BBA 2023 Winner Profile: Entrepreneur of the Year – PUSH Japan

Written by Sterling Content
December 1, 2023


Written by Sterling Content
December 1, 2023

Founded mere weeks before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, PUSH Japan KK had a rocky start. Now the film-focused creative studio has scooped a British Business Award (BBA) at the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan’s red-carpet gala celebrating the best of British business, in early November.

PUSH and its managing director Mike Sunda were named Entrepreneur of the Year in a hotly contested category with eight nominations. Judges from the UK–Japan ecosystem noted that the winning nomination exemplified entrepreneurialism and the creation of commercial success through an entrepreneurial spirit.


Adapting and growing

PUSH has undergone extensive changes despite the firm being less than four years old. Sunda’s dream in establishing the startup in January 2020 was to use the upcoming Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games as a growth engine.

The plan started well, with a video shoot of surfer and Olympic medal hopeful Hiroto Ohhara at Ichinomiya, Chiba Prefecture, host of the Olympic surfing competition, as well as engagement with his sponsors on distribution of the content. Soon after, though, the Games were postponed for one year and Japan entered the first of its periods of “lockdown.”

Some seven months later, Sunda returned to work at PUSH’s office and resumed filming on location. But the fledgling firm continued to be hampered by pandemic-induced problems. PUSH’s Shanghai-based co-founders were unable to travel to Tokyo to provide support as planned. In time, frustrated with China’s Covid policies, the pair returned to their respective hometowns (Oslo, Norway and Sydney, Australia) to establish PUSH offices, resulting in the further internationalisation of the brand.

Today, Tokyo is the largest of PUSH’s four offices. PUSH Japan KK employs a team of 10, a number that Sunda describes as more comfortable than the startup’s early days, when there were a handful of staff. It also marks “a positive step towards sustainability from a resource management perspective” and staff collaborate as required with their colleagues overseas in the “malleable and modern” setup.

“Our main achievements this year have been growing to a point where we’ve a sustainable structure and are doing fun, creative projects,” he said, citing PUSH’s music videos for artists Rosalia, Arlo Parks and Jacob Collier. These music videos have been opportunities to “embrace the creative agenda” and “work with artists around the world who we love and listen to as fans,” he added.

Sunda points out PUSH’s “small but agile” end-to-end team as the key to the startup’s success so far. Staff cover everything from initial strategic planning and development to post-production tasks such as video editing and colour grading.

“Because we have production sensibility and an in-house production unit, we can take care of creative execution when we produce videos,” he said. “Doing that with a nimble team is rare, not just in Tokyo, but anywhere in the world. But it’s a model that the industry is shifting towards because clients increasingly have smaller budgets but still the expectation to produce content to a high volume and high cadence.”

Vision and goals

Sunda’s understanding of the changing industry was one of his motivations to launch the business. A former strategist at an advertising agency in Tokyo, he felt the opportunity was “wide-open” for a “nimble, bilingual, bicultural creative studio within the landscape.” What’s more, he felt he would be happier working for himself, without the limits of “being tethered” to the contracts and clients of an agency operating under one of advertising’s “big four” agencies.

Until fairly recently, he admits he considered himself un-entrepreneurial, even “anti-capitalistic in many ways,” and continues to be driven simply by a desire to produce high-quality, interesting work. He even used to give a copy of Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?, a book by political and cultural theorist Mark Fisher (1968–2017) to every new hire.”

His teammates share the same passion, despite their “unconventional” backgrounds and perspectives. “We care about being professional and putting out good work but what motivates the collective as a whole is creating work that we feel is impacting culture positively or that is representative of superlative film craft,” he said. “That frames how we function as a company, as well as the projects we invest in and decide to take on.”

Having grown so quickly, PUSH will maintain its current size in the short term, he added, noting that his immediate goals are employee retention and happiness, as well as establishing sustainable ways of working with retained clients. The company will also continue producing “work that is eligible for creative awards and puts us on the map within the global cultural sphere,” whether for brands, documentaries or music videos.

Sunda hopes winning a prestigious BBA will support PUSH’s development by increasing awareness of the startup and widening his business network.

“To get recognition with an award that had nominees from so many verticals is really rewarding,” he said of receiving the accolade. “The ceremony was an eye-opener to the breadth of entities and companies that are British-owned or part of the BCCJ network in Japan, and we’re delighted to have won the award.”

And PUSH has gained even more to celebrate in the weeks since the BBA, having been shortlisted for Campaign’s Independent Agency of the Year 2023, recognition that Sunda calls “pretty significant within the context of the advertising industry.”