When Strings Kozisek came to Japan in 1993, he had no idea what he was going to do. Born in Iowa, he moved to San Francisco where he worked as an audiovisual engineer and cameraman before international adventure beckoned him.
“I came to Japan for the life experience,” he recalls. “I didn’t have a job and struggled for awhile. I did bartending for a few months and worked for Gibson Guitars for a couple of years. Then, I went through Windows, Novell and PMP Certifications and really focused to improve my technical, management and marketing skills. I worked as a freelance consultant on various brand promotions before getting a contract with Lehman Bros who were looking for an audiovisual consultant.”
That led Kozisek to establish Media Access Group in 2004 and carve out a niche for himself. Media Access Group is the first audiovisual consultant dedicated to providing complete pro-audiovisual services across the Asia Pacific region. The company’s work can be seen throughout Asia in ballrooms to boardrooms and in homes to airports.
Japan Today editor Chris Betros visits the affable Kozisek at his offices in Tokyo’s Chuo Ward to hear more about the company, with the Rolling Stones providing suitable ambience in the background.
Was it tough when you first started your company?
Nobody was really doing this type of consulting in Japan. At first, I worked from home but I was able to get some good clients such as Citi, Cisco and Barclays. After the Lehman Shock, we hung on and invested in training and infrastructure. We did alright as we provided our clients with costs savings related to their audiovisual systems and conferencing strategies.
Today, our clients are multinational Fortune 500 names and we are in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore. We also have some large Japanese banks, such as SMBC and Nomura. You’ll also see our work at the Delta lounge at Narita airport and shops like the Armani store in Ginza.
What are your main services?
Our main service is audiovisual design consulting. We help clients design the right systems to meet their business requirements. This can be anything you want to hear or see. For our clients, it is usually a lot of boardrooms and TV streaming systems; in the retail sector, it is digital signage in stores. We also do some airport lounges and large digital signage. We know the questions to ask and we know today’s technologies. We’re not selling our clients equipment, so we don’t care if their budget is small or large. We just care that it is a match to their business needs. We do a tender to system integrators, and we manage the site coordination until the end of the project.
Our second service is to provide on-site support staff. If a client has just built an office with 12 conference rooms and a small auditorium or TV studio, we put staff on site to help coordinate the meetings and make sure it is flawless. It is not just pushing the buttons; we do consulting around the entire meeting—how to conduct the meeting, where to stand, how to present it and so on.
Our third service is something really unique in Asia—managed services for when you need event support, on-site support or really any audiovisual related service. Typically what happens in Asia is companies contract for maintenance. The problem with this is they end up paying too much for the service they receive and they only get maintenance. With our system, we assist our clients with all types of audiovisual and conferencing related services and we sell the service in blocks of man days. This way the clients get full audiovisual support and only pay for services that we provided.
Do Japanese companies lag in usage of audiovisual systems?
Generally, yes, Japan is behind. There are those companies that get it, but a lot of Japanese offices are not that technical or up to date with audiovisual systems. They are still quite content with putting the projector on the table and aiming it at a wall. One reason we don’t have a lot of Japanese clients is because most of them just want to go with what they know. They don’t quite grasp how we can assist them.
What sort of projects are you working on for overseas clients?
Besides working on a ton of executive boardrooms and auditoriums, we are involved in “fun stuff” such as luxury brand retail, and shopping centers, incorporating high-end technologies into their facilities and signage. We are also quite involved in projects for accessing and distributing digital content, the production or recording of the content and the infrastructure and bandwidth needed for these systems. These type of projects take us all over Asia.
How is 2012 shaping up in terms of sales?
We have grown every year and our projections are for a substantial sales increase this year. This is because of growth in Hong Kong and Singapore where we opened offices. Business happens a lot faster in those places. Japan is not as big with foreign companies being here as it was. But we do get a lot of repeat business in Japan.
As an audiovisual consultant, how do you keep up with the latest technologies?
This is all we do. We have some very talented staff from all over the world that bring to us experience and systems knowledge, and we are also constantly studying and researching. Manufacturers are a good source of knowledge as well. Our close relationships with manufacturers allow us to receive detailed information of technologies coming down the track and we even have submitted our design changes to manufacturers only to see our requests built into their equipment a year later.
How do you market your company?
Our main marketing method is to do good honest business. I have never had to advertise, although we are starting to use social media a little bit more. It’s important for us to stay in the know with our clients, architects, construction management, real estate companies.
What are you doing in homes?
It’s an interesting area. Regardless of your budget, there are a lot of cool things out there. One of the first things we tell our residential clients is to stop thinking of that box as a TV. It is a monitor and it lets you monitor or view any media files you have, who is at the door, home environment settings or whatever you have feeding it information.
Central AV racks with access to audio and video files from anywhere in your home and from your smartphone, when you are away, is a part of most home systems. Also, an easy-to-use interface lets you browse and select what you want to hear or see. With USB 3 and the new wireless networking protocol 802.11ac coming out, capabilities and flexibilities of home systems will really be increased.
Tell us about your team.
We have 25 staff in Tokyo. About half are foreigners. Our team comes from many different backgrounds and experiences, and between them, allow us to offer work in 11 different languages. I’m lucky to have the people I do as I think they are some of the best in the business, and the reason why we have been so successful. As we are growing, we are looking to expand our team in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore. If people are out there that think they have what it takes, they can sure contact us.
Do you travel much?
Now I do. I’ll be going to Singapore and Hong Kong a lot this year. We have done work in about 11 Asian cities over the last 6-8 months, getting organized so we can do that takes a fair bit of travel. We have really impacted the industry since we started in Japan and now that impact is growing throughout Asia.
What is a typical day for you?
I get here at 9 a.m. and make the coffee. Some days I am doing strategy and number crunching, other days, I need to be out talking to clients or business partners. Noon is gym workout time and I try to get out by 6:30 p.m. Avoiding work on weekends is usually a goal I like to keep.