Business / Corporate | Taking the Lead

Uuum CEO thrives helping YouTubers focus on what they do best

by Shusuke Murai

Staff Writer

Kazuki Kamada lives the life he loves — just like the over 4,000 fellow YouTube creators he works with.

“I love reading manga. I love playing video games. And I love watching online videos,” the 34-year-old chief executive officer and representative director of Uuum Co. told The Japan Times.

“I believe having a background in all of these areas makes me the best-suited person to be president of this company,” he said at Uuum’s office in Roppongi Hills, the office and residential complex now home to top-tier companies and rapidly growing ventures.

Uuum is Japan’s largest management company for those dubbed YouTubers, who post YouTube videos on game playing, make-up, product reviews, entertainment and other topics and make money off them.

The company, whose business model would be categorized in the United States as a multi-channel network, or MCN, connects talented YouTubers with companies looking for an effective way to reach consumers — mostly young people difficult to reach through TV.

As faster internet connections and smartphones allow more people to watch videos anytime and anywhere, Uuum has emerged as a rising star in the digital era.

Videos produced by creators working with Uuum were viewed more than 3 billion times on some 4,000 YouTube channels in August alone. They produce roughly 30,000 videos per month.

The company has a dominant presence on Japanese YouTube, with 31 Uuum-managed creators listed among the top 100 Japanese YouTube channels based on registered subscribers as of April, it said.

Uuum’s biggest names include Hikakin, arguably Japan’s top YouTube star, whose four channels have attracted over 10 million subscribers. Another is Hajime Syacho, who has over 5.6 million subscribers who like to watch him “experimenting” with things other people haven’t tried.

YouTubers’ strong influence among Japan’s young people has turned the profession into a dream job. According to a survey by Sony Life Insurance Co. in April, YouTuber was the third most popular career choice among 100 male junior high school students, outranking professional athlete, engineer and public servant but coming in just behind computer programmer and video game maker.

Although the quick rise of the new profession surprised many, Kamada said the survey result was “nothing extraordinary.”

“Perhaps people just don’t know,” he said. “When TV was the most dominant media, say, during the time of the (1964) Tokyo Olympics, people wanted to become like a star on TV. … Now, YouTube has become the media that people regularly watch and through which they encounter the stars they are struck by.”

Perhaps it was also nothing extraordinary when Uuum listed its shares on the Tokyo Stock Exchange’s Mothers section for emerging high-growth stocks on Aug. 30. Its share price soared to 3.3 times the initial offering price on the second day.

“A lot of people ask me when I started thinking about an IPO. But I never thought about when to take my company public,” Kamada said. “I just wanted to be a help to creators by supporting their process for making something they like into a job.

“It was just the result of pursuing something I like myself” on the advice of his mentor Taizo Son, he said. Son is CEO of venture investment firm Mistletoe Inc. and the youngest brother of Softbank Corp. CEO Masayoshi Son.

Kamada’s career started with a job at a mobile phone distributor when he was 19. While gaining experience as a manager responsible for opening and operating mobile phone shops, he was also thinking about what to do in the future. When he was 28, he had a chance to speak with Son, a billionaire best known as the founder of game maker GungHo Online Entertainment Inc., the developer of mobile phone mega-hits including “Puzzle and Dragons.”

Son advised him to start his own company.

“Perhaps my second life began thanks to Mr. Son,” Kamada said.

Another turning point came after Kamada left the mobile phone firm in 2013 and got in touch with Hikakin, an old acquaintance. Hikakin was already in the spotlight after one of his beatboxing videos earned him a live appearance at an Aerosmith concert.

“When I learned Hikakin actually performed together with Steven Tyler, I thought for the first time that I could actually make a business out of doing YouTube,” he said.

“At first, I was thinking about running a direct shopping business on YouTube, similar to what Japanet Takata does,” he said, referring to the well-known TV-based retailer.

But when he learned that Hikakin was struggling in his business negotiations with various companies, he began to think that haggling was not something creators should be spending their time on, he said. That prompted him to start Uuum with Hikakin, now the company’s top adviser, to support YouTubers so they can concentrate on producing videos.

“Celebrities in showbiz don’t sit down at a negotiating table and directly ask their sponsors how much they will pay,” he said. But no company played a role in managing YouTubers’ talents before Uuum arrived, he added.

Although YouTuber is becoming recognized as an emerging profession in Japan, Kamada said the online video business here does not yet compare with those overseas — particularly in the United States.

The user-generated video business made a splash in the U.S. in 2014 when Walt Disney Co. acquired MCN front-runner Maker Studios Inc. for about $675 million.

But the outcome wasn’t all that rosy as Maker Studios had to conduct multiple layoffs due to Disney’s strategy of focusing only on the top creators, according to entertainment magazine Hollywood Reporter.

It then lost its top creator, PewDiePie, whose real name is Felix Kjellberg, in February after the 28-year-old Swede posted videos containing anti-Semitic jokes, forcing it to cut ties with YouTube’s most watched star and his 58 million subscribers.

But despite difficulties like these, Kamada said he believes the online video business still has potential for growth.

“There are still a lot of things we can do,” he said. For one, the company is looking to aggressively expand in both Western and Asian countries, he said.

Uuum’s strength as a Tokyo-based MCN lies in its abundance of Japanese content and demand from overseas fans fascinated with subcultures ranging from anime and manga to more traditional interests, such as washoku (Japanese cuisine).

In an era where information spreads quickly through social media, “content can naturally travel around the world, crossing national boundaries” he said. “The next step we would like to take is to produce content that fascinates not only audiences in Japan, but those overseas as well.”

This section runs exclusive stories on top business leaders and executives interviewed by The Japan Times.

Key events

  • June 2013: Kamada launches On Sale, a direct shopping service on YouTube.
  • November 2013: On Sale changes name to Uuum and becomes nation’s first management firm for YouTubers.
  • September 2014: Uuum moves office from Harajuku to Roppongi Hills.
  • November 2015: Uuum holds U-Fes, a live event featuring YouTubers.
  • February 2017: YouTube channels made by Uuum creators reach 4,000.
  • August 2017: Uuum goes public on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
  • August 2017: Videos by Uuum creators draw over 3 billion views per month.