Selling innovative software to conservative Japanese businesses is never easy, but it’s particularly challenging in the cutthroat and low-margin restaurant industry.

Today, we sit down with Masao “TJ” Tejima and talk about how he brought OpenTable into Japan, and why it took him much longer than he had originally hoped.

It’s a wide-ranging and deep-diving discussion on how to identify which companies are most suitable for Japan market entry and TJ’s rather extreme approach to maintaining a consistent corporate culture between Japan and corporate headquarters.

We also take a look at some of the biggest mistakes Western companies make when hiring a Japan Country Manager and a few simple ways those mistakes can be avoided.

It’s a fascinating discussion, and I think you’ll really enjoy it

Show Notes

  • Why leave a  company after a successful market entry?
  • How to build a product around a human network
  • Why you need to run market entry like a startup
  • OpenTable’s real business model and how is was adapted for Japan
  • How to sell new technology to traditional low-margin businesses
  • The danger of over-localization
  • Why the Japanese fast followers ran into problems
  • How to build a global culture at a Japanese subsidiary
  • The one type of Japanese General Manager foreign companies need to beware of


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Disrupting Japan, episode 88.

Welcome to Disrupting Japan. Straight talk from the CEOs breaking into Japan.

I am Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

Today, we’re going to be sitting down with Masao Tejima or “TJ” as his friends call him and I have to admit, that this interview did not exactly goes as planned. A few days beforehand, TJ and I agreed to sit down and talk about how he brought Open Table to Japan. And he used that experience as a jumping off point to give advice about how to bring in innovative software company to Japan and then sell to very conservative Japanese companies – and we did that.

And then in the next forty minutes, you’re going to be hearing all about it.

However, Open Table was not TJ’s first Japan market entry. He also brought in Macomedia and before that all this. And our simple talk, meandered him into ninety minutes history of desktop publishing in Japan and how he had to forge strategic alliances and corporate standards that allowed the technology to take route. I walked away with the makings of two amazing stories on tape.

So, here’s what we’re going to do. Today, we’re going to tell you the much more recent story of how Open Table entered the Japanese market. And a bit later, we’ll have TJ on again to give us the blueprint of the right technology can let you disrupt an entire industry in only a few years, even in Japan.

Today, we’re going to learn about how to identify what companies are most suitable for Japan market entry and talk about TJ’s rather extreme approach to maintaining a consistent corporate culture between Japan and corporate headquarters. We’ll talk about effective techniques for selling innovative software to conservative Japanese businesses and we’ll look at some of the biggest mistakes companies make in hiring their Japan Country Managers. But you know, TJ tells that story much better than I can.

So, let’s hear from our sponsor and get right to the interview.

Tim: So I am sitting here with TJ Tejima of well formerly, Japan CEO of Open Table. So, thanks for sitting down with me.

TJ: Thank you very much.

Tim: So before we get started with the history of this market entry and what went right and what went wrong, can you give us a brief explanation of what Open Table’s business model is?

TJ: It was 2000 or 2002, I was a General Manager of Macomedia which has Aldus, Adobe. I have to be in San Francisco because headquarter is in San Francisco. I have to have a lunch, I have to have a dinner, but I try to make a reservation so sometime, Japanese restos not completely made then I found the system so-called Open Table Reservation System, in the website. And oh, it is great so I tried to use this type of system in Japan in the future and this was a first impression about this service, as a diner.

Tim: Okay, so you approached the Open Table team and said I want to bring this company to Japan?

TJ: I searched executive member of Open Table, fortunately, there are two people whom I know.

Tim: Okay.

TJ: And I send an email to them and I would like to have a meeting with you guys, I’d like to know the back ground of Open Table. It was 2004 and I already left Macomedia. So I would like to find a new type of a technology business after I designed Macomedia and I did several investment and they establish several business.

Tim: Why did you leave both Aldus and Macomedia?

TJ: So I think, it took maybe three years plus two short, but the six years is too long. The technology and marketing innovation is my hobby.

