Growing A Fashion Blog Network From Japan With Jan Stromsodd, Founder Of Your Next Ensemble

Jan, please introduce yourself…

I am married with two kids and living in Yokohama. Originally I came to Japan as a student, and then worked six years as a tax consultant for an American accounting firm.

What’s the story behind creating your network of E-Commerce sites?

While I built my first homepage in 1996, about ten years later I started doing pay-per-click advertising for various online retailers. My biggest merchant was Zappos, and in total I generated sales of over $20 million dollars by referring paid search traffic to various online fashion retailers.

Due to weakening margins and other changes within the paid search space, around the start of 2010 I decided to start a network of fashion blogs with a strong social media focus.

The original goal was to build up a network of fashion websites to target various niches that I had targeted successfully with paid search, but Google’s Panda/Penguin algorithm changes made it much more difficult for small blogs to prosper online.

Recently I consolidated the different blogs into one domain, The biggest success story so far has been the Facebook page of our flagship blog, Your Next Shoes, which has over 1.7 million fans on Facebook.

What strategies did you take after the Panda/Penguin update?

While I am not sure whether we were directly impacted by Panda and Penguin, these algorithm updates made it more difficult for smaller blogs to rank well. We have done our best to improve the quality of the content we create.

All the blog posts we publish are reviewed by highly skilled copy editors, and we subscribe to a high quality image service by a leading picture content provider.

In addition, we have focused on reaching out to the fashion community to make us more visible in the fashion space.

What challenges did you face when launching

I did not really know what I was getting into when I started the fashion blog network in 2010, so it has been a steep learning curve.

Honestly speaking, the process has been a continuous story of failing, learning, and more failures. Since I have bootstrapped the venture myself, a great resource has been outsourcing sites like Odesk.

What’s it like managing the blog network from Japan?

Running a business as a self-proprietor in Japan is quite easy, especially as I am familiar with the required filing requirements due to my tax background.

Since my business is in the start-up phase and not generating much profit yet, Japan’s relatively high income tax rates are (unfortunately) not yet of much concern.

However, it’s reality that thousands of Japanese entrepreneurs have emigrated to more business friendly environments like Hong Kong and Singapore.

Unfortunately I am not a US citizen or green card holder, otherwise it would surely be better to run my business from somewhere in the United States.

On a positive note, Japan is slowly building up a more vibrant technology-focused start-up scene with incubators and assistance from successful Japanese e-commerce firms like Rakuten and various mobile gaming companies.

How do you see the startup and investment ecosystem developing in Japan?

I find that people in Japanese are extremely entrepreneurial, and there is an extremely high number of talented individuals working here. Tokyo is still the world’s largest metropolis with 30 million people living within one urban area, so the possibilities are endless.

The standard of living is also fantastic. Better cuisine than anywhere else in the world, four seasons (as opposed to the constant sauna climate in Singapore), negligible crime rates, and overall friendly people.

What advice can you share with entrepreneurs wanting to venture into Japan?

Anyone wanting to become successful in Japan needs to be patient. Relationships are built up slowly over time. Many foreign companies have failed by entering Japan without a long-term strategy for success.

What startup opportunities do you see emerging in Japan right now?

Good business bets in Japan would be on services for the elderly due to the ageing population. Of course the energy sector is booming as well due to deregulation and all the issues following the Fukushima meltdown.

What’s next for Your Next Ensemble?

While we have been very successful in terms of social media, our search presence is still quite poor. My biggest challenge right now is finding out what it will take to get Google to like us. I’d be more than happy to take Matt Cutts out for dinner if he stops by Yokohama.

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