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L: Masahiro SEKINECEO, RetailNext Japan

R: Junichiro KUWANOPresident & CEO, Zuora Japan

Junichiro Kuwano of Zuora Japan and Masahiro Sekine of RetailNext Japan - both are striving every day to establish brand new services in Japan in a short period of time. The two gentlemen have discussed their challenges unique to “pioneers” and dreams they are after with new businesses through an interview at EGG JAPAN where they currently based in.

*This interveiw was conducted in Japanese,
the article was translated into English.

Detailed support system, outstanding reliability

    • The two of you moved into EGG JAPAN almost at the same time - Junichiro in August 2015 and Masahiro in September. Tell us your story leading up to your tenancy.
    • Junichiro, Kuwano (K)I worked for foreign IT companies for 30 years. For the past 15 years, I have been working on setting up Japanese subsidiaries for American companies. While I was at my previous job, I met and was impressed by the executives of an American company called Zuora, and I ended up setting up their Japanese office for them.
    • Masahiro, Sekine (S)I also worked exclusively in IT industry. I started as a programmer after finishing college, worked as an SE, pre-sales engineer, and in business development, and went on to serve as the head of the Japanese subsidiary for an American company. I later met with executives of an American company called RetailNext through my former boss from my days as an SE. They were looking for someone to become a head for their Japanese subsidiary.
    • KIt was “connection” for both Masahiro and myself.
    • Why did you choose EGG JAPAN as the site of your business?
    • KThere are two reasons. One is credibility. The other is the environment. When you start a company, no one knows about your company. But if the office is in Marunouchi, located in Shin-Marunouchi Building of all places, and managed by Mitsubishi Estate, that alone will greatly improve your credibility. In fact, when we exchange business cards, everyone is surprised, and says “I can't believe (the office of your startup company) is in Shin-Marunouchi Building!”. With respect to the environment, first and foremost, the location is incredible. Then there are meeting rooms, facilities - everything you need for a “company” is there. EGG JAPAN has a support system for a company’s growth, like introduction to specialists like lawyers and accountants and likely clients.
    • SIn an extreme sense, EGG JAPAN is where you can come in with “nothing” and start serious business from day one. I started RetailNext Japan by myself at first. But this place has all the facilities like meeting rooms, and I can call our clients immediately. The advantages are obvious with the office environment alone. Furthermore, since Marunouchi is a business district, a center of the Japanese economy, it really helps building credibility with customers by having an office in Marunouchi.
    • What are some of the challenges in starting a Japanese subsidiary for an American company?
    • KThere are many, but the fact that we have to produce results in the shortest period possible is significant. It is a matter of how to respond to the requests from the headquarter, as they tell me: “another contact told me it would take three years. That’s a tall order, and we want you to put the business on course in 1~2 years”.
    • SHiring is another tough point. There’s no recognition for the company brand at the beginning, and it takes time to meet someone extraordinary. It’s hard to get a talent to apply.
    • KWe face the same problem. Unlike large corporations, you have to do everything by yourself in a startup. The type of “exceptional talent” is different here. How did you come over that challenge?
    • SI think increasing the company’s exposure is an effective approach. For example, doing a presentation on a “user case” with the client’s consent, or making an appearance at a seminar. That way you can appeal to both potential clients and “future employees”.
    • How many employees are there now?
    • KAbout 10.
    • SEight at our company. It was just me at first, but the number doubled every half a year, and now at eight.
    • KWe are growing in a similar way. Another advantage of EGG JAPAN is how you can move in with “nothing”, and expand the office space along with the growth of your company. You can scale the company while maintaining convenience, without moving elsewhere.

