Akiko Naka is an amazing woman. When you first meet, her reserved and unassuming manner makes you wonder if she really knows how potentially transformative her ideas and her company are. As you get to know Akiko, however, it becomes clear she knows exactly what she’s doing. She’s just doing things her way.
Japan is still very much a male-dominated society, so when journalists get a chance to talk to a female entrepreneur there is a tendency to focus on the novelty of her gender rather than the substance of her actions, and they miss out on the most important things to learn.
During our conversation Akiko provides some solid insights about the best way to take on the Japanese power structure and win; by challenging them indirectly. It’s a great conversation, and I think you’ll enjoy it.
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- How Akiko moved from programmer to manga-artist to CEO.
- Why founders must over-communicate their vision to succeed
- Why the team is more important than the founder
- Why you should focus on team-fit rather than job descriptions
- How to challenge the Japanese power structure (indirectly)
- Changing social and corporate hierarchies in Japan
- The Wantedly Home Page
- Read Akiko’s Blog (Japanese)
- Friend Akiko on Facebook
- Follow her on twitter at @acanocic
Tim: Disrupting Japan. Episode 8. Welcome to Disrupting Japan. Straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero and thanks for listening. Today I sit down and talk with my friend Akiko Naka.
Akiko’s company Wantedly is changing the way recruiting is done here. Now recruiting in Japan has always been an intensely stylized and formal affair and Wantedly is now running in the opposite direction and trying to change it into an extremely casual discussion. Resumes and work histories aren’t even exchanged before the first meeting. I have to admit even I had trouble with the casual nature of Wantedly the first time used it but it undoubtedly gets results and that’s what’s important.
Now, when talking with successful women entrepreneurs or successful women in general, I suppose, journalists have a terrible tendency to focus on the relativeness and novelty of being a successful woman. I have a number of female friends, both here in Japan and in San Francisco, who are entrepreneurs and they all unanimously tell me that the, “So what’s it like to be a woman entrepreneur?” question is highly annoying or at the very least perplexing. I mean how anyone can really answer that. They’ve got nothing to compare it to. You know it’s a lot like when people ask me what it’s like to be a foreign entrepreneur in Japan. It’s simply to broad a question to get a handle on. It’s almost like being asked what it’s like to be named Tim. I don’t really know it’s just who I am.
The fact of the matter is that despite laws and the constitution itself guaranteeing gender equality here in Japan there’s still very strong discrimination against women here. In fact Japan ranked one hundred and fourth out of a hundred and forty two countries in gender equality by the world economic forum. That said, I think some perspective is needed. While it’s easy to look at the current situation and see things that can be improved its also important to look at how far and how fast things have already improved.
For example, I’m an American and America undoubtedly has a long way to go in improving race relations, but it’s important to remember just how much has improved in recent decades. I was born in 1966 and at that time it would’ve been illegal for my Japanese wife and me to be married in sixteen of the fifty United States. Inter-racial marriage was actually a felony in America until 1967 and it wasn’t approved of by the majority of Americans until as late as 1995.
But we’re here to talk about Japan today and the point is that when you’re looking at a bad situation its important and very constructive to remember how far things have already come. To remind ourselves that things really are getting better. Now a little over a hundred years ago in Japan women were legally speaking property. They belonged to either their fathers or their husbands. They had no legal rights and could not own property. Up until the seventies Japanese banks and many other companies had mandatory retirement ages for women at about twenty five. Now this requirement could be waived if the woman in question had married a male employee at the company, then she could continue working there. And until very recently it was common for companies to advertise open positions that could only be filled by men.
Now today, although a lot of improvement has been made a lot still remains to be done. Many salarymen and government bureaucrats find reporting to a female boss to be well, almost shameful. And a woman attempting to climb the corporate ladder will often find her subordinates trying to sabotage her. But that’s changing today and women entrepreneurs like Akiko are doing a tremendous amount to improve things. Not by campaigning or even talking about the issue directly but by simply being very visible and very good at what they do. In fact, in our interview Akiko talks about the importance of challenging the power structure indirectly rather than head on. So let’s get right to the interview. I think you’ll enjoy it.
