Business / Corporate

Ex-Goldman banker brings dealmaking skills, sharpened on Toshiba unit sale, to startup eyeing IPO

Bloomberg

A former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. investment banker who advised Toshiba Corp. on the sale of its $18 billion memory-chip unit is now applying his dealmaking skills at a Japanese startup that’s looking to go public.

Hidetoshi Uriu, who joined consulting matchmaker VisasQ Inc. as its chief financial officer in February, said the venture will consider an initial public offering “before too long.” He declined to give the exact timing of any listing.

Tokyo-based VisasQ’s business focuses on putting corporate clients in touch with its network of about 60,000 experts for interviews and advice. Formed in 2012, it has received about $3 million from investors including venture capital units of Mizuho Financial Group Inc. and Development Bank of Japan Inc.

That may seem like small fish compared with the Toshiba deal, but Uriu, 43, prefers to focus on VisasQ’s future rather than his 19 years at Goldman Sachs.

“I think the growth potential is very high,” he said in an interview in Tokyo. “The impact I can make at a startup is totally different.”

VisasQ offers an alternative to the often time-consuming and expensive services provided by traditional consulting firms. Through a database, it connects customers to freelance specialists in industries ranging from manufacturing to health care who can give prompt advice or work on short-term projects for them.

It could, for example, match a client with a retired former executive at a particular company for tips on how to win business with the firm — or a company seeking to know about the logistics of entering, say, Kenya, might want to engage with someone who has worked there, Uriu said.

Similar consulting matchmakers have been set up abroad, including Boston-based Catalant Technologies Inc. and Germany’s Comatch GmbH.

Uriu said VisasQ plans to hire software engineers, salespeople and customer support staff, boosting its headcount from 40 now to about 100 by around 2020. It has about 500 corporate clients including Toyota Motor Corp. and Asahi Group Holdings Ltd.

Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Eiko Hashiba — also a former Goldman Sachs banker — recruited Uriu after hearing he was leaving the U.S. firm. The two first met at the University of Tokyo’s tennis club when she was a freshman and Uriu was in graduate school.

Uriu made the decision to quit Goldman Sachs during a camping trip with his family last summer. When the Toshiba agreement was clinched in September, he was able to make a clean break because he wasn’t working on any other deals at the time, the former managing director said.

“As I listened to the campfire and watched the kids playing with fireworks, I realized the time had come,” he said. “I thought it would be a shame if I kept doing the same thing for another 20 years.”