quantum: A startup studio where staff themselves become founders and provide new value to society

Jun. 19, 2019
  • Viewpoints

A startup studio creating businesses of the future that provide new value to society one after another, quantum began life as a unit of TBWA\HAKUHODO charged with generating open innovations with other companies. Following three years as an independent from April 2016, this April it made a new start as a fully owned subsidiary of Hakuhodo.Here, we ask three of its key people about the startup studio’s business, quantum’s strengths and points of difference, and synergies within the Hakuhodo Group with future potential.

Left: Yuta Ohashi, Studio Development Director
Center: Satoko Morimoto, Senior Manager
Right: Shintaro Monden, Chief Designer/Creative Director

A “founders first” ethos

Firstly, could you tell us about your startup studio business?

OHASHI: Like a Hollywood movie studio that releases new movies one after another, startup studios aim to pump out new businesses and products. This type of firm only appeared about 10 years ago and there are still only about 250 or 300 of us in the world. Many are still exploring their business format, and there are not that many successful examples so far.

How big is quantum’s workforce and what kinds of people do you have working with you?

OHASHI: We currently have around 40 people, including some seconded from Hakuhodo. They have really diverse backgrounds, and this diversity is one of our main advantages.

MONDEN: These varied backgrounds allow us to put together the right team for each project, with members with different roles and specializations. For instance, my specialization is design, so I’m often involved in projects that create products, but the other members of the project are different each time. This fluidity and flexibility is our strong point.

OHASHI: At quantum, we think that this diversity and flexibility is the base on which new founders (entrepreneurs) are born. We introduced “Founders first,” our new motto from this year, because we aim to create lots of startups with an emphasis on our employees becoming founders themselves. We are putting a lot of effort into building an environment that builds our employees into founders.

Tell us about your positions and roles.

OHASHI: My official title is Studio Development Director. With the company directors, I come up with the vision that will grow quantum as a startup studio, with my main role being to procure the resources necessary for that. My work is really varied, from undertaking M&A to drafting mid-term business plans, and selecting targets for investment to HR. I work pretty much like a mixed martial artist [laughs]. I’ll take a swing at whatever ball comes my way.

MORIMOTO: I’m in a division called Venture Architect. Originally known as Biz Dev, its role is to develop new businesses from the ground up. My job has three main facets. (1) Working with clients to develop new services and products from the concept up, (2) Providing in-house entrepreneur training programs to major companies and helping implement them, and (3) Starting new businesses as a founder myself. I am generally involved in 3–6 projects at any one time, and serve as project leader in most of them.

MONDEN: Before joining the company, I built my career at manufacturers and design offices, principally as an industrial designer. Since joining quantum, I’ve worked as a chief, supervising design work arising from all kinds of projects. Products, logos, packaging; the design domains I work in are varied. Among other domains, I also look forward to giving space design and UI and UX design a go.

Designers at startup studios need to not only turn concepts into reality, but be involved in projects from the concept creation stage, and think deeply about what value a design will bring to the world. I feel that this is the real pleasure of the work.

Taking on a wide range of business domains using internal resources as far as possible

In addition to employee diversity and organizational flexibility, what are the characteristics of quantum?

OHASHI: In general, many startup studios are companies that aim to create new businesses for themselves, but we can be characterized by the fact we put equal effort into creating startups ourselves as we do into launching startups with clients and external partners.

In addition, while many startup studios specialize in specific business domains, such as IT and entertainment, we don’t restrict ourselves to any particular domain. We undertake a wide range of projects from the standpoint that we’ll do anything, as long as it provides value to the world. I think that this is what makes us unique.

MORIMOTO: Since we don’t limit our business domains, we can handle a variety of client concerns. I think that’s our strength. For example, large companies have various problems, such as “We have superior technologies, but don’t know how to commercialize them,” and “We want to consider new businesses using approaches different from those we have used at the company up till now.” In addition to proposing optimal solutions for each problem, we can create the business with the client. That’s quantum’s point of difference.

Do you sometimes look outside for resources needed for your project?

MORIMOTO: Our basic policy is to be as internalized as possible. If our own people take on the new project, experience will accumulate with us. Of course, there are cases where we collaborate with external partners, but we try to do what we can on our own.

MONDEN: We have many designers and engineers in house, and they all have experience in crafting things with their own hands, all the way through to delivery to the end user. Therefore, when they are involved in a project to create a product, for example, they can come up with specific and detailed ideas, such as suggestions about the color or the shape of the buttons. So, we don’t have to ask outside professionals to do that.

I see. The company has a workshop and other facilities, which makes it possible to produce high-level prototypes.

MONDEN: Yes, we do. We have a laboratory equipped with a variety of equipment, including 3D printers and laser cutters, and what we make there is somehow of higher quality than a prototype.

It is possible to create a large prototype and conduct detailed verification of the product. I don’t think there are many startup studios in the world that go this far.

MORIMOTO: The more we undertake new projects ourselves, the more experience we gain, and the better we are able to respond to new projects. Recently, there have been a variety of projects, from tangible to intangible, and I’m quickly expanding the areas I excel at.

MONDEN: Experience is the seed of the next project, isn’t it? Taking on challenges increases what you are able to do. I think that’s what makes startup studios exciting.

Synergies revolving around sei-katsu-sha insight

Having become a Hakuhodo Group company in April, what synergies do you anticipate within the group?

OHASHI: We are right in the midst of discussing ways of collaborating. Until now, quantum has focused on going from zero to one, but we now intend to develop from one to 100 or even 1,000. I believe that the possibilities for expanding our business will grow and grow as we collaborate within the Hakuhodo Group.

MORIMOTO: We look forward to utilizing the Group’s resources in a variety of areas, including marketing, creative, and co-creation of business, and we, too, intend to contribute knowledge we have acquired to date.

Collaboration is already progressing steadily at the project level. I hope people-to-people interactions will become more active in the future, too.

So, Hakuhodo’s Sei-katsu-sha Insight philosophy may also be effective when creating startups.

MORIMOTO: I think sei-katsu-sha insight is really important. Whether solving clients’ problems or creating products, it is essential to consider the sei-katsu-sha who are the end users. We, too, have put effort into uncovering sei-katsu-sha insights until now. I would like to find synergies revolving around sei-katsu-sha insight.

MONDEN: Naturally, imposing we producers’ values and ideas is wrong, even when creating something that has never been seen before, and user-centric thinking and human-centered approaches are essential. Without these, new things will not be accepted or take root in society. In that sense, I think it’s fair to say that sei-katsu-sha insight is at the core of what quantum does, too.

But sei-katsu-sha often don’t know themselves what they really want. Therefore, I think it is necessary to interpret the thoughts of sei-katsu-sha that emerge from interviews, and make efforts to present a vision of the world beyond that which many people imagine.

There seems to be potential for all sorts of intra-Group collaborations. I’m looking forward to what comes next. Thank you for your time today.

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