Enjoying homemade meal in the Land of the Rising Sun, the recipe probably came from Japanese Entrepreneur Akimitsu Sano. His Japan-based Cookpad.com enables its 58.8 million users to share and find recipes to prepare at home — 2.1 million recipes in all, from traditional regional Japanese specialties like grilled-squid pancakes to exotic Western recipes for pasta Bolognese and cheesecake.
Cookpad has expanded its user base twelve fold in the past seven years, making it the 55th-most-viewed website in Japan; more than half of all Japanese women in their 20s and 30s visit it. Sano, who founded the company in 1997, took it public in 2009. Revenue has soared 80% since then to $65 million last year (netting a profit of $19 million), and the stock is soaring. Shares have risen 20% in just the past month, making Sano’s 44% stake in the company worth more than $1 billion.
Sano, 42, rarely speaks to the press, and few personal details about him have emerged. What is known is that after graduating from Japan’s prestigious Keio University, he started work on Cookpad.
He left the CEO role in 2012 to concentrate on acquisitions, buying up Minnano Wedding, a Japanese wedding-venue review site, and Cucumbertown, a U.S. food-blogging platform, earlier this year for undisclosed amounts.
Analysts expect Cookpad’s revenue to hit $112 million this year and increase to about $150 million in 2016. With plump margins close to 30%, they see profit topping $40 million next year. Takahiro Kazahaya, a Deutsche Bank analyst in Tokyo, looks at Cookpad’s impressive growth as an answer to a fundamental problem in Japan: “Many Japanese housewives have a lack of connection with society”–and Cookpad offers the link–”so there are a lot of opportunities.”
Sano also believes cooking helps keep families united. “It’s not that people today don’t want to cook,” Sano told the Japan Times in a rare interview in 2008. “They don’t know how to, because they have not had such knowledge passed down from older generations.” He or his wife reportedly cooks every day, and, instead of a traditional cafeteria, the company’s headquarters features an industrial-sized kitchen for employees to make themselves lunch. “He only eats food when people he knows make it,” a source close to him said.