Yusaku Maezawa, image from Facebook
On January 5, a Japanese rock musician turned e-commerce billionaire sent out a tweet. That tweet has become the most retweeted tweet of all time—with 5.6 million retweets.
Who is this billionaire and why did his tweet take off? Yusaku Maezawa is founder of Japan’s largest online fashion retailer, ZOZO. He announced on Twitter that he would give away a total of 100 million Japanese yen, equivalent to over $920,000, to 100 randomly selected people who retweeted his tweet. Maezawa said that he was offering this gift to celebrate ZOZO hitting 10 billion yen ($92 million) in sales over the holidays in 2018.
Maezawa, who’s 43 years old, has made global headlines before. In September 2018 SpaceX billionaire CEO Elon Musk revealed that Maezawa had purchased a ticket to fly around the moon on SpaceX’s Starship vehicle in 2023 for an undisclosed amount.
The colorful Japanese billionaire with a creative streak plans to take a group of artists with him to space. “If Pablo Picasso had been able to see the moon up-close, what kind of paintings would he have drawn? If John Lennon could have seen the curvature of the Earth, what kind of songs would he have written? … I hope this project will inspire the dreamer within each of us,” Maezawa wrote on dearmoon.earth, his website for the space trip.
Maezawa also made headlines for the eye-popping sums he’s spent buying contemporary art. In mid-2017 he spent $110 million on a Basquiat painting. He’s purchased other works by Basquiat and also by Picasso, telling Forbes in 2017 that he was buying the art to put into a museum he was planning to built in Chiba, a city east of Tokyo.
Maezawa’s $2 billion net worth, according to Forbes Real-Time Rankings, stems from his 36% stake in ZOZO, which trades on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. While Maezawa seems happy to celebrate ZOZO’s stride during the holidays, the stock price has been in decline since July 2018, shedding 57% in value in the last six months. The company reported falling profits and production delays during an earnings call in early November 2018. It’s quite possible that the tweet is meant as a marketing gimmick to draw attention to ZOZO and further boost sales.
Maezawa got the idea to start ZOZO, which he founded in 1998, after moving to the U.S. shortly after graduating from college to pursue a career as a punk rock drummer in California. While his band didn’t take off as he planned, he did find inspiration in music merchandise sold at festivals and concerts. He decided to buy band-themed T-shirts, programs, books and CDs and sent them back to Japan and sell them. “I wanted to share my music with everybody,” he told Forbes in 2011.
He’s certainly looking to make a lasting impression well beyond music, it seems. Flying to the moon, splashing out millions for fancy art and giving random retweeters money: Those things are helping set Maezawa apart from most of the world’s 2,200 billionaires and getting him plenty of publicity.