– Interview starts –
Tim: We’re sitting here with Akiko Naka CEO and founder of Wantedly. Akiko I’ve been a fan of yours and a customer of Wantedly’s for several years now.
Akiko: Thank you so much.
Tim: No, no I mean it. You guys are really changing the way recruiting is done in Japan and rather than having me explain it why don’t you give a brief explanation of what Wantedly is and what kind of customers you have.
Akiko: Right. Wantedly has been running – we’ve been running Wantedly for over maybe three years and we have about five thousand clients. Mostly startups in Japan and mostly in tech industry like web setups, web companies and what differentiates Wantedly from other recruiting services is that Wantedly matches people to make them pay casual office visits to the companies. On their job listing sites they will apply and send their resume and go for interview.
Tim: Now this is something that I have to admit that the first time I used Wantedly I was a little confused by it. So there’s a lot of engineers using this platform to look for jobs but most of them don’t post a resume they’ll post an interest or they’ll respond and say, “Hey I want to come and visit your company and talk to you guys and maybe grab some coffee.”
Akiko: Yeah that’s how it’s working.
Tim: For me that was hard to – I found it surprising – refreshing but surprising. You’re working with some big Japanese companies now. Have they had a hard time getting used to this way of recruiting?
Akiko: Yes definitely. It is really hard to start business with large companies so we have like a few like Suntree Corporation and Recruit, and MTT Communications but those are really rare cases.
Tim: How have they reacted to people who don’t send a resume and just want to drop by? That must be shocking to a company like Recruit.
Akiko: Right. Right. Right. (Laughs) So our sales team tries really hard to explain how Wantedly works and how it’s different from other recruiting sites in the beginning and make them understand or educate them in a way that they can control how to use wantedly. It takes some time. So for example when Suntree started using Wantedly I think our sales team visited the company like three or four times and ever time our sales team goes to the company they meet with new people from higher level and they explain the whole thing again. So slowly educate those counterparts and eventually.
Tim: So is it successful? Have they hired people?
Akiko: I think they’re still listing their job disclosing on Wantedly yeah.
Tim: But they’re welcome to have people, qualified people drop by the office in a more Wantedly style?
Akiko: Yeah that’s right. For example, other companies like Recruit they successfully hired an engineer thru Wantedly. There’s a team in Recruit called gration and the team at the company had a really hard time to persuade their management team to use Wantedly because historically people at Recruit they were allowed to use Recruiting Solution which recruit themselves. But the person inside the team he wanted to hire a really good engineer and he thought there’s no way to hire good enough engineers thru their own site so he had a negotiation internally several times. Eventually they used Wantedly and successfully hired someone. So the reputation spread within the corporation and afterwards a few other teams started using Wantedly too.
Tim: That’s fantastic.
Tim: That’s really saying something that you’re being used. That Recruit is using Wantedly to recruit and for our foreign listeners Recruit is by far the biggest recruiting agency in Japan. I mean I’m not even sure who second place is they are that big.
Akiko: Exactly they just recently went public so they’re even bigger now.
Tim: Another thing everybody talks social recruiting has kind of become a buzz word and most people it means posting ads in Facebook and things like that. But Wantedly is actually built up a community that interacts with each other, that talks about the jobs, that talks about the companies. Ten years ago the idea of job applicants evaluating the company would be almost unthinkable here. The power structure worked one way only. So what’s been the reaction of some of your bigger customers or just some big companies in general to having job seekers evaluate the company?
Akiko: I think our case is very specific because Wantedly is very good to hire engineers right. Like Wantedly works well to hire engineers and engineers is very competitive people to hire right now in Japan because there’s not much.
Tim: There’s a real shortage of engineers.
Akiko: So even larger companies they tried everything to hire good engineers and they’re like, “How can we even possibly hire engineers,” and in comes Wantedly. So they’re welcome to try anything.
Tim: So they’re just desperate?
Akiko: Yeah that’s right, that’s right.
Tim: But if it works though they’ll keep using it.
