Billionaire Porn King Reinvents Himself as Japan’s Startup Guru

Imagine the publisher of Pornhub.com being asked to address Harvard University undergraduates on the virtues of running a socially responsible business. That’s basically what happened in Japan this past December when the country’s most prestigious private university extended an invitation to adult entertainment mogul Keishi Kameyama.

After years of being rejected for bank loans and frozen out of business deals, the onetime parish is now being embraced as an internet pioneer and even a role model. His ever-evolving media and technology empire, DMM.com, started with pornography but has grown into a vast collection of enterprises that have made him one of Japan’s richest people.

Kameyama got an important vote of confidence a few years ago when filmmaker ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano agreed to appear in ads for his start-up incubator, and the endorsements have come quickly since. In December, there was the invitation from Keio University students to discuss his work investing in Africa and supporting young entrepreneurs. A month later, Japan’s most popular weekly magazine hired him to write a column for its website, Bunshun Online, offering parenting and relationship advice. In April, undergraduates surveyed by the Nikkei newspaper picked him as one of Japan’s top 100 employers, ahead of IBM and Google.

“We’re always trying new things, so people think: ‘if you work there, interesting stuff is going to happen.’ It’s like, ‘what’s he’s going to do next, shoot off a rocket?’” Kameyama said with a laugh during an extended interview in which he talked about his family, his finances and the complicated ethics of the business that made him wealthy

It may seem strange that the operator of an online mall for hardcore sex videos has won such public acceptance, but Japan has always had a sort of look-the-other-way tolerance for pornography. More significantly, Kameyama has expanded into an eclectic portfolio of businesses that now include a currency trading platform, video games, an online English school and solar farms. Last year, porn was less than a third of the group’s $1.7 billion in sales.

“People are starting to realize just how smart this guy is,” says Akira Ishihara, president at Tokyo-based consultancy Kiseki Keiei Risya, who featured Kameyama at a seminar on start-ups last year. “He’s extremely forward-looking and the way he puts cash to work is just very, very smart.

Married with two kids, the 56-year-old wears a stubbly goatee and an inconspicuous uniform of monochrome T-shirts. His ownership of DMM gives him a net worth of $3.5 billion, according to financial records disclosed for the first time to Bloomberg News and calculations from the Bloomberg Billionaires Index based on current earnings. Yet, Kameyama’s look and demeanor scarcely suggest wealth. Japan’s ninth richest man rides a bicycle to work.

Kameyama says he started giving interviews a few years ago in order to quash rumors he was a yakuza gangster. Still, he never allows himself to be recognizable in photographs–and asks magazines and internet sites to mask his face with a cartoon avatar. He says it’s to protect his privacy

In three decades of financing pornography, Kameyama says he hasn’t set foot on an adult movie set more than once or twice, and he doesn’t watch his own films. To him, porn is the proverbial widget — a thing to sell for more than it costs to make and market, no different from any other product.

“I didn’t get into the adult movie business because I was a fan,” he says. “But it was an experiment that worked, and once I had money, I wanted to try other things, too.”

Kameyama started producing porn in the late 1980s after discovering he didn’t have the money to finance a feature film of the non-adult variety. By 1998, when he launched Japan’s first web-streaming service (the same year Netflix got its start renting DVDs through the postal service), DMM was already Japan’s biggest producer of pornographic movies.

Within a decade, more than a million internet users were paying to stream Kameyama’s films. With all those eyeballs glued to his site, he began looking for other things his mostly male audience might want to buy.

In 2009, Kameyama purchased a struggling online stock brokerage and, after an overhaul that cost almost $100 million, turned it into Japan’s most popular platform for retail investors trading foreign currencies, according to marketing firm Forex Magnates. That made DMM into a kind of virtual Las Vegas, catering to some of people’s most basic preoccupations: sex and money

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21 thoughts on “Billionaire Porn King Reinvents Himself as Japan’s Startup Guru

  1. I didn’t get into the adult movie business because I was a fan,” he says. “But it was an experiment that worked, and once I had money, I wanted to try other things, too.”

    Like

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  3. Kameyama started producing porn in the late 1980s after discovering he didn’t have the money to finance a feature film of the non-adult variety. By 1998, when he launched Japan’s first web-streaming service (the same year Netflix got its start renting DVDs through the postal service), DMM was already Japan’s biggest producer of pornographic movies.

    Like

  4. “I didn’t get into the adult movie business because I was a fan,” he says. “But it was an experiment that worked, and once I had money, I wanted to try other things, too.”

    Like

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