People Stories

Bringing People Together To Fuel a New Kind of Career Growth Engine


Hiro Narihara, Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR) of Moon Creative Lab venture Pioneer Guild, shares his experiments in career mapping and mentoring. In this interview, you’ll learn how Pioneer Guild launched its product, how they use customer feedback and professional networking to help drive growth, and why it’s never too late to start your own company.

Hi Hiro! Tell us about your venture, Pioneer Guild.

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Hiro Narihara: Pioneer Guild is a venture that is creating a new experience for people to map out their career pathways. Pioneer Guild will allow users to see where they are in their career today and navigate to where they want to be years later. Like Google Maps, they’ll see different paths to go where they want  and they can zoom out to take in the bigger picture: they’ll see major highways and minor roads, they’ll see where congestion is choking progress, and they’ll see which route is best for them - which could be the path that’s fastest or the one with the least amount of hassle. 

Our app’s users – we call them Explorers – will also be able to hear from others who have traversed these paths before. They can read reviews of their career pathway’s conditions or discover insider tips and interesting stops along the way. And there will be seasoned “career travelers” they can talk with – we call these folks our Career Pioneers.  

We recently ran an experiment matching up Career Pioneers with Explorers looking for advice on traveling down similar career paths, and we learned a lot from it!


Can you provide details about how you ran that specific experiment?

H.N.: Sure! The whole process was extremely fast and agile. Late last year, our team ran an experiment to test some hypotheses we had made about the current market. We created a website within a week and launched a mentoring program with real customers in only two weeks! The program matched tech startup people who were originally in the finance industry with Explorers who are interested in a similar career shift. The key element that allowed us to run the experiment so fast was networking: Human-to-human connections are always the most powerful, and for us it paid off.

Overall, the experiment had some successes but also a lot of struggles. Many visitors to our website were doubtful at first, thinking it was simply another recruiting service. As a result, we did not get much response from users. If I wanted to change anything it would be to use fewer “loaded” words that are common in the industry – e.g., “job change”, “career-up”, “work-life balance”, etc. – which can trigger people’s defensiveness.

Taking all this into account, we adjusted our messaging halfway through the experiment. Instead of talking to people as though they were customers, we found they were much more willing to engage with and support us if we simply asked them to evaluate our new experimental offering. Many told us they were excited to become part of something new and join a community of like-minded people. It’s important to remind ourselves that most people fundamentally want to help others.

My big takeaway? As founders, we should draw people together into a community and allow them to participate in the creative process of experimentation itself. In fact, when we asked our customers to describe their ideal mentoring service, many of their ideas were more original and insightful than our own! They were teaching us how we should proceed.

Listening more and bringing people together to co-create – that’s something I want to focus on more moving forward.


Why a mentoring program? How can it help people?

H.N.: There are many services out there in the world like this, but most have major drawbacks, which was something we heard again and again from users during our research.

Career coaches, for example, tend to be very dream-like and almost therapeutic in tone. They are great for setting long-term, “North Star” goals and going deep into motivations, uncovering unconscious blockers and so on. But their recommendations can lack practicality and near-term actionability.

Recruiters, on the other hand, are the opposite – they tend to focus on the near-term, have their own agendas, and don’t necessarily have the best interests of their clients or prospects at heart – sometimes creating a conflict of interest. Recruiters often simply want to make a commission and will push people to accept jobs and take career paths that don’t really meet their needs.

With Pioneer Guild, we want to take a different approach and help our Explorers make career path decisions based on objective data, contextualized by the perspective of fellow career travelers – our Career Pioneers – to both inspire them and help them make well-informed, life-changing decisions.


Do you have a mentor? Or are you a mentor yourself?

H.N.: Yes! I have regular sessions with a certified career coach and also consult with many mentors. It’s extremely valuable to me. Through the process of questioning and being questioned, I can see myself more clearly. In this sense, my coaches and mentors are like mirrors that give me an objective point of view on professional development.

Actually, I’ve found the startup founder community in Tokyo – which is relatively small and close-knit – to be a rich resource for mentorship. We often meet up and mentor one other casually. When you’re thinking of building a company from scratch, it’s great to be able to bounce ideas off of so many smart and dynamic people.


Is career mapping and mentoring something that more people need?

H.N.: Absolutely! Especially in Japan. First off, it’s obvious that Japan needs dramatic changes to recover its competitiveness in the global market. Younger generations know this very well, but middle-aged people (like myself!) are struggling to accept it. 

The nature of work itself is changing. Everyone needs to start thinking about their mid- and long-term career goals and how to reach them. Too many people are content just existing in their current roles and don’t take an active approach in building their future. 

As things go on, I believe the employment landscape in Japan will become increasingly fluid with more job mobility – both within and outside one’s current company – with more emphasis on mid-career hiring, hybridity, and work-style diversification. Studies show that many young Japanese people dream of professional independence and are taking steps to make that dream a reality.

In recent years, we have seen the growth of freelance matching services and decentralized C2C marketplaces, which reduce the barriers for people wishing to start their own businesses. Pioneer Guild is part of this revolution, where work is more fluid, skill development is self-directed, and people can work across organizations.

Our dream is to democratize pathways to rewarding careers, to connect individuals with related expertise, and build guilds of professional excellence. Young people are seeking a more systematic way to find the guidance they need to reach their career goals. That’s the change we want to make in the world!


As an EIR, what advice would you give to others wanting to start their own ventures or businesses?

H.N.: Truthfully, I’m still learning this. Maybe we all are. But one thing I can say is, don’t give up before you’ve even started. If a middle-aged corporate worker with a young family like me can start a company, so can you!

I recently read a great book by Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, called The Startup of You, where he talks about the need to do an objective self-assessment and treat yourself like a company by analyzing your aspirations, the market for your particular skills and experiences, your assets, debts, risks and so on. And I agree – this is the first step.

Contrary to popular belief, I don’t think starting a venture needs to be a total risk the way it is often portrayed. Instead, you need to make reasonable adjustments to your life and take measured risks. In fact, you can launch a new venture as a side gig while still working a full-time job. You just need to be clever and efficient in the way you go about it.

Even the big, traditional Japanese corporations are starting to accept this. Recently, there have been policy shifts allowing employees to have side businesses that even a decade ago would have been unthinkable. Why? Because the world is changing and the pressure to adapt is so intense. As societies, industries and markets evolve, new value creation is increasingly important, wherever it comes from.


What’s your next experiment with Pioneer Guild?

H.N.: Right now we are starting to collaborate with recruiting agencies to create a dynamic career pathway mapping tool. It’s pretty exciting!

It’s well known in the industry that job seekers complain about recruiters, saying, “They don’t understand or care about my mid- or long-term career plan. They just want to push me into a role as fast as possible.” And that’s often true. But to be fair, these agencies know this problem and really struggle with it. They want a better way to provide quality advice, too. After all, this is what truly great career consultants do for their clients. 

So that’s what we’re building right now: a data-driven, objective way to explore the many possible paths careers might take, and make fact-based decisions to navigate the way through this labyrinth. In fact, we’ve previewed what we’re doing with recruitment agencies, and they are very interested indeed.

In the end, everyone deserves to find a career that not only pays the bills, but inspires them and brings them satisfaction. We want to help create that world!


To learn more about Pioneer Guild and stay in touch, visit: or reach out to Hiro at

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