Tim: So do you think it’s just the company aren’t paying attention to the discussion or that they’ve accepted the fact that it’s okay in this internet social age for people to be talking about them both positive and negative?
Akiko: Yeah I think that people are starting to accept the fact that people are discussing the validation of the company. You know there’s a site called Glassdoor in the US and there’s a similar site in Japan becoming growing really fast. That’s built by Livsense.
Tim: Okay where they’re actually posting salaries and reviews of companies? That’s interesting. That I think is a wonderful trend in Japan and one that’s overdue.
Akiko: Right so those different sites are approaching to change things these days and I think HR people are starting to realize the fact that things are changing.
Tim: That’s good. In a way it’s almost funny. I mean obviously the internet is what has made this possible but it’s almost funny that it’s happening now where there is more job seekers than jobs. Where is thirty years ago there were far more jobs than there were job seekers. But despite the power is shifting to the talented individuals. That’s a good thing.
Akiko: Yeah but I don’t think that’s happening in all roles. Yeah I think it’s particularly happening in the tech industry or tech related roles.
Tim: Where there are sever job shortages – excuse me where there are severe talent shortages?
Akiko: Yeah that’s right. So some occupations like maybe retail seller or delivery boys there are some kind of being having a really hard time finding jobs.
Tim: That makes sense. I guess that’s the same way everywhere.
Tim: One thing that I was very impressed with by you when we first started using your company – when we first started using Wantedly two almost three years ago now. You actually came to our office.
Akiko: Yeah I remember that.
Tim: Talked about what we liked. What we didn’t like and what was fascinating is that you actually listened and Japan has been a nation of customer surveys that are mailed out and they’ll ask you to ask fifty different questions. I was really impressed that you seemed to be really living the whole concept of this social networking and social recruiting and I wanted to get your thoughts on what you’ve done differently because I see Wantedly employees at a lot of networking events. I’m bumping into you guys all over the place. Can I get your general thoughts about community in both building startups and in recruiting?
Akiko: Yeah in terms of building an organization or a team in startup I think the vision is really important. So as you probably know the job listing on Wantedly they don’t discuss anything about salary or condition.
Tim: Yeah its very general on both sides.
Akiko: Yeah right they only talk about like what they do, how they do, or why they do what they do kind of things. So it’s all about vision rather than salary. All the startups and all the companies should act like that and ourselves act like that too.
Tim: so more of communicating the vision of the company rather than the job description?
Akiko: That’s right. We don’t really care about – we do care about but like skill is not that important when you do hire people.
Tim: So you’re looking for a cultural fit.
Akiko: that’s right. So the first thing is I think more than half the companies CEO are not really our importance of vision. So they’re not even – they probably might have vision inside their heart but they don’t really.
Tim: They don’t explain it well?
Akiko: Explain it or – like most CEO’s think employees know what’s important but they are not really speaking out.
Tim: Well that’s unfortunately not unique to Japan. I think that is a universal condition of work. So what is Wantedly’s vision?
Akiko: So our vision is in Japanese we are saying which means we want to make people happier when working. Most of the people I think work for money, work to live but I think our vision is to make people make live to work.
Tim: Yeah there’s been a lot of great companies formed around that kind of idea. In America Zappos is one of the famous examples.
Akiko: I think Zappos is one of the very strong vision oriented company. I’m trying to be really careful to explain our vision. I have to repeat saying that like I think I have to say over ten times to make people understand what I’m saying. We have this unique culture called culture lunch every week so I have lunch with three employees like every week and go over the whole vision and why we do what we do and like yeah. I explain every single thing and they probably have to start to think Akiko is saying the same thing again.
Tim: So they don’t forget it. Sometimes they do (Laughter).
Akiko: They do. They do they might remember but like if I say more than ten times they can maybe start to repeat or tell to other people.
Tim: So it becomes a part of them.
Tim: Do you think Wantedly’s unique approach to this type of recruiting is unique to Japan or do you have plans to expand overseas as well?
