The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Jim Weisser has a long history with the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ). And on January 19, at the ACCJ Speaker Event “Entrepreneurialism, Leadership, and Trust” in the ACCJ Boardroom, he told the story of how he went from teaching English at Aeon to becoming general manager of BroadCloud Japan.

The event was inspirational for those considering starting their own business in a country that can be daunting for the non-native.

A third-generation chemical engineer, Weisser arrived in Japan in 1993 to chart a course that would take him outside the family line. After getting his feet wet teaching English, he started working in 1996 at corporate Internet service provider PSINet.

At roughly the same time, he joined the ACCJ, co-founded a committee on e-commerce, and began to grow his business acumen.

As he continued his journey, he worked part time for three different startups in e-commerce, Internet incubation, and consulting. His most interesting title was Chief Technical Rainmaker.

On a personal level, Weisser was learning what he liked and didn’t like, but wasn’t quite sure of the right fit. He was looking for innovative, fast-moving environments, a chance to work with great people, and, in part because it was easier to explain to his father-in-law, stability. “So, I went to Enron,” he said with a laugh.

At Enron, he ran the broadband trading business at the Japan office. Going in, he was sure that he could be a hero, as he was the only one who had worked in telecom and the Internet in Japan. This led to another realization: “If you’re hired into a company to go do something and you feel like you can do more than a 20-person team, either you’re crazy—always possible—or you’re in the wrong company. I was probably both.”

When the Enron Corporation went bankrupt in 2001, Weisser found himself unemployed and made the decision to start his own company. “I can’t get a job. I’d better make one.”

In 2003, Weisser Consulting YK was founded to do contingency-based telecom expense management. This is the moment that many of us reach as entrepreneurs, and the challenge is taking what we know, learning what we don’t, and finding the right path to grow.

“The way that I ran the business was that I looked at each contract in rent volume—oh, that’s a ten-rent deal, that’s a five-rent deal—because rent was my biggest expense,” Weisser explained. “That meant, probably, that I underbid myself on a number of things. If someone is in Roppongi Hills and you’re going in based on your house rent, they’re like ‘Are you sure you’re okay with this number?’ But it worked out.”

But, because Weisser was personally the bulk of the billing, the business wasn’t scalable. To grow, he would have to hire a large number of people at significant risk. This realization led to the genesis of PBXL KK, which was originally a business unit within Weisser Consulting YK.

Weisser saw an opportunity after visiting a client who had just installed a private branch exchange (PBX) enterprise telephone system for ¥25 million. He thought, “This should be a Cloud service.” So, in 2006, PBXL was launched to meet this need.

Growth was good through 2008, and Weisser was elected to the ACCJ Board of Governors and helped establish the Internet Economy Task Force. The following year, however, was described by Weisser as “the worst year we had ever been through.” He had to fire people he personally liked and mortgage his house to put money into the company.

Weathering the storm paid off. In 2012, the Cloud finally caught on in Japan, and PBXL was raising external money for growth when in 2015 it was acquired by BroadSoft.

The event closed with a moment of reflection on Weisser’s two decades of work with the ACCJ, where he has served as a committee leader, governor, and vice president (2011–2014). “The exposure and the opportunity to meet other businesspeople in a professional environment—that were not in my company—was incredibly useful.

“It’s good to have feedback that’s not in your reporting line,” he continued. “There are going to be people who have more experience than you. I’ve personally found probably all the people I have considered mentors through the ACCJ, though we never had a formal mentor-mentee relationship or program. For me, being involved and being active made me the leader I am today and gave me an opportunity to see how different styles of leadership can be effective.”

Christopher Bryan Jones is Editor-in-chief of The Journal. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, he has lived in Japan since 1997.
This is the moment that many of us reach as entrepreneurs, and the challenge is taking what we know, learning what we don’t, and finding the right path to grow.