Masayoshi Son: how to build a billion dollars company from a big dream

Masayoshi Son is the founder of Softbank and the richest man in Japan. He’s known to the world as:

  1. Lost 99% net worth ($70 billion) overnight in the dotcom crash.
  2. Invested $20 million into Alibaba which is now worth $140 billion
  3. Bought Vodafone Japan for $15.1 billion
  4. Bought 70% Sprint for $20.1 billion

When asked what he would want people to remember about him after he leaves the earth: “A crazy guy who bets on the future.”

The following is the except from Son’s interview with HBR in 1992 when Softbank was 10 year old. This is how Masayoshi Son started Softbank:

For a year and a half, I did research and made business plans. While I prepared, I had no income. I spent money, I had a new baby. My wife was worried. All my friends, my father, my mother, everybody was worried. They asked me, what are you going to do? You spent years studying in the United States, and now you aren’t doing anything. I spent all my time just thinking and thinking, studying what to do. I went to the library and bookstores. I bought books, I read all kinds of materials to prepare for what I would do for the next 50 years.

I came up with 40 new business ideas—everything from creating software to setting up hospital chains, since my wife’s father is a doctor and has a hospital. Then I had about 25 success measures that I used to decide which idea to pursue. One success measure was that I should fall in love with a particular business for the next 50 years at least. Very often, people get excited for the first few years, and then, after they see the reality, they get tired of the business. I wanted to choose one that I would feel more and more excited about as the years passed.

Another factor was that the business should be unique. That was very important to me. I didn’t want anyone else doing exactly the same thing. A third was that within 10 years I wanted to be number one in that particular business, at least in Japan. And I wanted to pick a business where the business category itself would be growing for the next 30 to 50 years. I didn’t want to choose a sinking ship.

I had all those measurements, about 25 in all, and 40 new ideas. I took a big sheet of paper, and I drew a matrix and put down scores and comments for each. Then I picked the best one, which turned out to be the personal computer software business. That was the start of Softbank.


I thought about making software myself and starting a software business, like I had done while I was at Berkeley. But, I thought, if I make good software, who would sell it? Making software and selling software are entirely different businesses. Even if I make good software, if there’s no one to sell it, I’d have to close the business.

I looked around for someone who was selling software, and I couldn’t find anyone. So, I thought, if no one is going to do it, I should do it. I made a list of the software producers and went to see them to find out what kind of software was available.


I had a very long-term vision. I didn’t have any evidence, but I believed in myself. I believed that someday I would have a very big company, a global business, and a very successful company.

While in college, Masayoshi Son wanted to become financially independent as soon as possible. He started looking for jobs that only required 5 minutes working and would pay $10,000 a month. His friends thought he was crazy. There were illegal jobs such as selling drugs but Masayoshi Son did not want to do anything illegal.

Masayoshi Son learned from Konusoke Matsushita, the god of management, that inventions can generate money. He set out to do inventions. His goal was to have a new idea for inventions every day. He would set his clock to go off in 5 minutes and in these 5 minutes he would come up with one invention. He wrote all those ideas in a notebook. This notebook has 250 ideas logged.

Through this process, Masayoshi Son chose one idea and created a patent which later sold to Sharp for $1 million. This was when he was still at University of California Berkeley and 21 years old. When also in college, Masayoshi Son create video games and later sold for $2 million when he returned to Japan.


Quotes from Masayoshi Son:

“Life is short. I will regret if I don’t act boldly when I am young.”

“Because time is limited. We must live life to the fullest.”

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About the author: Hoan Do is a certified leadership coach. Hoan have led multiple teams at Symantec Inc. across the globe delivering world-class solutions to protect consumers and businesses. Hoan is an expert in building highly performing teams. He believes that the best leader is the leader that could grow his followers to be leaders. Hoan has been organizing mastermind groups to share with other leaders about transformational leadership and coaching. He has trained many leaders via mastermind groups, workshops, and one-on-one coaching.

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