The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

At first glance, taking the road less traveled appears to be a calling rather than a choice for serial entre­preneur Mai Fujimoto.

But, on closer inspection, it’s clear that her entrepreneurial journey has been a combination of luck, smarts, and sheer will. “I always wanted to be in control of my own life, so I never really had the idea of being an employee,” she told The ACCJ Journal.

Popularly known as Miss Bitcoin, Fujimoto is the founder and chief executive officer of Gracone Inc., a Tokyo-based blockchain and cryptocurrency consultancy.

An advisor and influencer in the industry, she uses her infectious good nature to educate the public about blockchain and to raise the industry’s profile in Japan and abroad.

But that’s not all. Fujimoto has leveraged her business acumen not only to create a case for using cryptocurrencies but also to nourish the burgeoning industry with talent.

And, remarkably, she embarked on this perilous path in Japan, a country famous for being risk-averse, and where con­formity is a virtue. Fujimoto is different; she prefers to stand out.

DIGITAL FAITH
Fujimoto’s journey in blockchain and cryptocurrencies began almost by accident back in 2011, when the industry was still largely a whisper on the innovation dark web.

As luck would have it, in November of that year, she happened to be introduced to Roger Ver, a maverick businessman and early investor in bitcoin-related projects. On account of his evangelism of the industry, Ver is often referred to as “Bitcoin Jesus.”

Indeed, it was that conversation with Ver that convinced Fujimoto of the potential of cryptocurrencies and blockchain—the technology on which it is built—to change the world.

Such currencies could be a solution for pain points faced by users of cross-border payment systems. International transactions via currencies such as the dollar or yen are based on costly and inefficient systems. Bitcoin promised to do away with such legacies, Ver assured Fujimoto.

“Roger explained that, with bitcoin, you can make cross-border transfers directly, without using a bank, and at almost no cost,” she recalled. “Since then, I’ve been very excited about blockchain and bitcoin.”

BRANDING BITCOIN
When Fujimoto was introduced to bitcoin, she was a public relations consultant for Kyoto-based international children’s modeling agency ikids Inc. (Kids-Tokei).

In addition to their photo service for families, Kids-Tokei, at the time, wished to create a donations platform through which financially squeezed families in its global network could receive funds.

“But we found that making donations across borders using fiat currencies was quite expensive. Companies charge a large fee to make overseas transactions.”

So, it was music to her ears when she heard about bitcoin as a low-cost, easy-to-use, incumbent-free and secure payments solution.
But there was one problem.

“Nobody used bitcoin at that time. So, I thought, first, I need to promote it. I need to educate people about bitcoin.”

Having reached that conclusion—and with Bitcoin Jesus’s evangelism still fresh in her mind—she took what was, for her, an entrepreneurial leap of faith and landed on an inspired idea.

“I was sitting at home, writing a blog, and was inspired by Japanese baseball player Shigeo Nagashima, who is called Mr. Baseball. So, I decided to call myself Miss Bitcoin.”

CRYPTO DEMYSTIFIED
Fujimoto’s Damascus Road conversion happened in 2013.

As Miss Bitcoin, she has become an evangelist for blockchain and the cryptocurrency ecosystem.

Whether speaking at industry confer­ences, strategizing with blockchain investors and entrepreneurs, or attending media events and public forums, she has become a go-to expert—and social media influencer—in the crypto space.

“If I travel overseas and I say: ‘Hi, I’m Mai Fujimoto, a bitcoin evangelist,’ no one remembers me. But everyone remembers Miss Bitcoin.”

That said, Fujimoto is more than just the apparent face of bitcoin. She has leveraged her personality, network, and extensive knowledge of the technology and its potential to create an ever-growing footprint across the industry.

Inspired by her days at Kids-Tokei, she created a donations platform called Kizuna, a non-profit organization that supports programs in education and music.

Designed to facilitate crowdfunding campaigns via bitcoin payments, Kizuna supports at-risk high school students in emerging economies. Many of these children are likely to drop out of school due to a lack of resources.

But Kizuna serves another purpose. It is a use case for cryptocurrencies, a digital asset that—for many around the world, including Japan—is still a black box that has little utility in their daily lives.

“The platform is very simple. We introduce projects and allow people to make donations via a QR code. Anyone who has bitcoin or bitcoin cash can donate directly using a digital wallet or app on their smartphone.”

By creating an intuitive platform for cryptocurrency use, Fujimoto is hopeful that much of the mystery—and fear—that surrounds the digital currency will slowly disappear.

ENTREPRENEUR’S DNA
Born and raised in Kyoto, Fujimoto’s entrepreneurial and self-starting spirit can be traced back to her second year of college at Kyoto Women’s University.

“I quit university when I found a job in sales for a tutoring company, because I loved the work and wanted to focus more on it,” she confessed.

Not long after she left college to join the company, called Popura Inc., she became their top salesperson in Japan. Even then, she showed signs of an ability to produce results.

After Popura and Kids-Tokei, she had a short stint as a public relations consultant for a company in the crypto ecosystem.

“That was my first experience being paid for work in the cryptocurrency and blockchain space,” she remembers.

When, in late 2017, cryptocurrencies hit the headlines during a gold rush of initial coin offerings (ICOs)—a digital currency-based form of crowdfunding—Fujimoto bit the bullet and established Gracone in January 2018.

The company’s name is instructive and explains much of her success as an entrepreneur: Gracone is an amalgamation of “gravity” and “connect.”

“I have a secret power. As you can see from my company name, I can bring people together as by gravity.”

This, too, is remarkable for someone who, when she began her global crusade to bring bitcoin to the masses, could barely speak English.
“At that time, I could only say, ‘Nice to meet you.’ But, every day, I try to learn a new word.”

Still, one gets the sense that there is more to Fujimoto’s go-getter, pioneering spirit than meets the eye—a key, perhaps, to the fearless entrepreneur she is today.

“My mother . . . she is more powerful than me. She has a good ability to connect with and help friends and others around her. I learned a lot from her.”

FROM SCAM TO GOOD
Was it easy for Fujimoto to make the transition from college dropout to top sales executive to public relations consultant to blockchain and crypto expert and influencer? Not at all.

It turns out that her hardest pivot was the transition into blockchain. Not only did it not come naturally to her (she was an education major in college), but the learning curve was steep and the stumbling blocks plentiful.

“I took some time. I met with many investors and asked them what they thought about bitcoin. Ninety-nine percent of them said it is a scam,” she remembers.

What’s more, almost everyone she met advised her not to associate with anyone in the industry.

That said, Ken Shishido, one of her early mentors and a bitcoin enthusiast, told her that blockchain would have a greater impact on the world than has the internet revolution.

“‘You should learn about it from now on,’ he told me. So, I decided to learn more.”

Apart from leading Gracone and Kizuna, Fujimoto today is an advisor to a number of blockchain and crypto projects around the world, including Tokyo-based human resources company withB Co., Ltd., which sources professionals such as engineers and financiers for the blockchain and crypto ecosystem.

After seven years traversing a road less traveled, what lies on the horizon for Fujimoto? “I want to focus on social innovation, and I hope social impact projects can start using blockchain technology.”

John Amari is a writer and editor from the UK who specializes in articles on startups, entrepreneurs, science, tech, and business.
I want to focus on social innovation, and I hope social impact projects can start using blockchain technology.