’ve written something about being able to improve your English.
This was when I was 40. At the time, my English was awful to say the least. If you’re going to let me say an excuse, let me say that a motorcycle rider who runs a motorcycle delivery service business doesn’t need any English. I didn’t go to college. I wanted to run a business rather than study, so I saved up money working a part-time job and used that to start my motorcycle delivery service business. I have no experience working a white-collar job, so the only knowledge I had was how to live with the motorcycles that I loved.
Anyway, that’s enough with my excuse. My English was so bad that I would forget how to spell “have” and “make.” I also forgot what SVO even stood for when it came to grammar. And coming from my experience, the idea that “By studying abroad, anyone can learn to speak English” is completely false.
But, it was the first time in my life that I had ever felt so much motivation to study. Since I worked in Tokyo, whenever I had 1 or 2 weeks free, I would go study abroad in the Philippines. Once I came back to Japan, I would study using online English conversation programs. This became my routine.
Studying English is similar to losing weight. It’s hard to work hard at it in the beginning, and I think there are many people who give up after not being able to stick with it. My big goal was to learn to be able to speak English, but I also created small, attainable goals that I could achieve. They were goals such as “Learn 20 sentences by the next time I study abroad”, “Focus on correcting pronunciation while you’re in the Philippines”, and “Even after coming back, study English for 30 minutes with the online program.” By combining my short term study abroad experiences and online English conversation programs, I was able to create my own reform and improve process, which let me achieve continuation.
A school made for Koreans, according to a true Korean
The largest language school in Asia
I’ll start talking about what kind of school I studied at now.
This experience that I could not have gone through in Japan changed my life significantly. Life is something that you can’t easily change even if you try to. It’s changed by a mysterious fate, and the very fate that would change my life was found in an unexpected place. Since there was currently no such thing as an online English program, it was my study abroad program for English in the Philippines. The school that I attended was considered the largest English conversation school in Asia, and it was run by Korean management. There were around 500 students, and there were over 300 teachers as well.
The school was a remodeled 6-floor hotel. But it was located in somewhat of a slum close to the harbor. It was far from town so it was not the sort of place a Japanese person could walk around on their own. What I requested was a single-person bedroom, but it was more of a small, remodeled room that was originally for maids or staff. It had no windows either. They told me that it was just the single-person bedrooms that got hot water, and that they were only able to do that since the previous month. Those in the 4-person bedrooms would have to take cold showers.
As someone living a single life in Tokyo, I had a walk in closet, a very spacious bedroom that is 12 tatami mats big, and even a roof balcony. So when it came to living in a room that was much smaller at 4.5 tatami mats in size, I was worried. But when you actually start living in it, it’s not so bad. The bathroom and shower are close to your bed, which is convenient. I learned for the first time that human beings don’t need such large living spaces.
Okay, I’ll go back to the original story. The school was originally a hotel so there was a pool in the courtyard. There you could find an old, used parasol, a plastic chair, and a table, so you were able to relax there between your classes. Our classrooms ranged from big to small. There were many different types to equip the various classes, which were one-on-one classes, 2 student classes, 4 student classes, and even 8 student classes. In total, there were around 300 classrooms.
From the perspective of a Japanese person, the facilities definitely felt like they were handmade. However, it was a kind of school that was different from anybody had thought of before. Your study abroad program ends without ever stepping foot outside of the school. You eat meals and do laundry all within the school. For your classes, all you do is walk from your room to the classroom where your teacher awaits. The school also had a study room, a simple gym, a cafe, and a room in which you could watch movies.
Since it was a school made for mainly Koreans, I wouldn’t be able to say it was a comfortable place even if I was trying to be nice. But, studying abroad in the Philippines is a strange experience. It has the power of fate, which changes lives.
A fate that changed lives
My encounter with Super Teacher Mia is during my time studying abroad in the Philippines. She was my teacher in our 4-student group lesson class. My classmates were 2 Koreans, and the 4th student spot was vacant. The Koreans were a couple, but they would always welcome me, and we would also do activities together. Since we enrolled in the school at the same time, we were called batchmates. We are still close and keep in contact with each other even now.
“Raiko, Mia is taking maternity leave. We were told that a different teacher is going to come in starting tomorrow.”
“We’re worried because Mia’s lessons were good.”
I was surprised the next day.
“My name is Teacher Grizette. Call me Zette,” our new teacher announced.
The most popular teacher came in as our backup. This was when I met Zette as well.
Her pronunciation has a good rhythm to it and is easily understood. She converses with her students by adjusting to her students’ traits, so it was a very refined class. Being able to have substitutes is also another characteristic of studying abroad in the Philippines, unlike online programs.
After hearing that Mia gave birth to a baby girl, we decided to go celebrate by bringing her a celebratory gift.
“Raiko, what do you think would be nice?” they asked.
Since she’ll be working and raising a child simultaneously, we decided on a stroller. My batchmates and I pitched in together and bought the stroller. We then headed towards her house to celebrate.
Mia’s home is far from town and is on the mountainside. There were no means of transportation, so we had her wait while we looked for her home. Since there are no particular addresses, we had to ask around. But it didn’t take long. Mia is famous in her hometown. She’s the brightest person in her hometown and was seen as a rising star.
I was shocked when we reached her house. There was no front door so you just suddenly entered. There were no windows—no, there were windows, but they weren’t made of glass. They’re kind of like windows made out of bamboo where you just close the opening. That wasn’t all, though. They didn’t even have running water.
“Mia, you always say that you take showers, but how do you do that if you don’t have running water?” the Korean girl who came with us asked.
In one corner of her house, there was a large pot filled with water.
“My younger brother draws water from the river and fills it into that pot, so we use that.”
The countryside in the Philippines was completely different from what I had expected. Our decision to gift a stroller was a mistake. Mia was very happy about our gift, but the roads were not paved in this village. There weren’t many flat areas in general, so it wouldn’t be able to her with transporting her baby.
When a smart child is born into a poor village, the village people pitch in to let the child attend college. If there has already been a successful person who has left the village, they will help them get to success. This is a custom in the Philippines. I didn’t notice it during school, but compassion is what has supported the village. It’s not a logical process of doing something for someone and getting something back as a result. It’s love that asks for nothing in return that has supported them for so long.
I felt a reaffirmation that the idea of “Give and Take” is a sad relationship in comparison. This relationship of selflessly giving without expecting anything in return and helping one other out—this compassion—is what we should be proud to have in our world today.
A snowman in Cebu
Although it doesn’t lead to immediate results, something that returns good fortune in the most unexpected of ways is compassion. I have an episode in which I did something purely to make someone happy, which resulted in such a return that came back to me later on when I was establishing my school.
This was when I was a student going on study abroad programs in the Philippines, as well as taking classes on online programs.
“Raiko, we’ve never seen snow before. We wish that we could experience a White Christmas even if it’s just one time. But since we can’t go overseas, we won’t ever be able to have that.”
I think this conversation happened in Tokyo when I was having a class online with my teacher.
It’s true that it would be hard to take them overseas because of visa issues. However, I felt that I could make something happen with snow. I actually had some time right before Christmas, so I would be able to go to Cebu. My inner spirit of being a delivery service business began to burn with ideas.
I then called my friend in Hokkaido, Japan.
“I have Filipinos saying that they want to see snow, but is there something that we can do?” I asked.
“What? Why the Philippines? What are you doing there?”
“Huh? Studying English you say?”
“You’re actually studying English there? You’re actually just having fun over there, right?”
This was my image from others back then.
“Mr. Fujioka, it’s a little too early for snow. We can deliver snowmen in around a week, but you wouldn’t be able to wait, right?” they said.
“No, I really want to have it make it by our Christmas party on December 17th. Surely, there must be something that you can do. They’re saying that they’ll reach the end of their lives without ever seeing snow.”
“What you’re saying is kind of weird, but I guess you really want to see snow…”
“Okay, Mr. Fujioka. I’ll go the mountains to make a snowman and package it for you.”
I saw the baggage screening at Narita airport. Did you know that snow shows up as completely white? Since I was just leaving the country they weren’t too strict on me about the snowman. But going through customs in Cebu was a lot of work. There are 4 screening platforms in a wide, empty area. The airport in Cebu was made through development aid from Japan, so you can’t really complain about how they decide to use it.
“Open it,” they ordered me.
“No, I don’t want to open it,” I answered.
“Huh? You’re the first person going through customs who have said that before. You do know that I can’t just say, ‘Oh, is that so,’ right?”
A crowd started to gather around.
“What’s inside?” they questioned.
I answered, “It’s a snowman.”
“Uh, what did you say? A snowman? What? Snow…?”
Although I had a little bit of trouble there, they eventually let me pass through customs without forcing me to open my luggage.
I then immediately headed towards the venue of the Christmas party. This was in 2005, and around 300 teachers had gathered for this large party. I walked straight to the stage and opened up my box.
“Raiko brought a snowman!!” they exclaimed.
I’ll leave it up to your imagination as to how happy and surprised they were. To see these expressions of joy as I delivered something felt like the pinnacle of happiness as someone who runs a delivery service business. At the time, I simply just wanted to show the snow, but you never know what can happen as a result. 4 years later I would set up my online English conversation program, but a teacher who had remembered me and what I did come running at full force to work for me. It wasn’t like my circumstances were aligned, and it wasn’t a “Give and Take” relationship either. People will help each other out for years and years through selfless compassion.
