Rakuten – A Japanese Treasure

One of the best parts of my job is getting to meet and learn from visionary and inspiring folks.  Today I had the chance to meet in a small group with Hiroshi “Mickey” Mikitani, the Chairman and CEO of Rakuten, thanks to the folks at Morgan Stanley.  Rakuten is a Japanese internet powerhouse, dominating the e-commerce, personal finance and online/mobile services markets in Japan.  Founded in ’97, the company went public in Japan in ’00 and, today, fourteen years later, sports a market cap in the $15-20Bn (USD) range, making it one of the world’s 15 most valuable internet companies.  Rakuten was recently ranked by Forbes as a global top 10 most innovative company.  Mickey covered a variety of issues and I learned a ton.  Here are a few of the headlines:

  • Mickey thought about being global from early on.  He acquired Linkshare in the US in ’05.  This business gave him great insight into how the US internet marketplace was developing.  He’s been active in the US and other markets ever since and today has operations in Japan and the US, but also throughout SE Asia, Europe and Latin America.  He believes in globalization so much that he transitioned the company’s official language internally from Japanese to English three years ago.  All internal meetings shifted to English and execs has to learn English or lose their jobs.  This is just incredible in my opinion.  Like many of the entrepreneurs we meet in China, Mickey knows everything there is to know about his home market but he’s also very savvy as to what’s going on in the US and other regions as well.  This led him to invest in Pinterest before others saw the value and acquire Viber, which has continued to grow rapidly under Rakuten.
  • In eCommerce, Mickey believes Rakuten’s success relies on empowering the local shop-owner to be able to deliver advice to the customer and curate very authentic experiences.  As an example, he asked, “if you’re buying a golf club, would you rather get a recommendation from a friend or from the local golf pro shop?”  He wants to continue to empower the local golf pro shop and other boutique experts to deliver counsel and curation for their customers.  This will continue to drive value.
  • Mickey has built Rakuten to build long term relationships with customers by providing a full suite of services, moving well past just traditional ecommerce into loyalty (their points system has become incredibly popular in Japan) and personal finance services.

I look forward to watching Rakuten’s next moves.  Mickey is clearly thinking big and going long!
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