Tim: So, was it, you were feeling that you needed a new challenge or just there’s a bigger opportunity with another technology?

TJ: Everything, everything. I do not want boring so many smart people in the market as a human resource. Very smart people can manage company very well and can grow the company very well. I don’t have this type of capability at all. I established a business, I created the human network first then product has come next – this is what I did. So, I always establish start-up company first then three to six years, I have to find another option.

Tim: I think this is really interesting because I’ve always thought, market entry companies follow the same path as start-up companies. And oftentimes, the person to grow a start-up from zero people to thirty people is very different from the person you want to grow it with thirty to three hundred. And with market entry, it’s very much the same I think.

TJ: Yes, totally agree with you. Especially the first people who must open the door for the market, these people has to have a somewhere clear vision because these people can write the regulation of this market.  But after some market is bigger, so many people can write additional writing the regulation or change the regulation, quickly.

Tim: So by regulation, you didn’t mean like government regulation, you mean more of the industry standard, the way things are done in the industry?

TJ: The industry standard of a technology like a baseline, How to consider baseline, How to Write the license, How to Use Ruby and how to transfer the Beta Technology from server to computer or Samson back then.

Tim: But now getting back to OpenTable, it seems to me that now from OpenTables’ perspective, I’m sure they were very happy to be contacted, you could just say, “Look, I brought in Aldus and that was a success, I brought in Macomedia, that was a success.” But from your point of view, it seems OpenTable is a very different kind of company. It was focused on particular service rather than a new technology trend that was going to change the market. So, what attracted you to Open Table? Did you just think it was a fantastic service that you wanted to introduce or what was it?

TJ: In terms of diners, open to provide internet reservation system to the diners – I thought like that. But actually, I understood open to provide reservation taking technology to the customer. Customer management technology to the reservation, they combined these two technologies together, parked in the wrong computer, two provider (to) these to the restaurants. Also, the knowledge of hospitality by (the) technology. This is totally similar to the DTP, totally similar internet.

Tim: Okay. Yeah I see. So, you were viewing it as modernization of restaurants which is another paper-based business.

TJ: That’s right, that’s right. So, OpenTable system for the restaurant is totally same as a Illustrator or Photoshop for designers.

Tim: That makes sense. So, why was OpenTable interested in Japan? Was it they kind of met you and you convinced them that Japan was important or was Japan part of their global strategy before that?

TJ: Well, I contacted OpenTable guy to in 2004. They didn’t consider that they extend their market to Japan at all because the market of a restaurant reservation in US was still enough for them. So, they have to invest a lot of money. So, they thought the timing to be global company must be two years later or three years later. It is the reason why actual establishment of OpenTable Japan was in 2006. It took two years to convince them.

Tim: And when they came into Japan, was it a only on subsidiary? Was it a JV?

TJ: Only subsidiary.

Tim: What did the initial team look like? You’ve been working with them for two years, so you obviously had a good relationship with the founders. In 2006, what kind of team did you put together on the ground?

TJ: I hired the best Product Manager who used to work with me in the Adobe and I picked several guys from them and also I picked the General Manager of restaurant, whom I know very much.

Tim: Okay.

TJ: And also the establishment of a hotel.

Tim: So, very small team – four or five people?

TJ: Yes, four or five people which was in the T&T office like an incubational office in as fast, two years.

Tim: So, what was your approach to the market? ‘Cause the US market and the Japanese market is quite different in this respect. A lot of Japanese restaurants don’t take reservations, it’s not a common thing. What was your approach to getting customers? Did you just start with the high-run more expensive restaurants or did you try to convince people that this type of assistance will be better for them? What was your basic approach?

TJ: There are two ways that I did. First one, was try to find the chain restaurant or licensed restaurant from US. They use OpenTable in US like a Union Square Tokyo in Midtown.  Union Square in New York is the best user of OpenTable. I tried to find these restaurants first.

Tim: Yeah, that is a one of best strategies for any B2B software coming into Japan is find the global players that are already know you.