Akiko: I think this model will work in other countries too because Wantedly optimized for startups so it’s really cheap. It doesn’t really cost much to start using and if high literacy – internet literacy. So Wantedly is not really tied to the culture so all the step in startups in different countries like there are many startups these days like the US, Europe, and Southeast Asia and all the startups in different areas have pretty the same culture and at Wantedly we can place our products in those same areas. That’s what I’m thinking.
Tim: Do you have any plans you can talk about? Or is it just more –
Akiko: Yes definitely so we have a few people that probably will join next year.
Tim: To help with the overseas expansion?
Tim: That’s exciting. Congratulations.
Akiko: Yes I’ve been looking for those people for like over half a year to hire someone who can look over like overseas.
Tim: Did you hire them on Wantedly?
Akiko: On Wantedly yeah. (Laughs)
Tim: Of course. I’d be very disappointed if you didn’t.
Akiko: So I’m really excited. We looked at Southeast Asia as one of the most important markets.
Akiko: Singapore in Asia Malaysia. I think Southeast Asia is pretty much the same.
Tim: Let me ask you about you. So you worked at Goldman Sachs for a while and then Facebook and then quit to start Wantedly. Was that a hard decision or was that something – was starting your own company something you always wanted to do?
Akiko: It was a very difficult decision to make when I was working for Goldman Sachs because have you ever worked for a large company? Maybe you haven’t.
Tim: Yeah. I worked for Fujitsu for a while and was very financial.
Akiko: When you get used to getting a salary like every same day or every month you kind of expect that to happen like going forward.
Tim: It’s a very scary thing when you don’t have that.
Akiko: Right. So when you started to think about when the salary stops coming your imagination can bring to very scary places.
Tim: What was the thing that made you overcome the scary parts and just do it?
Akiko: My mom is – I mean she’s still working as a professor at the university so I grew up seeing her she worked really so hard and she really enjoyed working. To her a job is not like an obligation it’s more like her hobby.
Tim: So it sounds like you got a lot of your philosophy about work from your mom.
Akiko: That’s right yeah. When I was small I thought when I grow up I probably will have the same thing like my job as my hobby.
Tim: Yeah you can’t really do that at Goldman Sachs. (Laughter)
Akiko: So once I realized that and so I wasn’t really afraid of quitting I mean I was afraid but at the same time I knew that I had to quit and I knew at some point if I continued doing whatever work I wanted to then I could become like mom someday. I had a belief in that my mom’s history.
Tim: That’s great. So your family and friends were really supportive of your decision to start a company?
Akiko: I didn’t really start a company straight off quitting Goldman Sachs. So I wanted to become a Manga artist.
Tim: Really? I didn’t know that. You wanted to draw Manga?
Akiko: Yeah that’s right.
Tim: Wow you really were a geeky girl. You were programming from a really young age too weren’t you?
Akiko (Laughs) Yeah yeah that was influence from my dad so he used to – well he’s still teaching but he’s teaches computer science at the university. Yeah so anyways I really liked drawing and so many people want to become Manga artists so I was one of them and I thought it’s really really competitive. It’s really even harder to become Manga artist than to join Goldman Sachs I guess.
Tim: Oh yeah and then the pay is not nearly as good.
Akiko: Actually if you have like megahit Manga you become really really rich.
Tim: That’s true. Like all show business right?
Akiko: I was like twenty five years old and I thought if I try so hard and become a Manga artist so I quit Goldman Sachs and drew Manga for a year. While I was drawing Manga I started this new website called Mangaging so Mangaging is a place where people can post there Manga.
Tim: So Manga artists can try to find readers?
Akiko: Yeah that’s right. People from around the world can comment on this Manga illustration. It turned out that I wasn’t really – I didn’t really have talent to become a Manga artist (Laughs) so I wanted to do something else to utilize my drawing skill or creativity. So I ended up building this site. This Mangaging thing and I wanted to promote this site so I participated in the conference called IVS. Heard of?
Akiko: Infinity Venture Summit.
Tim: Oh Infinity Venture sure. That’s one of the bigger summits here in Japan.
Akiko: Right so I was showing at the summit and there I met global head of Facebook. I was going to pitch my site but Japanese country manager wanted me to join Facebook as like I don’t know an assistant so I was like, “Eh I want to do my own site.”
