We collaborate with contributors to create guest pieces that will assist TechCrunch+ readers tackle real-world challenges, so presenting a detailed “how-to” article is always a treat. Barnabas Birmacher, CEO of Bitrise, a Platform as a Service startup, explained the lessons he experienced when attempting to enter Japan with his team.
Launching a product in a foreign market where you don’t speak the language or understand the culture is a vital step for developing businesses, but “barriers to entrance are significant” in Japan, according to Birrmacher, which is why building community was crucial to their success. Rather than depending primarily on strategic partners, his team traveled to Japan before launching events and engaging directly with early adopters.
Bitrise recruited a manga artist to produce a comic portraying a mobile developer, made “Japan-first” merchandise to hand out, and even created a full-sized mascot outfit for conferences, all while ignoring traditional media and marketing approaches. He says, “We left the outfit with one of our clients, and now people wear it while drinking.”
This post offers numerous techniques you can adapt and test if your startup is at or near the point where it is exploring international expansion. “Whether these activities make sense for you or not,” Birmacher adds, “the most important thing to do while you’re there is to show up and be a member of the community.” Thank you for taking the time to read TechCrunch+, and I wish you a wonderful week.
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.