Now, I’ll start talking about why I began my online English conversation program.
A decision that I could never take back
Fate will turn into bonds, carrying in opportunities
When you take good care of “fate”, it will someday turn into “bonds.”
I came to Cebu during Christmas of 2008 as well. My Korean Friend, Lee, who I previously met during my time studying abroad in the Philippines, contacted me and said he wanted to catch up.
Lee married his girlfriend who he had met while studying abroad. They had also begun an online English conversation program business.
I was invited to their wedding, and I was able to experience a Korean-style wedding for the very first time. It was a wonderful wedding—his girlfriend wore a traditional Korean dress, and they also passed under a saber arch. Within 4 years, my “fate” with Lee had transformed into “bonds.” I was curious as to what was up because it hadn’t even been a year since his wedding and he had also just begun his business.
“What’s up? Did something happen?” I asked.
Lee suddenly said, “Would you be willing to take over my online English conversation business?”
I was really surprised. “Didn’t you just start it? What happened?”
“We’re actually expecting a child. And my wife wants to raise our child in Korea.”
“Raiko, would you take on our teachers and continue our business?”
I hadn’t thought about running my own English conversation school before, so I didn’t know how to react.
“Wait, Lee. I’m just a guy who runs a motorcycle delivery service and shops in Japan. Running an online English conversation school is too different,” I answered.
“But Raiko, we have Mia as a teacher.”
Mia is an important teacher who created a precious connection between Lee and me.
Lee and I met through an unexpected “fate”, and his future wife was also our classmate back then. They came along with me when we brought a celebratory gift for the birth of Mia’s baby. The memories of her home without running water or even windows began to rush back into my mind.
After the bankruptcy of the Lehman Brothers, the sales for my motorcycle delivery service business had plummeted. My motorcycle import business was stagnating too. I couldn’t afford to make a large investment overseas when things were like this. But I felt this strange, gut feeling that Lee’s offer may, too, be another “fate.”
My motorcycle delivery service is in business 24 hours a day, so I always have an operator. Our riders visit over 1,000 companies every day so we could have them promote at the same time. This could work.
“Instead of waiting to perish in Japan, let’s fight.”
The “fate” that I met years ago had carried in a large opportunity.
My first business in the Philippines
I was actually running a business in the Philippines long before the online English conversation program. Years ago, I created a restaurant next to my English language school in the Philippines. I didn’t like having kimchi with all 3 of my meals. Don’t get me wrong, I like Korean food. But having it for all 3 meals was hard on me, so I created a restaurant that would offer food that I liked. It would offer dishes such as pasta, hamburg steak, and simple Japanese food. There were around 80 seats, but we also created a terrace outside so it felt like an American bar.
It was a business that I began with the school’s receptionist, Al. He’s an elite who graduated from a famous university in the Philippines, but due to lack of jobs available, he was working as a receptionist. He told me he wanted to help out with the restaurant so we also had him invite his friend who worked as a chef in his hometown.
Since it was something that I began immediately after meeting Al, this was a “Give and Take” relationship, rather than a “bond.” We wrote a proposal and started thinking of solutions and plans for issues that could potentially arise. To start a preexisting kind of business like a restaurant, I think it’s best to research the market and build the business in a logical fashion.
The huge school was in an area that had nothing around it, so naturally, our restaurant became a great success. We had 500 wealthy foreigners and 300 high-salary teachers as our next-door neighbors after all.
Despite this, the Koreans, who made up 95% of the student population, would eat Korean food for all 3 meals and would also favor Korean food when dining out. We ended up taking off the international dishes from the menu, and we were basically a Korean restaurant for 4 whole years.
Since this is something that happened a long time ago, I can say that although it had a Japanese owner, the chefs were Filipinos. We didn’t really know how to make Korean food, so we would make them by watching YouTube videos. I’m actually surprised that the restaurant wasn’t a failure.
“Isn’t the color a little pale?”
“Let’s add some red chili paste.”
It was kind of like that.
How to catch opportunities
Grab it by the face
There are things in life that do not reveal themselves often. They’ll pass in front of your eyes all the time, but you end up only realizing that they were thereafter they’re gone. Its name is an opportunity, and it runs past you with its long hair flowing behind it.
If you knew in advance what the opportunity looks like, it would be easy to catch it. However, when you end up realizing its existence after it has run past you, you’re often only able to take a look at its flowing hair. And you’re never able to catch opportunity by its hair.
Opportunity is also carried in often, so you should take good care of your encounters. If you try to manipulate them or have underlying motives, you won’t be able to meet it that much. Opportunity often hides within innocent encounters where you don’t think of your own interests.
Do you know how to distinguish what an opportunity looks like? It changes its face each time, so I’ll tell you my method. First of all, they don’t have a nice appearance, and most people aren’t interested in them. But they have strong facial characteristics. It may be that their mouth is big, their ears are pointed, or it could even be that they have a large beauty mark. There hasn’t been a time in which opportunity has had a refined, beautiful face.
In any case, they have an awkward face that feels like it’s lacking. And there’s a high chance they have such a unique face that the people around them would say they don’t like it.
The face of opportunity was horrible this time as well. But there’s no way I would let go of it. It was an important opportunity brought in from the bonds I was able to form while studying abroad.
Anyway, I had past experience running a business in the Philippines. There are teachers available for the online English conversation program.
I started speaking to Lee.
“Okay. Alright Lee, tell me more details. Who are the teachers? Mia and who else?” I asked.
“Huh? It’s Mia.”
“I know that. So who else?”
“I said, it’s Mia.”
“What? Do you mean you only have 1 teacher?”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“You’re making me take on that? Do you have an office for the business?”
“We had one. But we couldn’t pay the rent so we’re going to get kicked out.”
“What about furniture? And computers?”
“We had to forfeit them.”
“What do you have?”
“I said, we have Mia and teaching materials.”
“Oh. The teaching materials are good. Could you show them to me?”
“Wait. These are written in Korean…”
“You want me to take on this?”
“You also have our business knowledge.”
This was a time when little to no people knew about online English conversation programs, nor about study abroad programs for English in the Philippines. If you think like a normal person, you would think that the circumstances were bad and that it’s a reckless challenge.
But I think that my sense of intuition fostered a pretty amazing opportunity for me.
The mighty elites gathered
It’s close to the end of 2008. A meeting to discuss strategy for Al and I’s restaurant was held.
Mia told her teacher friend, “Raiko is going to create an online English conversation school.”
The news spread immediately, and over 50 teachers came over with the desire to join.
“Your starting salary is going to below. I can only pay you the minimum until we can get more students,” I had to say to them.
It was an online English conversation school with only one teacher after all. The Japanese market that we were going to challenge was unexplored territory.
Even so, there were many teachers who wanted to work for me. It was difficult choosing. When Mia was worrying and panicking a little, Zette started shaping the teachers back into place.
“Let’s start off with just the veteran teachers who have a solid, strong reputation,” Zette announced. She was already a leader at this point.
“Gayle, you can come right?”
“Yes. I’m only working as a tutor right now, so I’d be able to go immediately,” she replied.
“Desiree, you come too,” Zette said.
“OK. I have nothing to regret so I’ll go write my letter of resignation right now,” Desiree answered.
The supervisors at my old school, Lilian and Shoot, wanted to come as well, but we had to decline.
“Not you two. Our contract states that you have to give a 6 months’ notice to leave the job. I don’t want this to become an issue with the school, so hold it together,” Zette said.
Zette was a supervisor as well, but she had coincidentally turned in her letter of resignation 6 months ago. She was set to leave that month.
“Noreen, you can quit immediately too, right?” Zette continued.
“You too, Helga.”
Dolly said, “I’m absolutely going. You can’t stop me; I already wrote my letter of resignation.”
Zette had chosen veteran teachers who had been working for over 5 years, so Dolly was an exception. Zette gave in to her unwavering eagerness.
Mia was included, of course, so with Zette, Gayle, Desiree, Noreen, Helga, and Dolly, the 7 super teachers had gathered together. They were the best of the best at this school that had over 300 teachers. Some of them would have their salary halved by joining me, but regardless, they wanted to join me in establishing this online English conversation program that nobody else had done before.
Who knew that the snowman I brought in years ago to just make them happy would come back and return to me in such away.
I still remember what Zette said to me.
“I’ll call in everyone and absolutely make this a success. Just wait and believe in us.”
A new “fate” had been born.
Finally, our online English conversation program was turning its wheels.
Doing it in a way that nobody else had done
Doing it with your own strength
In order to start an overseas business, you can’t just have someone else do it for you.
“I’ll ask a consultant and have them do the analysis. Then I’ll ask a specialist in the region,” seems like a valid option, but it isn’t one that I’d recommend. The reason is that there’s no way you’d be able to find the answer to your new challenge by asking other people, and the person advising you wouldn’t be able to give solid advice on risks.
You have to go into the area yourself and act on your own accord. When you do business overseas, a lot of unexpected things will happen, such as deception. But if you experience everything on your own from the very beginning, you’re able to take action no matter what happens.
Right when the year 2009 began, I started looking for offices for my online English conversation business. Al, who was managing my restaurant, brought in a lot of information for me.
Al brought up, “I know someone who is a real estate agent. Raiko, do you want to meet him?”
“There’s an area where foreigners can build their companies. It’s also a duty-free area. I know another person who’s a tax accountant. Want me to ask them?” he continued.
Everything began from scratch.
