Taihei Kobayashi Went From Homeless To Worth $74 Million
Kobayashi’s company, Sun*, helps startups and other firms to design and create new businesses and products. In July his company went public and its shares have tripled since. Its Tokyo office plans to double its employees to about 130 people this year and a Vietnam office with about 1,300 employees (Sun* now has more than 70 clients.).
Kobayashi was homeless for a year and a half after his parents kicked him out at 17 when he quit a prestigious high school to focus on his band.
“They told me to leave, so I left, and that was that,” he said. “I wanted to live my life doing what I enjoyed.”
Kobayashi ended up spending two winters on the streets of the Shinjuku and Shibuya districts of Tokyo. Eventually he got off the streets and started a job as a software engineer. He was one of the core members in establishing what would become Sun Asterisk, in Vietnam in 2012 (now the CEO).
“The winters were cold,” Kobayashi, 37, said of his experience on the streets. “There may have been times when things felt like hell. But I’ve overcome those times.”
“I might have died,” he said. “I slept anywhere I could,” he said. “About 80% of the time it was somewhere outside.”
Finally at 19, Kobayashi, managed to find shelter when a manager of a live-music club took pity on him and offered him a job and permission to stay at the club (he spent six years there).
Kobayashi eventually was hired and trained as a software engineer and thats when he met Makoto Hirai, one of the founders of Sun*. The two that many programmers were skilled in coding, but few who could come up with working business models. In March 2013 the founding members incorporated Framgia Inc. in Japan, which changed its name to Sun* in 2019.
“Our stance was to commit ourselves to the growth of those startups, regardless of whether it left us mired in losses,” Kobayashi said.
The company is listed in the Tokyo Stock Exchange’s Mothers market for startup firms. Its shares rose almost sixfold to a high in September, taking its market value above $1.4 billion. They’ve since dropped 37%, with the company’s market capitalization dipping back below $1 billion. Kobayashi’s 7.9% stake is worth about $74 million.
“It’s what you’d call a momentum stock,” said Tomoichiro Kubota, a senior market analyst at Matsui Securities Co. in Tokyo, noting its “extremely high” price-to-earnings ratio (200 times earnings and about 20 times book value). “It’ll be impacted by how long the positive trend for the startup Mothers gauge will persist.”
Sun* posted net income of 649 million yen ($6.2 million) on revenue of 3.97 billion yen for the nine months ended September.
Kobayashi said the company is winning business from bigger firms, including those in the blue-chip Nikkei 225 Stock Average (customers include Masayoshi Son’s SoftBank Corp.).
“We want to be aggressive in offering our services to big corporations,” he said. “That’s why we went public.”
“What I want to do now is keep working to realize our company’s vision,” he said.