TJ: Yes, this is a first part. And the second part, I think how to create the strategy to convince the people. As you say, that time everybody thinks the same thing, ‘Oh Japanese restaurants they don’t make reservations’ in 2006. It is true, but the OpenTable system is not the reservation taking system, this is the replacement of pen and paper. Even though they don’t take any reservation, sometimes, they have to take a reservation.

Tim: That’s right

TJ: And especially, they have to manage the customer database. So OpenTable’s one of the best element is management on the customer database.

Tim: So, it’s the CRM functions?

TJ: Yes, CRM functions, so-called CRM function. So that time, so many good restaurants correct the meishi and they have a meishi holders, so many meishi holders and write something on there. So they understood, database which is very important.

Tim: One of the things I find most fascinating about the market entry is how the positioning of the product, exactly the same product, but how the different positioning in Japan can lead to huge success. So in the US, OpenTable was sold as a reservation management system but in Japan, you were selling it as a CRM system for restaurants?


TJ: Yes, that’s right. If you use this CRM system, you also can get benefit of reservation taking, together. This is my approach.

Tim: Okay. And what was the reaction to that?

TJ: First of all, they don’t think it as a good for them – totally same as DTP.

Tim: Right.

TJ: But the-

Tim: Well, any new technology nobody thinks it’s good at first.

TJ: Even though clever people really consider ‘Oh it make money for us’ or ‘It makes operations easier than pen and paper.’ This is what I want to listen from them. Then, we created a sales tool for that. You know, the meshi Exchange is Japanese culture, any group or restaurant General Manager had to exchange business card and we really forget that.

Tim: How did you reach the restaurants? Did you just go knocking on doors?

TJ: Yes, knocking (on) door. Very simple, knocking (on) door.

Tim: Yeah but it works! But the restaurant business have noticed, in the people have spoken in the companies selling to the restaurant business, one of the big challenge there is that, it’s a very low margin business, it’s very difficult to get customers to invest in new technology, new in anything really. So, how did you overcome that? ‘Cause this is a pretty big jump for them.

TJ: So if our positioning is expense side, they do not want to invest. But if this is a making money side, they want to invest.

Tim: Alright.

TJ: For instance, not big restaurant, like a ten table, if they always (want) ten table to be fully booked. However sometimes, two times or three times a month, cancellation has happened. How to sell these table(s) and you know, fine dining per person per check let’s say, ichi-man en or ichi-man go-sen en wanted can make san man en or yon man en.

Tim: So, three hundred, four hundred dollars?

TJ: Yes.

Tim: That’s a lot of money to move on the table so to speak.

TJ: That’s right. If these guys use OpenTable, and use OpenTable gadget in their website, was cancellation was happened, people can make a reservation to website. I asked, how much money can you make money from that if you don’t have this technology, you lose just money.

Tim: That makes sense. So the pitches look if you fill one reservation per month, this is paying for itself?

TJ:  Yeah. This is an auction of OpenTable. The other benefit is customer management CRM.

Tim: So in Japan, you were selling OpenTable with a really different positioning than in the US. Did you have to make any changes to the product?

TJ: No.

Tim: Just localization?

TJ: Just localization. I learned lots of localization philosophy from software industry. So first, my experience as a page-layout software, I tried to localize this software as much as you can fit Japanese market. But it is not correct. Customized too much, localized too much, was not good things to do because global product explains how designers should be, OpenTable provides how restaurant management should be as global point of view. So, once they use global product, they cannot know it from other other world.

Tim: In selling business-to-business in Japan, I found there two competing ways of thinking, and both are persuasive, but one is global standards but the other is customization. So I found Japanese business, they do respect global standards, but you also when you’re selling B2B software, you’re going to get a lot of request for customization and is that something you run into or would the restaurants willing to say, ah, this is a global standard, let’s change the way we do things a little?

TJ: I said no.

Tim: You just said no?

TJ: Okay, this is global standard, why don’t you support global standard first then maybe in the future, a bit of localization product or better local product can be provided by somebody. But right now, this is the best product in the world. Why don’t you start-

Tim: Try it.

TJ: Try it.

