It’s not easy following your passions and becoming successful at turning them into your profession. A pipe dream for many, but a reality for some, here’s a look at a determined individual who has achieved making his passion into his profession.
A lot of foreigners in Japan get their start by teaching English, however, in many cases, their hearts lie elsewhere. For a lot of people it is very difficult to make that transition from English Teacher to successful Entrepreneur, and their goals and aspirations remain dreams “to be looked at more thorougly in the future”. For a select few, however, that dream becomes reality through equal amounts of hard work and dedication, coupled with a pinch of luck.
One such person, who has successfully made that transition from English Teacher to Game Publisher, is John Baumlin, an avid Manga/Anime fan, Translator, and Entrepreneur. Here’s his story…
JD: Tell me something about yourself. Who is John Baumlin?
John: I’m an immigrant. I don’t mean that in any kind of negative way! I wear it like a shield! I actually love being an immigrant and part of the international community. It’s quite exciting being in a community with people who come to Japan with the very specific interest that brought them here; looking for a fresh start. I’ve met so many amazing people…getting to know them, and connecting with some of them through common interests; there’s something special about that.
JD: I totally agree. So when did you set sail for these shores?
John: It was in 2011 when I studied abroad (in Japan). Previously, I was an Engineering Major; motivated to be a Star Trek Operations Officer, hahahahah, but I struggled with Multivariable Calculus. Failing taught me a lot, and was a tough thing for me to accept at the time.
I studied hard and didn’t give up, but having the summer to think about it, made me begin to question my career choice, leading me to eventually switch my major to International Studies.
JD: Really? That’s quite a change. Did you keep up with Engineering on your own time?
John: Yes, of course! I did many DiY projects at home to keep myself interested in Engineering. I also picked up a few new Hobbies during that time. To try something new, I got into Anime, Manga, and Japanese (language). Eventually, that led me to study abroad in Tokyo at a Language School called KCP, which stands for: Knowledge, Cooperation, and Peace.
JD: What happened after that? In other words, how did you transition into making games and becoming an Entrepreneur in Japan?
John: Through sheer coincidence I met a guy named Matthew (on the plane over to Japan, actually), who’s now VP for my company. We had an instant connection and hit it off right away. We became good friends, and he was really important to me getting settled in Japan.
JD: That’s an amazing coincidence! What was the most memorable part of your stay in Japan that time?
John: Getting to know Japanese cohesiveness and willingness to help is what really impressed me.
JD: Did you end up staying in Japan after that?
John: Oh no. I had to go back to the States to finish University.
JD: Very interesting! So how did you come back to Japan?
John: Life after University was tough. At that time 48% of Graduates couldn’t get a job, and since I had Student Loans to pay back, I had to find some way to make ends meet. To get experience, I worked at several Non-Profit Organisations at first. That got me used to talking to Senators and other Politicians. Eventually, I decided to come back to Japan, however, since I had a job offer (as an English Teacher) in Nagoya.
JD: How did you transition from Nagoya to Tokyo?
John: During my time in Nagoya, the idea to start my own company started forming. I initially wanted to stay just one year to improve at Japanese and save some money. Teaching English was a great way to get started in Japan; however, during my 2nd year teaching, boredom set in. I wanted something different – something I could call my own. English teaching was perfect for doing that, since it allowed me to focus on other things in life as well, and helped me to make that dream of having my own company into a reality. One interesting thing that happened to me in Japan was a more focused awareness of where I came from; by living overseas, I came to understand my own culture more, which is a feeling I sometimes tap into for creativity in Business and/or Game Publishing.
JD: I can completely understand that feeling. How did you get started in Game Publishing?
John: I volunteered at a Game Company based in LA, who were looking for people in Japan. I learned many things at that time, such as making acquisitions, etc. I also got to go to Conventions, and meet some Industry People.
JD: I see. How did you take those experiences and skills to Japan? John: While I was still living in the States, I played a game called Melty Blood, which is a Fighting game based off the Visual Novel Tsukihime. Through the community, I made my first Japanese friends, Some of whom (including a guy named “Jeff”) would help me quite a lot by introducing me to Dojin Games, which are games created by enthusiasts mostly for fun rather than for profit. I got involved in the community, which eventually led to my current Kickstarter Project.
JD: Can you tell us more about that?
John: I worked on my first project together with “Jeff” and got hooked on the experience of creating compelling stories. I got a lot of experience from the project. My main roles were: Lead Translator/Acquisitioner, Contract Negotiations, Accounting, which I learned through taking some open course at MIT, Debugging, Release Management Perk Distribution, Shipping, Logistics, Negotiations, Assett Modification, talking with developers, etc. Since it was such a small group, I took on a lot of different roles and responsibilities. It really felt like through that project that I was taking responsibility for my life and was finally doing what I wanted to do. To finance the whole thing, we started an Indigogo crowd fund. We ended up raising more money than we needed. It changed my career! Some anonymous person donated $800 and I would love to thank that person from the bottom of my heart! You can check out this project HERE.
After that I got offered a job in the gaming industry, and things slowly fell into place!
JD: Wow! Can you tell us a bit more about how things fell into place?
John: The Idea for my own company was still as strong as ever, so I spent all my available time watching TED Talks/ startup CEO stories/ reading books about startups, etc. I also researched legal processes, which took about 3-6months. I Wrote down all ideas in a notebook. I did Lots of research on all aspects of running a company. I was so tired of full-time work and wanted to have my own thing.
JD: What made you choose the medium of Visual Novels to concentrate on?
John: Visual Novels are my favourite medium. They’re different from movies, books, etc. They’re an “in-between”. Characters show different emotions… You can see how they’re reacting to things. Some VN are very long, so people become attached to the characters more, and you can choose the outcome. Since the player can make choices, they’re best for character based stories. From a business perspective, it’s also a good way for Animators to save money. It’s a lot cheaper than making an Anime, but since the style is prevalent amongst younger people, they can relate to the characters. It’s also a lot easier for the artists.
JD: Why do you think the Japanese Manga/Anime style has had such an impact on popular culture (especially in Japan)?
John: Wow, that’s a tough question! I think it’s because it’s different, people in Japan use it as an outlet. Emotions are usually not quite so prominent in daily life in Japan, so the people can relate to the big emotions expressed in these Visual Novels/Manga/Anime.
JD: Very interesting observation! Thank you very much for sitting down with us and telling your life’s story. Do you have any advice for people who want to make it outside the English-teaching world out there?
John: Follow your heart and do what you want to do. Just go for it! It’s going to take some risk, but will definitely be worth it. Even if you fail, at least you have that experience and can say you tried the best you could at what you love, so you have no major regrets.
If you’d like to check out John and his team’s latest project and to support them, head over to Kickstarter. It’s a project entitled “Wish”, and they’ve almost hit their target. Help them out by clicking the link and possibly contributing to their project.
Thanks for your time. Until the next instalment.