Tim: It sounds like he’s a good salesman. You were trying to pitch him on investing your company and he convinced you to join Facebook.
Akiko: (Laughter) that’s right. I was like counter offer. Anyways eventually started to join Facebook. I thought it was really exciting and I was allowed to continue my Mangaging.
Tim: Is the site still running?
Akiko: No. So that’s how I joined Facebook Japan and I was there for like half a year and at that time I saw a huge opportunity coming towards Japan and that was back in 2011. I felt like Facebook was starting to take over Japanese social network scene and there was a huge new platform right.
Tim: Well they were pushing out Mixi very quickly.
Akiko: Yeah that’s right and many new products like Red Tea. Like social something website becoming popular.
Tim: That was the trend at that time for sure.
Akiko: Yeah and there was a guy at Yahoo who I respect and he was in the industry for over twenty or thirty years and he said, “Akiko there is another trend coming from 2011 and will be really really big.” It was like a two wave so the first wave was like late nineties and at that time Rakuten and Yahoo Japan went public and then another wave was back in 2010 and that was like DNAngry and those companies went public. He said, “Akiko another wave coming will be so huge that those two waves will be nothing compared to the one coming.”
Tim: Like the seven year cycle.
Akiko: Kind of yeah. I thought okay if I miss this chance I’ll be like – I was like twenty six so I thought I’ll be thirty something if I miss this chance and I thought yeah I want to do my own. That’s how I quit Facebook and started my own product.
Tim: How did your friends and family react to you quitting Facebook which is a great company?
Akiko: My parents didn’t really care anymore. They thought I’m crazy already like to quit –
Tim: They’d given up on you or something? (Laughs)
Akiko: There really liberal people so they didn’t really – they want the child to do something that they want to.
Tim: That’s great.
Akiko: Yeah they really. I think they’re really nice parents. I didn’t really tell my friends. I was like really focusing on work at the time so I didn’t really hangout with some friends. After like several years I only focused on work and I didn’t really meet friends. I like hanging out with friends but sometimes it could be –
Tim: I know what you mean.
Tim: I know exactly what you mean. I’ve started several companies on my own and you do get – well you have to focus because it gets back to your vision thing. I mean you’re the one that understands it. Everyone is looking at you and how you’re working and your setting an example for everyone so yeah you do end up focusing.
Akiko: Yeah. If I meet friends they’ll probably talk about like my boss is an asshole and like whatever conversation they have.
Tim: Well you’re the CEO you can’t really complain about the boss anymore.
Akiko: So hanging out with friends would probably be no fun anymore. So yeah.
Tim: Well Akiko I know there’s something every female founder I know hates to be asked what it’s like to be a woman founder. So
I’m not going to ask you that. Because I realize it’s a silly question but we get a lot of foreign listeners. Japan has and I think a well-deserved reputation of discrimination against women. I think the World Economic Forum just ranked Japan as something like 104th out of 140 companies or 140 countries. Are there more opportunities for women now starting their own companies as entrepreneurs compared to working at a large company? Do you think it opening doors on a large scale for Japanese women?
Akiko: I’m not really sure if it’s that large scale or not but there are women in this industry there are quite a few. I think running a startup is more I don’t fair in a way rather than working for a larger companies.
Tim: Fair how? People are just more interested in simple results?
Akiko: Yeah that’s what I want to say. And also women are minorities right?
Akiko: So minorities most of the time get better attention than majority so in terms of PR women have better chance of exposing their product. I think that’s really a lucky thing.
Tim: Well that’s true and I have to admit as a foreigner I’ve done the same thing. Anything that is different is great for getting attention. In larger companies there are a lot of Japanese men who have a really hard time reporting to a woman boss and in your case and maybe also some of your friends who are also women entrepreneurs have you run into that kind of a problem? As a startup founder? Have you had trouble recruiting your woman?
Akiko: I probably wouldn’t be able to know that because people didn’t decline our job offer because of that. I probably wouldn’t be able to know that.
Tim: Well there not going to tell you that but when I first came to Japan in 1988 which wasn’t that long ago things were very very different.
