Using adversity to her advantage, the Founder and CEO of KMLAB, Kazuna Yamamoto has taken her career to greater heights by juggling three companies at the same time.
She founded Educate For, a non-Governmental organisation that works with different communities and schools to empower children. Then KMLAB, which focuses on eco-friendly fashion finds, and her latest venture, Social Ace – a Chilean tech start-up company that aims to develop social media channels that connect NGOs to individuals and firms.
We had the privilege to sit down with Kazuna to learn about her foray into entrepreneurship.
Q. Let’s talk about your current business/profession, what do you do?
I am currently the founder of three companies; Educate For, KMLAB, and Social Ace.
Educate For is an NGO I found in February 2018, which currently operates in Peru, Chile and Japan. We’ve done summer camps, leadership projects, and art and reading workshops for the kids. Currently, we are also building three big projects this year – a women empowerment project; a STEM project in the rural areas, as well as a cafeteria, catered to children in Peru.
KMLAB is also a company I started in 2018. By venturing into jewellery and eco-friendly/fair labour fashion, we hope to focus on the Asian/Japanese market to deliver cute, stylish but sustainable alternatives to the youth and millennials of Japan.
Just Smile is a bamboo toothbrush company that I founded with my business partner, Helena, from Belgium. We focus our market on the Belgium and Japanese market, to sell environmentally sustainable and Instagrammable toothbrushes.
Last but not least, I am in charge of the development and marketing of a Chilean tech startup company, Social Ace. We aim to develop social media channels that connect NGOs to individuals and firms, so volunteering, crowdfunding and sustainable e-commerce can be done through the same platform.
Q. With the ups and downs in life, is there anything interesting you might like to share with us?
When I started Educate For, we had no donations nor funding although many people were showing some interest in the company. I spent almost every day staying up until 4 to 5 in the morning. The frustration that work won’t get done and the lack of motivation was very difficult.
I started the organisation because I wanted to make a change, to challenge myself, and to do things the way I believe I could make the most impact, but there were arguments on how I managed and delivered tasks. It was frustrating, and it took time.
In the end, all of the people that were with me in the very beginning left. I was doing everything alone for a while, be it from marketing, project planning, finance, translating, and additional hours to work as a language teacher to obtain more funds for Educate For. Soon, people became interested in us and we currently have about 30 people in four nations.
Q. Tell me something that’s true, that almost nobody agrees with you on.
That I can do everything and I’m right. There are so many people who disagree with me and try to dictate how I should do certain things or doubt my abilities and my choices. In addition, the homogeneous culture makes everything that is different,wrong and that led me to start different companies so I can prove to myself that I can do anything based on my instincts.
Q. What is “empowerment” to you?
Empowerment is to maximise one’s potential. It’s not forcing one to do something, but have full capacity to do what you are good at, what you are capable of doing.
Q. How lucky do you think you are and why?
I think I’m fortunate to have open-minded parents who still support me and did not force me into the mindset of working for others my whole life. Many Japanese parents still tell their children that they cannot take breaks nor work in small start-ups or firms, instead find multi-national, huge companies that offer more job stability.
I’m also lucky I chose to learn the Spanish language and grateful for all the people who are now walking with me in life.
Q. If you woke up and received 1,000 unread emails and could only answer 100 of them, how would you choose which ones to answer?
I would answer all of the emails from my family first, then think in chronological order of who I might need to answer to ASAP that day. Otherwise, first come, first serve!
Q. Given what you know today if we took a time machine back to the beginning, what would you have done differently?
I would have started earlier in the start-up ecosystem. Being in Japan and also a woman, I have never thought I would be an entrepreneur, even though I’ve always had ideas. Since Japan is still very traditional, I felt the pressure that people would not take me seriously. I wish I were able to motivate myself and challenge myself earlier. But ultimately, no regrets!
Kazuna has never let her guard down. She started working at age 15, gained a lot of experiences along the way, learned a new language, and never missed an opportunity which later became an essential part of her career.
Taking on multiple roles at the same time may sound impossible, but Kazuna made it happen by applying time management skills, persevered, and just enjoyed doing what she loves. Her tenacious mindset and proper goal setting when it comes to work and life make her a woman of success.