Tim: Did you get pressure from the customers to show-?

TJ: Everyday, every night, every morning. They really want to customize for them, not for Japan.

Tim: Okay, so wasn’t it so much that Japan market was unique that every restaurant had their own unique way of doing things?

TJ: Yeah, yeah.

Tim: Excellent. You started in 2006, and how long did it take before you had the first say, fifty or so restaurants using this?

TJ: To the reservation, a year.

Tim: About a year? Okay, that’s pretty fast.

TJ: I think so.

Tim: Especially, if you’re going door-to-door to get these restaurants. So, what competition was there in the Japanese market? ‘Cause now, there’s many reservation systems, but back in 2006, what was the local competition like?

TJ: Not at all.

Tim: Nothing?

TJ: Nothing.

Tim: Okay. Well, that’s a great way to be coming into the market.

TJ: Not good way. Competitor must be good guy for us because they can use or they understand which is better, they means a customers but there is no competitor in the market. It is so hard to explain what is this?

Tim: Right, ‘cause you have to explain the whole concept to them.

TJ: Yeah.

Tim: And if you’re the only one doing it, maybe it’s the strange thing that no one else will do but with three or four companies, you could just say, we’re the best at it. That makes sense.

TJ: Same as the DTP.

Tim: Okay, well then how long did you have the market to yourself? So 2006, 2007, OpenTable was pretty much unique in the Japanese market. When did the competition start showing up?

TJ: 2010 or something like that.

Tim: Okay. So it’s quite a while.

TJ: Yeah. There are several, Japanese local company in the market. They saw OpenTable and they read Open Table technology as diner.


Tim: The same as you did at first.

TJ: Key element is not for diner. Key element is for restaurants. Open Table is the network service provider.

Tim: I think that’s a mistake that many start-ups make. They’re not a hundred percent clear of who their customer is really is.

TJ: Yeah.

Tim: So when the competition entered the market, did that force OpenTable to make changes in the marketing or the product or were the competition just not effective at getting market share?

TJ: Actual competitive station was not happened when I left OpenTable. Some competitor might have been the market but still market is developmental. I left 2013.

Tim: Okay, so by, so from 2006 to 2013, so in 2013 when you moved on to your next challenge, how big was OpenTable in Japan? About how many restaurants run the system?

TJ: Less than 2,000.

Tim: Okay, that’s really strong steady growth?

TJ: Yeah.

Tim: Now, looking at it from a high level those kind of numbers always look like really smooth growth but looking back, what was the biggest mistake you think you made running the company? If you have to do it again, what would you do differently?

TJ: Well, honestly speaking, I don’t think any mistake has happened.

Tim: Really? So it really was a smooth progression?

TJ: Yes. So many tough issues that happened but tough issues, just tough issue. Not mistake.

Tim: Alright.

TJ: Let us try the other way around, try the other way around, not mistake.

Tim: Right, so you didn’t have to like back out or pivot marketing strategy or a-

TJ: It is something like a learning stage. Mistake is not mistake.

Tim: And as the team developed, as you grew from five people managing fifty customers to a team that managed two thousand plus customers, how did the team change? Did you have to focus more on support, on sales? What did the team look like as it grew?

TJ: Support and sales. Together.

Tim: I find that for foreign companies coming to the Japanese market a lot are surprised that they number of support staff that is required? Was that something that you found at OpenTable, did the customers required a lot of higher level of support or higher level of individual support in Japan than they did in the US?

TJ: Historically and culturally, yes.

Tim: Okay. Now, you were working with the OpenTable management team for a few years before you started in Japan. So, you obviously had a lot of trust and understanding of the management team and that’s a huge advantage when running a market entry. But as the team grew, how did you keep communication between the Japan team and headquarters, how did you keep that communication, open? How did you keep everyone sort of focused on the same goal?

TJ: It is not so complex thing, just say the concept of our sales. So, our customer is the customer’s customer. That is the concept.

Tim: Because so often, the Japanese team and the headquarters team will get misaligned or focused on different things and with OpenTable, was it really just the product and mission was so simple that everyone could focus?