The required paperwork and authorization process for an online English conversation business is completely different from how it is for a restaurant. Nonetheless, my past business experience was very helpful.
I met Al years ago when he was a receptionist at the school I studied abroad in the Philippines. And we led this online English conversation business through the relationship we established from running a restaurant together. There are consultants who help Japanese clients run businesses, but I decided to work with Al step by step.
It wouldn’t be a worthwhile experience if I didn’t take action myself. And if I already studied English abroad in the Philippines and have a network of connections, why not do everything with my own hands?
Usually in the Philippines, foreigners cannot have 100% ownership of a company. But there are special economic zones called PEZA (Philippine Economic Zone Authority). And if it’s a business like an online English conversation school, foreigners can have 100% ownership of the company, which also makes the company exempt from taxes for 5 years.
Originally only manufacturing businesses that exported items were approved, but lately, internet businesses have begun to be included as well. If the business uses the internet and their customers are over 70% foreigners, PEZA will approve of it.
The area that I chose was IT Park. At the time, IT Park was the only area in Cebu where internet businesses were approved by PEZA. It is a spacious site with over 20 buildings within it. The open spaces are covered with grass lawns, and if you were to just look at this area, it feels like you’re in Singapore.
The most important factor when it comes to an online English conversation business is the internet connection. The Philippines is still a developing country so broadband service is not widespread. IT Park was the only one that had not only high-quality building facilities but also fiber-optic internet.
To put it to Japanese terms, it’s like Roppongi Hills. Many IT companies are here, and there are also lots of American call centers. They are from various industries, and to name a few, there’s IBM, JPMorgan, American Home Direct, and even Google.
There were no online English conversation programs. Not even ones run by Korean management. The area has high rent costs, so for study abroad programs and online English conversation programs that focus on low cost, it wasn’t considered a suitable area.
If I were to think in a logical manner, I would have second thoughts. But I had a gut feeling that I should choose IT Park. There’s no point in following what the Korean businesses are doing. I chose to do it in a way that nobody else had done before.
The area has a good image and reputation, so it’ll be easy to find good employees. I decided to focus on quality and to create “The best school in the best area.”
From an elderly that has lived in Cebu for a long time:
“Mr. Fujioka, IT Park used to be an airport for Cebu. It was remodeled, allowing for buildings to be built. During World War II, the first Japanese Special Attack Units flew towards Leyte Island from here. A lot of foreign companies are starting up here lately but know that this is a very historically important place for us, Japanese people. Please have your business succeed no matter what.”
It was the first time I found out that Cebu has a lot of deep history. My online English conversation program began from just a small office in IT Park, but I promised myself then that I would indeed make it succeed no matter what.
Unable to write a proposal
There was no proposal available for the online English conversation business that I was going to start. The reason being that I can’t predict in advance what ought to do for a new kind of business that has no precedent. I logically planned in advance how to solve potential issues that may arise when it came to my restaurant business, but for this, I just couldn’t do it like that. The only way I could do it was to handle the unexpected issues as they came.
Proposals are created when beginning a new business, but if you’re going to create and pioneer a unique business that nobody has ever done before, I think there’s no point. Oftentimes proposals that have ideas that seem like they’ll succeed are adaptations of other businesses, and if you wrote a proposal for a new kind of business that nobody else has done before, there will be too many issues and you’ll end up wanting to call it quits. I think that once you’ve envisioned your ideal business, you should dive into the challenge and do things by intuition. When you take action, you of course fail sometimes. But from those very failures, you activate your brain and come up with new solutions on your own.
Strangely enough, I felt very optimistic. I was excited to do an overseas business that nobody had done before. It’s kind of like riding an off road bike on a forest trail without a map.
Thanks to Al’s introduction, we were able to secure a temporary office in the corner of a new building in IT Park. Al’s friend worked as a tutor for the owner, so even though we had no results to show at the time, they treated us warmly and were able to rent out a space of 400 square meters. We didn’t initially need such a large space, but it was a first-class area after all. There were no small spaces available.
Although we were going to do an online English conversation business, what was most unexpected was our fee for internet.
“Al, I can’t believe this. Call another staff member. The quote we’ve received is incorrect,” I stammered.
Our contract was expressed in US Dollars. In Japan, you can get a contract for 100 Mbps at approximately 5,000 Japanese Yen. I was astonished seeing how much it cost in the Philippines.
“1 Mbps is 500 US Dollars…It costs 5 million Japanese Yen a month for 100 Mbps?”
Even if it’s offered for cheap in Japan, there’s no way the cost can be this different. I understand if it’s 10 times the price, but I couldn’t wrap my head around it being 1000 times as expensive.
“Raiko, it’s not a mistake. The manager has signed off on it as well.”
“Okay, let’s call the business again then. And call the manager too,” I replied.
In the end, the quote that Al brought was, indeed, not a mistake. We had to pay 5 million Japanese Yen a month for 100 Mbps.
“How much capacity does one cable need? How many cables can we use with 1 Mbps?”
We had to figure it all out on our own. There are many things that you won’t know how to do unless you actually do it. Common practice in the Philippines is different, so it ended up costing an amount that would be unbelievable in Japan to say the least.
No expectation of ghost members
Walking the royal road
You shouldn’t conduct clever schemes when running an overseas business. Instead, you should always think of the royal road and do things seriously, even if it takes more time. That’s how you’ll be able to survive in the end.
By cheating or taking the easy way out through shortcuts, you’ll end up tripping somewhere along the way. Regardless of starting a business earlier on than anyone else, if you end up choosing an easy path, the other guys in the same industry will catch up to you and eventually beat you. The difficult situations that you encounter and solve will take just as long of a time for your rivals to solve as well. So if there’s an easy path and difficult path, you should always select the latter.
Unlike studying abroad programs in the Philippines, you can think of many payment plans for online English conversation programs. So I thought long and hard about how I should do it. Eventually, I decided on 2 kinds of plans.
Mainstream plans cost around 6,000 Japanese Yen each month, and you can freely reserve and take a single lesson each day. Monthly payments are incurred automatically.
But the version I introduced was a point system, where you can select how much you would like to pay for a single lesson. Depending on the teacher’s expertise and the learning method you choose, the cost differs. It’s a system where you can select lessons from a range of 250 Japanese Yen to 1,000 Japanese Yen.
With a system where you pay a fixed amount and take a single lesson each day, you could approximate each lesson to be around 100 Japanese Yen if you take them every day. And another great thing is that you can expect to have ghost members that don’t study but still continue to pay. All students are burning with motivation to study at the beginning, so this plan that looks cheaper is more appealing.
However, a system where payments are incurred automatically is unique to Japan. In China and even Korea, you cannot incur payments to students automatically without confirming the decision each time with the student. The programs outside of Japan focus on ease of use and earn profit that way, and if I’m going to compete against the world, I can’t choose a system in which I rely on ghost members and advertisements.
For both the fixed cost system and point system, the desire to increase the number of students is the same. But if the chosen system causes us to reach a deficit when students study a lot, then it’s very difficult to have the will to improve the quality.
Just imagine it. When your stomach suddenly hurts, would you rather see a doctor who is inexpensive and listens to you but doesn’t have proper facilities or a skilled doctor at a hospital equipped with facilities?
I think the answer would apply to education as well. You’re using your precious time to study, so it’s necessary to have a school that can improve one’s English skill as effectively as possible.
To create an online English conversation business that will simply survive, the “correct” answer would be to choose the fixed cost system that expects ghost members, adjust it a little, and offer the service at a slightly less expensive rate.
That is the old path that I, a motorcycle delivery service business owner who could only reach 3rd place in their industry, chose in the past.
But I won’t repeat the same mistake. I’m not here to play it safe and reach just 3rd place.
As the competition to be the best continues just like how it did years ago, I’ve decided that I’m going to create the world’s best English conversation school. I believe that online English conversation programs taught through free video call services will drastically change systems of education. No matter where you are in the world, you can easily learn through computers, smartphones, and tablets.
I had a strong sense that if we’re living the night before a revolution, we can’t just be focusing on what Japan is doing. We have to be inspecting the others too.
In the end, battle with the Japanese method and power of mankind
In the future, it is inevitable that I must battle against Korea and China. The Korean schools develop amazing manuals and hold a strategy of hiring vast numbers of part-time teachers to bring down their cost. And China will probably battle with massive funds. As for me, I decided to go with the most difficult way—to do it with the Japanese method, which is something that no other English conversation school in the Philippines was doing.
If you leave Japan, you can see that products made in Japan are popular, as they are high quality. Instead of it is because the Japanese are talented, it’s more due to the reason that they know how to train craftsmen to increase product quality. I think Japan’s strength is they bring out the inner strength that humans have by using the values of fate, compassion, continuation, and bonds. The spirit of craftsmen—focusing on the small details day and night to increase product quality—is what I believe to be the true Japanese method.
If you think about it, teachers, both for online and study abroad programs, are craftsmen who require the development of skills. Only people can raise the quality of education. It’s not something that improves immediately with money so the only option is to build it up slowly.
First, I thought it was important to secure a stable lifestyle for my teachers, so I made the promise of lifetime employment. From a logical standpoint, I’m aware it’s a crazy decision. But my school is the only one in which all teachers are full-time employees. Additionally, I also implemented a system in which the senior employees teach the junior employees. I did this because I wanted to create a sense of human compassion, where there is no swaying from immediate interests. I don’t know when you’ll be able to see a visible difference in results, but I believe that the very last battle must be fought with true manpower and nothing else.
