The opportunity to work for not one but two tech giants has been “very rewarding” for Sukemasa Kabayama.
After a stint of seven years at Lego Japan, he became Appleand pioneered the use of iPad in Japanese schools.
Supporting the launch of the electric vehicle manufacturer Models was no small feat, but Kabayama was hungry for more.
He wanted to be an entrepreneur.
“[I was] really in charge of sales and marketing, as opposed to having very little effectiveness on the product,” the 51-year-old told CNBC Make It.
“I thought it would be a lot more exciting to really build something from scratch, from scratch.”
In 2016, he moved to Silicon Valley, hoping to create “category defining” products like Steve Jobs and Musk did.
Six years later, Kabayama may be one step closer to that goal. His health startup Uplift Labs, founded in 2017, is an artificial intelligence-powered platform that tracks and analyzes movement in 3D.
According to the company, it has since been adopted by some MLB and NBA teams to improve the movement performance of athletes, while minimizing injuries.
“Many professional sports teams have these indoor multi-camera labs that allow for precise motion capture,” said Uplift’s co-founder and CEO.
“But, [with Uplift Labs] … all you need right now is just two iPhones or two iPads. It’s portable and we can capture the action whether it’s on the field, on the field or in the batting cage.”
The startup claims to have raised $8.5 million, with a star-studded list of investors including NBA star Seth Curry, NFL player David DeCastro and Deepcore, a Soft Bank subsidiary company.
With over 17 years of experience under his belt, Kabayama has three tips for running a business. CNBC Make It finds out what they are.
Working for Apple and Tesla gave Kabayama insight into what it takes to create successful products.
“While the culture at Apple and Tesla was not exactly the same, [there’s a] common, which is the need to really understand your business at a detailed level,” he said.
Kabayama cited an example: the attention to detail in the user experience, which is “exceptional and unmatched” for both companies.
“For example, if you’re buying a new iPhone, the box lid is designed for ‘slow release’ to anticipate when you unbox your new phone,” he said.
“The cellophane wrapper is designed to be easily removed with your finger, unlike many other products where you struggle with scissors or your fingernails. That’s just the unboxing.”
For early-stage startups, the key to success is product market fit, Kabayama said.
That trusty litmus test is something he falls back on: “If you suddenly had to take your product or solution away from them, can they get away with it?”
“It’s so important to be relentlessly focused…really understanding what customer segment you’re targeting, what their pain points are, and do you really have an effective solution to address them?”
Kabayama added that while companies like Apple and Tesla are already having “significant impact on market share”, they have a “big vision” that will push the envelope.
“They’re all very goal driven…or better yet, vision driven. Take Tesla for example, the company’s vision is to move the world towards more sustainable transportation.”
“Being vision-driven really rallies the troops. All that hard work you do goes towards a greater common good.”
Something Kabayama enjoys doing for his business? Respond to as many customer calls as possible, he said.
“What makes my heart sing is really hearing what they love about the product, but also hearing what we can do better.”
He added, citing Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn“There’s no such thing as tough love…you’d rather have 10 or even 100 passionate users than 100,000 users thinking, ‘The product is fine.'”
What keeps Kabayama going is providing “an essential missing piece” to understanding how athletes of all levels naturally move.