Maiko Sakai, the founder of Airtight Concepts, is a seasoned business strategy consultant a.k.a. secret weapon & confidant to visionary entrepreneurs with the desire to build a high-functioning, profit-generating business of their dreams.
She serves her clients whom she fondly calls “Grounded Go-Getters” to shift from operating a transactional business to a transformational business through her 2 business programs, “Define + Refine Your Profitable Niche” and “Business Optimizer 360.”
Originally from Japan, Maiko considers herself a New Yorker, loves ethnic foods of all kinds, and is a sucker for ultra-contemporary design & exotic houseplants. She earned her MBA from Cornell University.
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Table of Contents
We are thrilled to have you join us today, welcome to ValiantCEO Magazine’s exclusive interview! Let’s start off with a little introduction. Tell our readers a bit about yourself and your company.
Maiko Sakai: Thank you so much for having me. My name is Maiko Sakai and I run a business consulting firm, Airtight Concepts Inc, where I serve service and expertise providers by teaching them how to restructure their business model in a way that’s simple and profitable.
The work involves analyzing data, streamlining their processes, solidifying their long-term visions, and providing mindset support so that they’ll be able to stick with the plan we strategize.
2020 and 2021 threw a lot of curve balls into business on a global scale. Based on the experience gleaned in the past couple years, how can businesses thrive in 2022? What lessons have you learned?
Maiko Sakai: What happened during these years will be remembered for many years to come, especially for small business operators. This was a good reminder to have a solid business continuity plan in case of “black swan” events like this one.
Your continuity plan should cover how to regroup, how to spot redundancy, how to reinforce new changes, how to reposition your business, and how to leverage resources. These are what I call the 5 R’s of risk management.
The biggest takeaway for me was the importance of setting aside some time to thoroughly review the performance of my business as well as my clients’ businesses by going over these 5 R’s. Once weak spots are detected in these areas, come up with a robust plan to strengthen them.
The pandemic seems to keep on disrupting the economy, what should businesses focus on in 2022? What advice would you share?
Maiko Sakai: Right now, we are still in the middle of experiencing the “after effect” of the pandemic. It’s like an earthquake–first the big shakes hit us, then a little while later, a series of smaller shakes or even a tsunami can show up. We’re just not sure if we’re going to experience the small shakes or if we need to brace for a big tsunami.
Here, I am talking about supply chain issues, the energy crisis, raging inflation due to money printing, and the massive shift in the workforce.
These changes call for businesses to operate in a super lean and mean manner. “Do it with less” is the mantra I recommend repeating on a daily basis until we can see light at the end of the tunnel.
How has the pandemic changed your industry and how have you adapted?
Maiko Sakai: It used to be normal for me to be on site with my clients to provide my services, but that was no more after the pandemic hit.
What worked for my business, in particular, was to focus on increasing visibility online before the pandemic. It’s not that I expected something like this to happen, but I saw abundant opportunities beyond where I was based (in NYC) prior to the pandemic and I am glad that this effort paid off and I’ve been able to work with clients from all over the world virtually since 2020.
What advice do you wish you received when the pandemic started and what do you intend on improving in 2022?
Maiko Sakai: Looking back, I could have been more flexible in terms of the offers my business provided.
There is a time to be firm on our strategies, and there is a time to be flexible based on what is happening at the macro level.
Instead of sticking with what I believed to be valuable to my clients, I could have taken advantage of the circumstance and done extensive surveying to figure out what might be in larger demand.
For example, I know someone who saw the opportunity to help small business owners get EIDL Pandemic Loans from SBA for a flat fee, generated a ton of revenue, then shut it down early 2022 when the program ended.
Thinking fast on your feet is something I learned from this experience, and I am determined to be on the lookout for the next opportunity.
Online business surged higher than ever, B2B, B2C, online shopping, virtual meetings, remote work, Zoom medical consultations, what are your expectations for 2022?
Maiko Sakai: So the way I look at it is this: this phenomenon is the first wave of no-contact commerce that became normal in our lives during the pandemic. The next wave is adding the element of connection & authentic engagement with customers.
Up until this point, most online businesses were somewhat transactional. Web3 can potentially be one of the solutions to adding more human connection & interaction into the mix while people shop. But my guess is that this will take some time, as you can see from how Meta (Facebook) is doing. Mass adoption of the so-called “metaverse” won’t happen this year or the next.
On the flipside, many said that no one needed fax, email or the internet, but here we are: we’ve all seen the mass adoption of these things. Because of this, although I’m a bit skeptical, I’m not dismissing the idea of Web3 and the metaverse completely.
How many hours a day do you spend in front of a screen?
Maiko Sakai: Give or take about 5 hours a day. Since the pandemic, I have become more intentional about how long I sit at my desk and which task to preserve my energy, time and money for.
What’s working for me is to do ideation & brainstorming work away from my desk. Once I am very clear on what needs to get done using my computer, then I can go to my workstation and blaze through the tasks at hand.