As the years have passed, the super riders from my motorcycle delivery service have become able to accomplish insane feats. Of course, it’s not that they can race at a speed of 200 kilometers per hour. And it’s not just that they can figure out the shortest route either. It’s that they remember roughly all the building names within the city, and they know when and how to change their routes not just based on time, but also whether the traffic lights are red or blue. The big buildings within the city have many elevators. And even within the same building, depending on the company and even department, the riders will change where they park their motorcycle. When comparing a new rider to a veteran rider, the veteran rider can accomplish deliveries over 100 times as efficiently. With them, they’re able to take on even the most unreasonable request by our customers. These veteran riders are truly a treasure to me.
I used to think that you could only work for a motorcycle delivery service when you are young. But I’ve learned that your age doesn’t matter whatsoever. It’s a job with no retirement age, so I intend to work alongside these riders until the very end.
Let’s become the world’s best teachers
I must think about what’s important to me personally and what the best weapon is for battle. It’s valuable to know so that we can appeal to our customers, but above all, I need to think about it for the sake of my team. You have to constantly communicate with them, such as what you’re going to do, what everyone else has to do, and what will happen if everyone can do it. There exists a huge difference between a team that takes action with an understanding of what to do versus when they don’t understand.
I also believe that teachers that I’ve met in the Philippines are people that I want to work alongside with until the very end. And I want to make as many of them into successful craftsmen. The Philippines is still a very poor country. There are many children begging in the cities. Giving a little money to them isn’t a solution. In order to pay back this country that has given me so much, I must create jobs. Filipinos value the importance of family, so by employing just 1 person, I’ll be supporting at least 10 other people. If I employ 10 people, it’ll be 100. And if I employ 100, I can rescue 1,000 people out of poverty.
I intend to somehow create a system where salaries can rise. For lessons, if I use the fixed cost system, the teachers all cost the same. However, the point system that I chose lets me change the cost depending on the teacher’s expertise and ability.
A teacher said to me, “Raiko, I’m not a native English speaker. I can’t teach at a high cost like American teachers.”
“That’s not true,” I replied. “For students, even if their teacher is Japanese, they would rather spend money to be taught by a top-level teacher than a native speaker. Humans are able to continuously grow if they continue with the system of reforming and improving. Let’s grow together and have you become the best teacher in the world. Then you’ll be able to gain a higher salary than even the American teachers.”
In the future, I hope that my programs are the best in the world at teaching English. At this moment, we have a range of our new teachers teaching at 250 Japanese Yen per 25 minutes all the way our veteran teachers teaching at 1,000 Japanese Yen. Of course, the teachers who teach at 1,000 Japanese Yen are much more popular.
Now I’ll begin talking about what I think is the weakness of English programs in the Philippines.
The biggest weakness that nobody noticed
Strong points and weak points
To run a business, you must know yourself first. Think of your strong and weak points from an objective view. Work on reforming your weak points instead of hiding them. And improve and widen your strong points at the same time.
Years ago, I realized the weakness that study abroad programs for English in the Philippines and online English conversation programs had. It was that everyone in the country knew how to speak English and there were many English teachers, but they had no experience teaching foreigners. This is due to there being only a short history of English conversation schools here—the first was established 15 years ago by a Korean.
So, I brought in a trainer who is from the first country in the world to teach English, England. It wasn’t to teach the teachers British English. It was so that the trainer could fix the teachers’ weakness of not having experience teaching foreigners. I then made it a requirement for all my teachers to become TESOL certified.
Another weakness that I felt was that it felt like the schools were being promoted as cheaper imitations of English conversation schools in America and England. There is something that I’ve realized with my motorcycle import business. It’s that imitation motorcycles are horrible. Despite being able to copy things like appearance, it’s highly difficult to reproduce the fundamental features such as riding experience and durability. I think this applies to English as well. If this goes on, online English conversation programs and study abroad programs in the Philippines will become cheaper imitations of Western and Korean schools.
Imitation motorcycles can be popular in the beginning due to their inexpensive cost, but when the important features don’t match up, they will fail all at once. I’m sure you know the story of how the imitation motorcycles that were popular in China are never even heard of these days. (Well, it’s a famous story in the motorcycle industry anyway…) When it came to my online English conversation school business, I did not want to make imitations whatsoever. The English that you learn in the Philippines is neither American or British, and I want to create the world’s best English conversation school by bringing out the unique features that only exist from studying with the people of the Philippines. Of course there’s the inexpensive cost, but the best parts are the one-on-one teaching, the hospitality, the clearness of pronunciation, the ease of understanding, and the proximity we have with the country. By delving into these features, the answer as to how to create the world’s best school is sure to arise.
Imitation products don’t survive
Let me talk for a little bit about motorcycles.
Until now, I’ve imported and sold motorcycles from France, Italy, Taiwan, and China. (I apologize to the American Harley-Davidson motorcycles. I just simply wasn’t interested in motorcycles that didn’t go fast.) This is just my personal impression, but at the motorcycle factories in France, there were many people who seemed like they were migrant workers. The French are efficient with everything, and it also seemed like their management made sure they wouldn’t slack off. In Italy, the workers were all Italian. They slacked off on the regular, but it seemed like they were very proud to be building motorcycles there. To be honest, French and Italian motorcycles break just as much as imitation motorcycles. But the big difference is in how they break. The tires of motorcycles have 4 screws that hold them together. This is just a hypothetical story, but you could say that the 4 screws in French motorcycle tires are tightened lazily, and due to that, the tires are loose. For Italian motorcycles, the 4 screws are tightened properly, but they forget to include 1 screw, so the tires are loose for that reason. I know that those are stupid claims, but what I’m trying to say is that for both, the issue is just that the screws are loose. However, imitation motorcycles are fundamentally different. The screws themselves fall apart. In the case of imitation motorcycles, all they’ve done is literally imitate. They don’t know why that shape of the screw is necessary, why the durability is necessary, and above all, they don’t know the answer to why the motorcycles are designed the way they are.
There are times when these imitation motorcycles find themselves in my shop to be repaired, but they can’t be fixed because of the various issues everywhere. If it broke by just riding it for a short period, I can only suggest for the rider to throw it out.
The claims that I mentioned about French and Italian manufacturers are due to failure in their management. It’s not due to design. Although they do break occasionally, the more you ride it, the more tasteful it becomes and the more you grow attached to it. A unique charm is built over time, and nobody can ever imitate it. French motorcycles have more focus on appearance rather than practicality, but they look cool due to their originality. And Italian motorcycles sometimes have features such as hidden plating under the engine so that they won’t rust over.
Mr. Malaguti, the founder, and owner of Malaguti said to me, “Raiko, you noticed! That’s a feature I take great pride in. I did that because when that area rusts over, it doesn’t look cool when you can see the rusty bottom of your engine during corner turns.”
If you were to ask me, I would say that I would rather have the rust resistance on the mirrors, rather than under the engine but…
Although they break a little sometimes, I love Italian motorcycles dearly.
Creating a school that exists nowhere else
Creating an actual school in Cebu
I would like to create an actual, physical school in Cebu, Philippines. I want my online English conversation program and study abroad program to be something that exists nowhere else.
The reason is that without an actual school, my program will be thrown away like an imitation motorcycle once the fad has passed. I need to find out what goes into the creation of teaching materials and studying methods to discover a new revolutionary learning method that utilizes the unique features of the Philippines. Until now, the mainstream ways of studying English conversation were through schools close by within Japan or through distance learning. And when it comes to study abroad programs, most people only do it while they’re students or they quit their job to study in America or England for an extended time.
I say that the secret trick is through the internet, one-on-one lessons, and low-cost airlines. In the future, I want to make it so that instead of learning English conversation at a school close by, you can learn anywhere with a computer or smartphone. And instead of studying by yourself like with distance learning, you can study one-on-one with a teacher. Additionally, when you have extended vacations and such, I want to make it so that people can easily use low-cost airlines to come for short-term study abroad programs. I hope to create a truly revolutionary learning method.
Even now, there are over 1 million people learning English through distance learning and English conversation schools. Most Japanese people actually have experience of studying English during school.
But how many people are there in Japan who can speak English? It’s a shame that everyone has been studying English for so long but there are so little who can truly speak it.
I want to make an actual school that combines the 2 methods that helped me learn to speak English and can create true, tangible results. It’ll be a learning method that allows students to study easily, isn’t financially straining, is easy to continue, and doesn’t require students to quit their job. It’ll be unlike anything that has existed before.
The 3rd best English-speaking country and the most easily understood English
I’m going to talk a little bit about English in the Philippines.
First of all, I want to loudly say that I did not create an online English conversation program and study abroad program in the Philippines because of low labor costs. It’s because Filipinos are truly the best in the world at teaching English.
The reason is that Filipinos are not native English speakers. Filipinos became the best at English from studying. You can also say that they are the world’s most successful English learners.
For Japanese people, it’s much better and easier to learn from those who know how to study English and are aware of how difficult it is to learn English, rather than native speakers who can already speak it from the start and don’t know what it’s like.
Additionally, the nurses and housekeepers in the Philippines are famous worldwide. They grew up in very large families and have acquired incredible housekeeping skills from always helping each other out. There’s no question that Filipinos, who are the world’s most successful learners and who have hospitality skills that are admired worldwide, are also the world’s best at teaching English.