Akiko: I think it is still different in larger traditional companies. I think I know there is one thing I can say about women. It’s that you have many women doing entrepreneurship right and I think there are many women working as your own and I think there’s a trend that women tend to prefer your small team rather than growing your company large. This is a trend. You know Kazuo, she’s like a very famous Japanese woman symbol in Japan like she’s running a small company but their really small and she has like community where she has many women friends who run small companies but they all tend to be really small. So I think I came to conclusion that women are not really good at scaling team or maybe they’re not interested in scaling the team.
Tim: So you think there more it’s just a lifestyle choice rather than a dreams of world domination?
Akiko: Yeah. Yeah I think we want plausibility or maybe women are not really good at scaling a team.
Tim: Well there’s plenty of women who have scaled.
Akiko: Yeah that’s true.
Tim: So there’s certainly examples of it.
Tim: One of the things that I think that’s going to have to change in Japan is that Japan is a very strict hierarchical society. It’s a top down society and one of the things that I love to see about well companies like Wantedly are challenging that hierarchy. It’s flattening out. Blogging taking power away from the TV networks and the radios to companies like Wantedly taking a lot of the power from like companies like Recruit. I was wondering if this is a trend you see as well or is this just Tim’s imagination.
Akiko: (Laughs) in a way I think it’s really superficial. You know Horimon he really challenged to those establishments and like it was five years ago or maybe more than that and he was like brutally crushed.
Tim: Well that is oh wow. We don’t have time to explain it on the podcast but it is a company that grew very very fast. He was jailed for something that was technically illegal but is very commonly done in the industry because he went head to head with some of the most powerful companies and individuals in this country. But he’s back now.
Akiko: He’s back now but so powerless: he’s trying to do a similar thing, but he has a criminal record so you can’t really…
Tim: ….people are keeping their distance.
Akiko: yeah. They were saying “what’s happening to him?” and like learning. It’s not really a smart thing to obviously challenge the establishment. You can still challenge the establishment but you have to do it really smartly.
Tim: So don’t challenge them so directly?
Akiko: Directly, yes,
Tim: Or don’t challenge them so high up on themselves (laugh)
Akiko: I think directly is the right word. So growing up as a student and seeing those news on TV and now seeing Horimon coming back to the wall but still not having been really powerless. I think all the young entrepreneurs are really convinced that it’s not really a smart way to directly challenge the establishment.
Tim: What’s fascinating is: I do a lot of teaching and mentoring on entrepreneurship and an awful lot of students and young entrepreneurs really look up to Horimon? They really admire him. Just for his guts. And you think most successful start-ups in Japan are doing that? They are challenging in indirect ways?
Akiko: I think so, like powerless being really like larger companies.
Tim: In a sense though I think what you are competing with Recruit, but in a sense you are challenging them very indirectly. You’re doing something that they don’t do. That they probably couldn’t really do if they wanted to, because it’s so different from the way their business works.
Akiko: I think organization structure is so different. We are very engineer focused and centralized organization team and they are like a sales oriented team. So they’re trying to change and for that … is saying if you’re going to become a tech company.
Tim: I am very skeptical anytime a huge company announces that they might change their corporate culture.
Akiko: Yes right. That’s what I think.
Tim: It usually doesn’t happen.
Akiko: I know. So I think the important thing is the attitude towards those establishment because there’s challenge but you can’t really be hostile.
Tim: So you have to be respectful.
Akiko: Respectful, yes, but at the same time you can challenge. The thing is smarter.
Tim: You have to be sneaky.
Akiko: Yeah. I think that’s the word. (laughs)
Tim: Excellent. OK. Let’s shift gears for a minute. What surprised you the most about starting and running your own company?
Akiko: I leant that there are different phases building the company or doing set-ups. So first phrase is zero to one: you only have to focus on products and I always think I am a product person. So I really like drawing, I really liked creating and building things. So building products was a really fun thing to do but when team group maybe more like 5 people or 10 people, you probably have to start thinking about how to run the company. It’s still fun and still small but you probably have to start thinking about culture or strategy or..