TJ: I think so. Even though let’s say, this upgrade is not so effective in Japan, we have to agree because we are global company – that simple.  Do not focus Japanese people, we have to focus customers. Customers or diners is not only Japanese.

Tim: It sounds like you put a lot of effort into training your staff, to teach the customer about global standards rather than trying to get the company to adopt Japanese standards.

TJ: Yes. First of all, we should play under the regulation of global company not only diners, not only restaurant people but employees and management first. Then, we start, let’s say, boxing, we can change if we are strong.

Tim: That makes sense, so the first thing you try is always the standard and only change if you’re – if you have hard data on why it doesn’t work in the market.

TJ: Yeah.

Tim: Through that whole growth time, was there anything you ever had to change in the Japanese market? Was there anything you had to go back to headquarters and say, “Look, this feature or this work flow, we’ve got to change.”?

TJ: We (had) been doing like that so many times but how to compromise is very important. If we focus Japanese market too much, we always have lots of stories.

Tim: I agree and that balance is so hard to achieve because everyone tends to look at their own job only and they don’t look at other people’s jobs. So how did you get the teams willing to compromise? Was it, did you just stay involved directly? Did you have people from Japan visiting the US, did you have people from headquarters coming out here?

TJ: I invited so many executives to Japan from San Francisco. They love restaurants so much, you know, Tokyo is the best city to eat.

Tim: It is.

TJ: They love to come here as business trip, I took them to great restaurant, they are so happy and they understand Japanese restaurant culture, people. And after that, I explained once I explained we should do like this, because you know that.

Tim: Right, you can see the workflow, you can see how this works..

TJ: Yeah, yeah. So if you don’t understand, you must come again, they want to come again.

Tim: Okay, it’s almost the kind of bribery.

TJ: Yes. Tokyo City made everything for me.

Tim: Excellent. What kind of things did you have to change for Japan?

TJ: ‘Cause you know, this was totally similar to desktop publishing. We have a katakana, hiragana, romaji…

Tim: Okay, well that’s very basic and critical things.

TJ: Yeah. We also need non-smoking, smoking.

Tim: Was there a difference in corporate culture between headquarters in Japan or is a corporate culture very similar?

TJ: Very similar. I established same corporate culture here in Japan. I always explained, you are not Japanese, you are the OpenTable people. OpenTable, have to be conscious that we are Open Table.

Tim: And were the staff receptive to that?

TJ: Yes, sure.

Tim: Alright. ‘Cause I’ve noticed especially in sales department, seems to be where the Japanese culture, Japanese sales culture and particularly Americans, sales culture seems to be very different.

TJ: Yup, yup, yup.

Tim: Did you just run things American style or was it – ?

TJ: Complete the same as American style because we are an American company.

Tim: Okay, that is one way to keep things aligned.

TJ: Yeah. Don’t do any lie to the employee. Okay, I understand culture problem. I try to change the system or something to convince the people he had to put up. It is when I think so but it is not impossible, it was impossible. Sorry, it cannot be done forever because we are American company.

Tim: So instead of focusing your energy on trying to change headquarters, you focused on your own team and running your own team as American style company?

TJ: Yeah. ‘Cause the general manager, I was the general manager of OpenTable Japan but I was also an executive member of OpenTable headquarters. So, I have to consider OpenTable itself, not only Japan.

Tim: You must have had to explain this to new employees during the hiring process basically saying, “By the way, we run like an American company.”

TJ: Yeah, of course.

Tim: Well that make sense ‘cause that’ll be very attractive to certain type of employee and very unattractive to another.

TJ: You know, when typical Japanese employee join the company, they said, “Yoroshiku-onegaishimas” or “Korekara oseawa ni narimasu” or something like that.  When I have this type of comment, no, company must say, “Osewa ni narimsu”. You make money for the company. Company share the money with you, this is the style of the business.

Tim: There must have been times where it was difficult to get the staff following that message. It’s very different form typical Japanese companies.

TJ: True.

