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Alumni Stories: how I became a freelancer (and launched my startup)

Having recently launched her first venture with the release of Pool, we reached out to Nozomi, an alumni of our January 2018 batch, for an interview.

Featuring graduate Nozomi Okuma Entrepreneur in Freelancer More about Nozomi
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Having recently launched her first startup a few weeks ago with the release of Pool, we thought it was high time to reach out to Nozomi, an alumni of our January 2018 batch, for an interview. Sitting at Meguro’s Blue Bottle Coffee, the conversation went into the genesis of her product, how she initially decided to leave the corporate world, and the life of a freelancer in Japan.

From paper pusher to Techcrunch Japan

“For my first job after university I was doing administrative work at SBI, a pretty large Japanese corporation” starts Nozomi, “it was that kind of uninteresting paper pusher job, and I stayed there for two years. I was kind of depressed at the end and took some time off to think about what I really wanted to do. That’s when I found out about anydooR — back then it was just the 3 founders, I started working as a freelance with them” she continues, “and after some time they had no other choice but to hire me (laughs). That’s how I met my co-founder for Pool, Onuma-san, but that’s also how I discovered that freelancing is a very good way to discover a company while not necessarily being committed, on both sides”. 

“I feel that the boundaries of a company are becoming blur”
So I guess that’s how you ended up at Techcrunch too? “Yes exactly! I started writing articles as a freelancer for them, and eventually joined the team. I also translated a few books in the meantime, still as a freelance. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t necessarily promote the freelancer lifestyle: I just see it as the perfect alternative to a ‘probation period’, while allowing people to experiment with their passion”. Wait, does that work in Japan though? “Well, companies here understand it more and more, and they let their employees have side hustles too. Personally, I think each individual should follow their ideas, and freelancing allows just that”.

So I understand that Pool is not your only ‘side hustle’? “No, I actually have 3 different activites at the moment (laughs). I am helping a startup with their marketing, writing articles for a new media that’s going to come out soon, and I am also translating a business book”.

The pros and cons of freelancer life? “On the plus side, I get to meet many people. I also tend to get easily bored with a single job, so I love the variety of what I do. On the negative side, well… I honestly don’t see any disadvantage. I think most people have that fake sense of security when they work full time for a company.”

“most people have that fake sense of security when they work full-time for a company”

“My point is that as a freelancer I get constantly challenged, I have a network of people who trust me, and I have very marketable skills. People who’ve been working full-time for a company? Not all of them have ‘easily transferable’ skills. So I don’t see my situation as less stable at all”.

So what got you to learn coding with Le Wagon? “During my time at TechCrunch I talked with lots of entrepreneurs and investors, and learned about the startup economy in Japan. I felt learning to code was the missing piece to get the whole picture of the startup world. With Le Wagon I acquired the skills I was missing, and it led me to create POOL”.

Pool, a hand-picked freelancers network

Ok, let’s take a dive into Pool (Note: I did not actually make that joke during the interview). Can you tell us more about it?

“So originally, it comes from a problem I was having while working at TechCrunch, where I used to manage a translation team. And it was a real pain to assign job, collect invoices at the end of the month, check progress… Pool is addressing that issue. From the freelancer’s side, it’s very easy to invoice your customer, and also negotiate your rate. From the client’s side, it’s removing all the hassle that is managing a team of freelancers”. 

Do you think it’s a wider problem that other companies have too? “Definitely. I saw a similar issue at anydooR. All media companies have that same issue, whether they manage translators or writers”. How does it compare to platforms like Lancers or Upwork then? “Well, you can see it as a hand-picked freelancer network. Not anyone has access to the job requests you post. On the other hand, you also don’t have to contact each freelancer one by one and check if they’re available”.

“I really hope that Pool can give people some freedom with their life choices, and potentially be the starting point for new business ideas in Japan”

So we’re a coding bootcamp… and we’re also interested in the tech side! The app looks beautiful, really. “Thanks! Front-end is React, and back-end is Rails — I actually took care of the localization part, while my co-founder focused on the back-end”. Yes, why did you decide to localize it in English? “Well the problem we’re addressing is obviously not limited to Japan, so we want to give a chance to anyone to try our product”. And grow globally? “We’re acquiring users at the moment, it’s a B-to-B application so we’re not being extremely aggressive and push it to the outside world. But I am convinced that if this is the right solution, it will work eventually. We’re mostly targeting small and medium media companies, as well as companies with freelance engineers”.

Enabling freedom and new business ideas

Any final word about Pool, Nozomi? “Well, I feel that the boundaries of a company are becoming blur, that it’s not a clear cut ‘I work for this company / I work as a freelancer’ anymore. So I wanted to build a platform that enables this transition. Like I said, I don’t think freelancing is for everyone. But I really hope that Pool can give people some freedom with their life choices, and potentially be the starting point for new business ideas in Japan”.

That’s an ambitious goal, and we really hope you’ll succeed. Thanks a lot Nozomi for your time!
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