Joel Devidal

The only status quo is change. Change has to be fluid. I strive to keep pushing and changing the business constantly and with as much innovative speed as possible.


Joel Devidal has over 30 years of experience working in business. From Singapore to Tokyo, Joel has used his vision to create innovative products and serve as CEO to companies in the IT and online retail space.

Joel has a proven track record of growing companies fast in short periods of time. In just 18 months, he created an online contact lens retailer and increased sales to $1.3 million a month before selling it to a Canadian public company. Beyond his experience as a founder and CEO, Joel uses his knowledge of the IT space to serve as a CTO to a mobile company and advises other businesses on how to grow with purpose and be set up for success in the future.

Joel also enjoys mentoring young entrepreneurs and helping them find their footing in the business world. When he’s not working, you can find him playing golf or spending time with his wife and friends.

Where did the idea for your company come from?

SMEJapan is the joint venture result of a long working relationship with a Tokyo based tax accountant. Together we identified a niche in the market, specifically with the increasing interest in Japan from not only tourists but from businesses as well. People realize that Japan is still an exciting place to do business, and there are still many opportunities. If you can make an effort to learn and understand aspects of the culture and language, you can get a lot done. It’s still a large market with 120 million people.

We looked at the needs of foreigner entrepreneurs who want to start a business in Japan and asked ourselves questions like: How do they do that? What are the difficulties? How can we help them?

SMEJapan was then born with the goal to be a one-stop-shop for foreigners who are either in Japan and have a need for English speaking business services such as accounting services, tax services and IT support services or that are outside of Japan, have a great business idea, and are looking to Japan as another market they want to enter.

In addition to the above, we can also help with the establishment of companies, structural advice, and language support. Basically, we take care of the admin headaches, so entrepreneurs have the time to focus on the more important task of building the business.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

A typical day starts with some exercise in the morning, and if I don’t do that, I feel pretty sluggish most of the day. I get up before sunrise, have a run and then try and focus on what I’m going to do for the day.

I use to-do lists for task tracking, and I strive to get the most important three items done first thing in the morning. As most business entrepreneurs know, as the world wakes up, the calls and emails start coming and before you know it you can be responding to multiple queries at the same time and you can find that your day passes without having actually done some of the things that need to be done to keep the business moving forward. For the first couple of hours every morning I endeavor to turn off all my communications and focus on two to three key tasks to be done for the day.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I’ve built several businesses, so I have a lot of components in place. It’s like I’ve built the operational wheel, and now I’m able to take new ideas and new products and plug them into that process. I know what needs to be done and I can assign specific tasks to relevant members of the team for execution.

SMEJapan uses quite extensively; we have a team of writers based in many parts of the world, from Korea, Finland to the UK and US. One of the key staff members manages all the article topics from Finland and speaks fluent Japanese – she is a real asset to the team. It’s incredible when you think about it, and how you can have staff all over the world, nowadays.

What’s one trend that excites you?

One of the trends that excites me at the moment is how long we can extend our lives, are we able to live to 120, 130, 140, or even 200 years old. There’s a lot of new science on the topic from increasing the length of your telomeres, to getting rid of wrinkles, to bionic lenses. I think this is an exciting topic and it completely fascinates me. I believe there is going to be a lot of opportunity in those areas going forward.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Realizing what you’re good at and what you’re not good at and then working with people that fit well with you. I can’t do everything by myself, so I need to have a great team around me. I understand my character, I understand their character, and we see what we can do together as a team. In my opinion, surrounding yourself with the right people is an essential factor in the success of any business.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Do it quicker, take big leaps, and don’t hesitate.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

I firmly believe that you can’t teach risk to a graduate coming out of school. I don’t think you can cookie cutter entrepreneurs out of university. I think it is very much a trial and test process. That is, someone needs to take a risk to start with, learn, perhaps fail several times even, and then learn from those failures to become an entrepreneur. You have a lot of people coming out of universities that want to start their own business. They think startups are exciting and an easier route to becoming a millionaire; perhaps but an immense amount of hard work and calculated risk taking is required. It’s not something you can teach; It comes from dedicated and sacrificial effort, many failures and smart risk taking.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

The only status quo is change. Change has to be fluid. I strive to keep pushing and changing the business constantly and with as much innovative speed as possible. By that, I mean, I am always creating, testing, analyzing the processes and then if I find something that works really well, I repeat as quickly and as often as I can.

