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Why entrepreneurs should go through a coding bootcamp: Story of Shinya and Aki

Section L co-founders Aki and Shinya spent their whole career in the corporate world, secretly dreaming to revolutionize Japan’s hospitality sector. Here’s how their startup journey unfolded, with lessons learned along the way.

Hello, guys! First of all, how did you guys meet? 

We both studied hotel management at Cornell University in the US together. After working for a year in the same startup, we decided to start Section L.

Why did you decide to leave your job and launch your own startup? 

Aki: I always had a dream of creating my own hotel brand. I guess it’s why I ended my corporate job to start my own business and follow in the footsteps of many great entrepreneurs. I felt that in corporate there were many boundaries that stopped me from pursuing what I thought the hospitality industry needed. So I gave up a secure path to start again from scratch with Section L, where we’re aiming to create a seamless and new kind of hotel experience for our guests.

Shinya: I had been working in a corporate environment for the past years and realized that I had learned enough to try and start building something new with people that I trust. It was a good timing to experience new things and see what we can do as individuals. Aki and I were pretty confident that this business idea would work and we ended up starting Section L this year.

Whoa, that’s exactly when you entered Le Wagon part-time coding bootcamp! Why did you decide to learn programming? 

Unlike traditional hoteliers focusing more on in-person service, we wanted to automate all inefficient processes with technology to help customers pay less. There are many off-the-shelf apps designed for this purpose, but all with a limited scope and features. Building a customized in-house software seemed a great solution for our operational needs.

Shinya: However, an idea of developing a tech product as non-technical founders seemed like a crazy idea. We did some calculations and realized that developing our MVP (minimum viable product) will be cheaper than hiring a developers’ team. We also wanted to understand the logic behind the app, what we can do using different programming languages and where to look up in case of bugs. 

Was it hard to run your company and go through the bootcamp in parallel?

It was pretty difficult to balance work and the bootcamp, but we were able to choose to be remote or on site, which helped us to manage our schedule better. We actually liked that we did it in parallel since we were able to apply the coding skills as we run the business. The teachers helped a lot since we had a lot of questions about how we could use the app we were developing for our business.

Aki: Part-time format gave us ample time to re-evaluate whether the features we wanted to implement were actually valuable to our users.

How did Le Wagon coding bootcamp help you achieve your goals?

Before enrollment, we had a very vague understanding of what problems we wanted to solve for our hotel and guests. The bootcamp forced us to think about our users. As we went through UX design exercise, team discussions and such, we were able to connect the dots and build an app that could actually help our users.

Shinya: During the Airbnb week, dedicated to building a marketplace clone, we made a strategic decision to combine the Airbnb project with our prototype, focusing on a hotel experience angle. Together with our batchmate Hayato, we built an app for creating meaningful connections between hotel guests, and that’s the app we pitched on Demo Day. Also, we developed our own website, and we are now working on a check-in software.

Watch Aki and Shinya’s Demo Day (from 16:03)

Looks like you took a very smooth plunge into the tech startup world! What’s your updates from a business side?

Aki: We opened our first licensed hotel in July, with its occupancy getting close to 90%. In the beginning, we expected inbound travelers but COVID-19 changed everyone’s plans. With our type of rooms, we're lucky to capture the needs of extended stays. So our main guests at the moment are Japanese travelers, returning from abroad or having a ‘workation’ experience. 

We are also actively looking for new properties, potential investors so we could expand our portfolio and implement these cool things that we have developed. If you are interested in a digital marketing and tech internship, or want to showcase your artistic skills, feel free to give us a call. 

Shinya: Check out our new branding campaign, directed by an Amsterdam-based creative director! It's pretty weird but cool.

Would you recommend Le Wagon to wannabe entrepreneurs?

Yes! I think it's important as an entrepreneur to understand the basics of coding and be able to communicate with engineers if you are trying to develop a tech product. Le Wagon Tokyo helped us a lot and now we are developing our own technology with our batchmate Hayato.

Aki: It also gives a “wow” effect to potential investors or business partners that you are willing to go through such a hard bootcamp, because coding is still considered as a blackbox to a lot of people.

Thank you for your time, Aki and Shinya! Good luck with your tech hospitality venture!

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