Salesforce started operations in Japan back in 2000 in a tiny Shibuya office. I had the fortune to see the company when it was quite small and pitching to the large Tokyo-based company I worked for. Oracle owned the on-premise IT apps market back then. If you recommended a move to the cloud in Tokyo, you would quickly shorten your stay in Japan. Your bosu (boss) would ship you home with a one-way ticket. Cloud apps finally got traction many years later. Salesforce was finally deemed a success story with over 500 employees a couple years ago.
Once Salesforce landed the Japan Post account, it became an unstoppable force — building instant credibility with Japanese enterprise customers.
Today, Salesforce in Japan is on target to achieve $1 Billion revenue with over 2000 employees. Much can be learned from Salesforce in order to build your own Japan story with cloud apps:
- Invest in a Japanese product. Proper translation and adapting to the idiosyncracies of Japanese customers is a requirement. This is not a cheap or easy endeavor. The Japanese also have strong security, audit and compliance requirements if you are a cloud-based company.
- Invest in language support internally or with an outsourced Japanese partner/reseller. Japanese customers will demand language support even if your products are “do-it-yourself.”
- APIs, integration/development platforms will be a huge selling point whether you have your own like Force.com or use one which is highly configurable. Japanese developers want flexibility.
- Hire a top Japanese executive to achieve credibility. International staff can support her. Over the years, I’ve watched many foreign executives fail @ Japanese companies even if they spoke perfect Japanese. This will change in the next 20 years due to demographic constraints and the desire to grow with the rest of the world. Mikitani-san leads the way with the Rakuten story.
- Passion for the Japanese people and their culture. Marc Benioff, Larry Ellison and the late Steve Jobs loved Japan. Pack your bags and explore the country like I have.
Before you can begin to fathom entering the Japanese market, you will need to do your homework. Here are some books to begin your journey. You might achieve what Salesforce did in 15 years! [there are cloud companies which are succeeding in a shorter span, too]
- Saving the Sun and The Silo Effect
- Saying Yes to Japan
- Dogs and Demons: Not a biz book, but worthy of your time
- Dentsu Report
There is enormous opportunity to disrupt Japan with tools born in Silicon Valley. The Japanese market needs your help.