I have many Western acquaintances, but I always end up feeling hesitant around them. If I still can’t understand them after asking them to repeat themselves thrice, I end up laughing it off and saying, “OK.” But with Filipino teachers, I can ask them to keep repeating themselves until I understand, even if it takes 100 times. I believe it’s their hospitality skills that bring out a kind, approachable feeling to them, and I never feel like I should hesitate around them.
There are people out there who worry about Filipino accents, but I want you to take a listen to my teachers’ pronunciation. They are highly qualified individuals chosen from over 500 applicants every month. If you’re still worried about the accent, I want to say this to you: If you’ve studied to the point that you’ve acquired the Filipino accent, then you’ve already learned how to speak English at an incredible level.
I believe you shouldn’t be caught up in learning to speak English like a native speaker. No matter how hard you try, you won’t be able to reach the pronunciation of a native speaker at this point in your life. It’s more than good enough to speak English with a Japanese accent. The most important thing is that you can communicate clearly and that you can listen just as well. Also, Philippine English is globally known as being easy to understand. This is proven by the incredibly large number of Filipinos who work all over the world.
Students of all levels study English. There are people who cannot speak at all, like how I used to be, and there are also people who have close to perfect scores on the TOEIC test. I believe there is no end to learning English; I often feel like I have to continue to work hard with my English as well. So don’t ever be embarrassed about continuing to learn.
The obvious isn’t so obvious
It’ll work out in the end. The first step
There are many things in the world that end up being totally different when you do it. Especially with the unique customs that we have in Japan, it is common for those very customs to be considered taboo overseas. But in those cultural differences, sometimes there are hidden business chances. Once you overcome those challenging differences, you begin to acquire competitiveness. In my experience, the bigger and more difficult the difference is, the larger the chance for it to be an opportunity for you.
So, about my online English conversation program. Designing the interior furnishing of the office and gaining authorization will take 2 months, and the construction will take 4 months. We already had some Korean students, so the 7 Super Teachers had to prepare lessons already.
“Raiko, I think we have to practice teaching for the online program,” Desiree came over to me and said.
“While watching Mia’s lesson, I saw that you have to be completely different with how you teach online. I can’t teach how I did up until now.”
“We’ll come in to practice every day until our opening day, so could you find a place we could do that?” she asked.
I was worrying over places that we could use on a short-term basis, but thankfully, the owner of the building that we had a contract with let us borrow a meeting room.
“Use it however you wish until your move.”
The owner let us use it for free.
“We’ll be sure to grow our business to where we can rent the whole floor, no, the whole building!” I said to the owner. I’m sure the owner wasn’t expecting anything at all in return, but it’s interesting how humans naturally wish to return the compassion they receive.
It was a small room that became filled once we lined up the 7 teachers’ desks, but it was nice because it was on the 2nd floor and we could look down at the lobby. We could finally begin demo classes for our online English conversation program. We immediately began preparing for construction and started training our teachers so that we could open that August. Although everything was new to us, I had no worries. I felt that with the 7 Super Teachers, everything would work out in the end. If I look back on it now, it was kind of like a motorcycle rider getting his license for the first time and fully stepping on the gas to a speed of 300 kilometers per hour.
The obvious isn’t so obvious
While the teachers began conducting demo lessons, I started working on the development of our office. It’s inside a wonderful building that is close to the entrance of IT Park. We rented a 400 square meter area on the Northside of the 7th floor and began creating a booth for our online English conversation program. By the way, in the Philippines, the sun is very harsh when you face the South. So we were quite lucky to have the Northside.
Choose the furnishing from a catalog, select a size, color, and delivery date. Then, line up the cubicles and desks…of course, things don’t go that easily. First of all, online orders for office furniture didn’t exist. You had to start by going around furniture stores and find stores that supply such things. It had been 4 years since I first went to Cebu at that point, but I had never purchased office furniture before. We went around multiple stores, but we couldn’t find adequate cubicles or even desks.
“You have to order it from scratch at a furniture store. It would take at least 6 months. The price would be double what it costs in Japan,” I was told.
Of course. There aren’t many rods and such imported to Cebu, so when an order is made, they must ask an overseas factory. This makes it cost a lot more money and time compared to Japan.
Dollar stores are 2 dollar stores and cars and motorcycles are all more expensive in the Philippines. The Italian scooter that I sell in Japan costs 1.5 times as much in the Philippines too. Products made in the Philippines are inexpensive, but imported goods are incredibly expensive.
Everyday products in Japan can be very costly in the Philippines, but unexpected things can also be very cheap there too. Like I said before, the differences that you don’t notice until you live there can potentially be business opportunities.
If you ever consider running a business overseas, there’s no point in writing a proposal while you’re in your home country. You must go out and experience it yourself. And I think that if you’re going to run a business in the Philippines, don’t limit yourself to the popular call centers or offshore businesses. Importing goods from China and Vietnam has potential as well.
Cutting wood veneer and hitting hammers
I decided on buying the materials directly from a lumber wholesaler. We were going to cut the wood veneers to create the cubicles and desks from scratch. In total, we needed 74 cubicles for our online English conversation program. I surely did not expect that in preparing our new office, we would need to start off with creating our office furniture from scratch. Al knew a carpenter, so we called him in. We also called in an electrician to start the wiring work. Everything was made from the very beginning.
Since the building was new and nothing was in it yet, the 400 square meters we had felt very spacious. The sole thing that was there since the beginning was a restroom. We had to make the ceiling and walls by ourselves. I was worried about the construction time but at that point, the only option we had was to just do it anyway.
When Al called in a carpenter, I was faced with yet another surprise. “Calling in a carpenter” means that a carpenter will come. To put it to simpler terms, the carpenter had no tools with him. No saws, no hammers, nothing. So we had to supply all of it for him. It was very useful that Al had so many people he knew, but it was reaffirmed then that Filipinos find work through the help of their relatives’ connections. In the Philippine style, those who have received opportunities through the help of compassion will go on to help their relatives.
This is just a maybe, but I think if there’s a need for a carpenter they become a carpenter, when there’s a need for a plasterer they become a plasterer, when there’s a need for a painter they become a painter, and so on… They apply themselves to any kind of occupation.
Even so, I appointed this carpenter, who has had some experience, to be the leader in our construction work. I was continued to be shocked though. He wasn’t cutting the wood straight, and he wasn’t even hitting the nails straight either. Although it took a lot of work, I ended up being okay with this. I was happy to create a new bond.
Our office space was 400 square meters at the time, but at this moment of writing this, our scratch-made school for both our online and study abroad program is 4,400 square meters in size! It was a heroic feat that was accomplished with the help of over 300 carpenters over 6 months.
Experience that is not experience
There have been many times in which I thought an experience would be beneficial for me but it turned out to be something completely different. I suffered a lot when running my motorcycle delivery service business and establishing my motorcycle shop. For my motorcycle delivery service business, I had a resident technician to help out my riders. They had a large responsibility with the motorcycle manufacturers as well. And my riders would purchase over 100 of my motorcycles in total each year, so I thought that things would go smoothly. And since we had a qualified technician, regular customers, and established delivery routes, I had no doubt. This was years ago, but there was no way that things would have truly gone smoothly. Our technician wasn’t a good salesman for our customers and it didn’t work out even when we tried to give him a different role with our motorcycle delivery service. As if things weren’t bad enough, the moment we created our motorcycle shop, we became rivals with another motorcycle store in the neighborhood, so we were stopped from bringing in stock.
A similar thing occurred with my own school as well.
The training for our online English conversation program was slowly making progress. There are 7 desks lined up within a small space. They use web cameras, so we made it so that their backs would be against the wall to prevent people from walking behind the teachers. We were confident that the demo lessons would go well, but we quickly received some complaints. I asked my friend to try taking the lesson, but they told me that it was boring, not fun, and it didn’t make them feel like they want to continue studying. The 7 Super Teachers are very qualified and popular due to their high-quality lessons, so I was surprised at my friend’s comment. My friend also mentioned that “I can tell that they’re trying their best, but something is lacking. It’s not fun.” The teachers are veterans from a huge school with over 300 teachers. I honestly couldn’t wrap my head around why this was happening.
The teachers seemed shocked at this too, but they didn’t let their spirits lower even one bit.
Zette said, “I’ve always been doing one-on-one classes in the past so I’m used to it.”
Desiree added, “Although we’re using Skype, it’s not the same as doing one-on-one classes.”
I was slowly able to understand.
“It’s enjoyable to them to just do free conversation. But when it shifts over to doing an actual lesson, I can’t keep their concentration,” Gayle stated.
Noreen too. “It’s weird. I can’t conduct my lesson well even though I can see their face and am following their expressions and reactions.”
Zette is a legendary teacher who is so popular that you couldn’t ever find an open spot in her old school’s lesson reservations.
She asked, “Desiree, could you watch my lesson for a little bit? Tell me later what you see.”
“There’s no way we can’t do one-on-one lessons. They’re much easier than group lessons after all.”
“When I’m done, let me watch yours too.”
We had to find the reason by the time we opened in August.
“We still have time. Let’s think together. Raiko, prepare more demo students for the online program.”
The 7 Super Teachers continued this trial and error process all the way up until our August opening. Oftentimes, things that you think you have experience can turn out differently, and things that you thought were easy can turn out to be difficult. The only option is to just try it out, fail, and reform and improve little by little.
Involving the motorcycle delivery service too
Teachers and motorcycle riders
Before explaining how I gathered students for our demo lessons, let me talk a little about motorcycle delivery services.