Tim: So were you surprised at how little time you could spend on the product? And how much time you were spending on administration and people things?
Akiko: Right. More than administration. Focusing on culture these days. So say I want it running for like 3 years. The first year I only focus on product. After one half a year, I realized I need to focus on team and culture and strategy: so there’s a business team and development team and an accomplished corporate team. So back in time I really wanted to do my product so I didn’t really care about what’s happening in the sales team but that was a really bad thing. It came out of control..
Tim: Well it makes the sales team feel like they’re not important.
Akiko: Sure. And they couldn’t meet their goals, so it was fun for me to focus on product, but it’s not good for the company.
Tim: This is something that I think it’s really important, it’s a transition everyone goes through. I mean you had the transition from programmer, among artist, into a business woman.
Akiko: Yes, that’s right.
Tim: So let me ask you this: what did you have to change about yourself to make that transition? What skill did you have to learn? Or what did you have to change about your personality to make that transition?
Akiko: So my personality hadn’t really changed a lot but I had to convince myself that building a team is a really fun thing, the same as building product and it’s like…
Tim: You put it in the prospective as if you’re still building something.
Akiko: Yeah, that’s right.
Tim: That’s interesting. Well what advice would you give someone who’s thinking of starting a company in Japan?
Akiko: The most important thing is to be build the right team from the beginning. I think two or three will be the best and it’s really only set thing but ..
Tim: I agree: it’s so important.
Akiko: Hyper and designer and hot water. That’s really important because I started only by myself in the beginning so I was trying to make Wantedly work for the first year by myself and there was no progress. I didn’t have anyone else to discuss the idea so it was so slow. But I found my co-founder and he used to be my ex-colleague back in (name of place). At the time he quit the company and he was thinking of maybe going to college overseas but he was doing nothing. So I was like: hey, do you want to help my company? He eventually joined but that was a very good thing to happen to Wantedly.
Tim: And the core team is all still here?
Akiko: Yeah, still here.
Tim: That’s awesome.
Akiko: And shortly after CTO joined the company and those three people, like three team was really, really strong and that’s what making Wantedly really strong.
Tim: So both their skills and the way they work together. OK that’s about all we have time for I think. So let me just ask you, our listeners want to get in touch with you or Wantedly: what’s the best way?
Akiko: So, we have a website: site.wantedly.com or you can Google Wantedly and you can find the corporate site.
Tim: We’ll put all the links up on the website.
Akiko: OK, yeah and there’s a contact form so please contact us. It’s all in Japanese but don’t be afraid (laugh).
Tim: OK, listen: Thanks so much for joining us, this has been a really great conversation.
Akiko: Me too. Thank you for having me.
Tim: OK. Fantastic.
— Interview ends —
And we’re back. Now Akiko’s comments on the importance of challenging the established power structure indirectly is great advice for anyone. It’s a very solid and proven strategy that goes back to (name of person) art of war where he stated that such a tactic is essential for overcoming any powerful foe. I think we’ll be hearing a lot from Akiko and from Wantedly in the years to come.
If you want to see the links and resources that Akiko and I talked about during the interview, or to get in touch with her on social media, check out the link section of the post at disruptingjapan.com/show8. Let us know what you think about Wantedly, Japan, or start-ups in general by leaving a comment at the site or send an email to [email protected].
This is Tim Romero and thanks for listening to Disrupting Japan.
Thanks a lot Tim! I really enjoyed the interview 🙂
I’m delighted to do it. Thanks for listening, Sometimes the editing and production takes more time than I would like, but I always enjoy the change to talk with people who are really changing the way business is done in Japan.
Thank you so much for the interview Tim!
It’s my pleasure. Entrepreneurs are incredibly optimistic people and I always end up in a good mood after our interviews.
Great talk – she comes across amazingly sincere and genuine !
That’s because she *is* amazingly sincere and genuine! 🙂 I think we are going to hear a lot about Wantedly in the years to come.
Thanks Tim-san for your very good interview with Akiko to discuss issues casually enough but to capture the moment she had through her career background!
