On March 6th, we are hosting an event to connect internationally minded talent in Japan with some of the most promising startups in Tokyo. We already have registrations from over 330 people across a wide range of roles including engineers, designers, product managers, marketers, and salespeople. There are many incredibly talented bilinguals and foreigners that either work in Japan or would like to work in this wonderful country. And we believe that startups present an opportunity for them to work in a dynamic, fast-moving environment not offered by most traditional Japanese companies. This is a chance for them to jump into the startup world, and for our startups to reach this group of extraordinary people.
The idea for this event came from an ongoing frustration of mine: I cannot think of one company with a significant global footprint founded in Japan in the last 20 years. There are many that have tried, and many that are trying. But so far there has been limited success. Nevertheless, it is hard to believe it is impossible to achieve. There’s a way for Japanese startups to expand globally. The pursuit just requires some R&D. That is something that we are honestly still trying to figure out.
One factor that continues to hold Japanese startups back is the language and cultural barriers established early on. Most startups make the decision to be a primarily Japanese speaking company shortly after founding. This decision is understandable. The Japanese speaking hiring pool is much larger, and bilingual talent tends to be expensive. But this seemingly trivial decision cripples them when aiming for global success.
Building and managing a team for a foreign market is an uphill battle when these barriers exist. Acquiring and retaining the best talent is hard enough in your own language – think about how hard it must be in broken English. Connecting with someone on a deeper level is also more difficult when you feel culturally distant. Even if you do manage to hire someone incredible, that person may not be able to effectively communicate or forge close relationships with their colleagues. They ultimately end up alienated and frustrated that they can’t get anything done. And eventually, they quit.
Many of these issues can be avoided if the company’s primary language is English from the outset. That is why I believe that for a startup in Japan with truly global ambitions, English needs to be the lingua franca. And in order to do that, we need to pull in more foreigners and bilingual talent into the startup ecosystem. Both bilinguals and foreigners can help build the foundation for startups to expand abroad, and we need more of them involved in startups if we are to build the world changing companies of tomorrow from Tokyo.Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Amazon all have thriving offices in Japan. If a US company can build a successful operation in Japan, why can’t we achieve the opposite? All we need is reverse engineering. Just as these companies look at Japan as simply one office within a global organism, startups should look at their Japan office in the same way. They are building just one pillar within a global empire, and should build out their team with that in mind from the beginning.
My friend Paul Chapman at Moneytree had a good name for startups that speak English from day one: “born global companies.” I want this event to kick off a born global movement that helps build game changing companies recognized on a global level. So save the date, and come on out and join the movement!