Poorvi Vijay (MBA ’21) talks with Yasu Sasago (MBA ’20) about the startup that he and Masato Nakamura (MBA ’20) are developing.
Tell us about your journey of how you thought about starting a business while studying at HBS.
When I came to HBS, I knew that I wanted to try something entrepreneurial. But I thought that I’d probably start a software business or a fintech startup. This was because I knew coding well and had developed a few AI programs myself. But after spending a few months in the business school, I realized that I wanted to pursue something that relates to lifestyle. I grew up surfing in Japan and loved nature. I wanted to do something creative and tangible.
I liked ramen—and I wanted to cook ramen after coming here. So I went to the supermarket and got the ingredients and started cooking in the dormitory kitchen. To my surprise, a lot of people came in and asked me what it was and loved the smell.
Eventually, I met Masato (my co-founder) through the Japanese community, and we started cooking a lot of ramen regularly. We shared it with a bunch of our classmates, and they started to really like it. This gave me a lot of motivation.
How did you think about making this into a business?
I was an active member of the Boston Japanese community and helped organize the Japan Festival Boston, which receives a footfall of more than 70,000 people. A lot of other organizers were Japanese business owners in Boston, so I learned from them about building a restaurant business. And at that time I started thinking about opening a ramen restaurant, so then summer break started and I went to Japan for fundraising.
I raised money from Japanese investors first, because they were already familiar with Japanese operation model and product. If my business gained confidence with Japanese investors first, it would make American investors more comfortable to invest. So I spent this entire summer fundraising in Japan.
So what’s next?
Now that initial fundraising is done, I am working on finding a good location. I am working with a property agent in Boston on this. I’ll probably go for renting a space that was occupied by a restaurant previously and then turn it into a ramen place. It’s cheaper and more practical that way.
The second thing I have to work on is defining the brand name and concept. I have to design how the customer experience is going to look for a ramen place in Boston. And of course, I need to build a team to get all of this going.
I am graduating in May 2020, so I plan to open the restaurant next summer. I’ll lay down all the groundwork for that.
How are you feeling about this? Anxious, excited … ?
I wanted to say “excited,” but I think it’s more than that; it’s an unbelievable experience. When this idea came out at the end of last year, there were only Masato and I in it—no supporters. But as we worked on this idea, I got to know many people who now support us. We have many advisors; some teach me how to make good ramen, others how to find a location or how to run a restaurant business. Some people have invested in my business as well.
And the community is getting bigger and bigger. The restaurant business is more of a community business; the circle is getting bigger everyday. And that’s how I feel that I am also creating another chain of people who have common interests.
Poorvi Vijay (MBA ’21) is originally from India. Prior to HBS, she worked at Alexa Speech Organization at Amazon in the United Kingdom as well as Amazon Retail in India. Her background is in UX design and customer experience, and she loves to talk about all things creative.