Inspirational Woman: Toshika Kosako | New York Managing Director & Producer, monopo

Meet Toshika Kosako

New York Managing Director & Producer, monopo
Toshika Kosako is co-president of global design-driven creative agency monopo and recently made the Forbes Japan 30 under 30 list. 
 
Toshika has been leading monopo’s expansion in the USA since 2021 and consults on UX, visual communication design and production for Japanese companies entering the North American market such as Shiseido, SONY and UNIQLO. 

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I’m the New York Managing Director and Producer at global design-driven creative agency monopo, which was founded in Tokyo in 2011.

I have always been a generalist. During my master’s degree in London, I worked as a Researcher and Project Manager at a few design firms. I also worked as a UX designer in Tokyo before joining monopo. Life in Tokyo was great – I was surrounded by a lot of friends, busy with work, and everything was going well.

When COVID hit, I started wondering about life as everybody did. I started craving a challenge in a bigger market, in a foreign environment, in my late 20s – it was that simple. I went to talk to monopo Tokyo founders, to share my idea of branching monopo out to North America and now I’m the founder and Managing Director of monopo New York.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Sometimes it is difficult to hear your inner needs or see your capabilities when focusing on what others think you “should” do.

I was born into a Chinese family (yes I had a Tiger Mom), and they poured their passion into my education – I worshiped the idea of becoming a journalist, so they could be proud of me. So no, I did not plan to switch my study from journalism, nor did I plan to go for a master’s degree in a design school, but it just happened.

During grad school, I still had no idea what my future career would be, but I started realising that I often thrive in situations that require quick problem-solving. I experimented a lot – from Project Manager to UX Designer to Producer to HR, and now managing a company. It all happened spontaneously, but I was surrounded by people smarter than me, and they taught me different lessons to get to where I am now.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Doing the right thing is always challenging. You mostly know what’s right, but it usually costs more, takes more time, or it is harder.

Until I started a business, I did not realise how vulnerable I can be especially when making decisions. “Would clients avoid us if we are a women-only agency?”, “Should we take this project that I’m not sure about, but might be good for other members?” – I needed to mentally practice to cut those unnecessary fears and focus on what needed to be done.

I don’t necessarily always follow my gut feeling, but instead, try to ask myself if I’m taking unhappy solutions over uneasy feelings. Starting a business at a young age means that there’ll be struggles caused by your limited experience or poor connections, and yet you have to force yourself to take an emotional risk.

Along the way, I had problems with interpersonal relationships, or the administrative barriers to foreign business such as the cost of visas, but as long as my mind is happy, I will be just fine.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I use my creative skills to start conversations around social impact every chance I get. The projects that I work on are mostly limited to the ones that tell a meaningful message to the audience, and sometimes we work on self-initiated projects for social causes. To me, achievement is about not only realizing my full potential but also that of others.

My childhood dream was to be a journalist and contribute to social impact, and although in a different form, I feel like I’m stepping closer to this dream today. I also hear a lot of people saying they want to create the world that they wanna live in – I put efforts to lower the gross profit margin for social initiatives so that we can pay our collaborators fairly.

Level Up Summit

 

Don’t miss our Level Up Summit on 06 December, where we’re tackling the barriers for women in tech head on. Join us for keynotes, panels, Q&A’s & breakout sessions on finance, people management, negotiation, influencing skills, confidence building, building internal networks, maximising the power of mentorship, and much more. 

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

It’s always about communities of open-minded people. Building a team with great people makes everything a lot easier and fun! And to me, that’s what good business is about.

Also, it’s amazing to work with people you respect, yet you can admit your failures and expose your vulnerability to. One of my colleagues, Asako Tomotani, is my university best friend and we go back 10 years. Having a person like her on my team every day can always push me to be a better producer, sister, and leader.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

My mentor would be Eriko Suzuki, a venture capitalist and angel investor, who is also my dear friend. I don’t know what potential she saw in me, but one day she invited me to her dinner table, with brilliant other ladies, and taught me what community building and sisterhood look like. I was just a young girl with not much experience, but the amount of time and energy she put into me was unbelievable. I never met a woman so invested in me before, it was a turning point for me.

I don’t currently provide formal mentorship, but I answer all the messages I receive, try to have 1-to-1 calls to pay forward to other younger females.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

There is one thing that you can do right now right here, which I believe is impactful. It’s to tell every woman you meet that she can do it. It’s an easy investment you can make today.

Growing up in Asia as a girl, I was so hammered into my head from advertisements, movies, or my parents telling me that women should never sound strong – that I could not explain what I didn’t like and could not say no. This damaged my learning development, and pushed me out of the direction of where I wanted to go for years.

If we all have a proper sense of self-expression and know how to communicate, we have a high chance of achieving. And I believe women can play a more active role, especially in this digital era.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

This is something that I still struggle with today, but it would be to fail.

There is no failure that I regret – being introverted made me better at telling jokes, and working overtime has taught me that I should work on fewer projects (no matter how meaningful they are). Failure is the fuel for the fastest way to know how things should be or who you really are.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

Growing up, there were some biased narratives inputted by advertisements, or everywhere we see really. They sometimes were about Western-centric lookism or gender bias. My challenge through visual communication is to pay that back with positive messaging, with a diverse and fluid community. Again, I’ve always been interested in community and ideas that drive change.

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