Richard & Tracey Northcott Enfour is a Tokyo-based company specializing in multilingual solutions for mobile information devices. Owned and operated by Richard and Tracey Northcott, two bilingual native English speakers, Enfour recognized the need to provide English speakers in Japan with a convenient, easy- to-use lifestyle tool via mobile phones. By combining their world-class multilingual dictionary engine, UniDict, with a variety of educational tools and cultural information sources, Enfour created TangoTown. Now heavily involved in iPhone application development, Enfour brings their language solutions to all mobile platforms on the market today. Word of mouth is your best marketing tool, especially if you keep giving people what they want.
How long have you been in Japan?
R: I first came here as a student on a working holiday in 1986. I enjoyed it and decided to stay. Now it’s 22 years later and I’m still here.
T: I joined Richard here in 2000, so nine years ago now.
What is your background and why did you choose to start your business?
R: It was the middle of the bubble years and personal computers were really starting to be useful. Back then, the fact that I had had the chance to even touch a computer at university and the fact that I could speak English out here put me at a great advantage. It’s taken for granted now, but in those days comput- ers didn’t speak Japanese. I began by teaching Japanese designers how to use Macintoshes. Then I began programming in an attempt to make the tools provided by US companies more accessible to the Japanese designers.
This is what led us to setting up our first company, Enfour Media KK. We created fonts, input methods, worked with the insides of printers, and made new tools for font designers to make and print Japanese fonts. Those were the good old days: lots of hacking and pioneer spirit!
This soon got very boring, very quickly. Tools became better and we had to find new ways to use our skills. As Tracey arrived in 2000 we had moved into mobile space and continued working with PDAs and then mobile phones. This is what eventually led us to create Tango Town.
Can you tell us a little bit about Tango Town?
T: Tango Town is a fully featured Japanese learning program that allows users to learn Japanese through their mobile handsets. It can assist people who are fresh off the boat who can neither speak nor read Japanese, right through to people going for their level one proficiency test and above. It t es really caters for all abilities. There are dictionaries and phrase books, and there is also a machine translation that is multilingual with over 60 differ- ent languages.
We are adding to it all the time. Tango Town isn’t something that we built and left—it is evolving constantly, and has grown very organically. It is now a huge site, which is totally accessible 24/7 from your phone and costs less than a coffee a month.
What are the Japan-specific challenges your business faces?
R: I have spent most of my adult life here so it’s all ‘normal’ as such. I mean, there are of course challenges, but I’m not sure that they are Japan- specific. From my personal experience I spent the first few years trying to avoid the foreign community. I really tried to integrate with the Japanese community, their way of life, and their language. When Tracey arrived she would drag me out to meet lots and foreigners and speak English.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
R: Be the best at what you do. You can either truly believe in yourself or be like I was and be blissfully unaware of the possible downfalls.
T: Don’t take no for an answer, if you find an obstacle, work around it. You also have to get your customers to really love your product, whatever it may be. Word of mouth is your best marketing tool, especially if you keep giving people what they want. Even if it’s something really small, if it’s what they wanted they’ll remember it.
What do you do for fun in Japan?
R: We actually own a bar in Shinjuku, mainly because we like socializing with people and we enjoy drinking, so we thought we’d like to try and turn that into a business. It’s called Araku and it’s in Golden Gai.
T: We both ski and I am really into hoop dancing at the moment. I also do some volunteer work for the Australian society. I organize parties, mainly non-profit charity stuff. It’s another great excuse to eat, drink and be merry!