The career and productivity secrets of America’s genius strawberry grower

 

By Yasmin Gagne

For Tokyo-born Hiroki Koga, the idea to sell high-end strawberries stemmed from a case of homesickness. After getting an MBA in the United States, Koga got the idea to re-create the fruit he remembered eating on special occasions as a boy. He started cold-calling chefs at Michelin-starred restaurants to get their support for his product. Eventually, he raised $50 million to set up Oishii’s vertical farming operations, in Jersey City, New Jersey, in 2019.

What’s your best habit, and your worst?
I’m in bed by 9 p.m. and up by 5 a.m., then I get on the treadmill; running is my meditation. My bad habit is that I have a sweet tooth, and when I find a new sweet treat I can’t stop thinking about it. Right now, it’s the cruller from New York’s Daily Provisions.

What do you do when you’re creatively stuck?
Try new restaurants. I’ll go out of my way to go to Manhattan.

What’s the best mistake you ever made?
Everyone thought I was making a mistake when I decided to pursue agriculture after getting an MBA.

How do you unplug?
I travel to a new place on my own. After I quit a job where I was running R&D for several Japanese agriculture companies, I went to Rwanda. The exposure to a new culture allowed me to question the status quo.

What’s some advice you’re glad you ignored?
I’m glad I ignored my professors who told me nobody would invest in Oishii. Our first investor was an entrepreneur I met at a food-technology conference. We used the funds to fly strawberries from Tokyo to New York to conduct our first cold-call trips to Michelin-starred restaurants.

Do you have a work uniform?
Black sweatshirt, jeans, and socks, all from Uniqlo.

What’s always in your bag?
My MacBook and a bar of Compartes dark chocolate with salted pretzel.

What is your biggest indulgence?
Edomae-style sushi.

How do you exercise?
I run, and I love skiing in Whistler, British Columbia, or Hokkaido, Japan. I also love to play and watch soccer.

advertisement

Do you have a favorite podcast?
How I Built This. I enjoyed the episode with DoorDash founder Tony Xu because he talked about dealing with a two-sided market model.

Do you have a mantra?
I live by this Da Vinci quote: “When fortune comes, seize her firmly by the forelock, for, I tell you, she is bald at the back.”

Is there a meal you still fantasize about?
The Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare [a three-Michelin-starred restaurant in NYC’s Hudson Yards]. The pride and craftsmanship that César Ramirez and his team put into every dish . . . there is nothing like it.

Do you have a “get pumped” song?
“Strawberry Fields Forever” by the Beatles.

What advice would you give your younger self?
I’d tell 15-year-old Hiroki to stay confident and believe in himself. I always felt weird growing up in Japan. I had big dreams and I always felt like the odd man out.

Fast Company

(14)