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Gambling on Ronaldo and Madonna made this man a billionaire

People told him it was 'impossible' to get them to front his company's products

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Through sheer persistence, Mr Matsushita persuaded Ronaldo to be the face of the ReFa Active facial beauty roller and SIXPAD, a muscle-stimulating device. Madonna fronts a skincare range.

Tokyo

TSUYOSHI Matsushita didn't know Cristiano Ronaldo or Madonna at all, but he somehow got in touch with them and persuaded them to be the faces of his products.

And in doing so, the Japanese entrepreneur built his company into a US$2.3 billion firm, in the process making himself a billionaire.

It was made possible, he said, because his little-known business gambled on trying to get the superstars to endorse its brands.

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"Most people wouldn't even try to get Ronaldo or Madonna because they think it's such a slim chance," said the president of MTG Co in an interview in Tokyo. But "I've been thriving on that 1 per cent chance since birth, and I've gotten lucky."

Matsushita's MTG Co makes a kaleidoscope of products, including a skincare line developed with Madonna and an abdominal muscle-training device called SIXPAD in partnership with Ronaldo.

The company, which had more than US$400 million in revenue last fiscal year, listed in Tokyo in Jul. Its shares surged 27 per cent on their first day.

Mr Matsushita retains a 72 per cent stake. The 48-year-old has a long history as an entrepreneur, taking his first steps into the world of business when he was still in school on a small Japanese island. Back then - as now - his product line sought to create and capitalise on a fad; at that time, it was rabbits that looked like pandas.

While still in grade school, he travelled to Nagasaki, bought Dutch rabbits, bred them and sold them to the islanders, who had never seen the likes of such rabbits before. For a brief moment, he had the perfect business - until the panda rabbits lost their scarcity value.

"That's how I got started," he said.

He went on to establish a used-car dealership in 1994, but soon resolved to make his own products, so he founded the predecessor of MTG in 1996.

There, he tried his hand at everything from health-care items to ceramics. In 2009, he had success with the ReFa massage roller, which uses microcurrents to promote blood circulation.

Takuya Kiyokawa, a childhood friend who was tasked with plucking grass to feed those rabbits for that childhood business venture, is now head of manufacturing at MTG.

He said of his friend and boss: "He's the scariest person in the world and the nicest person in the world. And above all, he's the hardest worker."

A few years later, Mr Matsushita became determined to develop a skincare brand in partnership with Madonna, as the next step after the ReFa brand.

He did the rounds of advertising agencies, trying to find a way to meet the mega pop star. People told him it was impossible.

He recounted: "I started asking those around me if they knew Madonna. They looked at me like I was crazy. But eventually, someone knew someone and after a while, we were finally able to reach her."

MTG launched the MDNA SKIN brand with the Queen of Pop in February 2014. This happened after much back and forth with the singer over the development, he said.

The skincare line, which consists of a range of products including a clay mask that is to be removed by a magnetic device, is promoted as using "blessed waters" from thermal springs in Italy.

MTG declined to disclose details of MDNA SKIN's sales.

Not content to leave it there, Mr Matsushita turned his attention to Ronaldo. He'd decided that the five-time Fifa Player of the Year was the only person that he would want to represent his ReFa Active facial beauty roller.

Once again, he contacted advertising agencies and was told a meeting was impossible. Again, he finally got in touch by using his network of contacts, and managed to convince the soccer star to represent the product.

In July 2014, MTG started the collaboration with Ronaldo. The next year, the company launched SIXPAD, a device that uses electrical muscle stimulation to tone the abdomen and other parts of the body. The machine wraps around the waist or limbs and sends electrical currents through the muscles, causing contractions - essentially working out that body part.

Again, the device was in partnership with Ronaldo, who had by then developed a relationship with the Japanese entrepreneur.

Ronaldo's TV advertisements for SIXPAD have become well-known in Japan, and MTG has sold more than one million units of the device in the past three years, with the company's revenue more than doubling after the product was launched.

Ronaldo and Madonna didn't respond to requests for comment.

Mr Matsushita contracted three researchers who specialise in EMS to verify SIXPAD's effectiveness and stave off criticism that it is a gimmick.

Kohei Watanabe, an associate professor at Chukyo University who co-authored the study, said: "Theoretically, muscle contraction induced by SIXPAD can improve muscle mass and strength."

Whatever the case, Mr Matsushita's stake in MTG was worth about US$1.7 billion as at Tuesday, after the company listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange's Mothers market for startup firms on July 10.

After initially surging, the stock has tailed off. It is down about 20 per cent from a peak on July 12. The one analyst with a rating on the stock, from Nomura Holdings Inc, said it is a "hold", with a price target of 8,000 yen (S$99), up 23 per cent from Tuesday's close.

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