The majority of executives use stories to persuade and communicate in the workplace. Can you share with our readers examples of how you implement that in your business to communicate effectively with your team?
Maiko Sakai: I do recognize the effectiveness of using stories as part of a communication strategy. First, we are all wired to digest stories and learn from them much better than other formats i.e. guidelines and instructions. Second, storytelling leaves no room for “finger-pointing” when challenges and problems arise. Therefore, I get to make my point without making anyone feel uncomfortable or defensive. The same goes for the use of analogies.
For example, most of my weekly emails to my subscribers are story-based for this reason. Also, when I have to point out mistakes or flaws to my team, I first try finding ways to use other examples without referring to the incident itself. Once they get the idea of where I am heading, I can move on to the situation at hand.
The last thing we as leaders want is for our employees to feel like they’re on trial. The use of storytelling and analogies helps them stay open-minded.
Business is all about overcoming obstacles and creating opportunities for growth. What do you see as the real challenge right now?
Maiko Sakai: Lately, I’ve been fascinated by the “Great Resignation” movement. If I remember correctly, more than 30% of those who left their jobs are not planning to look for a new one. Instead, they plan on starting their own business.
As a business strategist, I certainly see this as a possible opportunity where I get to help them start their businesses with a solid plan that works. On the other hand, it makes me wonder how many of them are aware of what they are about to experience by owning their own businesses and how many of them may end up going back to the workforce a year or so later.
In 2022, what are you most interested in learning about? Crypto, NFTs, online marketing, or any other skill sets? Please share your motivations.
Maiko Sakai: Definitely, I believe that the cryptocurrency and blockchain technology space cannot be ignored. The reason isn’t because it’s been a hot topic among the early adaptors. The best analogy I’ve heard someone say about this development is, “You can’t put toothpaste back in the tube.”
Whether you like it or not, the reality is that digital currencies, digital assets & blockchain technology cannot be shut down completely. They are here to stay. So, I do my best to keep up with how things are evolving, especially on the regulation side of things.
Aside from that, I’m considering picking up a few more languages. I’m not particularly interested in “mastering” another language. Instead, I want to learn multiple languages just enough to be able to have conversations, as there are so many great opportunities beyond North America. Being able to communicate in another person’s native language, even at a simple conversational level, can speed up the process of building trust and rapport.
A record 4.4 million Americans left their jobs in September in 2021, accelerating a trend that has become known as the Great Resignation. 47% of people plan to leave their job during 2022. Most are leaving because of their boss or their company culture. 82% of people feel unheard, undervalued and misunderstood in the workplace. Do you think leaders see the data and think “that’s not me – I’m not that boss they don’t want to work for? What changes do you think need to happen?
Maiko Sakai: Ironically, the people who are so-called “bad bosses” rarely ask questions like this one, similar to how people who are diagnosed as mentally insane would not ask themselves whether or not they are insane.
What they do instead is blame their subordinates for being too soft or not disciplined or motivated enough, which makes the situation even worse. Additionally, they have their bosses to answer to, where they may be more preoccupied with either saving their own neck or finding ways to get out of it.
Unfortunately, there is no easy or simple solution to fix the problem. However, I certainly hope that this is a wake-up call for top-level execs to take this trend seriously and start putting various employee retention strategies in place to find out what works the best.
For example, CEO of Coinbase, Brian Armstrong, used to offer open mic sessions for his employees to suggest new ideas and ask the management questions so that they can be heard without having to go through their immediate bosses (and nothing happens.)
But it got to the point where the discussions became too politically charged and toxic beyond the organization’s mission and values. So, Armstrong decided to shut it down. He and his team then came up with another system for employees to share their ideas and questions with a set of rules that are based on the organization’s mission and values.
This goes to show that there is no one size fits all approach that works for all types of organizations. Moreover, it’s not a “set it & forget it” thing. Leaders need to recognize this and must be willing to try various ways to find out what works the best for them.
On a lighter note, if you had the ability to pick any business superpower, what would it be and how would you put it into practice?
Maiko Sakai: For me, that would be “extra audaciousness” as I tend to be a little more “sensible” or “reasonable.” Someone like Steve Jobs, Coco Chanel, Richard Branson, Elon Musk, and J.K. Rowling are good examples of entrepreneurs who possess or possessed such a quality.
With that superpower, I would explore & start a whole new venture that might be seen as a crazy idea & see what happens!
What does “success” in 2022 mean to you? It could be on a personal or business level, please share your vision.
Maiko Sakai: My definition of success is to satisfy 2 things: Being content with who I am and who I am becoming. This is #1. #2 is to serve my clients at the highest level so that they can experience the biggest transformation beyond their imagination.
I consider this to be my purpose and knowing this helps me feel content with my overall life. As long as I strive for these 2, I’d say I’m leading a successful life.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Maiko Sakai for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Maiko Sakai or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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