Joi Ito: Combining Soft Assets to Build a Competitive Advantage

June 24 2012

In the book we write that a career competitive edge emerges when you build assets in pursuit of real aspirations that account for the market realities.

Single assets (skills, experiences, connections) in isolation don’t have much value. Consider Joi Ito, head of the MIT Media Lab. He was born in Japan but raised in Michigan. In his mid-twenties he moved back to Japan and set up one of the first commercial Internet service providers there. At the same time, he kept developing connections in the United States, investing in Silicon Valley start-ups like Flickr and Twitter, establishing the Japanese subsidiary for the early American blogging company Six Apart and more recently helping to establish LinkedIn Japan. Is Joi the only person with start-up experience who does angel investing in the Valley? No. Is he the only person with roots in both the United States and Japan? No. But combining these transpacific, bilingual, tech-industry assets gives him a competitive advantage over other investors and entrepreneurs. Suffice to say, if Joi were bilingual in an obscure African dialect as opposed to the language of the world’s third-largest economy (Japan), it wouldn’t contribute to a compelling advantage for working with technology companies.

Remember that your asset mix is not fixed. You can strengthen it by investing in yourself. So if you think you lack certain assets that would make you more competitive, don’t use it as an excuse. Resolve to start developing them. In the meantime, see how you can turn an asset weakness into a strength. For example, you may not see inexperience as an asset to highlight, but the flip side of inexperience tends to be energy, enthusiasm, and a willingness to work and hustle in order to learn. Combine hustle with even an entry level skill, and you’ve got something valuable to offer the market.


We were delighted that Joi wrote the foreword to the Japanese edition of The Start-Up of You, published by Nikkei BP. Reid and Ben were in Japan last week for the book’s launch. Here’s a photo of Reid and Mikitani-San, CEO of Rakuten, on stage discussing the book.