Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Hello, StarText? Japan Calling

It was sometime in 1983 that I got a call from someone at the Technology Transfer Institute.

The woman who called explained there was a group of Japanese business leaders touring the U.S. who wanted to make a stop in Fort Worth to see StarText.

First, I wondered how they ever heard of us in Japan. Under Phil Meek's edict, no press releases had gone out. There had been mentions of us in trade publications, most notably Gary Arlen's videotex newsletter. But still, why would businessmen from Japan make a special trip to see our six-person operation in Cowtown?

It didn't exactly make sense but hey, it's their nickel. So we agreed on a date for their visit -- November 7.

As the day arrived, I had arranged for a terminal to be set up in a conference room. We brought in some extra chairs. I think we may have even put together a fact sheet and ran off some extra copies. Then we got the call from security -- our guests were in the lobby.

As I got there to retrieve them, I did a double take. Virtually filling the entire Star-Telegram lobby area were 25 or 30 Japanese businessmen, each with at least two cameras around their necks. None spoke English save for their guide and interpreter. We were going to need more chairs.

After we got the group settled, but before we started the demo, I just had to ask one question.

I wanted the interpreter to ask the group's leader, Kiyoshi Takahara, corporate advisor to the Mitsubishi Corporation, "Why have so many come so far to see our small online operation?"

His answer was one I'll never forget:

"Because we hear you are doing something right."

While we all felt the same way, hearing someone else say it, an important someone from a far-away country, gave us a whole new level of confidence.

In December I received a letter of gratitude from Mr. Takahara for their visit. It read in part:

"During our stay in the United States for two weeks, our party had a most interesting and rewarding experience at your place.

"Our purpose of understanding 'data base and videotex services in the United States' was fully answered by the excellent arrangement by you and your people.

"Especially, we were very much impressed by your Startext on November 7, because of its creative thinking and business-like concepts."

They weren't the last visitors from Japan that would come to see us. Three more delegations made the trip in the following months and years, as well as a delegation from Norway and numerous U.S. newspaper executives.

But I think I enjoyed our Japanese visitors the most. They always brought presents.