Tim: How did you keep everyone focused on that kind of culture, day-to-day?

TJ: Behavior by General Manager is most important.

Tim: So, showing them by example?

TJ: Yeah.

Tim: Alright. What sort of things were you doing as General Manager to show them that this was an American-style company?

TJ: For instance, sales people in Japan always wear tie and jacket, I said no. Every morning, you consider what type of a business appointment you have today? Then imagine, what type of wear you should wear for the meeting. Every morning, you should do. So, this is the first step. Try to change the outside, then they change inside.

Tim: Excellent. After you left, was that corporate culture maintained within OpenTable Japan?

TJ: I don’t think so. More than 50% of our ratio new General Manager came into the company, they tried to change something.

Tim: So, it’s more of a traditional Japanese management style now?

TJ: Then I thought the interesting issue in any time, every time. The company’s growth like this, then I thought it’s time now to leave the company. Then into that change that General Manager share, this guy tried to bring comfort to the product to the Japanese market. Then interesting is happened after, headquarter tried to manage direct hiring.

Tim: Ahhh!

TJ: So almost no employee I hired.

Tim: Well, I think one of the most important things is the trust between the executive team at headquarters and the General Manager in Japan and you’ve been working with them for two years before Japan started? And you stayed a member on the executive team so that trust was incredibly strong and a new General Manager, no matter how skilled he is, wouldn’t have that trust.

TJ: Honestly speaking, the General Manager of OpenTable Japan is one of the most difficult to hire.

Tim: Why is that?

TJ: They have to understand technology, they have to understand the internet, they have to understand rational operation, they have to understand a lot of a restaurant, they have to understand globalization on a most difficult.

Tim: It is. You learned it pretty quickly.

TJ: ‘Cause I had a history of working with American people.

Tim: Well, that’s the other thing they need to be, they need to have a deep understanding of both cultures.

TJ: Yes, sure. But sometimes, you know, General Manager of Japanese subsidiary, so many people are like a job hopping. General Manager of this company, General Manager of that company – has a good resume. But they really just focused the US saying yes to US.  Not do anything in Japan.

Tim: Yeah. I’ve noticed this are two very, very different types of Japan country heads, there’s the growth type and the management type. And the management type, they do seem to be very smart, very good resume, and will always agree with the headquarters. But as you point out, that usually does not mean growth in Japan.

TJ: – if headquarter want to steady growth subsidiary, they must hire steady manager type.

Tim: And if they want rapid growth, then they need a different type.

TJ: Yes.

Tim: What would be the best advice you have for a US company who’s thinking of coming into Japan? What should they look for in a Japan country head?

TJ: It is very difficult things to understand for them because our language is totally different from them, as you know. For instance, one of the interesting evidence is, entertainment fee in the company, in Japan is much higher than US company.

Tim: Oh yeah, Japanese expense accounts can get shockingly expensive to American CFOs.

TJ: I explained this is not a culture issue, this is a Japanese language issue. You know what to say ‘I’, you only have a language about ‘I’ you know, we have thousands type of words to say ‘I’. Then in a business meeting, he said, “I type A”, but in original time, he said, “I type 2”, but after dinner he drink, he used, “I type H” then we have to consider oh, these people have to think like this. It’s the reason why we need entertainment cost in Japan – need to time to have a dinner, need to time to drink something like that.

Tim: But in fact, the core of that, is it’s different in Japan but that core idea I think is true in America, as well. So, I’ve done sales in both America and Japan and in both places, a lot of sales happen outside of meetings over a beer somewhere, more so, in Japan. But I think a lot of American companies can understand the concept if you take the time to explain it to them.

Well, let me also ask you this, what advice would you give to a new Country Manager? Someone who’s just stepped into the job?

TJ: If this guy, is English native speaker, it is okay. If this guy is Japanese native speaker, it is okay. These are totally different. I think language is everything. When I took Business English I consider everything in English but English vocabulary is much, much less than Japanese vocabulary. When I used English, I’m not (a) smart guy.

