Takahiro Hayashi won his first nationwide title in shogi while still in high school and by the age of 22 he was the world amateur champion. His coaches were urging him to turn pro.

But Hayashi wanted to be an entrepreneur, not a shogi player. So in 2009, he found himself in a room with local venture capitalists, presenting a 120-page pitch about his social game firm. The financiers tuned out.

"One of the investors told me that he didn't really listen to the explanation of our business plan," the 41-year-old Hayashi said in an interview at Heroz Inc.'s headquarters in Tokyo. "He said that 'You're a world champion, so you'll work something out.'"