Many riders work as high school graduates, and there are even some who work immediately after graduating junior high.
It’s common for there to be people without special skills who dream of the city that find work there by riding the motorcycles that they like. There are also motorcycle lovers who are from the countryside that admire motorcycle delivery service businesses and come to work in the city for that reason. Therefore, I received a lot of phone calls from mothers saying things like, “Is my son working alright in Tokyo? He doesn’t listen to what I say at all. Is he being of service to you?” I’m sure they are very worried. I would often receive gifts each season from the riders’ families. A lot of them were fruits like oranges, but I was once surprised to receive a fish—a Pacific Saury—in a box. I would eat these gifts together with the riders who would come back into the office, but I remember how after we cooked the fish, we couldn’t remove the smell of it for around a week.
The more country and mischievous a rider were, the more hard-working they were. They have a lot of motivation within them because they get to ride the motorcycles that they like and get to work with the senior riders. And since we are all motorcycle lovers, our bond was strengthened through our motorcycle discussions and motorcycle touring trips.
Interviewing them is fun too. Most of them are from the countryside, so they don’t have as strong of an understanding of geography. Some of them immediately say, “I get lost easily,” so I get an urge to say, “Are you aware of what kind of job you’re interviewing for right now?”. But if they’re a motorcycle lover, I won’t reject them just because they’re not good with directions. I also ask questions such as, “Why to do you like motorcycles?”, “How do you want to ride the motorcycle?”, “What do you think of motorcycles?” and more. Some common thoughts after interviews are, “This guy is no good. That’s not a reason to like motorcycles,” or “To say that he wants to ride the motorcycle with this muffler installed might mean that he has a good personality,” and so on.
I had an accepted standard of evaluating their choice of motorcycle, muffler, future plan, and then making the decision based on whether or not they had “The Spirit of Motorcycle Riders.” It was very important to me that they would be someone that helped others out without expecting something in return.
The way I interviewed teachers was similar too. Of course, I’m not going to ask them what their favorite motorcycle is, but I do ask questions like, “Why to do you like English?”, “How do you want to teach English?”, “What do you think about teaching English?”, and more. I think in terms of lifetime employment, so even if the teacher has no past experience and isn’t the best at teaching yet, I don’t reject them just because of that. I evaluate them based on whether they are the type of person who would help others out through compassion and can create bonds with them.
The big difference is that when hiring teachers, they are often elites because we require them to have passed tests for basic academic skills, along with having to have had graduated college. But for my motorcycle delivery service business, we don’t have that standard.
Help each other out through compassion
My riders helped with our demo lessons for 6 months. With “The Spirit of Motorcycle Riders”, they felt that they had to lend a hand. It was a lot of work to collect students for our demo lessons because we had not opened to the public yet. So I asked my acquaintances, my relatives’ children, the friends I made during my time in Cebu, so everyone and anyone. In the end, the riders from my motorcycle delivery service agreed to do join as well.
Since there were no practically no students available in the afternoons, we had the riders take turns with the lessons. I’m not trying to show off or anything, but motorcycle riders, despite being able to ride at very fast speeds, are not good at studying. They are often mischievous guys from the countryside who come to work at motorcycle delivery service businesses because they want to work in Tokyo. Their education doesn’t matter.
They can’t even say hello in English, nor understand how to say, “Repeat please.” With no way to answer the teacher’s questions, I saw that they were speaking in over 90% Japanese when I observed their lessons. The room that I was working in was also an independent study area, so I could always hear the loud voices from outside.
“Hello. What? What does that mean again…? This isn’t going to work; I have no idea what they’re saying. What are you saying? Say it one more time please. What should I do? Um, let me just say hello again for now,” is kind of what it sounded like, but with 90% Japanese. They were studying with Filipinos who had no knowledge of Japanese too. I’m not sure if that lesson would be considered a “lesson”, but that’s a separate topic.
They were working hard with “The Spirit of Motorcycle Riders”, but I think inside they were thinking, “Oh no. I’ve made weird friends in Cebu.” But even then, they took good care of this new kind of fate.
Setting aside the fact that it’s debatable if they were able to improve their English conversation skills, these motorcycle riders from my motorcycle delivery service business worked hard for us every day.
Let’s teach children
Filipinos are skilled at English
We began to discuss the need to find demo students in Cebu as well. Filipinos are able to speak English in the first place, so it’s very difficult to find those who cannot.
It started with this conversation.
“Are there people in Cebu who can’t speak English? Would it be possible to find demo students?” I asked Helga.
“Raiko, Filipinos are quite skilled at English. That would be hard because if they can speak English already, they wouldn’t be much of a demo student for us.”
“Then how about children? What do you think of bringing in the kids who are just hanging out around here and teaching them English? It’ll be volunteering in a way too,” I suggested. In my mind, the street children don’t go to school, so surely they wouldn’t know how to speak English.
Helga changed her facial expression. “No, if we did that, we’d be caught and arrested.”
Noreen, who was listening to our conversation, said, “What if we brought them in from the orphanages? If they’re not old enough for school yet, they wouldn’t know how to speak English.”
“I know someone who runs an orphanage. I think they’d be delighted if we taught them English,” Gayle said.
When we brought up this offer to a nun at the orphanage, they were overjoyed. They were happy that we were going to not only teach them English but also offer meals to them as well. The next day, we drove over with our car to pick up the children.
Our office for our online English conversation program is a state-of-the-art building within IT Park. It was the first time riding elevators or even touching computers for the children, so they were extremely excited. They loved the lessons too. It could’ve been due to them feeling as though the Super Teachers were almost like mother figures.
To be honest, I was a little shocked. The children were all too nice and kindhearted. For anything we asked them to do, they obliged energetically. They were desperate to not be disliked by the adults. It must have been due to them not wanting to go back to the orphanage. I’ll never be able to forget their sad expressions and the way they clung to the teachers when it was time for them to return.
We didn’t want to tire out the children, so we made sure to limit the lessons to just once a day. They would come at around 11 AM, study English for 1 hour, eat lunch, and then go back to the orphanage.
Zette was the first one to try out the lesson with the kids.
“Desiree, sit together with the child and observe the lesson. I’ll try it out now,” she said. There’s no point in teaching directly if we’re going to run an online program, so we separated the chairs a little and began the lesson on Skype.
The training continued until our online program was ready to open.
There is no shortcut
One thing I’ve learned is that there are no shortcuts or backstreets when it comes to the acquisition of skills. The 7 Super Teachers had experience from teaching at an English conversation school run by Korean management, but to teach online through a monitor was a completely different beast. These women had to learn the necessary skills from step 1. It was clear that they couldn’t use their past experience with this new platform, so I decided to analyze and research what makes online programs and study abroad programs so strongly different.
Online English conversation programs use computers, so there are many advantages that would have never come up during study abroad programs in the Philippines. There are many resources online and when students ask a question that they don’t know the answer to immediately, they can instantly look it up and answer the question on the spot. They can also listen to a native speaker’s pronunciation together. Nonetheless, the lessons are done through video, so it is difficult to accurately understand both the student’s nuances, as well as to communicate the teacher’s emotions to them as well. It became necessary to toss away the techniques used for study abroad programs in the Philippines and begin the process of reforming and improving.
“Desiree, you were right. It’s no use relying on technique. I tried all sorts of techniques, but the most important is to show strong passion and motivation,” Zette said.
Gayle added, “Let’s be sure to always use the chatbox too. Do everything you can to make the lesson easy to follow and understand for the student.”
“We also have to really listen to what the student is saying. Online, it’s easy to want to teach in a one-way manner, but you should try your best to make the student communicate and speak as well,” Noreen commented.
There was no single, easy answer. The only option we had was “continuance” and to slowly build up the right skills that way. There is no single method that will make a big difference. By slowly reforming and improving, you’re able to polish a craftsman’s skill.
Waking up at 5 AM for 2 years
There is no textbook that will let you teach one-on-one
“Raiko, I just can’t use it well,” Desiree came to me to discuss a textbook.
“The teaching materials that we’re currently using are made for group lessons. In the study abroad program that we used to work at, we could work with it because we did the lessons in person. But it’s just not working for us online.”
At the school run by Korean management, they were using textbooks called “Side by Side” and “Interchange.” It’s rated highly around the world so we used it without hesitation as well, but it didn’t work out.
“I’m sorry, Raiko. This textbook has too many sentences that envision several students and it’s difficult to use for one-on-one lessons online,” Zette told me.
And Mia said, “When it comes to Korean students, instead of them ‘studying’ English, it’s more like they’re immersing themselves in English so that their current English won’t fall. This textbook isn’t suitable for students who are studying English conversation for the first time online.”
Online English conversation programs work through one-on-one teaching, so textbooks that are made with group lessons in mind are not only difficult to use but are also ineffective at improving the student’s English level.
There was no textbook that was made with one-on-one teaching in mind. Education taught one-on-one that focuses on English conversation was new so it can’t be helped. If anything, I was happy to find out that there weren’t any textbooks out there for us. It means that the school that we’re creating exists nowhere else in the world. Slowly, I was starting to see the reason as to why teaching online English conversation is so difficult. I immediately got to work with creating a textbook that is suitable for one-on-one teaching.
