One of the most difficult obstacles a rising digital business will face is breaking into Japan. Some of the world’s most innovative software and hardware companies based in the country, “Cracking Japan” is an unavoidable aspect of the growth and expansion plans of the startups that cater to these enterprises. However, the entry barriers are substantial. Because of language and cultural barriers, as well as the necessity to modify offerings for a Japanese audience, many early-stage software businesses dismiss Japan as impossible or too difficult to break into, even though it is inextricably linked to their growth and expansion plans.
When we listed on the product discovery platform Product Hunt in 2014, we acquired our first Japanese client. While this initial exposure helped us get on users’ radars, it was not enough to keep and grow a dependable pipeline. Without having a dedicated presence in the county, we grew this early curiosity to 400+ of our best paying clients over the last eight years by making community — both virtual and in-person — important to our product and approach to relationship-building. Our route to breaking into Japan as a SaaS firm with a community-led growth model may be different from that of other companies, but the essential tenets remain the same. Here are some of the things we discovered along the road.
Because the Japanese IT community is so active and linked, a single customer can play a disproportionately huge role in your expansion there. If the early users like it, we have found that they will be your best ambassadors. If they do not, their apathy will speak for itself. With this in mind, before you start dealing with Japanese prospects, your product should be ready for prime time. Japan is not a place where MVP items are tested. Companies, as much as they desire to “be in Japan,” do not usually spend enough time there.
Consider setting up Japanese-language mention tracking if you have gained even the smallest bit of momentum or market adoption. It is astonishing how rapidly – and openly – information of wonderful technologies spreads through social media. Our initial customer was a developer at one of Japan’s most promising startups.
As Bitrise grew in popularity within his company, we noticed a number of new clients emerge organically at other businesses. We were able to see how the user adoption we were seeing was closely associated with local discussions about us on social media using our mention tracking service (we use Mention.com).