The Land of the Rising Innovation: My adventures in both Silicon Valley and Japan

Kristopher Tate | CEO, connectFree k.k.
Kristopher Tate was born and raised in countryside of Seattle, Washington. Born in 1988, he found a passion in computing at the early age of 3 and followed through by starting to program at age 5.  After graduating from high school early and moving to Silicon Valley at age 16, he started an online photo sharing service that was invested in by the so called “god-father” of Silicon Valley, Mr. Ron Conway. Kristopher moved to Japan in late 2007 and, most recently from 2010 leads his startup connectFree, which is working to help connect the world of people and devices with “Ever.”

It all started with a connection to the Internet at age 4

kristopher_img_01Born and raised in Seattle, Washington, in my childhood I had many key experiences that influenced me into working with computers and networking. One such example is at the age of 4, one of my father’s friends who worked with the University of Washington was kind enough to issue me a dial-up account to access the university’s network. Among email and other tools, one of my most favored was a tool called “Gopher.”

Gopher was very much like the Web today in that there were many documents and information available to its users. The main difference was that it was categorized much like Wikipedia instead of being address/URL-based. As a 4 year old boy, I had many questions about the world around me – questions like “why is the sky blue?” — I would use Gopher to help me find a professor who might answer my questions. Most professor’s email addresses were listed, so I was able to use a mail client called “PINE” to send and receive mail.

Many times (and despite the simplicity in my questions) I would receive multiple page answers that would go in-depth about the subject. I enjoyed reading these answers over and over and sometimes even late into the night. It was the miracle of being connected that made me closer to computers and the same miracles that made me want to share what I was learning with others. Soon after, at the age of five, I decided that I wanted to learn how to build these applications and started to learn the C programming language.

Forget college — I had my mind already set on Silicon Valley

As soon as I went to High School, I already wanted out. I did not have any direct connection with Silicon Valley, but I knew it existed and I wanted to be a part of it. I kept thinking to myself, “Why am I not applying my skills to the real world?”  One day, I learned that if I took a test that I could receive my full diploma ahead of graduation in my first year. It was enough of a motivator for me that I focused everything on getting there and setting-up shop. Forget college — I had my mind already set on Silicon Valley.

At 16 years old, I had landed in Silicon Valley. Along the way, I took many photos and wanted to share my journey with friends and family. Most of my friends at that point lived all around the world and English was not their primary language. It soon became apparent to me that I had the chance to make online photo sharing as universal as the photos themselves! I could do this by providing the website’s menus and interface in multiple languages while keeping the users and community on the same database.

The website was called Zooomr and it launched on October 28th, 2005. After it was picked-up by many Silicon Valley news sites, I received a phone call from a Mr. Ron Conway, a very famous angel investor, who promptly invested in my company and tremendously helped me navigate Silicon Valley. I can still remember opening-up a new bank account and asking the teller if there were any limits on how much money could be transferred! (laugh)

Helping a new Software-bound Japan Emerge

With the success of Zooomr, I started to think about the impact that software had on the entire world. One evening while dining with friends, we started to talk about how more Asians (particularly Chinese) were going to start connecting to the Internet. We also started to talk about how hard it was to do business in Japan. At that moment, I was excited. Something inside of me wanted to grow. Later that night when I returned home, I opened-up the JAL website and for whatever reason, bought a ticket for Japan departing the next week.
kristopher_img02Being born in the 80s, my childhood in America was surrounded by many Japanese products and services, from Toyota to Nintendo, Sony to Onkyo — I had Japanese pocket organizers and watches — I was a child of Japan, or at least Japanese innovation.

The major takeaway from the 80s and now is that Japan is still very much a hardware-centric society. Up until very recently, many devices from Japan lacked the smooth feeling that a software controlled environment provides. Yes, software is buggy — the Japanese have no tolerance for faulty engineering, which can be hard to master in the software world. In reality, as software and debug processes become more robust I foresee a second Japanese device boom in the near future. This hardware-software two-touch combination will also give Japan more room to grow with the rest of the world. I am lucky to be at the forefront.

Better Networking Technology Will Make for a More Innovative Society

Imagine a world where the photos on your digital camera are instantly available to share on your smartphone or instantly ready for adding to a presentation that you will give later in the day. Imagine being connected without the feeling of connectivity. The biggest problem that the Japanese and other hardware makers face — even application developers — is simply this: “how do I connect everything?” And, everyone reinvents the wheel. Everyone gets security wrong. Everyone gets connectivity wrong.

I have fixed this problem and the fix is called “Ever.” With Ever, hardware and software makers alike can for once and for all easily and securely, connect. And it gets better from there: Ever is node-to-node based, which means that all communication takes the shortest path to reach its destination. It will become the fastest, most secure way to do communication and media transport.

From my point of view, hardware developers, Japan and the world around, want to get in on the connectivity of the Internet. For that “how?” there is now a definite reply: Ever. Better Networking Technology will make for a more Innovative Society. The more connected we are as people and the devices that support people, the faster we can get to the next step in our continual evolution.

As a resident of the Kyoto, Osaka and Kansai region I am happy to share all of the innovation that is taking part here and excited about what it will mean for the world at large.

Kristopher Tate
CEO, connectFree k.k.