Taking Full Advantage of the Facility for Further Leap

    • Tell us what conditions are needed for startups to make great strides.
    • KMasahiro brought up user cases, and it is important that we have customers with a recognized brand. First, find five leading companies as your customers. This leads to a breakthrough.
    • SYou say “five companies”, but it can be very difficult considering that our brand is not yet recognized in Japan. We were fortunate with our clients and partners to achieve that milestone.
    • KOur products are not available in Japanese to begin with, and all of our manuals and contracts are in English. We have to start from that kind of constraints. There really is “nothing”, a start from zero in the truest sense of the word (laughs).
    • SWe weren’t even incorporated (laughs).
    • In such a situation, being able to receive support from EGG JAPAN must be significant in focusing on what really matters.
    • KOf course. We still receive support, and I might need more of that (laughs). In fact, we were introduced to a company under the Mitsubishi Group as a “likely client”. I’d like to hold more events that effectively using such a unique network of EGG JAPAN and this wonderful space.
    • SI agree with this. I received plenty of support thus far, but I’ve yet to fully utilize EGG JAPAN. I plan on hosting more events and user group meetings in the future. I hosted an event once in the past, and EGG JAPAN was very helpful from preparation all the way to attracting guests. I’m very grateful that they invited many companies from Mitsubishi group and their clients, people that lead to the future.
    • Junichiro used the word “connection” at the beginning. EGG JAPAN also emphasizes “building connections” through events such as get-together parties for tenant companies. Both of you moved in to the office around the same time, but did you know each other?
    • SWe’ve passed each other at stairs, haven’t we?
    • KThis is actually the first time we’re speaking to each other like this (laughs). We’re always working “full throttle”, so it’s not often we get to know each other without an event like this one (dialogue).

There is still a plenty of “White Space”!

    • Speaking of the future, tell us the outlook for your business.
    • KWe’re at an age where transition from “sales” of products and services to a subscription model where you raise revenue by having companies “use” your service. They already say it’s an age where cars don’t sell, and we’re about to seriously enter an age where products don’t sell. This is a serious problem for Japan, where there are significantly more manufacturing companies among all industries. For Japanese manufacturers to survive, we need to work on implementing IoT and digital transformation. And there are two things we could offer. The first is to provide support for companies already starting subscription business and help them raise revenue. The other is to help companies with conventional business models shift towards subscription. I’d like to support Japanese companies through these two efforts.
    • SOur business increases sales through an analysis of brick & mortar stores. We want to contribute to improved sales in real stores across Japan. In that sense, Japan is full of “white spaces”. There are tons of retailers that we’ve yet to meet… On the other hand, there is a lot more we can do for our customers who already implemented our solution and feel the effects of our service. Therefore I would like to focus on getting more Japanese retailers to use RetailNext’s services and enhance their sales.
    • Any final words for the readers?
    • KYour future life will depend on the “assets” you built within yourself. It’s important that you work with an awareness that now, this moment, is the period of investment towards your “future”.
    • SDoing the same work for many years makes you feel like you “get it”. It’s important to sometimes challenge something new in your private time and get in touch with that “you who can’t do anything” feel for your growth.

Masahiro SEKINE

Masahiro SEKINE

Started his career as a programmer. After working on channel development for new businesses at SAP South East Asia, becomes the president of ServiceSource Japan. Involved in starting RetailNext in Japan since 2015.

Retail Next Japan

Japanese subsidiary of RetailNext (USA), a company that presents measures needed to improve sales by measuring retail store data such as the attributes of the incoming customers (including potential customers), their behavioral pattern in stores including length of stay. Founded in 2015.

Junichiro KUWANO

Junichiro KUWANO

After experiencing management in foreign-owned IT companies, engaged in starting businesses in Japan as a representative for several foreign-owned IT companies such as Kyriba Japan. Assumed president of the Japanese subsidiary along with the entrance of Zuora (USA) into the Japanese market in February 2015.

Zuora Japan

A Japanese subsidiary of Zuora (USA), a cloud vendor that provides a platform that supports business model transformation from conventional sales of goods (ownership) to subscription (use) and improvement of revenue. Founded in 2015.

This content is the revised version of extract from “Nikkei Business Associe” May issue in 2017.
All rights are reserved.

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