It was a big mistake for me to think it would be easy to make. I visited a university in the Philippines and tried a lot of things with the linguistics professors, but it was hard. It’s not possible to create a textbook that covers grammar, vocabulary, and idioms all through conversation, and at the same time increases the level as the student progresses. I was able to gain a collection of conversations that were just everyday conversations sorted by levels, but it just wasn’t a replacement for a textbook.
Third-person in a conversation with 2 people
It took 2 years since then to create a textbook for our online program. The Filipino teachers couldn’t make it, so the ever so famous Mr. Miyosawa, who taught at a well-known preparatory school in Japan, woke up at 5 AM for 2 years to create it for us.
We were able to overcome this huge challenge. It’s a revolutionary textbook that lets a student learn everything through conversation. In a student-teacher conversation, you use first-person and second-person. But what are you supposed to do for third-person? How about plural form? Mr. Miyosawa’s textbook covers all of that too, including past tense, future tense, relative pronouns, and everything to do with grammar.
The spirit of this teacher, who has taught English for over 30 years, is in this textbook. There is a memorable conversation I’ve had with Mr. Miyosawa.
“Mr. Fujioka, when I was working at a preparatory school, it was a private business. My methods of teaching were not allowed to be shared outside of the school, and I had never shared them with anyone else before. But since I’ve retired in Cebu, I want to use this opportunity to share with this country my methods of teaching,” he said. The teachers’ manual that Mr. Miyosawa created has 3 times the information as the textbook. Mr. Miyosawa’s methods are all packed inside, and I truly consider it as a treasure of mine.
The basic textbook that Mr. Miyosawa created is aimed towards first-year junior high students to university students that are learning English for the first time and have TOEIC scores of 500 or less. Later on, Mr. Miyosawa created teaching materials that let you study for the TOEIC test through one-on-one conversations as well. It’s aimed at students who have TOEIC scores of 500 or more. There are other schools that have TOEIC test prep classes that are conducted one-on-one, but they’re often just the teacher solving past test problems together with the student. Mr. Miyosawa’s textbook is not a textbook that just shows the teaching techniques or just has the teacher solve questions together with the student. It’s a textbook that truly improves a student’s conversation skills and at the same time, raises the student’s test score as well. It’s a masterpiece that Mr. Miyosawa, who has received a perfect score on the TOEIC test and is considered one of the leading people in TOEIC prep classes, has poured his soul into to create.
Today, we use Mr. Miyosawa’s textbooks, QQE Basics and QQE TOEIC, for both our online English conversation program and study abroad program.
To be honest, the hardest part was learning to work with children.
Zette said, “Children are easy. I’ve taught children for 8 years, so leave it up to me.”
She was right—the demo lessons she conducted with the Filipino children were phenomenal. The children always seemed like they were having fun learning English.
But it was no use. In the Philippines, even the children who cannot speak English at least know how to say hello and their name. It’s completely different when it comes to Japanese children, though. They just stare when the teacher says hello and when asked their name, they don’t react at all. When that happens, Zette works even harder and tries to speak to them in even more English.
When I went to go see how it was going, it was a miserable sight. The child began to cry, and Zette didn’t know how to react. In the end, the children ran away from their screen.
“Raiko, Japanese children are different from Filipino children. I don’t know how to teach them well. Isn’t there someone we can ask for advice?”
This was a matter outside of Mr. Miyosawa’s expertise. Panicking, I looked for the publisher of the textbook. It was in Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan.
The textbook was called We Can, and it’s from Matsuka Phonics Institute. I went back to Tokyo immediately and rode my motorcycle to visit them. Although I may not have much academic ability, I have confidence in my strong luck and ability to take action. The author of the textbook, Ms. Yoko Matsuka, was present in the office. She’s often out of the office due to lectures, but I was able to coincidentally talk to her. She thought it was awesome that this guy, who runs a motorcycle delivery service in Tokyo and also runs an online English conversation program, is puzzled over how to teach English to Japanese kids and came to discuss the matter.
“Mr. Raiko, I’ll go to Cebu. I’ve never been to the Philippines before, but I’m interested in what English is like over there,” she happily agreed.
She began training our teachers in Cebu. “The characteristics of children in Japan are–” she began. And like this, apprentices of Ms. Yoko Matsuka were born.
As a matter of fact, she came to visit us in Cebu the other day for the grand opening of our new campus. It had been 6 years since she was last here in Cebu.
“Mr. Raiko, I’m shocked. The 7 teachers that I taught have now increased to 700!”
The 7 original Super Teachers seemed very happy to see her as well.
4x as fast - The miracle of the callan method
The strongest in the world, the militaristic Callan Method
The learning method that I did when studying abroad in the Philippines years ago was basically just memorizing as many sentences as possible. In the beginning, I worked hard to just memorize terms. My first goal was 2,000. But because I only memorized terms and terms only, I didn’t know how to use them at all. I was learning English because I wanted to talk about motorcycles with the Italians, but if I don’t know how to have a conversation, what am I doing?
I thought that I had to learn whole sentences that I could use in conversations, so I went to a book store to purchase a thin book of conversation examples and decided to memorize the entire thing. I continued this from morning to evening, while taking online English conversation classes and studying abroad in the Philippines. The thin book was meant for self-study so I had my teacher read it to me and then I would read it next. Afterward, I would have them listen to me over and over. I wanted to be able to actually speak, so I focused on just memorizing sentences accurately.
I didn’t study grammar, reading, or anything at all like that. I was just constantly saying fixed sentences out loud. I don’t recommend it as a very effective studying method, but I did find a method similar to it that was.
Firstly, there is a method called the Communicative Approach, which is a method that has the student learn English through conversations. They especially focus on conversations based on different situations.
The method that I found was the Audiolingual Approach. It is said that the American military came up with it during the war so that they could communicate more quickly with their allies. It’s a method that has the goal of acquiring English that you can truly use and is understood by others. It’s always done with a student and teacher, and when the student speaks incorrectly, the teacher corrects them on the spot. It has the belief that through mechanical repetition and intense practice, the student develops speaking reflexes on their own accord—leading them on the path to being able to speak. It’s a very intense and difficult learning method.
The Communicative Approach can be done with friends too, as it aims towards the goal of communication. Therefore, accurate English is not the focus. It is mainly meant to enjoyably learn everyday English used in conversations.
There are various theories and learning methods out there, but I think learning English and losing weight are quite similar. “Lose weight easily”, “Lose weight in a week”, “By doing this, you’ll lose weight before you know it” is commonly heard phrases. See what happens when you switch out “lose weight” and replace it with “learn English.” It fits completely. From my experience, there’s no way to learn English easily or learn English in a week. It’s just not possible to learn English before you know it either.
There’s nothing you can do to lose weight easily, but I do think there are ways to lose weight quickly at least. Do you remember the popular exercise program, “Billy’s Bootcamp”? It’s a militaristic, intense program. Even if you can’t lose weight within a week, you’ll eventually lose weight by exercising at that level. The Audiolingual Approach is basically a militaristic learning method too. You listen to what your scary superiors order you to do and reluctantly follow. The results are there, but because of its intensity, it doesn’t appeal to the general public.
The sports-oriented Callan Method
There is a secretly famous English conversation school in London. It’s a very grueling school, but if you want to improve your English quickly, I’d say it’s worthwhile. The school invented the Callan Method, which is based on the Audiolingual Approach. The Callan Method is claimed to raise one’s English level at 4 times the speed of other methods. It takes on average 350 hours of studying to pass the Cambridge examination, but with the Callan Method, you can pass it with approximately 80. Not only that, the acceptance rate for those who study under the Callan Method is 95%. It’s a method that is approved in over 30 countries (mostly in Europe) and around 400 language schools. Even a fair number of Japanese people know about it.
I decided that I wanted to use the Callan Method for my programs too, but I didn’t have any connections for it. No matter how much I approached them from Cebu, it didn’t go well, and I was reminded of the beginnings of when I established my motorcycle import business. Back then, I would establish unexpected relationships by talking to people in person and with my own words. Even if it may lead to nothing, I had to go. I was becoming worried day by day from the delay in textbook creation, so I decided to go for it and fly to London.
They had wonderful, historical buildings situated on Oxford Street, a street with many gift shops. They had 2 buildings, one for class and one for management, and there was another building situated between them. I knew that my request was unreasonable, but I immediately encountered an unexpected “fate” here too. Although I had no appointment, I was able to meet with the president, Mr. Tom, and the nephew of Mr. Callan, Charles. They were very surprised when I told them I was running an online English conversation business in the Philippines. And they patiently listened to me discuss with them the thoughts I had about our teaching materials.
They then invited me to dine with them at a membership-only club. It was a famous one, and Winston Churchill used to be a member as well. It’s within a historic building in the middle of London, but it is so significant at the entrance. Once entered, a butler kindly welcomes you and calls your name. Upon handing over your coat and going in, a museum-like area opens up. Past that is the dining hall. Of course, there were no prices listed on the menu. The host member writes your order and hands it over to the waiter. The dishes were brought to us upon trays; they were so delicious that I was doubtful I was in England. Later, we had after-meal tea in the library with books from hundreds of years ago around us.
Properly mastering the 4x speed
We continued our discussion, and fortunately, they agreed to send over a trainer from the Callan School to our school in Cebu.
They said, “The Callan Method has to be done properly or else it won’t achieve the desired effect. Don’t just copy what we’re doing, you must master the method properly. We’ll help you do this.”
With this, we received official written recognition of Callan Method training. We became the first online English conversation program, as well as the first study abroad program for English in the Philippines to ever receive this.