Tim: I know that feeling very well when I speak in Japanese, I sound like a junior high school student.

TJ: Yeah, that’s right. So the General Manager of an American company or any other company owned by foreign companies, General Manager have to consider, we are not native speaker. When I understood, it was a timing of a brainstorming.

Tim: I, well, I know this so well. When I’m speaking in Japanese or when you’re speaking in English, one on one like this is fine, there’s never a problem. Small groups like three or four, still fine and not a problem, but when you get brainstorming of 7 people speaking very quickly, it’s really hard.

TJ: Yeah, that’s right. Understanding of language difference is most important.

Tim: What’s your strategy for coping with situations like that?

TJ: It is a preparation for the brainstorming. I think if somebody have to take part in the brainstorming meeting, they have to get the agenda two days or three days before. Then this people have to brainstorming in Japanese by themselves, then prepare many things and take part in the brainstorming sessions. Preparation is everything.

Tim: Yeah, that’s good advice. Well listen before we wrap up, is there anything else that you want to talk about?

TJ: Business is very simple, if any individual desire is not in the business, it is how to live as a person.

Tim: Why do you mean by that?

TJ: For instance, you know, business is very simple to be created by an economic system, P&L and Balance Sheet. However, human being is a very interesting animal, in the PL, in the Balance Sheet, they want to show how they are as General Manager – this is a meaningful issue if, we could just consider the P&L or Balance Sheet. But if people read and understand business, you are in the Balance Sheet, you are asset side of people or debt side people. They have to be asset side. So, what is your asset? This is the third step to be a management, especially, General Management Human Resource man.

Tim: Okay. Yeah, yeah. You can’t manage from spreadsheets, you can only manage people in-

TJ: Yeah, this is not in the P&L, this only in Balance Sheet.

Tim: Excellent. Well listen TJ, thank you so much for sitting down with me.

TJ: Thank you so much. I enjoy talking with you.

Tim: Me too.

And we’re back.

You know, I love Masao’s insights on why some many of the Japanese companies’ competitors to OpenTable had problems getting traction initially. They were too focused on the diners’ experience and adding value to the diner rather than improving the restaurant’s experience and adding value to the restaurant. Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to delight all of your users, even those who don’t pay you – it’s an admirable goal. But this is something that is critical to the success to both of market entry and start-ups alike. You need to have a very clear understanding of who your real customer is, and the real customers are the ones paying you for your services and you must delight them first.

There was another kind of subtle point that TJ made about maintaining a global sales culture that’s worth revisiting. Japanese enterprise sales staff have a kind of uniform, they dress the navy blue suits with white or pale blue shirts and dark simple ties, black shoes and belt – not brown. TJ however, had them dressed in a manner that was appropriate to the customer they were meeting. Now, every American salesman learns this in his first year, but it’s unusual in Japan and it sends a very important message, when a salesman dresses in the standard uniform, they’re doing so in order to make a good impression about their company. It’s an inward facing decision. It’s saying,

TJ however, had them dressed in a manner that was appropriate to the customer they were meeting. Now, every American salesman learns this in his first year, but it’s unusual in Japan and it sends a very important message, when a salesman dresses in the standard uniform, they’re doing so in order to make a good impression about their company. It’s an inward facing decision. It’s saying, ‘I respect my company enough to dress this way.’ However, when they dress in a way that makes the client feel most comfortable, they’re considering the customer needs and making an outward facing decision. When it should, if part of a larger program result in even a higher level of that customer service and support that Japanese firms are famous for.

If you’ve got a story about dining in San Francisco or Japan, TJ and I would love to hear from you. So come by and tell us about it. And when you drop by, you’ll see all the links and notes that TJ and I talked about and much, much more in the resources section of the post.

And hey, I know you’ve been meaning to get around this for a while now, but when you get the chance, please leave us an honest review on iTunes. It’s really one of the best ways you can help support the show and help us get the word out. And most of all, thanks for listening. And thank you for letting people interested in the Japanese market know about the show.

I’m Tim Romero, and thanks for listening to Disrupting Japan.