After listening the interview, I’ve registered myself with Wantedly and see how she really respond to me as a team and I’ll report to you what will happen!
Cheers from Tsukiji….isaku
Go Tokyo! Go Japan! For 2020 Tokyo Olympics!
Sometimes it is hard to get people to talk about things not on their official bios, but Akiko is a very open and straightforward person. Good luck on Wantedly. We’ve gotten good results from them in the past.
P.S. 2020 is going to be crazy in Tokyo. Go Japan!
Very motivating. Thanks for a great podcast. I’ll recommend it to anyone who’s interested in business and can speak English!
Hearing about Wantedly got me excited on doing my own online project.
Is there anywhere you would recommend getting information about running a paid membership program on a personal website in Japan?
I can find lots of info from American sources, and I think the same rules apply here in Japan, but I’m not sure about the payment and laws, etc!
anyway, thanks a million.
Thanks for listing. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I can’t recommend a single source of information for you, but the paid membership model — either as premium content, community membership or discounts — are pretty common in Japan across a wide range of industries. I don’t think you’ll run into any problems on the regularity front.
Interesting interview, and I just discovered this podcast today, I’ll definitely be returning. I was actually somewhat on the way to being recruited by Wantedly as a data scientist, but the coding challenge they sent was well outside my skillsets, aimed at a web engineer rather than a data guy, haha.
But, I want to say, having listened to this, it sounded a bit like you (Tim) are trying a bit too hard to fit Akiko into the box of “subversive challenging the power structure” of Japan, perhaps, because like me, you desperately want to see the country change at a more rapid pace, since it is literally on its way to dying of old age and stagnation (I’m exaggerating, but I want to see a vibrant and young and joyful Japan as well). She strikes me as somewhat desiring to keep her head down, to be apolitical, and to just focus on her company. The juxtaposition hear, which I know you wanted to develop as a theme, is that her company is somewhat radical and potentially disruptive in its space (but to be fair, it’s an industry built on the new and on disruption, even in limited form in Japan, and her successful clients are likely of the hacker/freelancer mentality already).
So, I think it is reaching too far to try to paint her as some sort of vehicle of change, and it was odd but not surprising to hear her talk about how she feels women generally prefer to start lifestyle companies and avoid scaling, kind of doing a disservice to women entrepreneurs everywhere, and male entrepreneurs who dream of having ‘lifestyle’-supporting projects or companies (I myself am such a ‘vegetarian’ male, not interested in having authority or power over others, of the ‘we have enough production and products and information overload already, what’s wrong with having time and money to see the world on?’ kind of tech freelancer/entrepreneur mindset). I say not surprising, because she sounds a bit to have internalized such an attitude about her fellow female entrepreneurs.
Finally, one positive sign born of depressing circumstances in Japan which she is representative of through her company’s vision is that (as far as I can tell from my Japanese friends/acquaintances) there is actually a VERY strong desire among Japanese my age (I’m not Japanese) to turn the (70%+ of jobs or something like that) temp work economy around and at least have the freedom of a freelancer, if they must suffer with low pay, or better pay, if they must suffer with no freedom. She strikes me as having chosen the life of the entrepreneur as a lifestyle as well (and ultimately, what’s wrong with that?), even though she is undoubtedly hard-working and focused on her company, and not necessarily in challenging power structures deliberately.
Thanks for listening, and thank you for your well thought out comments.
I agree with you that Aki and most founders are not really trying to challenge the power structure. Day to day they are keeping their heads down and trying to grow their business. These startups can cause small shifts. Wantedly, for example, is not just a contractor to larger companies but has changed the way that they behave — at least in how the recruit technical and design staff. When enough company’s do this the power structure does change. But no one raindrop causes the flood.
Aki’s comment about women having trouble scaling is something that has been echoed by a few other women founders here. I think it’s not so much that women don’t want to scale, as much there is still a bit of a stigma about women bosses. Surveys in Japan still show that both male and female employees would rather report to a male boss. In fact, men tend to be more accepting of women bosses than women do.
The gig/temp/freelancer economy is something I talk about a lot on other shows. It’s a very mixed bag.