I believe I was able to encounter this “fate” because of my ability to speak English. There are many people out there who believe that you must speak perfect English in order to conduct business, but that is not true at all. It may be necessary when laying out very detailed terms in contracts, but if you cannot establish human relationships first, no business has the chance to begin. If you bring in a translator, you cannot become close to the other person. No matter how poorly you speak the language, new paths will open up to you if you can express yourself with your own words.
The Callan Method is an English learning method that is shaped like an intensive training program. It has over 50 years of history in England. Their catchphrase is that they can grow your English skills 4 times as fast as other methods. To put it simply, it’s a method in which you listen a lot and speak a lot.
The Callan Method’s intensive training style of constantly repeating fixed sentences with guidance from the teacher suits our programs very well. When you finish a lesson, you are met with a great feeling of satisfying exhaustion, similar to when you exercise or do sports.
It’s similar to the strategy that I used while I studied abroad in the Philippines, but the Callan Method is much more effective and you are also able to learn grammar, as well as pronunciation at the same time. It’s truly an amazing learning method.
There are lots of English conversation schools out there that will tell you that they can grow your English skills, but I think there are very few that have done actual experiments with public institutions. Personally, I was a little doubtful of the Callan Method’s claim that they can grow your English skills 4 times as fast as other methods, so I conducted some research.
Last year, we collaborated with Meiji University’s Institute of Civilization and Management and had 21 students study with the Callan Method. We had them take 80 hours of one-on-one Callan Method lessons with our online English conversation program. The results were that their TOEIC test score went up by 110 points. There was even a student who was able to raise theirs by 250 points. These days, there are even a couple of universities that approve of the Callan Method. Some schools also give academic credit to students to study with Filipino teachers on online English language programs.
Everything began in the midst of trouble
The first step into the whole wide world was about to begin
In a 400 square meter office, there are 74 cubicles, each equipped with a desk for giving lessons. It’s designed in a way that the teachers do not have to worry about people walking behind them. The walls and cubicles that were freshly painted with a cream color shined brightly.
In August 2009, our entrance was decorated with flowers, and our online English conversation program officially opened.
At the time, nobody had thought of gathering their teachers all in one area to teach. Mainstream ways had no office and would have Filipino teachers teach from home through a matching system with students. Instead of it being a system of learning online English conversation with a Filipino teacher who has a teaching style that suits you the best, their systems were more like dating websites. I didn’t want that at all. So I made an English conversation school where you could study in a serious manner through Skype and learn from professional teachers who have proper training and experience.
The first day was tough. We were running a school in a style that nobody had done before with a system that teachers had not used before, so there’s no way we wouldn’t run into trouble. With these unexpected problems, my brain was working at its fullest potential. And it wasn’t just mine—the teachers’ brains were working just as much.
The 7 Super Teachers were running about.
“Raiko, the system has a bug. I have the wrong student.”
“They can’t reserve their lesson. What should I do?”
“Contact Japan immediately. What’s the point of freaking out over here?”
“I can’t hear sound from Skype.”
“They asked me about payments, but I don’t really know about it well.”
“The power won’t turn on. I don’t think this cord is connected.”
“We have a power shortage!”
“The backup generator will start up as soon as possible.”
“The system failed. There’s no battery sign.”
Even thinking about it now, it was a crazy commotion. But I actually didn’t give any instructions, everyone overcame their issues on their own. Things were definitely chaotic, but as I watched the teachers handle the problems one by one, I felt a sense of pride. I felt confident that no matter what kind of hardship comes our way in the future, we will be able to push through it all. By experiencing lots of failures, everyone was learning to solve issues through their own judgment.
I remember this piece of advice that my Korean friend had given to me:
“Filipinos, unlike Japanese people and Koreans, aren’t punctual with time, won’t work seriously, and will slack off. So you shouldn’t expect much from them. The reason why Korean companies are succeeding with study abroad programs in the Philippines is that they make sure to have a fully Korean management team running everything in a Korean way. If you don’t want to fail, you should likewise use Japanese people too.”
I didn’t follow their so-called advice. Maybe if I had used a Japanese consultant and prepared my school with Japanese people, things may have had a smoother start. Even so, it’s okay. Where we are isn’t the goal line. We’re standing on the starting line, and we’re going to start a new kind of business in the Philippines. My Filipino team members and I are going to fail together and learn and grow from those failures. There would be no point in all of this otherwise.
Defeat after Defeat
New businesses are never easy. We were promoting ours as hard as we could, but we weren’t getting enough students. It can’t be helped though; an amateur had made his way into the education industry after all.
We had to get more students for our online program somehow. So, we had the guys working at my motorcycle delivery service business in Tokyo work very hard for us. Since our base is delivery, we first had them hand out pamphlets. The bond our riders had made with the Filipino teachers was now very strong, as they had been our demo students all the way until we officially opened. Now, they were going to help us out by utilizing their specific specialty, they were extremely motivated. We made 100,000 pamphlets, and all our riders handed them out within the city. The guys working at my motorcycle delivery service business are such hard workers that they handed out all 100,000 pamphlets within a single weekend.
As the riders were preparing together I asked, “How many does a single person hand out?”
“We pack them into boxes until they’re full and hand them all out up to the very last one. It doesn’t matter how many we have, just pack as many as you can in here,” one replied.
They may not be the type of people who are the best at promoting online, but they are very good at handing out physical things to people. I was surprised that all 100,000 of them disappeared before my eyes though. They truly wanted to help out the Philippine team.
Once that was finished, I excitedly waited for phone calls to come in our 24-hour operation center. Can you guess what kind of results came from handing out 100,000 pamphlets?
The answer is…not 0.01%. In fact, it was a whopping zero percent difference. No results at all. I was shocked to say the least. Upon thinking about this later, we were promoting an English conversation program that nobody knows about, and not only that, we were offering a program that teaches English with a Filipino teacher through Skype. A completely foreign idea to most people. And a motorcycle delivery service business was handing them out. There’s no way that promoting in this way would have worked.
Now that our pamphlet plan had faced a great defeat, the next plan was to have the riders hand out and explain the pamphlets at their various delivery locations. Our riders make deliveries to over 1,000 companies every day, and there are many delivery locations where our riders’ faces are recognized. I anticipated good results, but led to yet another defeat. The person who handles the deliveries from the riders is, of course, never the company’s president or someone of that sort. It’s often a receptionist or a part-time employee working at the mailroom. We were never able to have the information about our business reach its way to any company’s management.
Of course, our business team worked hard too. They went from house to house to explain our online English conversation program. But as people listened to what we had to say, they would say things like they don’t know what Skype is or that they rarely use their computer. The housewives that were present in their homes in the afternoons were basically all like that.
“Sorry. I don’t even know what Skype is,” they’d say. And the moment they hear “free overseas call”, they’d shut the door in our face.
I guess they think “If it’s free, it’s shady.” Free overseas video call with a Filipino teacher and you learn English…and a motorcycle delivery service is promoting it…
Thinking about it now, I don’t think even I would’ve listened. So, that plan faced a defeat too.
It was unexpected that the public knowledge on Skype was a lot lower than we had thought. As someone conducting business overseas, it was common knowledge, but the application just wasn’t necessary for many people with average lives.
And like this, I was reaffirmed with the idea that selling a new product is a very difficult thing to do.
The crucial difference compared to the elites
The way that smart people run businesses has a crucial difference compared to those who are not. Before acting, the elites will predict potential issues and come up with solutions to deal with said issues. But when it comes to how I do things, I will run towards my ideals and goals without having prepared solutions. I just end up doing it.
Like my past businesses, I had to think about the costs for the office, for labor, for our internet, and for the facilities, or else I wouldn’t be able to continue it. Our strategy against the other schools was to have our many teachers teach all in one place and raise our quality. If students know that we are different, they would smoothly hop on board, but when it comes to figuring out how to collect more students, we had to find a way on our own. Even if it meant failing along the way.
The fact that we couldn’t get enough students was something we did expect. Even if we promote by saying that all of our teachers are full-time teachers who are veteran professionals for study abroad programs for English in the Philippines, most people don’t care to that extent. It’s because they can’t see a crucial difference compared to schools that hire part-time teachers with minimum training in which students can talk to the teachers all day long.
But I had to trust until the very end that my ideal was right. Someday our quality is sure to be understood. We worked hard and believed that there will come a time in which people will take online English conversation classes to properly study, rather than to just enjoy having conversations. Achieving results can wait until the very end. Until then, all you can do is challenge yourself.
I’m curious if, when it comes to businesses that nobody has done before, one can truly achieve results through a system of predicting issues, thinking of solutions, and preparing everything in advance. If you can predict issues and come up with solutions, then the issue isn’t a big deal in the first place. And when you don’t spontaneously do things, your brain doesn’t become active, nor will you come up with revolutionary ideas. Like the ideal that I had of not expecting ghost members for my payment plans, if I had the necessity to come up with an adequate solution right then, I don’t think I would’ve been able to act from there. The most important thing in business is to have a clear vision and have the passion to make it happen.
This part is a little off topic, but I actually have a dream of studying business in America. I don’t know how things will work since I haven’t gone to college, but I want to work on getting a MBA and study whether my business method was correct. Usually, people apply what they’ve learned in school to their business, but in my case, it would be backwards. If my business succeeds, I want to go and verify it. And I want to use my proud Philippine English to study what kinds of theories my elite rivals used in creating their own online English conversation programs.