Props: Akiko Naka & Wantedly

Akiko in Petra

As you know, I was lucky enough to sail around the world twice. One my second trip, I met Akiko, who was working as a translator. She is now the founder of Japan’s Wantedly, known as ‘Linkedin for millennials.’ At that time, she was a fresh-faced graduate from a prestigious university with a fancy job lined up with Goldman Sachs in Tokyo. She was full of energy and extremely smart, with an endearing Kiwi accent (she had gone to high school in New Zealand, and despite not speaking English fluently when she arrived, became top of the school. No surprises there).

Now Akiko is something of a celebrity in Japan’s burgeoning startup scene – she’s done TED Talks, and been featured in well-known media around the world, particularly in Asia where her company is expanding. She is my favourite millennial, having started coding from the age of nine. She’s a risk taker and her dream was to become a Manga artist and indeed, after a few gruelling years at Goldman Sachs, she quit and gave herself a year to make it happen. As we know, success is not usually linear and predictable and often life takes us in unexpected directions. The money didn’t follow and instead, life took Akiko to Facebook where she worked before quitting to found Wantedly. Although in interviews she has said she doesn’t want to be considered pioneering because she’s a female leader in the tech and recruiting industries, given the cultural context of conservative, patriarchal Japan, it is incredible that a young woman has been able to be so successful. Times are a-changing.

The mission of Wantedly comes at an important time – it seeks to change with way people feel about work, and to match employers and job seekers based on values and meaning. Money and prestige take a backseat to passion and fulfilment. Her heroes are Steve Jobs and Dan Pink.

Based on my fond memories of hanging out with Akiko, I am not at all surprised by her success. I remember her indefatigable nature – she would get up at 6am, go to the gym and workout, then work all day and socialize all night, getting by on very little sleep and having almost no downtime. Maybe her energy levels were fuelled by her compulsive drinking of vegetable juice. Regardless, it is kind of cool having a famous friend and seeing their star rise.