By Chris Kenji Beer
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Consistently named among Washington state’s top 10 web development studios by revenue, according to Puget Sound Business Journal, Pacific Software Publishing (PSP) is a champion of diversity in the region.
The Bellevue company celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, and now has around 50 employees from seven different countries who speak six languages.
In a lot of ways, founders Kenichi Uchikura and Mayumi Nakamura provide “leadership by example” for other young aspiring entrepreneurs of Asian descent. They really are independent thinkers who keep true to their personal and professional dreams and goals. They both pursued their passions, even if it meant leaving their original home land to get it.
Uchikura landed in southern California in his first adventure overseas. “I always wanted to come to America. There are three main factors that drove my desire to come to America; 1) I wanted to have an American girlfriend because I watched American movies, 2) I was big, it was difficult to buy clothes that fit me in Japan, and 3) when I graduated from high school in Japan, my grades were not good.”
Uchikura could not get into Japanese colleges, but was accepted at Azusa Pacific University (APU), a private Christian college in Azusa, Calif. “Since I grew up attending a Japanese public school in Ashiya near Kobe, I spoke no English. At Azusa Pacific, I felt completely out of place, but I still pursued my childhood dreams, so I tried out and became the first Japanese to play college football. Football is a crazy, stupid game,” jokes Uchikura. “You have to be smart enough to understand the game of football, and stupid enough to do it.”
Uchikura graduated from APU with a computer science and business administration degree, with a mandatory minor in theology (required by the school). “I went back to Japan and got a job working as a network engineer for Computer Science Corporation (CSC), a software development firm for mainframe and mini computers.” He moved to Seattle to help build a customer base in the United States for the company. Given the already competitive market for mainframe software at the time, Uchikura tried to convince his manager to pursue the emerging personal computing market. “I told my boss PC is the future.” Just a few years later when the company made plans to pull out of the U.S. market and close its Seattle office, Uchikura offered to buy some of CSC’s assets, such as the database in 1987.
“I worked out of my apartment and began exporting American PC software to Japan.” In just two years, PSP became the number one supplier of software in Japan. That same year, Uchikura made his first hire, Mayumi Nakamura. “I handled the licensing and distribution of their ‘Kanji Word’ and ‘Kanji Kit’ product in Japan,” said Nakamura. At the time prior to Microsoft enabling their own multilingual support, these two translation products were among the most popular multilingual software available.
Nakamura started as a sales representative, selling and supporting these products in Japan, and today she is CEO of PSP. Nakamura came to the United States by way of Portland State University, where she studied English and worked at the school’s Office of Graduate Studies. Driven to continue her education beyond the undergraduate level after she was promoted to become the graduate school’s database research assistant, Nakamura earned her master’s degree in Business Administration. She was then offered her first job out of college by Uchikura and moved to Seattle. Since 1992, the two have worked together to build PSP into the thriving business that it is today.
Nakamura has been the business “firefighter,” always there to put out fires for PSP. “At PSP, more and more problems just kept falling on my lap,” says Nakamura. The big lesson when you work for any organization — “problems are always opportunities.“
For example, when PSP’s accountant became seriously ill with MS and was hospitalized, Nakamura took over that job. She noticed something wrong and took the initiative to balance the books. She then brought in “CFO-Tom-Go” in 2000. “I was always promoted by putting out fires that were supposed to be temporary roles,” adds Nakamura. As their data center grew, “I was assigned kind of a COO role to address their data center fiber relationship.” I coordinated these vendor relationships, and I was able to negotiate lower fiber connection rates,” adds Nakamura. “I maintain a positive approach to problem solving.”
When Uchikura wanted to take a step back and focus on his startup and philanthropic work in 2009, Nakamura earned her place through the years to replace him as PSP’s CEO. On her second day as head of PSP, Nakamura had to address perhaps PSP’s biggest challenge, the well-publicized Fisher data center fire in 2009. To save their customers’ data and servers, Nakamura orchestrated a near seamless shutdown of their customers’ servers, managing the team, and informing their customers. “As a television station that owns one of the two largest internet hubs in the Pacific Northwest, Fisher Plaza first saved its television network and left everyone in the dark for a few days, including Amazon, Bing, and other leading internet data centers like PSP. “Out of the few hundred servers we host (at Fisher), only two (of the servers) crashed,” says Nakamura.
“I learned through the years, I must stop trying to be perfect, but instead always be prepared. There is no perfect. My priority is to first satisfy customers, do everything for them.” Nakamura’s hiring approach has been to “substitute what I don’t have” with quality people.
Today, the company enjoys nearly $7 million in annual revenue, over 70 percent of which comes from white label internet services to Japanese clients. The remaining 20-25 percent comes from web hosting for local Pacific Northwest businesses. PSP has expanded its web hosting to include online small business communication and marketing tools. They own two buildings in an ideally located office park just off the corner of 140th and Bel-Red Road in Redmond, just down the street from Microsoft. They also have offices in San Diego and Los Angeles.
“Diversity is the reason I moved to Seattle in the first place.” PSP is proud of its diverse team. PSP has received many minority business awards from the Puget Sound Business Journal and University of Washington William Bradford 2014 Minority Business of the Year, King County awards. They also made it on Inc. Magazine’s 2012 list of fastest growing companies. “I’m a double minority,“ Nakamura proudly adds, as a woman and Asian American. This may be seen as success to most businesses. Even today, “we don’t see ourselves as successful,” says Nakamura. “We survived,“ and then maybe “survival is success.” This year, the company celebrates 30 years of “survival and success.”
Chris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.