As an internet business, if you don’t have execution speed, you’re going to fall behind, your competitors will overtake and will potentially take a percentage of your market. I think it’s critical to keep this innovate process in place and not to rest on the successes you’ve had or even on the nominal growth of the business. You have to keep pushing hard every day in some way.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Working closely with and building personal relationships with affiliates or joint venture partners. They’re out there pushing the business for you, often very hard, and they’re probably spending money on traffic in advance before they get paid. They want to know you have their back, that you’re supporting them and that you understand their efforts.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Only one? … I’ve had many. I had initial success with one of my first businesses; I sold to a public company overseas, and I came off sort of beating my chest thinking I can do anything in the Japanese e-commerce market, and that was a huge costly mistake. The next few ventures failed miserably. In the end, I realized I never took the time to do the required research properly. I lost a great deal of money and TIME before I woke up to the fact that I need to step back and do more in-depth research, truly think about the execution, and carefully plan it out. Business basics 101, in hindsight.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Maybe not so much a business idea, but an area that has plenty of opportunities, and that is in health services.

In my opinion, there’s a growing trend where, as humans, we’re looking into what we want out of life and trying to understand ourselves and what defines us. Work shouldn’t be all-consuming, we want to be healthier, we’re going back to simpler things in life and looking for fulfilling life experiences. Health-oriented businesses are one particular part of this, just look at the success of for example, exercise on demand at any time you want – that’s both convenient and freedom enabling. There must be an opportunity somewhere. Where is it? I’m still researching myself, but I think there is room for growth.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Recently I was introduced to an online service that profiles and categorizes entrepreneurs’ characters with the goal of establishing flow. It’s called Wealth Dynamics. I took the online test, (about $97), and was blown away by the results. They were uncannily accurate in terms of describing me as an entrepreneur, the way I interact with my ideas, and the way I approach the business.

The magic of understanding your profile is that it then goes on to tell you the type of complementary team member profiles that you should be working with that would help you grow the business to another level. I know I need a lot of help and I am always learning. My thinking tends to be too creative, and often I don’t spend enough time looking into the details. Surrounding myself with team members that can execute and others that can deep dive into details seems the best way for me to progress forward; the profile report was excellent in helping me understand that.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

I am constantly endeavoring to optimize and automate everything about my business to the Nth degree. As a team, we use several online software services such as Dropbox for storage, Trello for project management, Slack for team communication, Upwork for outsourcing and Xero for accounting. As much as possible we automate reports and integrate services with Zapier and IFTTT thereby bringing everything together.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

There is a short book that I’ve read probably about 10 to 12 times over maybe 10 to 15 years. It’s a book by Joe Hyams called Zen in the Martial Arts. It is a quick read; it’s probably only 60 to 70 pages and contains short stories based on building character qualities such as patience, humility, and perseverance. I keep on going back to that when I find myself off track or want to refresh my thinking.

What is your favorite quote?

I recently heard that “entrepreneurship is like jumping off a cliff and trying to assemble a parachute on the way down.” I can relate to that. You can prepare all you want, but you’ve still got to take that leap. You still need to jump off the cliff, and you have to be resourceful to bring everything together. You need to be simultaneously multi-tasking, running, struggling, focusing, and thinking quickly, just to name a few, to get everything done. In the end, you need to try and pull them all together and then land on your feet, hopefully.

Key learnings:

  • Doing great research is essential, but you’ve got to pull the pin and take the risk eventually. I speak with a lot of people who say they want to be entrepreneurs and at the same time say there are no ideas out there, and I think there are a million ideas out there.
  • There will be naysayers out there; people will tell you that you can’t do it. Selectively choose to ignore these people, surround yourself with the positive minded people that can guide and give you creative options on which direction to turn when obstacles seem insurmountable. Make the sacrifices, make the hard decisions and drive forward. As Vince Lombardi once said: “The man on top of the mountain didn’t fall there.”